Incoming UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, like his predecessor, is a highly skilled diplomat from the African continent. But the spectacle of the transition, unilaterally engineered by the U.S. in the midst of a Central Africa crisis that urgently called for considered attention, was not a promising indicator that the continent’s concerns would be taken seriously. “Unhappily, our opinions haven’t counted,” noted Ivory Coast President Henri Bedie. Washington Post foreign editor Jim Hoagland put it bluntly: “The United States contributed mightily to paralyzing the United Nations … by letting a vengeful attempt to oust Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali dominate the world organization while Zaire burned.”
For many in the U.S., Somalia is viewed as a powerful symbol of United Nations peacekeeping failure. The inability of the international community to respond quickly to Somalia’s mass famine and internecine warfare in the early 1990s (which followed the collapse of a U.S.-backed military dictatorship) is often cited by U.S. critics of the UN. But the situation in Somalia is far more complex.