Archive for December, 2006

Kofi Annan: The end of an era.It is an end of line…

Kofi Annan: The end of an era.

It is an end of line for the charismatic UN Secretary General Kofi Annan who would be retiring as a career diplomat after completing his second term in office. Mr. Annan, a native of Ghana, joined the UN right after graduating from the Swiss Institut universitaire des hautes études internationales. He joined the United Nations System as administrative and budget officer with World Health Organization (WHO). He remained with the UN in various capacities until 1996 when he was selected by the UN General Assembly to become the 7th Secretary General of this august world body.

During his tenure Kofi Annan presided over one of the most volatile times of the last two decades. He saw the Serbian crisis when finally NATO acted on behalf of UN to resolve the issue. He saw the African genocide in Rwanda as well as Darfur. He saw the human crisis of famine in Somalia as well as the natural disaster of Tsunami in South Asia. In all these situations UN played a role in allying the misery of the people affected by natural as well as man-made crisis. But the high point of his tenure was the reaction of the UN against the terrorist acts of 911. On one hand was the lone superpower hungry to take revenge for the lives lost and ego bruised by the terrorist acts. On the other was maintaining the validity of an international organization, founded by one of the great American presidents Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR), to resolve international issues. In the end it was too difficult for an organization that relies substantially on US funds to survive to contain the anger of a nation. The resultant war on terror which included implementation of patriotic act, invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq seems to have had adverse results rather than contain the expansion of terrorism. In retrospect it seems that the UN platform to combat terrorism, promote peace and resolve conflicts is much more relevant than unilateral actions of a nation.

Kofi Annan tried his best to convince the nations to follow a diplomatic path to resolve issues in the UN security and general council which annoyed the policy makers in the Bush administration. The result was a break out of a scandal of Kojo Annan’s, SG’s son, involvement in the oil for food program to undermine the influence of the UN and its chief diplomat. Skilled diplomat that he is Mr. Annan formed an inquiry committee under the chairmanship of former Chairman of Federal Reserve Mr. Paul Volcker. The committee exonerated the SG and his son but it did point out the bureaucratic corruption and declining morale standards of the UN officials.

Kofi Annan, as a career UN officer, understands the workings of the UN more than any other of his predecessors. He presented a UN reform program to the General Assembly in July 2006 which was later adopted as a resolution. The objective of these reforms is to improve oversight and accountability, information and communications technology, limited budgetary discretion, financial management practices, improving reporting mechanisms, public access to UN documentation, and procurement. But the real issue today is the viability of the UN in the new world order where a sole power, US, is overlooking the UN to take unilateral actions to resolve conflicts or punish rogue states. The moral dilemma for UN member nations is to contain their sovereign interest in the larger interest of humanity. So far the UN has not been able to prevent any major conflict which was the basic tenet of its charter when it was founded in the after math of the Second World War. The UN has only being useful in containment after cease fire and providing humanitarian assistance in times of natural disasters.

Kofi Annan on many occasions proved to be a strong leader who was not willing to be bullied by major powers in the times of political crisis. But a single person can not make an organization effective unless the underlying structure is based on equity. The special status of five permanent members of Security Council has contributed to the ineffectiveness of the organization. In all major political crises, one or the other permanent member has vetoed a resolution. Even when a resolution is passed there is no instrument available to implement the decision. For the United Nations to become an equitable and effective world body there should be equal voting rights given to all twelve members of the Security Council. In the current structure five permanent members i.e. US, France, Britain, China and Russia, gets special voting rights. This creates an imbalance in the resolutions of conflict as these powers usually vote on the issues based on their vested interest. There has been talk of expanding the Security Council from five to seven permanent members. The front runners for these two slots are India, Germany, Japan and Brazil. This still does not provide adequate representation to two large blocks i.e. Muslim world and African continent. For UN to become effective it is important that these two blocks gets representation as permanent members of the Security Council. Organization of Islamic Conference can nominate one of its members for this purpose or Pakistan, Egypt or Turkey can represent the Muslim world effectively. African interest can be represented by South Africa by far the largest economy in that continent.

After each political blunder, it is more than obvious that a multilateral organization is the best hope for the humanity to create an understanding and achieve peace. The unilateral US invasion of Iraq has once again proved that the UN is the only platform where nations can resolve their disputes peacefully. But it is also clear that all world leaders have to come together to discuss how this organization can be made more effective in the 21st century. It is the collective responsibility of the humanity to make this organization succeed. Strong leaders like Kofi Annan keep hopes alive for the continuity of the United Nations as a global player.


Leave a Comment