Yes, in the giddy afterlife of his departure from the UN Executive Suite, Kofi Annan has now received an honorary knighthood. In a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace, he was made an honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. We are at least spared the prospect of referring to him as “Sir Kofi.” Unlike Annan’s former deputy, Mark Malloch Brown, who is now both “Sir” and “Lord,” it seems that Annan, not being British, is not entitled to be a “Sir.”
But honestly, who can keep up? Regardless of performance, UN high officials — past and present — seem to move these days through an endless shower of prizes and awards, Nobels and knighthoods, accolades and directorships (Annan has also just joined the board of Ted Turner’s UN Foundation).
Why? Annan by the account of the UN’s own investigation into Oil-for-Food turned in a substandard performance in his administration of the biggest relief program the UN had ever run — failing to blow the whistle on a global gala of corruption that reached multi-billion dollar proportions on his watch (and was reaching its peak right about the time he accepted his 2001 Nobel Prize). Annan failed to acknowledge his own responsibilities, failed to exercise adequate oversight when questions were raised about the UN-related business activities of his own son, and in a series of so-called sweeping “reforms” during his decade in the executive suite, he failed abysmally to reform the UN — bequeathing his successor a minefield of scandals still going off, and leaving U.S. federal prosecutors to sift through assorted cases of UN-related bribery, money-laundering and fraud which inadequate UN oversight and poor management had (to put it generously) failed to stop.
Were there awards for such behavior as bureaucratic passivity in the face of genocide (Annan as head of peacekeeping during the Rwanda slaughter), or hypocrisy in lecturing the world on good governance (Annan’s “Global Compact“), or evasion and obfuscation (how did the family of Kofi Annan’s brother end up with the lease on Kofi’s spacious old NY-state-taxpayer-subsidized apartment?), there might be arguments for an endless cascade of trophies. That might sound less desirable than the current bonanza of decorations and awards, but the way these UN door prizes keep piling up regardless, I’m not sure the prize-winners, or for that matter, the prize-givers, could tell the difference. By now, it’s all part of the ritual.