Author: Rasna Warah
Year of Publication: 2016
The United Nations has been described controversially by some as a ‘world government’ and to date has been existent for 70 years, has 193 members and 40,000 workers.
It is touted as one of the most sought after employers, with aspiring employees eyeing the immunity that working for the UN provides. With it, experts say, there have been great success stories: the world has enjoyed better relative peace and stability compared to the years before it was formed.
But a new book says that while the UN was the answer to the global convulsion of violence, it has lived to become a complex, mysterious and politicised organisation; that often defends itself against those it is supposed to serve.
The author, Daily Nation columnist Rasna Warah has, picked examples from around the entire UN system like the peacekeeping missions, programmes like UNDP, the World Food Programme, the intellectual organisation WIPO, refugee agency UNHCR, children fund UNICEF and even the principal UN population control organisation (UNFPA).
As a former employee of the UN, Rasna writes that surviving as staff within the organisation is mostly due to “apathy rather than enthusiasm, fear and not courage, and betrayal as opposed to teamwork”.
Rasna used to work at the UN-Habitat, the United Nation’s principal agency charged with improving human settlement especially in cities, based in Nairobi. There, she edited the State of Cities reports and a quarterly journal called Habitat Debate.
In 2009, she quit the agency after facing “retaliation” for raising unethical issues about the alleged abuse of authority and unscientific data that was being published including the population figures of Kibera Slums in Nairobi.
“Many UN agencies manufacture data because that is how they remain relevant, how they push forward their agenda on the international stage, and how they attract donor funding. However, I believe that deliberately publishing inaccurate data is unethical- a crime akin to plagiarism that should be carry stiff penalties,” she observes in the book.
Why didn’t she blow the whistle earlier? Sour grapes? Maybe. But she writes that within the UN, staff raising complaints are often ejected to save face. There are bodies for reporting complaints such as the UN Ethics Office, the Office of Internal Oversight Services and the UN Disputes Tribunal; whose staff are on the UN payroll and decisions can be appealed by the Secretary-General.
“When a whistle blower is not fired outright, she is usually demoralised and humiliated which puts her under so much psychological stress that she often resigns or leaves the organisation voluntarily,” she says in the afterword of the book.
REFUSING TO BE BOUND
In some cases, some sections of UN simply refuse to be bound by these bodies’ decisions citing protocol.
This dims the prospect of any whistleblower in the system as the accused is often the judge in their own cases. Not that whistleblowers enjoy any success elsewhere. Governments and corporations around the world routinely out these kinds of people to save reputations and individual careers.
In this publication, Rasna has kept her tradition of writing portable books which you can read in one sitting. There is an introduction from Beatrice Edwards of the Global Accountability Project (GAP), an organisation that has audited reform within the UN, giving a glimpse of the challenge of changing the structure of the organisation.
However, the book calls for something others have tried before with little success: revision of the UN Charter and other conventions that grant immunity from prosecution. Unless the five founding members of the UN (US, UK, Russia, China and France) initiate these changes, Rasna’s book will just pass as another unsuccessful attempt at attacking a self-protecting entity.