x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

UN chief frustrated by failures

Exclusive Ban Ki-moon calls for industrialised nations to focus political will on climate change and poverty reduction.

Ban-Ki-moon, left, speaks with the Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa, at the Gaza reconstruction conference in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt.
Ban-Ki-moon, left, speaks with the Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa, at the Gaza reconstruction conference in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt.

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, EGYPT // If Ban Ki-moon is feeling a little jaded, he has good cause. A six-country tour of Africa followed immediately by a 45-nation donor conference to raise money for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip would sap the strength of anyone. But it is not the punishing schedule of the UN secretary general - the "toughest job in the world" as it has been described - that is making him fret: it is the intransigence of many of the politicians and bureaucrats with whom he has to deal. The eighth secretary general succeeded Kofi Annan on Jan 1 2007 with worthy ambitions to revamp the UN, win the battle against global poverty, stave off global warming and tackle human rights abusers. But global economic woes have since hampered negotiations on a climate change treaty, limited foreign aid budgets and jeopardised a set of poverty reduction targets called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). For these failures, the UN leader blames a "lessening of political will" across the international community during his first 26 months in office. Leaders "sticking to their own national positions ? makes things difficult". Yet Mr Ban is optimistic, too. He sees in the global reaction to the economic downturn the possibilities for progress in tackling the other key issues of our times. In an interview during the Gaza conference at Sharm el-Sheikh, Mr Ban pointed out that the world's leaders were now more aware than ever of the need for co-operation. "While addressing this financial crisis, industrialised countries are talking about stimulus packages of trillions and trillions of dollars. Because of the impending and imminent seriousness, this political will has been converged, focused. "If we could exercise the political will shown during these few months in addressing the global financial crisis, then why should we worry about climate change, the MDGs, official development assistance, food security? All these could be easily resolved. "I really hope that the leaders of the world look beyond their borders and beyond their national interests for the common good." The career diplomat and former foreign minister of South Korea is now reaching the midway point of his five-year term of office. The question being asked in the corridors of the UN and beyond is whether he wants to stand for a second term. He does, he says, but he is anxious to quash suggestions that he is only focused on staying in office. "I really resent people assuming that I am motivated by gaining a second term as secretary general. Working solely for a second term would compromise my principles. If I work hard, if member states clearly recognise my role, then I am ready to do that." It is this absence of support that concerns and frustrates him. Everything, he says, "depends upon the member states and I cannot be blamed for this lack of political will". The poor progress in making internal reforms at the UN - another of his ambitions - he finds equally troubling. Mr Ban has already acknowledged that "nobody followed" his reform agenda and during his six-nation African tour this week, he witnessed at first hand low staff morale at the international war crimes tribunal for Rwanda in the northern Tanzanian city of Arusha. Instead of discussing such lofty principles as securing justice for the victims of Rwanda's 1994 genocide, the visit was bogged down in a debate over whether the staff will continue to have UN jobs when the court shuts down. Even within UN headquarters in midtown Manhattan, Mr Ban's desire for structural internal changes has been met with intransigence and obstruction. There has been plenty of complaining, too; those working under the blue flag can be heard carping that their boss is more of a secretary than a general. Unfavourable comparisons have also been made with Mr Ban's predecessor, Kofi Annan, despite his administration's becoming mired in controversy, towards its end. These UN critics complain that Mr Ban's leadership style is more appropriate to the South Korean foreign ministry that he ran previously, while others suggest his command of English is poorly suited to the high-profile job. The UN chief is fully aware of what some of his staff might be saying - and why. He is angry that his tireless efforts and energy remain unrecognised, that his trademark style of conducting diplomacy behind closed doors renders him "invisible" to the public eye, and that there is little recognition that the style of a secretary general has to be very different from that of a politician. "I think I have been quite visible," he said. "There may be some difference in style, but there are many different ways leaders and diplomats engage in dialogue. You can always speak out in a very strong way. "When it comes to fundamental, universally accepted principles like human rights, and crimes like sexual violence, I have been speaking out very strongly, and have achieved quite considerable progress in many areas." Mr Ban links his helmsmanship to such causes as combatting global warming and rising food prices, but it is more immediate topics - alleged war crimes in Darfur and Zimbabwe's dysfunctional leadership, among them - that grab the headlines. The world's top diplomat describes the "immense responsibility" he feels for addressing such infractions, but acknowledges that "frustratingly, these still have not been resolved". He has been outspoken, too, calling for Israel to halt its recent offensive in Gaza, and eventually issuing a desperate plea for both sides to "just stop" the violence. The 22-day war caused the deaths of UN staff and damage to UN-run schools that were providing refuge to Palestinians - even though the world body had previously sent Israel satellite-traceable locations of all facilities. The UN chief's post-invasion Gaza trip - much like his "surprise visit" to Iraq after last month's election and a media jamboree in a Congolese refugee camp on Sunday - indicates a push for greater personal recognition. He said he was the "first person" to support Palestinians by visiting Gaza and that he was the international community's "only channel of communication with Myanmar", despite lacklustre progress with the ruling junta. In such deeply unstable conflict zones as Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mr Ban has struggled to persuade troop-contributing UN members to provide the peacekeepers needed to protect civilians. "Look at the case of Darfur - we have not yet been able to deploy the mandated soldiers," said Mr Ban, who is 64. "We have not been able to get the helicopters, which are very critical assets. The United Nations is composed of all 192 countries, and if there is not full support and political will, then it is very hard to implement all this." It is his determination to make an effect that is behind his willingness to serve a second term. However, Mr Ban will not be actively campaigning; he says his "lifestyle, ethics and philosophy" preclude him from using his office to further his career aspirations by canvassing support for a second term. His evident frustration with some aspects of the job is mirrored by his disdain for debate over his political ambitions, which, he says, divert attention away from the pressing issues of the day. "When I was foreign minister, I didn't carry out my ministership so that I could become a secretary general," he said. "I am now less than halfway through my mandate. Why do people talk about these things?" jreinl@thenational.ae