Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ban Ki-moon: Another Dismal Year

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has had another dismal year in office. Not only has the UN made no progress on any front under his leadership, his personal efforts at conflict-resolution, especially in Africa, have all come a cropper.

In the Sudan, the largest projected UN peacekeeping effort is in suspended animation because of foot-dragging by Khartoum and a basic lack of international confidence in the efficacy of a UN force in the face of significant armed opposition. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a case in point: UN peacekeepers have been completely ineffective in stopping a civil war that has claimed over five million lives because the foreign profiteers who fuel the war have nothing to gain from peace.

In situation after situation the UN under Ban stands on slippery ground. It has been unable to get a handle on the lawless turmoil of Somalia. In Kenya, it was sidelined by retired UN head Kofi Annan simply because he inspires much more confidence than Ban. In Zimbabwe, the UN has no role because Ban's close relationship with the British has shorn him of all credibility in the eyes of the country's embattled President, Robert Mugabe, and the regional mediator, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa.

Ban's frustration at Zimbabwe's refusal to let his Special Representative even enter the country found expression at a recent closed-door meeting of the Security Council attended by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband. In remarks that were released to the Press by his spokesman despite their supposedly secret provenance, Ban railed at the economic, social, political and health crisis in Zimbabwe. For all of 2008 there had been no effective government of the country. There had been a "failure of leadership ... to do what is best for the people of Zimbabwe." Including Thabo Mbeki in the criticism, Ban said: "Despite our continued efforts, I, unfortunately, have to conclude that neither the government nor the mediator welcomes a United Nations political role, and there is limited space for my good offices."

I wonder if Ban ever asks himself why he's getting so little respect. If he does, the answer is in print: former US envoy to the UN John Bolton, whose support for Ban was critical in getting him the job, says in his July 2008 memoir that a criterion in picking Ban was that he would be unlikely to rock the boat. Bolton told one interviewer Ban was chosen because he "wouldn’t get up one morning and conclude he was God’s gift to humanity."

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