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In Ban's UN, Africa May Be Overshadowed by Climate Change, Somalia Silence Continues

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 18 -- Despite attempts by UN staff on Wednesday to clarify Ban Ki-moon's position on Africa, doubts continued to grow. Ban's Spokesperson Michele Montas tried to preempt questions about the consolidation of the Office of the Special Advisor on Africa by reading out a statement:

"In response to questions about the reported letter of the G-77, regarding the substance of this matter, please refer to the Secretary-General's announcement of 6 July regarding the appointment of the High Representative for Least Developed, Landlocked Developing and Small Island States.  I have nothing to add to what is contained in that announcement."

            But the referenced announcement, dated July 6, did not disclose that the OSAA was being mixed in. To her credit, Ms. Montas despite saying she had "nothing to add" proved willing to take questions from two correspondents on the issue:

Inner City Press: I appreciate what you are saying.  I think the report that we are referring to said that it is also being presented to the ACABQ.  So I am just trying to understand the status of the proposed change: would it only take place with ACABQ recommending it, or is that just a consultation?

Spokesperson:  Just a consultation.

Inner City Press: But the change is taking place?

Spokesperson:  It is going to be a decision that anyway has to be taken by the General Assembly.

Question:  So they could override.

Spokesperson:  Sure.  And, you know, there is going to be a number of consultations, discussions and further elaboration of what the Secretary-General has in mind.  Which is not at all to diminish the place that Africa should occupy in terms of UN concerns.

            Some observers note that, other than Darfur, Ban Ki-moon says less and less about Africa. In his foray Tuesday in Washington, sources tell Inner City Press that while the read-outs of meetings mentioned Africa and the Millennium Development Goals, the real and in some cases only topic was climate change.

Ban Ki-moon in Africa, January 2007, back in the day, on the big screen

            [Ms. Montas, again to her credit, was willing to confirm that the House Foreign Relations Committee raised to Mr. Ban the issues of the UNDP audit and the whistleblower, click here for transcript, in which Ms. Montas recites that the UN "Ethics Office is examining the request of the [complainant] to be considered as a whistle-blower." Inner City Press is told that the decision is due out on Friday, and that at least the draft decision is that the whistleblower is, in fact, a UN-agreed upon whistleblower. We'll have more on this.]

            Even while bringing up the OSA on Africa issue, Ban's Spokesperson chided those who'd raised it: "I am surprised to see that a letter on this matter, purportedly from Ambassador Akram to the Secretary-General, was shared with the press even before it had reached the Secretary-General." First, that happens all the time, at all levels of public policy. Second, it seems pretty clear that the letter is from Amb. Akram. And to try to drive a wedge between the African Group and the G-77, by claiming as Ms. Montas did that the latter acted before the former had met, may not turn out to be effective. Better would be to actually apply some focus to some non-Darfur issues in Africa.

            Notably, Mr. Ban did not once mention the situation in Somalia during his July 16 press conference. Wednesday Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas for the status of Ban's commitment to the International Maritime Organization to get action, including at the UN Security Council, on Somalia issues.  Ms. Montas said that "I know that the Secretary-General discussed that issue and I think it is on the front burner right now.  And I'll let you know what comes out of the discussions around the issue."

            At the Security Council stakeout, Inner City Press asked this month's President of the Security Council, Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya, if the Secretariat has forwarded the IMO's Somalia request, or any other information about Somalia, to which Ban's envoy Francois Lonseny Fall less than a week ago cancelled his trip.  No, Amb. Wang indicated, "all we have are press reports, we may [have to] ask for a briefing from the Secretariat." Video here. Some would advise Ban: even while trying to fix the OSAA snafu, pay attention to events in Somalia, for by them you may (also) be judged.

* * *

Given Ban's omission of Somalia on Monday, and the above-recounted responses of Tuesday, click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the National Reconciliation Congress, the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund, and note the cancellation of the UN's pre-Congress flight to Mogadishu.

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