Life is like a box of chocolates. Except if you are Kofi Annan, instead of Forrest Gump, it’s a very very expensive box of extra-fancy Swiss chocolates — and you probably have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to get. Kofi’s new candy box is a foundation launched this week called the Global Humanitarian Forum, and –a familiar theme — there’s lots of talk about “mission” but no upfront disclosure about money.
Gone are the hints put out last year by Annan’s old UN executive office that when he stepped down as Secretary-General he would head back to Ghana, set up a foundation devoted to farming and girls’ education and spend his twilight years modestly mixing it up with the common folk. This new foundation is housed in Geneva, which seems to be Annan’s main base these days. And the board is crammed with members of his old UN circle, including Lakhdar Brahimi (who while working as a UN envoy for Annan referred to Israel as the “poison” of the Middle East); and Catherine Bertini (who ran the UN Management Department under Annan from 2003-2005, but somehow failed to do anything about the rampant corruption in the procurement department — leaving it to her successor, Christopher Burnham, to try to clean up the swamp); Jan Egeland (who in the immediate aftermath of the Asian tsunami pointed to the UN’s sugar-daddy American taxpayers as “stingy,” promised full transparency for the tide of money that rolled in, and never fully accounted for where all that money actually went). The board also includes former IMF chief Michel Camdessus (who ran the IMF while it was bailing out big banks and big business in the late 1990s, at the expense of genuinely impoverished people hit with drastic currency devaluations in the developing world); and James Wolfensohn (who ran the World Bank during the years in which it was incubating so much of the corruption its officials are still trying to cover up).
Annan during his decade running the UN was constantly calling for the rest of us to pour money into the organization, while he expanded UN operations on every front from Oil-for-Food to development aid to programs to raise private money and leverage public funds for more uses than apparently even he was able to keep track of. But now that he has retired from the UN, he’s not busy pouring all the resources he can muster into those UN programs he told the rest of us we must support. Instead, he’s got a foundation in Geneva, embellished with former UN credentials. Go figure.