Boutros Boutros-Ghali: The Tanzanian connection

02Mar 2016
Ngila Mwase
The Guardian
Boutros Boutros-Ghali: The Tanzanian connection

BOUTROS Boutros-Ghali the former UN Secretary General who died last week hailed from Egypt which is known for its triple heritage: the Arab world and its Arab League; Africa and its Organization of African Unity/Africa Union and the Non-Aligned Movement.

BOUTROS Boutros-Ghali

These blocks were key in the rise of Boutros Boutros- Ghali. However, when I came to know him I concluded that he had another triple heritage: he had the courage and heroic character of the great Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser(1974-1970);

The autocracy of President Hosnu Mubarak (1981-2011) and the political moderation of President Anwar Sadat(1970-1981).

The former two were central to his problems in the United Nations which led to his being denied the usual second term via a USA vote despite overwhelming General Assembly support.

I first met him at a public lecture he delivered at the University of Dar-Es-Salaam in 1973 at the invitation of one of Nyerere’s students the late Professor Anthony Rweyemamu, then Head of the Department of Political Studies at the “Hill”.

This was the time when there was romantic love for Nyerere’s Tanzania –what Kenyan Professor Ali Mazrui terms, “Tanzaphilia”.

Experts like Boutros-Ghali were eager to improve their CVs by showing some association with Tanzania.

Given the prevailing militant mood in the post- 1973 Arab-Israel Yom Kippur war and the Arab League policy of no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no dialogue with Israel, Prof Boutros-Ghali’s moderate views especially his call for co-existence between the Arab world and Israel won him few friends.

The Lecturers and students likened Israel to apartheid South Africa. At this stage Boutros-Ghali backed off saying they were introducing racism into the deliberations!

A turning point in Boutros-Ghali’s fortunes came in 1977 when he was appointed Minister of State for Foreign Affairs at a critical time when President Sadat was opening up to the Jewish state.

Sadat’s journey to Jerusalem, and later USA President Jimmy Carter-brokered Camp David Peace Treaty between Sadat and Israel Prime Minister Begin was a watershed. It led to the protest resignations by senior officials including his Sadat’s Foreign Minister.

Because of his political moderation and courage Boutros-Ghali staunchly supported Sadat all through.

This endeared him well not only to President Sadat, but even more important to the Americans and the West generally.

He was known to be one of the main architects of the Camp David accord. After Sadat’s assassination in 1981 (incidentally by those opposed to the rapprochement with Israel) his successor, President Hosnu Mubarak continued to use his good services.

He was by and large very much in-charge of Egypt’s policy towards Africa especially through the OAU. One of his major focuses was protection of the Nile waters as a life blood for Egypt.

He used each avenue from the OAU to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa to protect the Nile waters.

He did not question Mwalimu Nyerere’s doctrine of state succession which rejected adherence to colonial treaties and contracts such as the 1929 and 1958 treaties that reserved much of the Nile waters to Egypt and the Sudan, but was attentive to any policy or action that might divert the Nile waters.

In this regard Cairo was extremely sensitive to changes of government in key Nile basin countries such as Uganda and the Sudan.

In the 1980s I met him many times in Southern Africa as he participated in many meetings on the decolonization process; where he exhibited his political moderation especially on the linkage of the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola as a pre-condition for Namibia’s independence.

He was not coming out fully to support the Frontline States-cum- OAU line which opposed the linkage of the two issues.

Initially Boutras-Ghali had wanted to take over leadership of UNESCO, but did not pursue it.

With all the continents having produced UN Secretary Generals, it was by the later 1970s felt that it was Africa’s turn to produce one.

The first credible candidate for the post was Salim Ahmed Salim of Tanzania who was endorsed by the OAU in 1981 and received overwhelming global support. Even UK Premier Margaret Thatcher had no problem with Salim’s candidature.

However, Republican President Ronald Reagan of the USA did not lend his support despite Nyerere’s pleas. The post went to Latin America via Peres de Cuellar of Peru.

Ten years later in 1992 the post was handed over to Boutros-Ghali, which might have been in recognition of his services to the USA in masterminding the Camp David Egypt-Israel peace agreement.

