The re–appointment last week of Kofi Annan as Secretary General of the United Nations was remarkable for several reasons: he still has six months of his first four year term of office to run; approval of his extended appointment was “by acclamation” of the 189 member states of the organisation; and the negotiations leading up to this vote of confidence in Mr Annan were free of the usual wrangling over the choice of the person to lead this complex and vulnerable organisation. There has always been an understanding that the job of Secretary General should if possible be rotated among the major regions of the world, but those Asian nations which might have wanted to make a claim on the job this time round held off in deference to Mr Annan's acknowledged competence and popularity. In his characteristically low–key acceptance speech Mr Annan referred to his aim of bringing the United Nations “closer to ordinary people's needs” and of putting their welfare “at the centre of everything it does.” These are, of course, the kind of phrases used by almost all political leaders in these days of protest and frustration by people who feel they are locked out by the political establishment. But the United Nations actually has quite a good record of involving the concerned public in its affairs through the cultivation of the so–called NGOs (non.governmental organisations) and the integration of them in preparation for major theme meetings of the UN; it is good to hear Mr Annan re–affirming his belief in the central importance of this work. Mr Annan is now in a unique position to strengthen the role of the Secretary General and the UN organisation as a whole; he could not embark on his new term of office in more propitious circumstances.

RAY FLEMING

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