In a move seen as advancing his bold reform agenda of the United Nations, the world body's Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan over the weekend named distinguished Nigerian diplomat and former External Affairs Minister Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari as the Under-Secretary-General and head of the UN's Department of Political Affairs.
In that capacity, Gambari now becomes the UN political affairs chief and highest adviser to the Secretary General, on political affairs.
Sources say Annan's move is a courageous effort that would establish his legacy of restructuring the UN for better efficiency, more effective task delivery and also further establish the place of Africa in the UN. Annan's "In Larger Freedom" report which details his UN reform agenda is up for discussion and decision by the heads of states in September at the General Assembly, and diplomats, especially from developing countries are already saying the report would in larger part, meet with resounding approval. It has been said that Annan's report is a comprehensive document that has something for every region represented at the UN.
Before now, Gambari who was already at the rank of Under-Secretary-General was the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Africa. But now he he would advise the Secretary General on the political affairs of the whole world as head of a full fledged department, where he would be expected to oversee and manage more than 200 staff in addition to seven field missions across the globe.
Gambari's appointment created a positive buzz within the UN community over the weekend in New York, particularly among permanent missions from around the world and the African group, considering his well regarded diplomatic outreach and finesse. Among some of the testy assignments that Gambari successfully accomplished at the UN includes the peaceful resolution of the almost intractable Angolan crises when Mr. Annan appointed him as his Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Mission to Angola (UNMA), from September 2002 to February 2003.
Prof. Gambari whose appointment takes effect next month would be replacing retiring Mr. Kieran Prendergast of Great Britain, effective 1 July 2005. When Mr. Annan annouced the early retirement of Prendergast last month, he said he would appoint somebody with a thorough knowledge of the UN as the new UN political affairs chief. Many see Gambari's appointment as a fulfilment of that promise.
In his current position, Gambari's functions include promoting UN and international support for African development in general and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD). Sources said Gambari has been asked to pursue a vigorous reform of the UN Political Affairs Department.
When he takes office as UN's political affairs chief, Gambari would be expected to work to reinforce the UN Political Affairs department, especially its capacity to support mediation, especially as recommended by the High-Level panel, whose report forms a critical component of Mr. Annan's widely commended reform agenda.
He would advise and support Mr. Annan on prevention, management and resolution of armed conflict, including supporting the Secretary-general in his good offices role. As the top Annan aide on the world's political affairs, Gambari's new job also includes overseeing the analytical and diplomatic work at the UN, reviewing and analyzing ongoing and potential conflict situations across the world, while also formulating options for UN's engagement. Gambari would also serve on the UN Policy Committee of the Secretary-general and also chair the Global Security Group of UN senior officials.
Before joining the UN Secretariat in 1999, Gambari served as the Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations. He was also a senior member of the Nigerian Delegation to ten sessions of the General Assembly. Prof. Gambari served as President of the Security Council on two occasions when Nigeria was a member of the Security Council. He also chaired the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid, which successfully saw the demise of apartheid and the establishment of democratic rule in South Africa.
Prior to his tenure as Ambassador/Permanent Representative, Mr. Gambari served as Minister of External Affairs of Nigeria. He had served as Director-General, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs.
Born in Nigeria in 1944, Gambari attended Kings College, Lagos, as well as the London School of Economics, where he obtained a Bachelor's degree in Political Science with a specialty in International Relations. He received his M.A. in 1970 and his Ph.D. in 1974 in Political Science/International Relations from Columbia University in New York.
From 1969 through 1983, he held a variety of teaching posts, beginning at the City University of New York, then the State University of New York at Albany, and later at Ahmadu Bello University, ABU in Zaria, Nigeria. He was Chairman of the Department of Political Science at ABU where he founded the first under-graduate program in International Studies in Nigeria. He was a Visiting Professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Georgetown University and Howard University (1986-1989).
Gambari was also a Research Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, and a Resident Scholar with the Rockefeller Foundation Center in Italy. He has also authored several books and scholarly articles on international relations and foreign policy.
In recognition of a distinguished career as a scholar-diplomat, the University of Bridgeport (USA) awarded Prof. Gambari the Doctor of Humane Letters degree (honoris causa - 2002); the prestigious Johns Hopkins University elected him to membership of the University's Society of Scholars (2002); and the Federal Government of Nigeria awarded him the national honour, Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR).