NEW United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, was in Kenya and met President Uhuru Kenyatta last week.
Beyond the weighty matters of refugees Guterres discussed with Kenyan leaders, perhaps taking a leaf from Pope Francis’ book, Guterres visited and met youth and women leaders at a conservation centre Nairobi’s Mathare slum and even kicked a little football while in the neighborhood. He also dropped in on Somalia.
It is that sojourn to Mathare, and the fact that his visit was laid back and didn’t cause the horrific snarls such a VIP would normally do in already migrane-inducing Nairobi traffic, that caught the attention of many. That was so, especially compared to his predecessor Ban Ki-Moon who wasn’t particularly famous for such populist gestures, and had a more princely air about him.
Some observers took to speculating about whether this indicated that Guterres was going to deliver a “different UN”.
The contrasts between Guterres and Ki-Moon are rather unexpected. Yes, the two men are of different stature, and that might make for different outcomes in photographs. Guterres, at 5’ 7” is a little shorter than Ki-Moon who is 5’ 10”.
Moderately portly, Guterres’ suits fit less elegantly than they sit on the lean frame of Ki-Moon.
But Ki-Moon is wooden-faced, while Guterres has that look and demeanour of a folksy second division football manager.
Of the two men, you would expect that the environment around Ki-Moon would be more austere than would attend to Guterres’.
AND THE TWO WENT TO ADDIS ABABA…
However, Ki-Moon’s first visit to Africa in early 2007 had the fanfare of a mini-American president dropping in on the continent.
By contrast in late January, shortly after Guterres took office, on his first trip to Africa as UN secretary general to attend the African Union (AU) summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, diplomats were surprised by just how “understated” Guterres was compared to Ki-Moon, according to an East African official who spoke to Rogue Chiefs on condition of anonymity.
On his last visit to the AU, Ki-Moon had an impressive entourage of 79. Remarkably, by contrast, Guterres arrived in Addis Ababa with just two (2) other people according to AU officials.
With US president Donald Trump determined to sharply slash American support to the UN, and having already moved to defund some of its agencies, the world body is headed for lean times.
Guterres looks just like the right kind of unostentatious man to be leading the UN in the approaching period of destitution. Appearances can, of course, be deceiving. The real test will still be how much Guterres will achieve even with limited resources, and whether he will have the stomach to put the axe to the UN’s derided bloated bureaucracy, and reform the organisation in a meaningful way.