Sunday, February 20, 2005 at 4:35 AM

Kofi Annan’s UN Malaise: Corruption and Sex Abuse

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan: What, me worry?

It takes a remarkable record of professional incompetence to provoke the (liberal) New York Times to join the (conservative) Wall Street Journal in calling for one’s resignation. As Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan has achieved this dubious distinction – and deservedly so.

Annan was elected Secretary General on 1 January 1997. His election settled a classic struggle between developed nations (led by the United States and England) and the Third World (led by Egypt and Botswana) over whether Annan’s predecessor, Boutros Boutros Gali, would serve a second term. Until then, a Secretary General’s election to a second term was routine. But the Americans (led by President Clinton) and their cohorts found Boutros Gali too zealous in challenging developed nations to honour their international obligations and trying to redress inequities between rich and poor countries in world affairs. They assumed Annan, however, would be a more malleable functionary and imposed his election upon the United Nations.

Alas, Annan has proved more resolutely bureaucratic than politically compliant to his American benefactors. But, unlike Boutros Gali, their disappointment in Annan stems not from his zealous execution of the mandates of his office; rather, it stems from his dithering and predilection for (European) bureaucratic form over (American) results-oriented substance in international affairs.

In fairness to Annan, however, a little due diligence by the Americans in 1996 would have warned them about his Eurocentric world view. Indeed, Annan is the prototypical process-obsessed bureaucrat – having been nurtured by the UN since his initiation 1962. His failures as a leader, however, were telegraphed with devastating clarity during his tenure as head of the UN’s Peace Keeping Department from 1993 – 1996:

Annan’s fellow Africans, in particular, remember well this period of humanitarian neglect by the United Nations as a holocaust rampaged amongst the people of Rwanda and Burundi. Almost 1 million Africans were massacred by tribal militias over a few weeks in 1994. And, Annan and his “peacekeeping” forces simply stood by like palace guards in the midst of this tragedy. In lamenting his failures, he admitted recently that he “realised after the genocide that there was more that [he] could and should have done to sound the alarm and rally support.” Ultimately, Annan confessed that he was “guilty of sins of omission.” Indeed!

Of course Annan’s contrition would be only slightly more convincing if he were not now “playing his fiddle” in midst of yet another African holocaust. His neglect in this case is more egregious, however, because he stands not as a confused and feckless field officer but as the head of United Nations itself. To date, over 100,000 primarily black Africans have been ethnically cleansed (and 1.2 million driven from their homes) in Darfur, Sudan by government-backed Arab militias. And, it is noteworthy that it was the Americans (and not their Africans brothers) who prodded the United Nations to charge these militias with committing genocidal crimes against humanity. But, instead of “sounding the alarm and rally[ing] support”, Annan retreated to form by appointing a commission to study whether the Americans were right to call massacre of 100,000 Africans “genocide”. Meanwhile, the killing goes on….

Clearly, this serial neglect of his fellow Africans should be just cause to call for Annan’s resignation. But the New York Times and Wall Street Journal were moved by more salacious considerations: money and sex.


From Annan’s first day as Secretary General, the United Nations was responsible for administering Iraq’s “Oil-for-Food” progarmme which was intended to provide Sadaam Hussein the means to purchase humanitarian supplies for the Iraqi people during international sanctions against his country. But recently unclassified records implicate Annan’s son, Kojo, and his Deputy Secretary General, Benon V. Savon, in a monumental scheme to help Sadaam launder billions of dollars from the programme to buy weapons and live like a Babylonian king. These records may well implicate Annan himself – at the very least – for more sins of omission.


A few weeks ago, disgusted officials leaked an internal UN report, which found that peacekeepers had sexually exploited and abused African refugees in the DR Congo. These leaks forced Annan to admit that he had known for some time about his staff’s criminal conduct. Conduct, incidentally, that included pedophilia, rape and prostitution (some of which was caught on tape).

He offered words of contrition to the African victims and pledged to convene a commission to investigate these crimes. Except that, in doing so, he was treating these victims like poor, ignorant fools. After all, just years ago, another internal UN report found evidence of similar “widespread” sexual exploitation and abuse of African refugees by UN staff.

…More Sex

UN Refugee Chief Ruud Lubbers: I did not sexually harass that woman…

Just days ago, the head of the United Nation’s Refugee Agency, Rudd Lubbers, was desperately denying allegations of sexual harassment made by a member of his staff. He assured the media that his boss, Kofi Annan, had reviewed the report by the UN Internal Investigations Department (OIOS) on the allegations 6 months ago and “concluded they were unsustainable”.

But on the heels of his denials, a British newspaper, The Independent, published leaked information from that report. It showed that the OIOS found that “Mr. Lubbers did engage in unwanted physical contact with a subordinate female staff member. [Moreover that] new allegations that came to the OIOS’s attention during the investigation were also examined and indicate a pattern of sexual harassment by Mr. Lubbers,” Nevertheless, Lubbers insists the he will not resign prior to the end of his contract with the UN (December 2005).

In refusing to resign, however, Lubbers is merely following Annan who insists that, despite growing pressure for him to resign, he too will not leave prior to the end of his contract (December 2006). But, although he retains some residue of good will for, amongst other things, promoting the transition to civilian rule in Nigeria; resolving a stalemate between Libya and the Security Council over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing; and forging an international response to violence in East Timor, Annan’s failure of leadership (especially in African affairs) warrants his immediate resignation.

If he survives, however, the metastasizing malaise at the United Nations will inevitably led him to say about 2005 what he said about last year (and could say about almost every year of his term as UN Secretary General): namely, that it was an “annus horribilis”.

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