Issue 33: The prospect of Kofi Annan serving a second term as Secretary-General of the UN

Though Kofi Annan still has over two years to go as United Nations Secretary-General, talk about a possible second term for Annan has already begun.

Analysis: In many respects, the Secretary-General’s job is an unenviable one. As the chief administrative officer of the United Nations, the Secretary-General presides over a large, far-flung, highly diverse bureaucracy. With 186 Member States acting as his “boss,” the Secretary-General has many to please.

Further, the Security Council is unlikely to tolerate a headstrong Secretary-General. The Security Council, tasked with “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security,” jealously guards its functions, and will not permit competition from within the organization.

Yet, despite these constraints, Kofi Annan has been a popular Secretary-General. He has taken reform of the UN seriously, and many of the organization’s strongest critics will concede that the Secretary-General has made progress.

At senior policymaking levels, there are more women around the UN table. Among others, Louise Frchette serves as the Deputy-Secretary-General, Sadako Ogata is the respected High Commissioner for Refugees, and Mary Robinson heads the human rights apparatus.

The Secretary-General enjoys the respect of the UN Secretariat. He is an affable, accessible and decent man. He also brings to office a lifetime’s experience within the UN.

Perhaps the greatest hurdle to Kofi Annan’s re-election as Secretary-General has nothing to do with the qualifications of the man. Rather, Annan could yet fall victim to the UN’s group system.

Recall that Annan’s predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali is from Egypt, a country that is part of the African Group. As Boutros-Ghali served one term in office, and as Annan who is from Ghana will have completed one term, some within the UN will say that rotation among groups requires a non-African to become Secretary-General.

But the UN Charter is clear. When it speaks of the Secretariat, it demands that “the paramount consideration in the employment of the staff…shall be the necessity of securing the highest standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity. Due regard shall be paid to the importance of recruiting the staff on as wide a geographical basis as possible.”

Surely, the criteria for selecting staff apply in the case of the ultimate staff member – the Secretary-General. If the best candidate should lose out because of group politics, then it is not only that candidate who loses. So too does the UN, and so too do us all.

UN Watch