Scandals in the UN system are not new, neither are the cover-ups. About four years ago, the first indication of the rot that had beleaguered the organisation since the time of Boutros Boutros Ghali came to surface.
At first it was the admission by Ghali’s successor, Kofi Annan, that some members of his staff had taken sexual advantage of the plight of war refugees in Bosnia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
In most cases the UN personnel are deployed in poor societies. Their ostentatious duty-free affluence amidst so much misery is a fail-safe snare worthy of a Bushman hunter in the Kalahari.
It was easy for the victims to fall easy prey: Their living conditions were nothing to write home about (unless it was to report yet another death in their midst - a victim of hunger and disease).
A box of dry rations containing corned beef, biscuits and chewing gum was enough to buy sexual favours from under-age girls and desperate mothers. No wonder the other name of the tinned salty meat is bully beef!
But who would not be willing to be bullied to ease a grumbling stomach? The famous Annan admission that his "International civil servants" had stretched the ethics chapter to the limit came as no surprise.
For an organisation that is more concerned with preserving its image, it was a matter of damage control, a race against time.
Would it sound better if I suggested that the inherent cronyism within the organisation had turned the godforsaken DRC, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Bosnia and Haiti into cheap brothels?
The Economist went as far as to suggest that the UN was even considering whether the organisation had not been infiltrated "by organized paedophiles who recruit their friends."
But was Annan sincere in owning up or was it just a facade, a smokescreen to hide the real issue - the Iragi Oil-for-food programme for example?
Remember when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been slapped by an embargo and children were dying in their thousands everyday for lack of medicine and food? Well, some ingenious mind in New York came up with this brilliant idea.
Save the image of the UN by portraying it as magnanimous and has feelings for the people in Baghdad, Fallujah, Mossul, Karballa (CNN and Al Jazeera are good geography teachers), at the same time making a fortune for the few people in the know and their cronies.
Saddam would be allowed to sell his oil through the UN to be able to buy food and medicine. He made a killing by selling some oil under the table, oil companies profited and UN officials ran laughing all the way to the bank.
Koffi Annan’s own son was among the top cats in the scam. Had the Annans been in the Stock Exchange business they would have been charged with insider trading, a very different kind of trading from the one MONUC is accused of doing with the FDLR in the Kivu.
The buzz word in the top echelons of the UN is; I got your back. Look after my interests and you will not regret it. That is the maxim of people who love their own peace. I think The United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda (UNAMIR) can serve as a good example.
In the case of the Oil-Sex scam, only UN spin doctors could have hatched a plot so devious; accept partial blame and douse the fires in a more serious matter: The sex-crazed peacekeepers could take the fall while Kofi slinked away from the oil-deal-gone-wary; in the meantime, his mandate was equally creeping past.
The UN is like a young child playing hide-and-seek. It thinks that when it covers its eyes with both palms, it becomes invisible. Just like the ostrich buries its head in the sand, the child believes that the darkness behind the tiny hands will have the same effect on the other party, that they will wallow in darkness. How wrong they are! But then the UN is an overgrown baby.
In February 2005, USATODAY did not go far off the mark when it wrote:
"It’s time to wake up to reality: The U.N. scandals are not unfortunate accidents. They are not incidental blots on the reputation of an otherwise idealistic organization. The scandals are inherent in the very structure of the U.N. It could be said that the U.N. itself is the scandal.
They keep the peace (for themselves) while we pick the piece(s)."
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