Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Ban Ki-moon Stumbles On

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's stumbling progress in office continues with little improvement, especially on cabinet level appointments. Little seems to have changed since the early 2007 announcement of Asha Rose Migiro of Tanzania as UN Deputy Secretary-General. She was hired without any kind of selection process, not even a formal interview. When asked about that Ban told journalists that he had talked to her: they had sat next to each other on a long flight a year earlier.

Ban's assertions that Migiro was the best person for the job did little to help the UN Press corps suspend its disbelief, for she had no visible qualifications to be Deputy-Secretary-General, having been Tanzania's Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children for five of the previous six years. She had been Foreign Minister for less than a year before taking on the UN job. The unkind construction put on this by UN cynics was that Tanzania, a member of the Security Council in 2006, was being repaid for helping Ban get his own job.

Another clear quid pro quo was seen in another early appointment, Britain's ambassador to France, John Holmes, as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. The post requires hands-on operational experience, of which he had none. Non-governmental organizations engaged in emergency aid were dismayed at the appointment and not mollified by the assurance that Holmes, a former private secretary to Tony Blair, was a quick study. UN cynics speculated that the appointment was linked to the British decision to lift its opposition to Ban in the Security Council's 2006 straw polls to pick the new Secretary-General.

At present British nationals occupy two Under-Secretary posts in New York (the other is a pre-Ban appointee, David Veness, head of Safety and Security). There would have been a third if Paddy Ashdown, Ban's nominee to be his Special Representative in Afghanistan, had not run into opposition from Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai (see post of 2-10-08). The post went to Norway's low-key Kai Eide. Another British national in a key spot is Ian Martin who is the Secretary-General's Special representative in Nepal as it tries to emerge from a period of Maoist insurrection.

The Migiro and Holmes appointments were scandals whispered about in-house; Ban's 2007 effort to "reform" the UN Departments of Disarmament affairs (DDA) and Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), was publicly damaging. Evidently acting under pressure from Washington and ill advised by his own staff, Ban proposed that DDA be reduced in status and made part of his own office; he wanted to divide DPKO to separate its policy and logistics capabilities. Both proposals ran into a buzz-saw of opposition in the General Assembly. DDA remained unchanged. DPKO was divided to create a new Department of Field Support, but only with much eating of humble pie by the Secretary-General. The net result of that "reform" has been to dilute French influence in managing the UN's 32 field operations with over 100,000 military, police and civilian personnel.

Since July 2007 Field Support for UN peacekeeping has been under Jane Holl Lute of the United States; in July this year she will hand over to Susana Malcorra of Argentina, who comes from the World Food Program. Jean-Marie Guehenno of France, who used to head the undivided DPKO, is leaving the UN.

The latest chapter in Ban's continuing misadventures has to do with his decision to combine two Under-Secretary-General posts created by the General Assembly to serve specific developing country constituencies: Special Adviser on Africa; and the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States. Ban implemented the change by not renewing the contract of his Special Adviser on Africa, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila of Botswana.The Africa office was then put under the supervision of Cheikh Sidi Diara of Mali, High Representative on the specially disadvantaged countries.

Small islands and landlocked countries, which are scattered around the world and have problems quite different from those facing most African countries, see little sense in combining the two offices. Africans see the move as a dilution of attention to their own concerns. Feelings on all this have been running high, and Ban's assurances that both offices will retain the resources allotted to them by the General Assembly have not assuaged the widespread outrage. Quite undiplomatic statements have been reported out of closed meetings. The last time a Secretary-General attracted such blunt criticism was when Boutros Boutros-Ghali ruled the UN roost.

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