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Darfur - Kofi Annan sits cross-legged on the floor with a group of (mainly) women dressed in brightly coloured headscarves and robes. Picture credit: Reuters
Kofi Annan in Darfur - questions about action in Sudan are some of the toughest facing the UN

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As the new Secretary-General takes up his post, UN Correspondent Laura Trevelyan assesses Kofi Annan's achievements and the challenges facing his successor, Ban Ki-moon

Change is in the air at the United Nations. Turtle Bay, the area of Manhattan's East Side that is home to the world's policeman, is abuzz with speculation about what the new era will bring. Kofi Annan is leaving the top job after ten years and Ban Ki-moon is coming in. His transition team is in place - and a remarkably leak-free one it is proving to be. This has been noted with some satisfaction by the South Koreans. "We're very efficient, you know," one member of his team told me. And so it is proving. It is a strange time, as the UN bids farewell to one leader and prepares to usher in the next. Personal ambition and loyalty and come into conflict, as those who have served Kofi Annan wonder whether there will be a place for them under Secretary-General Ban. And, inevitably, it is a time of assessment, looking back at the Annan years.

Reviving faith in a beleaguered UN

I did it my way and he should do it his way
Kofi Annan - advice for his successor
UN insiders see a clear division in what Annan was able to achieve, between his first term and his second. He was thought of, say admirers, as one of the finest secretaries-general the UN has ever had after his first term - after all, he won the Nobel peace prize in 2001.

Celebrated for standing up for human rights in countries where they were routinely denied, he revived faith in the UN at a time when it had been deeply beleaguered. Yet his second term was dominated by the US-backed invasion of Iraq, an event which distressed the Secretary-General greatly because it went ahead without specific UN authorisation and he feared for the very future of the institution itself. He later told the BBC that he regarded the invasion as illegal. Relations with Washington were strained. The anti-UN lobby in the US became more vocal - and was offered an open goal. The oil for food scandal broke - Saddam Hussein had been allowed to sell oil and use the proceeds to buy food for the Iraqi people - and the UN was criticised for not properly overseeing the scheme and allowing corruption to flourish. Questions were asked about the role of Annan's son Kojo in the whole affair. The Secretary-General began to look embattled. His plans for internal reform of the UN ran into trouble as his own standing suffered.

Moral leadership

And yet there is much that Annan achieved. He used his authority to tell African leaders they could not deny the existence of Aids. He persuaded world leaders to agree that they had a responsibility to protect citizens from being persecuted by their own governments. What does that count for, ask critics, when the suffering in Darfur continues? Yet this is, conceptually at any rate, an important doctrine, which could be used in the future to justify humanitarian intervention. He set up a peacebuilding commission to help countries recovering from conflict and to stop them from degenerating into failed states - the kind that can harbour terrorism. In the end, the Secretary-General can only do what the 192 countries of the UN will allow him to do - and particularly the all-powerful permanent five members of the Security Council. Given those constraints, Annan provided moral leadership at a time of extraordinary turbulence in the world order.

More secretary than general

I may look soft from the outside but I have inner strength when it's really necessary
Ban Ki-moon
Now, the softly spoken Ghanaian is being replaced by the South Korean technocrat. Ban Ki-moon, the former foreign minister of South Korea, has pledged to reform the notoriously inefficient organisation. That's his priority. Already, members of his transition team are looking at the many departments of the UN secretariat and seeing obvious over-employment. "If he can make the place run like a South Korean electronics factory, that's good enough for me," observed one diplomat.

As new Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon will need to heal the North-South rift at the UN. But, apart from the nuts and bolts, where else will Ban's priorities lie? He has to heal the divisions between North and South - the gulf between the developed world and the developing world is enormous at the UN, with the less well-off countries resenting the weight of influence carried by the organisation's paymasters. The way he handles the key appointments - who'll get the peacekeeping job, or political affairs and humanitarian assistance, and who he appoints as his deputy - will be carefully watched.

Darfur will be a priority, he told me during one interview, and he's willing to go to North Korea if necessary. Will Secretary-General Ban be low key? More secretary than general? As one UN old-hand told me - to those of you who think it will be boring with Ban, don't forget you said it would be anodyne with Annan. And, of course, it turned out to be anything but.

Laura Trevelyan
Laura Trevelyan joined the BBC in 1993, and worked as Assistant Producer on Newsnight and as a reporter for the Today programme before becoming Political Correspondent for BBC News. She was appointed BBC United Nations Correspondent in May 2006
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