Anton Chekhov interviews Kofi Annan, finds family woe
New York Magazine this week has a profile cum interview with Kofi Atta Annan
Surprisingly, the cause of Kofi's distress is not President Dubya, or the neo-cons, or the religious right, or the Jews, or the Freemasons, or international financiers, or whomever.
The culprit is his son, Kojo.
The article is unintentionally hilarious at times, and Chekhovian in its spin.
The article's title is 'No Peace for Kofi
' but the browser strapline is 'Kofi and Kojo Annan - The Wayward Son May Ruin What's Left of the UN Secretary General's Reputation' (snicker)
Kofi Annan is sitting in his private dining room on the 38th floor of the United Nations Building, sipping a glass of red wine at lunch. He sounds hurt and angry as he talks about the “lynch mob” out to “destroy” him.
Oh sure, you are the top office of an organisation found to be engaged in repeated episodes of nepotism, embezzlement, cover-ups, sexual harassment, prostitution, gang rape, and abetting mass murder and genocide.
Even some of your own close friends and immediate family are implicated.
Some of the people providing the capital for your organisation feel that you aren't doing what you were hired to do.
If they want to see you resign for malfeasance and/or incompetence, they are trying to 'lynch' and 'destroy' you.
(Kofi has) discussed quitting with close friends and his wife, Nane. “I’ve thought about it,” he says. “Resignation is the easy path. Nane and I could have a wonderful life, travel, sit on the farm I dream about.” A weary smile plays on his face. “No one is indispensable.”
Kofi Annan reminds me of former US President Jimmy Carter - completely ineffectual, addicted to the taste of tyrants' backsides, and drenched in self-righteous indignation.
Kojo had called Annan during the weekend. Annan had learned in November that his son had misled him about his unsavory financial dealings. “He has apologized,” Annan says. “He is extremely embarrassed.” Yet their discussions continue to be a tug-of-war: “I’ve talked to him about coming clean with everything he knows, no surprises,” Annan says. But Kojo, who has refused to meet with investigators since October or to turn over additional documents, held firm.
Hmmm... I wonder why Kojo now refuses to meet with investigators? I wonder why he will not provide additional documentation?
Especially as Kojo repeatedly claims to have done nothing wrong.
...Annan sounds baffled as he tries to grasp the magnitude of his son’s deceit. “I have no theories. You know, it’s incredible when you see these little children. You carry them in your arms and lead them along the way. And over time, they develop their own personalities and become their own person.” He stops, then adds quietly, “Of course, he maintains he did nothing wrong.”
Even now? I ask.
You know you have a hard road ahead of you when even New York Magazine
is gobsmacked by such protestations of innocence.
If even the bluest magazine in the bluest of blue states can't play along, you are in trouble
...Annan was vibrating with tension on the first day I met with him at his office, on a Friday morning in early February, to discuss whether he would cooperate with this story. It was admittedly a difficult day: He was in the process of ousting Ruud Lubbers, the head of the U.N. Human Rights Commission accused of sexually harassing staffers (more on that below), and Lubbers was scheduled to arrive within the hour. But for a man renowned for his personal charm and ability to remain calm under pressure, Annan came across as wary and abrupt. I had scarcely made my pitch when a secretary handed Annan a note to say that John Negroponte, the former American ambassador to the U.N. and new U.S. intelligence czar, was on his way down the hall; Annan hustled me out.
And there is a revealing anecdote about Kofi's response to Operation Iraqi Freedom:
When the Iraq war began in March 2003, Annan had a striking personal reaction: He lost his voice. Doctors performed tests, found nothing wrong, and diagnosed stress. “It was completely psychosomatic,” says a staffer. Annan was ordered to limit his speaking and had to cancel appointments for weeks. In the two years since, he’s been vulnerable to similar attacks. Sometimes he whispers his way through meetings; his bodyguards keep Halls cough drops at the ready.
So that is why the International Condescension Monitor registered an all-time low during that period.
The first time Annan realized he might have a personal problem with the oil-for-food program came as far back as January 24, 1999, when the London Sunday Telegraph ran a story with the headline FURY AT ANNAN SON’S LINK TO £6M U.N. DEAL. The story questioned whether nepotism played a role in helping Cotecna, a Swiss company that employed Kojo Annan, to win a lucrative U.N. contract to inspect oil-for-food shipments... Annan immediately asked that the charge be investigated, but the in-house inquiry he ordered ended after one day, after concluding that Cotecna won because it was the low bidder. Kojo insisted he had done nothing wrong, and told his father that he had severed his relationship with Cotecna on December 31, 1998 (according to the Volcker report, Kojo actually stayed on the payroll through February 2004).
