Leadership change at UNESCO could polish its image. But US, Britain seek wider changes before rejoining
United Nations, N.Y.
UNESCO has a golden opportunity to boost its image, which both critics and supporters say badly needs shoring up. The controversial Amadou Mahtar M'Bow is bowing out as director general of the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Regardless of how they may feel about Mr. M'Bow personally, many UNESCO diplomats and officials say his departure is in the organization's best interest.Skip to next paragraph
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``It gives UNESCO a much more unemotional opportunity to be examined,'' a spokesman for the Paris-based organization says.
For years the United States has charged that UNESCO, under M'Bow, has been mismanaged, politicized, and hostile to freedom of the press and the rights of individuals. When the US withdrew from UNESCO in December 1984, it acknowledged some of the organization's efforts to reform, but said they were not enough.
The US position stands. When M'Bow announced recently that he would not seek a third six-year term, the US reaffirmed that its problems with UNESCO are not personalized and that it still awaits evidence of significant reform.
One major problem, a US official says, is that UNESCO's powerful third-world bloc, which dominates UNESCO membership, ``has accentuated the trends already in place'' and is resisting change.
Britain also appears to be sticking to its decision last year to pull out of UNESCO. (Singapore withdrew last year as well, but only because it felt it wasn't getting its money's worth.)
Together, the three withdrawals cost UNESCO 30 percent of its budget, sparking a financial crisis and leading to cuts in personnel and programs. Critics of UNESCO see these cuts as having been made only out of necessity and not a desire to reform.
According to a UNESCO spokesman at the UN, UNESCO has adopted some one hundred reforms over the past couple of years. The measures include: a budget process that is more open to the scrutiny of member states; new systems to evaluate programs and ensure proper funding; and greater accountability on hiring procedures.
The US official acknowledges UNESCO's efforts to be more efficient and less political, but says the changes so far have been ``only cosmetic.''
Some Western UNESCO diplomats contacted in Paris agree with this assessment. Others say it's too soon to judge UNESCO's reforms.
In Paris, diplomats and other informed observers are looking ahead to a post-M'Bow UNESCO. In interviews, these sources, who generally have been critical of UNESCO's management, suggested the same rough outline for what UNESCO needs to do:
First, elect a strong new leader who can mobilize a consensus among all the political groupings -- the Soviet bloc and the powerful third-world bloc (together, M'Bow's traditional base of support), as well as the West -- on what the organization should be doing.
The key now is for nations to agree on a strong candidate by next May, when UNESCO's executive board will elect a candidate who then must be approved by the general membership the following November. Reportedly, the search is on for this consensus candidate.
Some of M'Bow's opponents are concerned that if there are too many candidates for the May election, each with only a few votes, M'Bow will come in with a solid bloc of votes and win reelection -- in spite of his recent announcement.