Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
It is both fascinating and horrifying to overhear a bad argument between two old friends. The drama is compelling but you shudder at the pain of each wounding criticism.
I doubt Kai Eide, the U.N.’s top man in Afghanistan, will be holidaying again with his former deputy, Peter Galbraith, after a lacerating row between them over electoral fraud. Once the best of friends, the two have fallen out spectacularly over what should have been done to prevent the ballot stuffing, vote rigging and intrigue that Western powers now publicly admit badly marred the August 20 poll in Afghanistan. Were the stakes not so high, the fight could be brushed off as the consequence of clashing egos and the vagaries of human nature. But the dispute has cast doubt on whether any outcome of the vote can be considered legitimate. A second round may still happen, depending on a recount of suspect votes likely to conclude in a few days. On current trends President Hamid Karzai will emerge the winner, but will look like spoiled goods in the eyes of many in the Obama administration. Obama needs a credible political partner in Kabul to help him sell to Americans the cost in blood and treasure of whatever approach he eventually decides to take on continuing the counter-insurgency fight in Afghanistan.
Galbraith had been making the public running in the argument, charging that his efforts to prevent fraud were blocked and that he was muzzled by Eide, a veteran Norwegian diplomat. When he refused to keep quiet, says Galbraith, he was sacked. Eide’s actions or inactions have helped give the Taliban its greatest strategic victory in eight years of fighting Western forces, Galbraith has told anyone who would listen, including the op-ed pages of major American newspapers.
When Eide finally bit back in public he lined up a silent chorus of Western ambassadors to sit on a podium beside him in Kabul to demonstrate the solid support of ‘the international community.’ (The British, French and U.S. ambassadors seated beside Eide did not take questions, despite one being tossed deliberately at Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. envoy). The mild-mannered Norwegian roused himself into indignant righteousness and, without ever mentioning Galbraith by name, fought back against the charges of having winked at massive fraud by agents of Karzai and castigated his former deputy for discourteously breaching confidences.
Ban Ki-moon isn’t having a good year for public relations. Halfway through a five-year term as U.N. secretary-general, he’s been hit with a wave of negative assessments by the Financial Times, The Economist, London Times, Foreign Policy and other media organizations. In a March 2009 editorial entitled “Whereabouts Unknown,” the Times said Ban was “virtually inaudible” on pressing issues of international security and “ineffectual” on climate change, the one issue that Ban claims he has made the biggest difference on. The Economist gave him a mixed report card, assigning him two out of 10 points for his management skills while praising him on climate change (eight out of 10 points).
This week, Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper made an unpleasant situation much worse. It published a confidential memo assessing Ban’s 2-1/2 years in office from Oslo’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Mona Juul, to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. Juul’s report is scathing — and it comes from a representative of one of the world’s body’s top financial contributors. She says the former South Korean foreign minister suffers from a “lack of charisma” and has “constant temper tantrums” in his offices on the 38th floor of the United Nations building in midtown Manhattan.
She describes Ban as a “powerless observer” during the fighting in Sri Lanka earlier this year when thousands of civilians were killed as government forces ended a 25-year civil war against Tamil Tiger rebels, trapping them on a narrow strip of coast in the country’s northeast. In Darfur, Somalia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Congo, she wrote, Ban’s “passive and not very committed appeals seem to fall on deaf ears.” She says that his recent trip to Myanmar was a failure and that some people in Washington refer to Ban as a “one-term” secretary-general.
Juul’s letter could hardly have come at a more inopportune time. Ban is planning to visit Norway in the coming weeks, where he intends to meet with government officials and visit the Arctic circle to see for himself the effects of global warming and the melting polar ice. Now U.N. officials fear reporters will be more interested in what he says about Juul’s memo than climate change.
So far Ban has not reacted to the letter. However, a Norwegian diplomat told Reuters that Ban’s press office had been instructed to hold off on confirming his visit to Norway shortly after the news of Juul’s memo began to spread.
Ban’s PR difficulties didn’t start this year. In March 2008, his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar sent a memo to U.N. employees explaining how to say his boss’s name. “Many world leaders, some of whom are well acquainted with the Secretary-General, still use his first name mistakenly as his surname and address him wrongly as Mr. Ki-moon or Mr. Moon,” Nambiar complained.
Then came Ban’s own speech to senior U.N. officials in Turin, Italy last year, in which he described how difficult it was to improve the working culture inside the United Nations. The secretary-general seemed to acknowledge that his internal management style had failed. “I tried to lead by example,” Ban said. “Nobody followed.”
Ban’s aides vehemently defend him, saying he’s being treated unfairly by the press. One senior U.N. official suggested privately that Ban could very well turn out to be “the greatest secretary-general ever.” They complain that people continue to compare him to his predecessor Kofi Annan, who was a very different U.N. chief and relied less on “quiet diplomacy” than Ban. Annan became a hero to many people around the world for standing up to the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Annan called the March 2003 invasion illegal. U.N. officials also complain bitterly about the indefatigable blogger Matthew Lee, whose website Inner City Press regularly accuses Ban and other U.N. officials of hypocrisy and failing to keep their promises to reform the United Nations and root out corruption. (Some U.N. officials accuse Lee of not always getting his facts right, but his blog has become unofficial required reading for U.N. staffers around the world.)
