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The UN feeds its own

By Bashir Goth - posted Friday, 30 March 2007

The new UN Secretary General is fortunate enough to have come at a time when the US failures in Iraq and Afghanistan have mellowed American unilateralist tendencies and pushed the world agenda back to the UN corridors.

The increasing US reliance on international consensus on Iran and North Korea’s nuclear issues as well as its turnaround on its intransigent position on Iraq provides an unprecedented opportunity to Ban Ki-Moon to be more of a General than a Secretary. But true to his low-key profile and being America’s man, the new Secretary General has already chosen to be a loyal, docile secretary than a commanding general. By making his first mission to Africa, he underlined his intention of skirting thorny issues such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian issue and Lebanon.

Raised on the South Korean diplomacy that sees the US as a strategic partner and defender of his country’s sovereignty, Ban Ki-Moon is not a man cut out for standing up to American hegemonic policies. Kofi Annan’s occasional defiant streak such as branding the American invasion of Iraq as "illegal" was due to his African anti-colonial upbringing and his long schooling in the UN system. Annan was also lucky to have an almost unified African block, which sometimes lobbied for his support through its historical, sensitive and diversified cultural ties with the West.


The top UN job will, however, always remain a frustrating seat for any occupant due to the organisation’s intractable bureaucratic system. The Security Council with its sacrosanct veto power holding members is long over due for change.

As the world has changed beyond recognition since World War II, it makes no sense that the 21st century’s economic giants such Japan, Germany and emerging India need to continue to bow down to the dictates of small countries like the UK and France.

While I view the demand of allocating a veto power to each continent as ridiculous, knowing that in today’s world its economic interests and having common values that unite countries rather than sharing geographical location, I can envisage the need to eliminate the veto system and replace it with a system that allocates power according to each country’s contribution to UN operations.

It is also the mammoth body of the organisation that needs a ruthless trimming. It is a body that is bogged down by rampant corruption; irremediable bureaucracy and an unimaginable wastage of funds that if reasonably spent could have eradicated world poverty.

I don’t think it is either a naïve suggestion nor an unattainable one to demand the privatisation of the UN humanitarian operations. It seems somewhat anachronistic that at a time when even the most erstwhile communist countries have embraced free market economy and all kinds of centralised systems have become an object of scorn that the UN remains as the biggest socialist state in the world.

The current system of the UN, based on giving handouts to the poor, is a perfect recipe for creating sustainable poverty. The reason is that the UN feeds more of its employees than it feeds needy people.


The UN employees, from the top rung to the bottom of the ladder, are spoiled with hefty salaries, large annual bonuses, extravagant parties and dream pensions. It is also well known that UN supervised projects rarely benefit the target populations because most of the money spent on any project goes to administrative costs, a euphemism for peculation where UN staff and their on-the-ground brokers walk away with the bulk of the money.

A quick visit to any African town or village will tell you many rags to riches stories through the expensive villas owned by people who worked on UN projects. These villas are in turn rented to UN agencies.

If a poor local worker can afford to build US$100,000 villa after being involved in a UN project, one can imagine what could be the share of the bigger sharks up the ladder of the hierarchy. Another unforgivable crime is also the number of Third World UN employees whose families take welfare benefits from the West as refugees.

It is also equally ugly to see the UN staff travelling on first class tickets and staying in five star hotels in some of the most expensive cities in the world. The UN also treats its staff with extravagant annual parties, in places like Nairobi, while Somali people living in squalor refugee camps in Kenya can hardly find drinking water and women are raped during their arduous daily routine to fetch firewood from faraway places.

The UN is not an income generating institution and the money it wastes comes from hard working tax payers who can only dream of such luxuries.

Privatisation of the UN operations can eliminate this corrupt system and implement efficient projects through a transparent and accountable system. It can also accomplish projects that can turn the target people into productive forces rather than aid dependent societies.

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First published in Adwal News on March 15, 2007.

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About the Author

Bashir Goth is a Somali poet, journalist, professional translator, freelance writer and the first Somali blogger. Bashir is the author of numerous cultural, religious and political articles and advocate of community-development projects, particularly in the fields of education and culture. He is also a social activist and staunch supporter of women’s rights. He is currently working as an editor in a reputable corporation in the UAE. You can find his blog here.

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