He became the first African to occupy the post. By this time Salim Ahmed Salim had assumed the post of OAU Secretary General.

As Kofi Annan has noted in his Memoirs, Boutras-Ghali brought to the UN, “fierce intelligence and a global perspective, an academic mind-set and a visceral distaste for the post-Cold War dominance of the United States”. The later would cause him much trouble.

The USA whether under Republican or Democratic Presidency has a difficult relationship with the UN and especially its Secretary General.

The American people distaste the idea of any UN resolution or action curtailing the use of American power around the world.

In actual fact American rightists would be happy to celebrate the death of the UN. The learned Professor Boutros-Ghali must have been aware of this problematic; that to survive he would have to play ball with the USA very carefully.

But his Nasser-type courage and confidence did not endear him to be in the pockets of Washington DC. The first hurdle was a frosty relationship with the USA Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright.

Then followed a series of disagreements with the Clinton Administration. Even in somewhat minor issues like the appointments of UN senior personnel Boutros-Ghali left the White House unhappy.

For example President Clinton having given away the post of UNDP Administrator (hitherto only
Americans held the top post), for which he was attacked by conservatives, he was keen to hold on to the post of UNICEF Executive Director.

He therefore earmarked an American man for the post. Boutras-Ghali said that the post was wanted by the Europeans and there was consensus that it should be a lady. Pressure from the Americans forced Boutros-Ghali to appoint an American lady by-passing President Clinton’s nominee.

This did not please the White House.As Boutros-Ghali headed towards his re-election for his second term, the Americans started attacking him on various perceived shortcomings.

For example although Ambassador Gertrude Mongella (Tanzania) had done an excellent job as Secretary General of the 1995 UN Beijing Women’s Conference the Americans accused Boutras-Ghali for appointing a sub-standard person.

At this stage the OAU struggled to defend and support his re-election. This prevented Salim Ahmed Salim from starting his campaign for the post early.

Although the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly for Boutros-Ghali’s re-election, USA Ambassador Ms Albright vetoed it.

Africa continued to struggle to overturn the veto; and Boutras-Ghali soldiered-on. However, when Ms Madeleine Albright was appointed USA Secretary of State, the then Egyptian Foreign Minister Amnr Mussa phoned Boutras-Ghali to tell him that it was over.

And indeed it was. The big powers decided that Boutras-Ghali’s successor should be an African. It was then that Salim Ahmed Salim with massive support from Africa announced his candidature.

But the Americans already had a candidate. The months of struggle with Boutros-Ghali had given them ample time to deliberate on the issue and to prepare an alternative candidate.

Despite a personal appeal by President Nelson Mandela to President Clinton the Americans did not endorse Salim. The Americans hid behind France which said that they could not support a candidate who was not very fluent in French. The French had not used this excuse in 1981!

The Americans preferred candidate, Kofi Annan (Ghana), then UN Undersecretary General for Peace Keeping Operations was elevated to the post of Secretary General. As he left Boutros-Ghali announced that he was offering his services to the Egyptian Government.

But given his life-long work in diplomacy; and given Egypt’s dependence on the USA (including a USD1 billion for the Egyptian Army) Boutros-Ghali could not be used in foreign affairs given his spat with the superpower.

As close friend of then French President Jacques Chirac, Boutras-Ghali became the first Secretary General of the Paris-based Francophonee, a Francophone equivalent of the Commonwealth. He was succeeded in this post by former Senegalese President Abdul Diouf.

As he returned to Cairo after his Paris stint, things had changed for the worse in his motherland with pressure mounting against the autocratic rule of his former boss, Hosni Mubarak.

He lived on to see Mubarak’s overthrow through mass uprising; he lamented the disunity in the Arab world (which was now fighting amongst itself); he distasted the chaos that followed the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had been suppressed and banned during his time in government.

He died when a new strong man, General Faisel -al-Sisi had by sheer use of force calmed the situation. Boutros Boutros-Ghali was a distinguished son of Egypt and Africa; a prominent international civil servant. May His Soul Rest in Peace.

• Professor Ngila Mwase knew Dr Boutras-Ghali from his work in the African liberation struggle. He is a frequent contributor to The Guardian. He can reached at [email protected]; Cell: +255-752-427427