Another one bites the dust
Anna Tibaijuka, the outgoing head of the U.N.’s top settlements agency, UN-Habitat, sharply criticized U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a parting letter for failing to swiftly appoint a successor despite frequent appeals to ensure a smooth leadership transition. The Tanzanian chief of the Nairobi-based agency, which is responsible for promoting housing rights for the poor, ...
Anna Tibaijuka, the outgoing head of the U.N.’s top settlements agency, UN-Habitat, sharply criticized U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a parting letter for failing to swiftly appoint a successor despite frequent appeals to ensure a smooth leadership transition.
The Tanzanian chief of the Nairobi-based agency, which is responsible for promoting housing rights for the poor, warned in the confidential letter dated Aug. 10 that the avoidable “management and leadership vacuum” threatened to derail the agency’s achievements and endanger international funding for its programs. She also complained that she had not been consulted about the recruitment process for selecting her successor and suggested she was being forced out of the U.N. system unwillingly.
“As my tenure at UN-Habitat comes to a close, I am writing to you with a deep sense of urgency and frustration to express my concern and distress about the coming delay to appoint my successor in good time so that I could have undertaken an orderly handover,” she wrote in the letter. “I fear a period without leadership is likely if not bound to destabilize UN-Habitat once again, given that we have a perilous global financial environment due to the economic difficulties being faced by our donor members states…[D]onors are unlikely to commit new funding until they are convinced that good leadership is in place.”
Ban’s office challenged Tiibaijuka’s account, saying he has already picked a successor. “The secretary-general has already made his selection and we have taken the matter up with the regional groups. The General Assembly will have to set out a date for their action,” said Farhan Haq, Ban’s acting deputy spokesman. “Anna Tibaijuka had given her views on the process and the possible candidates. This input was also carefully considered and the outcome also reflects that.”
Tibaijuka is one of a number of senior officials who have recently left the United Nations in anger and frustration. Inga-Britt Ahlenius, the former chief of internal oversight, wrote a scathing end of assignment letter earlier this month accusing Ban undercutting her independence and interfering with her right to recruit her own staff. Robert Appleton, a former top internal investigations chief, filed a grievance with the U.N. this month on the grounds that his appointment by Ahlenius for the U.N.’s top investigations job was blocked on the grounds of discrimination.
Former Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Tibaijuka executive director of the U.N. chief housing agency in September 2000, making her the most senior African woman in the U.N. system until Ban hired a former Tanzanian foreign minister, Asha-Rose Migiro, in 2007 as his deputy secretary-general. In 2006, Annan appointed Tibaijuka director general of the U.N. office, which has responsibility over Habitat and the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP).
A former academic, Tibaijuka is perhaps best known for writing a 2005 report on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe‘s massive displacement program — dubbed Operation Murambatsvina, or Operation Drive Out the Trash — which carried out large scale evictions of alleged squatters and unregistered businesses in poor neighborhoods, particularly those linked to the country’s political opposition. Tibaijuka concluded that the evictions were discriminatory, unjustified and inhumane.
Tibaijuka is credited with raising the profile of the U.N. housing agency and persuading the UN Secretary General to upgrade it from a small department to a full-fledged U.N. program. In her letter, she claims to have taken an institution that was “in tatters” and that she leaves behind an institution with a “working reserve that I built from scratch.”
But she has had cool relations with Ban, who last year stripped her of authority for running the U.N. office in Nairobi. The post was transferred to Achim Steiner, a German national who heads UNEP. Last September, Tibaijuka appealed to Ban’s chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, to consider her for a new job in the U.N. system when her term at Habitat expires at the end of this month. But U.N. officials said that she will be leaving.
“I have not had any formal indications concerning incumbency of my post, but I anticipate that the secretary general does not have an intention of recommending my renewal,” Tibjaijuka wrote in the letter to Nambiar. “Nonetheless, I await your advice on the next steps concerning my future based on the principle of rotation. As you might be aware, I was originally engaged in the UN as a contracted staff member. I am not aware of ever having lost that standing upon my translation to Executive Director and I retain all the entitlements concerning continuity of employment that my default status entails.”
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Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch
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