UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby have appointed former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to be their top envoy on the worsening situation in Syria. While Annan is certainly a better choice than was Sudanese Lt. Gen. Mohammad al-Dabi, the Arab League’s previous pick and a man complicit in the Darfur genocide, Annan is not a good choice.
As head of peace-keeping during the Rwanda genocide, Annan hid behind legalisms and bureaucracy. Had he been bolder, his peacekeepers might actually have kept the peace, but for Annan, the path of least resistance enabled a quarter million civilians to die. His apology came years too late for people there.
Alas, Annan failed upwards. While Annan saw his position as secretary-general as a bully-pulpit, the world’s top diplomat as it were, that is not actually the job of the secretary-general. Rather, the secretary-general is supposed to be the UN’s top administrator, responsible for its running and operations so that diplomats appointed by sovereign states can get at the business of diplomacy. Annan, however, failed at this task. Overseeing the Oil-for-Food program, the UN’s largest humanitarian effort, Annan presided over unprecedented fraud, from which his family profited. Had Annan allowed the UN to be audited by outside forensic experts rather than the UN’s own hand-picked panel, much more might have come to light.
Annan’s utter incompetence would have landed any other executive out of a job or in prison, but the culture which the UN embraces values neither accountability nor transparency.
Unfortunately, lives are on the line in Syria, and so Annan’s incompetence will again have real world consequences. The Syrian people deserve better.