The Wall Street Journal’s news section published a major investigation of the oil-for-food program on May 2, 2002, charging that Saddam had siphoned money from the program for his war chest and that U.N. auditors were lax...
It wasn’t until April 2004 that Annan named an independent commission, led by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, to investigate oil-for-food, with a freewheeling mandate to look at the questionable behavior of U.N. officials monitoring the program, examine whether Security Council members were aware of the corruption, and take a hard look at his own and Kojo’s roles.
January 1999 to April 2004? That is over five years that Kofi tried to keep the lid on.
The secretary-general was so convinced that he had nothing to hide that he didn’t initially hire a personal attorney—he met with investigators twice without legal advice before friends intervened.
(wailing) Oh, he's a saint! The man is a saint!
(Soon to be a martyred saint.)
Give me a break. He simply felt above the law - understandably so, since he has full diplomatic immunity.
And the Rude Lover makes an appearance in the story too, of course being used as a prop in another vignette of how noble and loyal Saint Kofi is:
Ruud Lubbers, the U.N.’s high commissioner for Refugees, was accused of groping several women in December 2003, and investigators found the complaints valid. But Annan consulted outside lawyers who concluded that the U.N.’s internal investigation wouldn’t hold up in court. He officially cleared Lubbers in July, a decision that sent shock waves through the organization, essentially conveying the message that Annan, the renowned human-rights champion, was a member of the old-boys’ club.
“Kofi didn’t go back to the investigators and say, ‘Get more goods, you haven’t made your case,’ ” says one high-ranking staffer. An Annan pal says bluntly, “He should have just fired the guy.” Only this winter, when newspapers printed the affidavits describing Lubbers’s boorish behavior, did Annan force Lubbers out.
Saint Kofi, he is too noble to even save himself. We must help him!
The dark atmosphere at the U.N. grew darker after Bush’s reelection, as congressional committees investigating the oil-for-food scandal began to churn up information about Saddam’s looting. “There were weeks when Kofi seemed disturbed, bothered, unfocused,” says a prominent diplomat and Annan backer. Annan became increasingly worried and withdrawn. Staffers and diplomats grumbled that it took forever for him to make decisions.
In December, in the diplomatic equivalent of a substance-abuse intervention, Annan sat through two separate confrontational meetings (the first with top staffers at the home of Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette and the second with friends and informal advisers at Holbrooke’s Central Park West apartment) as people told him in excruciating detail all the ways in which he was screwing up. Annan was urged to make amends with Washington, clean house, and be more forceful in his leadership.
The Volcker Report fingered (by flagrant omission) this same Ms Frechette. Details here. See, she prevented the UN's own audit of flagrant embezzlement and corruption in the Oil-for-Food programme from being seen by the Security Council. So there was a cover-up, and then a cover-up of the cover-up.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive. - Sir Walter Scott
Another personal note on how Kofi found out that Kojo had been pulling the wool over his eyes is here:
At the same time, the secretary-general’s heartbreak over Kojo was intensifying. Annan got a call from Fred Eckhard, telling him that, according to news reports, Kojo had deceived him; the Cotecna checks had kept coming for years. “It hit him like a rock,” said an aide who was with Annan when he got the news. Senator Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican, promptly demanded Annan’s resignation. “I was taken aback and puzzled,” Annan says, in a soft voice. He called Kojo, and a series of angry father-son conversations ensued. The Volcker report subsequently revealed that, according to Kojo’s financial records, Kojo conspired to hide the payments by disguising them as money wired to him from three separate companies and other sources, a sum estimated to be about $400,000.
And there is news on Kofi's top assistant, the shredder-in-chief:
Annan received more bad news in December. The Volcker commission was also quizzing his chief of staff, Iqbal Riza, about shredding documents. Riza insisted to Annan and the commission that the documents were duplicates—that he’d agreed to the shredding after secretaries complained their files were full. The news of the shredding wouldn’t become public until the Volcker report came out in March, but Annan knew that the revelation would be damaging. Did he worry that everyone would think “cover-up”? “Exactly,” he says. “Cover-up, and remember the eight minutes in the Nixon tapes.” Annan decided to purge his staff in late December, sending Riza, 70, into retirement, getting rid of many of his closest advisers, and bringing in Mark Malloch Brown, the forceful and witty British head of the U.N. Development Program and a former political spinmeister, as his new chief of staff.