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, diplomats in New York say, is among those supporting a campaign against a second term for Ban. Juul’s memo said Helen Clark, New Zealand’s former prime minister and current head of the U.N. Development Program, “could quickly become a competitor for Ban’s second term.” But diplomats say they expect the United States, Britain and other major powers to reluctantly back a second term for Ban, if only because there appears to be no viable alternative whom Russia and China would support.
A recent article in the Times of London said the best U.N. chief in the organization’s 64-year history was not Swedish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dag Hammarskjold but the Peruvian diplomat Javier Perez de Cuellar, who held the top U.N. post for 10 years until 1992. Nicknamed “mumbles” because he was so difficult to understand, Perez de Cuellar kept a low profile and, like Ban, preferred backroom diplomacy, not Annan’s bully pulpit. Among the Peruvian diplomat’s successes were managing the end of the Cold War, leading a long-delayed revival of U.N. peacekeeping and encouraging member states to back a U.S.-led military operation to drive Iraq’s invading forces out of Kuwait in 1991.
Will Ban’s preference for quiet diplomacy make him as good or better than Perez de Cuellar? That remains to be seen.
Although the U.N.’s racism conference in Geneva has been dominated by Middle East politics, Palestinian rights groups say Palestinians have effectively been silenced.On the one hand tough rules by the conference organisers prevented Palestinian NGOs from holding “side events”, they say. On the other hand Monday’s controversial speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, slamming Israel as a “totally racist government” founded “on the pretext of Jewish suffering”, has distracted attention from the issues that actually affect Palestinians.
“One thing that we have noticed in this conference is that there has been a concerted effort to silence the voices of the Palestinian presence and raising the Palestinian issue,” said Wisam Ahmad of Al-Haq, a Ramallah-based advocacy group.
A United Nations conference on racism is being boycotted by the United States and many of its allies.
They fear the meeting in Geneva will single out Israel for criticism. A previous racism conference in 2001 in Durban, South Africa, was marred by anti-Semitic street protests and attempts to pass a resolution equating Zionism with racism, prompting the United States and Israel to walk out.
from Africa News blog:
The overthrow of Madagascar’s leader may have had nothing to do with events elsewhere in Africa, but after four violent changes of power within eight months the question is bound to arise as to whether the continent is returning to old ways.
Three years without coups between 2005 and last year had appeared to some, including foreign investors, to have indicated a fundamental change from the first turbulent decades after independence. This spate of violent overthrows could now be another reason for investors to tread more warily again, particularly as Africa feels the impact of the global financial crisis.
from Africa News blog:
Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has seen off other challenges in almost 20 years in power and there is no sign that he is going to give in to the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
Some supporters of the court's move hope it will eventually persuade Sudan's politicians to hand over their leader in a palace coup, end the festering conflict in Darfur and do more to repair relations with the West.
from Africa News blog:
Earlier this month, Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo argued that Africa needs Western countries to cut long term aid that has brought dependency, distorted economies and fuelled bureaucracy and corruption. The comments on the blog posting suggested that many readers agreed. In a response, Savio Carvalho, Uganda country director for aid agency Oxfam GB, says that aid can help the continent escape poverty - if done in the right way:
In early January, I travelled to war-ravaged northern Uganda to a dusty village in Pobura and Kal parish in Kitgum District. We were there to see the completion of a 16km dirt road constructed by the community with support from Oxfam under an EU-funded programme.
from Africa News blog:
Tsvangirai vowed to rescue the stricken economy and called on the international community to help salvage the economy of Zimbabwe where unemployment is above 90 percent, prices double every day and half the 12 million population need food aid.
from Africa News blog:
Rwanda sent hundreds of its soldiers into eastern Congo on Tuesday in what the neighbours have described as a joint operation against Hutu rebels who have been at the heart of 15 years of conflict. Details are still somewhat sketchy, with Rwanda saying its soldiers are under Congolese command but Kinshasa saying Kigali’s men have come as observers.
Evidence on the ground suggests something more serious. United Nations peacekeepers and diplomats have said up to 2,000 Rwandan soldiers crossed into Congo. A Reuters reporter saw hundreds of heavily armed troops wearing Rwandan flag patches moving into Congo north of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province. The world’s largest U.N. peacekeeping mission is, for now, being kept out of the loop.
from Africa News blog:
The withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia has left a nation beset by conflict for nearly two decades at a crossroads.
Ethiopia invaded to oust Islamists from the capital, but insurgents still control much of southern Somalia and more hardline groups that worry Washington have flourished during the two-year intervention.