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In UN, Protests to Nairobi Post Switch From Woman to Man, Gender Balance Comes Last

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 2 -- On a day the UN called for "greater gender equality and women's empowerment," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon replaced the female chief of the UN Office in Nairobi, Tanzanian Anna Tibaijuka, with a German man, Achim Steiner.

  While Ban's Deputy Spokesperson, after two days of questioning from Inner City Press, still declined to confirm the switch, not only Steiner but later the UN's Under Secretary General for Management Angela Kane confirmed the switch. No rationale for the seeming hypocrisy -- "do as I saw, not as I do" -- has been offered. The local UN Staff Union has protested in writing, and now prepares an in-person protest.

  Monday night in UN Headquarters, Inner City Press asked Ines Alberdi, the chief of the UN's women's agency UNIFEM, for her views on the switch from Anna Tibaijuka to Achim Steiner. "I can't answer you," Ms. Alberdi said. "I am not aware." (No estoy al tanto.) Inner City Press, after commenting on the irony to Alberdi as to the woman she'd replaced at UNIFEM, asked Alberdi about Anna Tibaijuka. She replied, "I don't know her." (No la conozco.) Ms. Alberdi promised to look into it, and Inner City Press will publish her response when it is received.

   [Alberdi spoke Monday night at the launch of a Gender Equality Fund, "housed" at the UN but with the Government of Spain making funding decisions, along with UNIFEM. Spain gave $67 million for the Fund, as it had given other monies in the run-up to Alberdi being appointed. To some it appears that the UN's hierarchy is Money, Nationality and only then, Gender Balance.]

UN's Alberdi, at right, with DSG and Spanish officials, Steiner switch not shown

  Obtaining answers from the UN is becoming more and more difficult. Monday, hours after Achim Steiner in an Al Haig moment had announced he had taken over from Ms. Tibaijuka, Ban's Deputy Spokesperson still declined at the noon briefing to confirm it. Inner City Press posed the question, and three others, to the USG for Management, Angela Kane, saying that while not wanting to bother her, no answer was given at the noon briefing.  Ms. Kane responded:

Subj: Re: Hi, Press questions re UN Office in Nairobi, ICC/Satyam, thnx
From: Angela Kane
To: Inner City Press
CC: Marie Okabe [Deputy Spokesperson]
Sent: 3/2/2009 6:17:15 P.M. Eastern Standard Time

[Q: who is in charge at UNON right now?]

Mr. Achim Steiner was designated Director-General of UNON, effective 1 March.

[Q: Does the International Computing Centre, for any of its work for the UN Secretariat, use services from Satyam?]

Re ICC, you will have to ask them directly.

[Q: Also, how many individuals within the Department of Management have you authorized to be extended beyond their retirement age?  What offices do these individuals work in?  And what are the reasons that you have authorized these individuals to be retained on the payroll beyond their maximum retirement age?]

Re individuals beyond retirement in DM, I have asked for the precise information, as I have only my own recollection which is anecdotal.  I wish we had the ERP system already in place - it would be easier to get the data.  

[Q: Finally (for now), about the UN's arrangements with Aramark, did they provide for price increases even as commodity prices decline? Is the UN's contract with Aramark public, can it be viewed? If not, with all due respect, why not?]

Re Aramark ( or any other restaurant/coffee shop operation), I have yet to see the decline in commodity prices reflected in customer pricing.  We always try to hold the line on increases, as I am sure you are well aware.  And finally, could you please ask your other questions at the noon briefing?  - I just cannot respond to individual queries in view of the heavy demands on my time.

  While these same-day answers were appreciated, it was remembered that Ban's Special Advisor urged "write positively about Angela Kane," and Ms. Kane herself later said, "write positively about the Organization." Partial written answers, and no answers at all at many recent UN noon briefing, make writing positively about the UN more difficult. Inner City Press followed up:

Thank you for these answers. While henceforth all DM questions will be asked at the noon briefing, just to follow-up on these, does the response mean that all of the UN's contract with Aramark is withheld from the press and public? Will you or the OSSG provide the retiree figures? And re UN Office in Nairobi, is Mr. Steiner physically in charge (is there no OIC) and are you aware of the staff protest(s) to this change?

  Marie, please consider the question whether Satyam does business with or for the UN system through the International Computing Center a question for the Secretariat's Spokesperson's Office, even for ICT/Mr. Choi.

  And so it goes at the UN. We will have more on these matters, including as responses are received.

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate including on MONUC

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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