Ummm, if Kofi is a saint, why did he try to deflect the blame by purging his staff? That is not what saints are supposed to do.
Oh, I get it. He is a saint who doesn't also want to be a martyr.
But, oh, how Saint Kofi has suffered. How much has he suffered?
You want suffering? How about no more dinner parties.
What kind of monster could wish such utter pain and anguish on a tireless humanitarian?
This winter, Annan and Nane stopped hosting what were once regular parties at their home, and have turned down virtually all the invitations they receive. “I’m not in the mood for socializing,” he says.
(Perhaps this strikes New York Magazine writers as exceedingly traumatic.)
Then the article goes on to speculate that Kojo started trading on the Annan name in order to get back at his father for his divorce from Kojo's mother. (No, I am not kidding. It is actually in the article. Sheesh.)
Perhaps an alternate explanation may be, oh, I don't know, US$400,000!?!
Annan, an indulgent father and by nature nonconfrontational, remains baffled about Kojo’s motives. “I’ve always lived quite a straight life,” he says. “I’m not one of those who is in a hurry to get rich. It’s not my way of life or desire.”
HE'S A SAINT! THE MAN IS A SAINT!!!!!
However, it would be rude to point out, that such virtuous thinking does not seem to have been shared by Kofi's son, or Kofi's predecessor Boutros2 Ghali, or Kofi's Oil-for-Food manager Benon Sevan, or kofi's Security Council liaison Joseph Stephanides, or (the list goes on)... all of whom snaffled up major coin from the Oil-for-Food trough.
Then the author goes to Kofi's rent-free 'official residence, a sprawling brick mansion on Sutton Place' and speaks with Kofi's wife, Nane.
After describing the stress and strain on Saint Kofi and the friction with corrupt Kojo, the author (no, I am not kidding) points out that '(h)er blonde hair is pulled back in a bun, emphasizing the worry lines around her eyes...'
Oh, to be a saint's wife, it is also a trial.
Mention Kojo, and she flinches, breaking eye contact to stare at the coffee table. The conversation stops—so I ask what Kofi has been like as a parent. “I think he’s been a caring father,” she says, cautiously. “Of course, this is very painful to him as a father and a secretary-general. It’s difficult, it’s difficult,” she says. “This is so unfortunate.”
The prodigal son is tarnishing Saint Kofi's good works! Woe! Woe to us!
But wait! It is always darkest just before the dawn. An angel appears to offer sustenance to an anguished soul!
As I was typing away on this story, several days after the Volcker report came out, the phone rang. There was a familiar voice on the other end....
The secretary-general began by attempting to spin his situation, emphasizing all the calls of support coming in. Earlier in the week, he had spoken, with evident pain, about the friends who had seemingly vanished: “Some feel embarrassed to call,” he allowed. “They don’t know what to say.” Now he wanted to tell me that, among others, a sympathetic Bill Clinton had phoned. “He understands. He had gone through similar situations where he’s been under a microscope, attacked,” said Annan. Then he added, with a sense of surprise, that the former president had confided in him. “He was sort of reminiscing with me, sharing his own experiences with his brother, his brother-in-law, things like that.” Did Clinton offer advice? “That you have to remain focused and carry on.”
Well, what will Saint Kofi do? Will he resign?
Despite his “Hell, no” earlier in the week, I asked whether resigning has seemed increasingly appealing. “You think it through. What would be the best for me to do, to stay, to leave? Resignation would be easy, but to stay on and confront, pick up the lessons, push for the reforms you believe in, and work with the member states to get it done is much, much harder. Having balanced the arguments, I have an obligation to finish what I started.”
That is right, Kofi will not stay on the job as Secretary-General of the United Nations for his fat tax-free compensation package, or the 'sprawling brick mansion on Sutton Place,' or the praise and attention and notoriety of the office, where he was always invited to the poshest dinner parties, and joked with Robert De Niro and chatted about family affairs with Bill Clinton.
No, he is going to stay on the job, for the cause of reform, for the good of the United Nations organisation, for the good of humanity.