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In Ban's UN, Africa Office Threatened with Extinction, Diplomats Complain

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, July 10 -- Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is moving to eliminate the Office of the Special Advisor on Africa, Inner City Press was told on Tuesday.

    The mandate of the Office, which has been left leaderless since early in Ban's now six-month tenure, would be consolidated with, and because just another sub-acronym in, the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries (LDC), Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDC) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

            On February 9, Ban's titular chief of staff Vijay Nambiar announced the resignation of Kofi Annan's last -- and seemingly the last -- UN Special Advisor on Africa, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, a former envoy to the UN from Botswana. In the five months since, questions have grown as the position remained unfilled. (It should be noted that the post of Special Representative of the Secretary General in Sudan and Cote d'Ivoire are also both long unfilled, the former for eight months now.)

            On Tuesday, a diplomat of a major sub-Saharan African nation who was following the Security Council's wan consideration of Guinea-Bissau contacted Inner City Press to say that Ban Ki-moon is moving to "kill off" the Office, in the diplomat's words. Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesperson more diplomatically -- if Ban is considering merging the Office with that of Least Developed Nations and Small Island Developing States. "Yes," the spokesperson said, nodding. Video here, from Minute 15:50. See transcript, below.

            The same diplomat expressed outrage that the Office could be extinguished, "what with all of the Africa issues on the agenda of the Security Council, and the press releases issued and funds raised about Africa" by UN funds and programs. The diplomat mused, bitterly it seemed, that perhaps the posts will be replaced by some advisory office about the Korean peninsula. (In fact, there is a leaked memo from the UN Department of Political Affairs, which Inner City Press obtained and put online here, which might be relevant to that.)

            In full disclosure, Inner City Press has previously critically covered the Office of the Special Advisor on Africa, for example in October 2006, regarding Legwaila Joseph Legwaila's dodging of questions about Zimbabwe. While more nuanced, in April 2007, OSSA scholar Ejeviome Eloho Otobo was similarly questioned. But the Office has functioned, as the diplomat explains, as a place in the UN system in which Africa is comprehensively considered, and not only as a object of humanitarian aid, or peacekeeping missions.

In crowd, UN Special Advisor on Africa Legwaila Joseph Legwaila (Office of Special Advisor on Africa no longer shown)

            Before Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, Annan's long-time Special Advisor on Africa was Ibrahim Gambari, who resignation as head of Political Affairs was also announced on February 9 by Vijay Nambiar. Gambari, however, re-emerged with advisory posts on Iraq and Myanmar, regarding which he is traveling this week to China, India and Japan, among other places. (In Beijing, Gambari was told that Myanmar's problems are entirely internal, a position taken by Chinese Ambassador Wang, this month's Security Council president, at his July 3 press conference, click here for that.)

            All the way back in 1990, Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar had a Special Advisor on Africa, in that case the Canadian Stephen Lewis. So the concept of this post is not only tied to Kofi Annan. It is not, the diplomat argued on Tuesday, a case in which Annan of Ghana chose to create an advisory office about "his" continent, which Ban now extinguishes or replaces.

  In fairness, on Monday Ban's Deputy Spokesperson responded to Inner City Press' questions about Sudan with an expression of commitment. From the transcript:

Inner City Press: ...not only is there is no Special Representative of the Secretary-General but that the Deputy, Manuel da Silva has left and that the head of UN OCHA has left.  This article quotes the head of the non-profit that partnered on the Rwanda exhibit, saying that the lack of leadership is appalling, Ban Ki-moon has taken the pressure off the Government of Sudan... Can you, number one, factually confirm that Deputy Manuel da Silva has left and that head of UN OCHA is no longer in Sudan?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Deputy SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General) for Sudan is the head of the OCHA office.  So I believe that's the same individual.  And yes, my understanding was that he was due to leave.  I do know that he was due to leave around this time. But in terms of who is on the ground, we do have an acting Special Representative, in the name of Taye Zerihoun, who is a veteran on the ground, and he's been holding the fort.  We don't have an announcement on a new SRSG for Sudan, but Mr. Zerihoun is very much on the ground in charge.

Inner City Press: The same article actually says that the Deputy is eager to leave.  I don't know what the sourcing of that is, but I guess, is there some way that we could... given that it is now many months since there's been a SRSG in this important country, what's the hang-up, are they checking with people?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, Sudan, especially Darfur, is a top priority for the Secretary-General.  So I know that there is an active search underway and as soon as we can announce something we will. (Emphasis added)

      In double fairness, priorities are not always measured by speed of appointment, or even in keeping a pre-existing Office as focus. But more of the UN's work is in Africa than anywhere else. How much money could possibly be saved, the diplomat mused, by eliminating or more likely shifting the 16 posts of the Office of the Special Advisor on Africa?

    We note that the UN Pension Fund, as it seeks to outsource $11 billion of the money it manages, is also seeking 43 new posts. Close the African office to cut 16 jobs, while creating more new posts for the Pension Fund, which would under the proposal have less money manage. It's beyond penny wise and pound foolish, the diplomat concluded. It's just plain foolish. We'll see.

From Tuesday's media briefing transcript:

Inner City Press: ...people are now saying that the Office for the Special Adviser for Africa may be merged into the Office of the LDCs and Small Island States.  Is that, can you, is that being under consideration?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Inner City Press: It is under consideration?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Click here for Inner City Press' coverage of the UN Security Council's July 10 press statement on Guinea-Bissau

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