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UN's Ban Hands Nairobi Office to German, Union Protests, Pemba Sidelined

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 2 -- Handing management of the UN's African hub from a Tanzanian to a German, the UN's Ban Ki-moon has quietly named Achim Steiner to the top post at the UN Office in Nairobi, Steiner confirmed in an e-mail on March 2. In New York, Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe dodged the issue on February 27, and on March 2, after Steiner's confirmation, told Inner City Press her Office "has nothing" on the topic.

  In fact, Ban's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar if not Ban himself is aware of strong opposition to the shift to Steiner from the UNON Staff Union. In a February 26 letter to Ban, UNON union president Rhoda Atana protested the upcoming shift away from Tanzanian Anna Tibaikuka as, among other things, "against the principles of gender balance you have been promoting."

  Inner City Press has exclusively obtained a copy of the letter and places it online here.

  Ms. Atana wrote that she was advised, rather than confront Ban during his stop at the UN-affiliated International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, to deliver the letter to Vijay Nambiar.  Days later in New York, Ban's deputy spokesperson said she "ha[d] nothing" on either the switch to Steiner or the Staff Union letter protesting it.

   As Inner City Press reported exclusively on February 28, previously "the [UNON wa]s headed by a Director-General, at the Under-Secretary-General level, who is the most senior Under-Secretary-General among the Heads of the United Nations Programmes headquartered at the duty station, namely, UNEP and UN-Habitat."

  Thus, the Director-General of UNON was Anna Tibaijuka. She wrote the UN's report on Robert Mugabe's "Operation Take Out the Trash" in Zimbabwe, and finessed questions about the UN taking sides in the contested election in Kenya between Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki.

UN's Ban at Kilimanjaro on Feb. 27, UNON switch to German and Pemba protests not shown

  Now, under the Bulletin Ban quietly put out and that went into effect on March 1, "the Office is headed by a Director-General, at the Under-Secretary-General level, designated by the Secretary-General from among the heads of United Nations programmes headquartered at the duty station, namely, UNEP and UN-Habitat."

  Inner City Press noted that following the recent ceremony in which Ban's Under Secretaries General signed "compacts" with him, Tibaijuka did not sign a compact to remain as head of UNON. Others note that Ban's USG for Management Angela Kane is German, as is Achim Steiner, who has been placed above Tibaijuka in Nairobi.

  All this takes place against a backdrop in which Ban sought to eliminate the post of Special Advisor on Africa, a move opposed by the Group of 77 and China and the Africa Group. In the budget debate in December 2008, the General Assembly directed Ban to henceforth appoint a new Special Advisor on Africa, which he has yet to do. Ban's team has not explained either that move, nor this one. Some call it, diplomatically, tone-deaf, or surmise that Ban is badly advised.

  At the UN's noon briefing on February 27 Inner City Press asked Ban's Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Okabe

Inner City Press: in yesterday’s Journal there was an announcement in a new Secretary-General Bulletin about how the UN Office in Nairobi is organized.  And it is my understanding that it actually would result in currently the most senior of HABITAT or UNEP is running the Office in Nairobi, and that the new policy the Secretary-General would get to choose between the two.  Is that accurate and is it his intention to switch Nairobi from Ms. Tibaijuka to Mr. Achim Steiner?

Deputy Spokesperson Okabe:  If the Secretary-General’s Bulletin is what you read that’s all I have for you right now.

Inner City Press: Well, what’s the rationale of changing the existing policy under which an African official runs the Africa office of the UN to a policy that would have it the other way?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond what you read in the Bulletin.

    Then on March 2, after Steiner sent out an e-mail, below, that he has the job, Ms. Okabe still said she "has nothing" on the switch, or the Staff Union letter. Steiner wrote, Monday afternoon in Nairobi but hours before the UN's noon briefing in New York, that

The Secretary-General has issued a new Secretary-General's Bulletin on UNON effective 1st March 2009 and has designated me as Director General of UNON. 

Every transition inevitably creates a certain sense of anxiety and expectation - and I am writing first to bring to your attention the Secretary-General's decision... I believe in continuity while reforming and enhancing our capacity to deliver effectively and efficiently on our mandates... We have learnt many lessons and I intend to build on and further develop the reforms initiated by Ms. Tibaijuka.

  In fact, a memo accompanying the Staff Union letter to Ban says that by removing Ms. Tibaijuka from the top post, he is sending the message that "impunity reigns at the Nairobi duty station."  Impunity is not limited to Africa.

Footnote: As the UN's Ban Ki-moon traveled through Tanzania last week, elders from the island of Pemba advocating succession wanted to present him with a petition to that effect. The Tanzanian foreign ministry announced it had discovered and disrupted the "plot."

  On February 25, Inner City Press asked Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe about "this report that a threat was found against the Secretary-General, not a threat but a... to disrupt his visit to Tanzania by these Pemba elders.  One, is that something that the UN can confirm? And two, what history does the UN system or Secretariat have with this Pemba issue in Tanzania?"

  Ms. Okabe replied, "I have seen the press reports, and I have not heard anything in what I've read that would be affecting his travel plans."

   Since the UN's Deputy Secretary General Asha Rose Migiro was previously Tanzania's foreign minister, it seemed that unlike Ban's deputy spokesperson, she might have some knowledge or a comment. Ms. Migiro was slated to speak with the Francophonie organization. Inner City Press sought information about the meeting but was told it would take place outside of the UN, with no press. Inner City Press asked a senior Migiro staff to please get a comment, even a formal no-comment, from her about Pemba. Days later, none has been provided. Nor when Inner City Press asked at the UN noon briefing, for response by Ban or Migiro, was any response given.

  On February 26, Inner City Press asked a follow-up

Question:  On the Secretary-General’s trip in Tanzania, the Foreign Ministry there had said that the Pemba elders were going to try to give him a petition.  And now it’s reported that Fernandez-Taranco, the country representative, has met with the elders.  Was the Secretary-General made aware of the issues that the people from this Pemba Island were trying to raise and did he or Deputy Secretary-General Migiro have any comment or knowledge of what was…?

Deputy Spokesperson Okabe:  I am sure that he, like you, reads press reports on various issues.  I have nothing on that.  There is nothing on his schedule today.

The UN's country representative met with the elders, then claimed there was no relation to their desire to confront Ban, and that the Tanzanian government has everything under control. Among the elders' gripes are a lack of water and of electrical power -- and political power. We will have more on all this.

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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