Issue 123 - February 12 - Burma Envoy Assigned to Darfur Peacekeeping Mission

New York, February 12, 2010 - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Jean Ping, have appointed Ibrahim Gambari as the Joint African Union-United Nations Special Representative in the peacekeeping operation in Darfur (UNAMID).

Gambari had been serving as Ban's envoy to Burma (Myanmar) since 2007. Taking up his role, at least temporarily, is Ban Ki-moon's Chef de Cabinet, Vijay Nambiar. Nambiar also retains his other responsibilities.

Burma experts have provided a list of criteria on selecting Gambari's replacement, noting that the post should not be filled only "for the sake of filling the UN musical chairs."

The previous head of the Sudan mission, Rodolphe Adada of the Republic of Congo, resigned in August 2009. Deputy Special Representative, General Henry Anyidoho of Ghana, temporarily headed the mission in the interim period.

Gambari's new appointment took effect on January 1, 2010, and he arrived in Khartoum on January 22. 

About Ibrahim Gambari

Professor Ibrahim Gambari of Nigeria, received his masters and doctorate degrees in political science/international relations from Columbia University in 1974. He had an active academic career throughout the 1970s and 1980s, including at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria, as well as Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Georgetown University and Howard University, all in Washington, DC.

Later, Gambari served as Minister for External Affairs of Nigeria and then as Nigeria's Permanent Representative to the UN in the mid- to late-1990s. 

In 1999, Gambari joined the UN Secretariat as the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs and Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Africa. From 2002-2003, Gambari served as the Special Representative of the SG in the UN mission to Angola. Most recently, he served as the Secretary-General's Special Advisor on the International Compact with Iraq and Other Political Issues (appointed in 2007) and represented the Secretary-General in pursuing the good offices mandate on Myanmar (Burma), concurrently (see the UN's Biographical Note).

Reactions to Appointment

As head of UNAMID, Gambari manages a relatively young peacekeeping mission - UNAMID was officially approved by the UN Security Council in July 2007 - in a region that has experienced intense violent conflict for over six years. Under Gambari's supervision are approximately 26,000 troops and police (as of November 2009).

News of Gambari's new posting garnered mixed reactions. The National Congress Party (NCP), Sudan's ruling political party, welcomed the appointment and gave the assurance that "all necessary support" will be provided to him. The United States also supported the appointment.

The sentiment was not shared by all, however. In a heavily critical article on Gambari's previous UN positions, Seyward Darby of the New Republic described the diplomat's record, pointing at his most recent post, in Burma (Myanmar). His highly publicized "blunders" in the country, because of which Gambari was considered ineffectual and unwilling to engage in substantive political discourse with the ruling authorities, secured him the nickname "Gullible Gambari," and a "pawn in the junta's game of repeatedly fooling the international community about its willingness to change."

Some are concerned that Gambari's overly "optimistic" mediation style will carry over to his post in Darfur. The president of the Save Darfur Coalition said, "My main concern is that his focus would be on accommodation of the regime, and that would leave the perpetuation of an unacceptable and unstable status quo."

The U.S. Campaign for Burma added, "things have gone from bad to worse [in Burma] during his tenure," characterizing the envoy as a "failure" with little prospect of improvement in Darfur. 

Fate of Burma Envoy Role

Efforts to find a candidate to succeed Gambari in Burma are underway, according to the Secretary-General on January 27. In the meantime, Ban has tasked his chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, with the responsibility of his relationship with the country.

Aung Zaw of The Irrawaddy magazine speculated on Ban's potential pick on February 3: "It's doubtful...that [Burma's] regime leaders, in this election year, will be ready to accommodate a new UN envoy.... A ceremonial welcome at Naypyidaw [the regime's capital] is as much as can be expected." 

The appointment should take place after the national elections planned for this year, the editorial proposed, and the UN should consider "public consultation[s]" on the appointment before sending a new representative to the country, which is described as a "graveyard for UN envoys."

The Irrawaddy offered a list of "do's and don'ts" in selecting a new envoy, including the following.

Do appoint someone who:

  • Has in-depth knowledge of Burma, the political landscape and respects the dignity of the people of Burma and Southeast Asia;
  • Has a solid background on the reconciliation process in conflict zones;
  • Could gain the trust and confidence of the regime, the opposition, ethnic leaders and Burmese activists;
  • Will not become a spin doctor of the UN and the regime;
  • Is willing to listen to all sides and to engage with all stakeholders inside and outside Burma.
  • Is honest and willing to admit failure instead of keeping the process in limbo.

Don't appoint someone who:

  • Will become a mouthpiece of the regime, aid groups and business people.
  • Will not do the necessary homework and conduct thorough analysis.
  • Stands to reap personal gain from the job or has a conflict of interests in Burma.
  • Will allow the regime to organize visits and arrange schedules to include attendance at regime-organized rallies, where the opposition and ethnic groups are denounced.
  • Will spend his time at Rangoon's Traders Hotel nursing hangovers after late-night drinking sessions with Burmese girls.

Finally, said the commentary, "don't select someone just for the sake of filling the UN musical chairs. And don't, under any circumstances, appoint anyone from Nigeria."


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