An irrational dislike

I’m not sure exactly why I dislike the United Nations in Khartoum so much.

This irrational dislike struck me within two days of arriving in the city, and was probably helped by many Sudanese exclaiming in loud, despairing voices: “Just exactly what are they doing here? Why do they need so many people based in Khartoum, working in such a big well-guarded monstrosity, when all the action is happening elsewhere?” Or words to that effect.

Admittedly, this probably says more about the government-run Sudanese media than it does about reality. But, nonetheless, they got me thinking – and I have been thinking ever since.

I think part of the thing I really don’t like about the UN, and other organisations here, is the determination to preserve the status quo. The status quo is bad for a lot of people – it means that civillians continue to die in both the South and the West of the country, in quite large numbers – but unfortunately the status quo is good for the people that matter. Like UN officials – which are paid extremely nicely. Or the government – which certainly fleeces NGOs and international organisations that set up base here. Or the managers of the German Club and International Club, whose members are mainly rich expats.

And, okay, there mabe also that nagging feeling of jealousy, which is not something that is easy to admit. Here I am, working all hours of the day at night at what amounts to three jobs, to the certain detriment of my health, and getting paid what feels like almost nothing for my pains. And here are these UN officials, driving smart cars and getting paid quite handsomely – and moreover getting an incredible two days holiday a week (I get just one: Friday)!

All these gripes with the UN came back to me in a jumbled flash, when I put in a call to the UN offices this afternoon. It is never a good idea for people to be short with journalists. It just annoys them.

I was trying to find out two things.

One was whether Jan Eliasson, the UN special envoy to Darfur, will be holding a press conference at the end of his most recent visit. He is.

The second was about the hybrid peacekeeping force that is due to be deployed in January.

“Try…” said the UN person, reeling off a string of foreign-sounding names. “Do you have any contact numbers?” I hazarded.

“I’m not an address book,” the person said and practically hung up.

Now, if I had actually been inquiring whether the UN actually employed any little-black leather-bound sheaves of paper, this reply would have been thoroughly satisfactory. But, since I wasn’t, it lacked a certain something – like, well, helpfulness.

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