Monday, 9 December 2013

Les Casques Bleus et Verts

Les présidents français et malien, François Hollande et Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, le 1er octobre 2013 à l'Elysée (AFP, Eric Feferberg)
Francois Hollande Meets with Mali's
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita

As the French government debate and wring their hands about what to do in sub-Saharan Africa - the appalling killing in the Central African Republic, the civil war in Mali, the destabilisation of the Ivory Coast - the cynic in me got to see the foolishness of the UN in full bloom.

As fate would have it, this weekend leaders of the various countries of the region came to France for the august-named "Sommet de l'Eysée pour La Paix et  la Sécurité en Afrique" (Summit for Peace and Security in Africa) to discuss peace, development, climate issues (!!!), and the like.  The timing coincided with plans to deal with the emerging human horrors.

I live in Paris on the same block as both the Palais de l'Elysée and the ultra-luxe Hotel le Bristol.  For good measure, the UK, US, and Japanese embassies sit a bit further down the street, and just beyond, Hermes and Cartier boutiques.  Le Bristol hosted several potentates and presidents of these nations.

As I was heading off Saturday to pick up our Christmas tree, a motorcade of vehicles was idling outside the hotel, surrounded by police in vans, cars, and on motorcycles.  Each of the various large, black sedans had a sticker indicating whom it awaited.  Among the nations, Tchad (Chad), Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), and Togo.  Not fewer than three vehicles for each idled in the street.

Aside from the obvious irony about a summit dealing with 'climate change' being facilitated with a motor pool of heavy, polluting cars which sat for at least twenty or thirty minutes idling, waiting to drive the attendees not 500 metres down the street (the walk from Le Bristol to the Palais de l'Elysée is not more than five minutes), I was struck by just the surreal, grotesque dissonance before me.

A room at the Hotel le Bristol is not less than $1000 per night.  Rooms can easily top $5000 per night.

Each of these nations - Togo, Ivory Coast, and Chad - commanded multiple rooms, I suspect.

The per capita, PPP-adjusted GDP per capita of the three nations is $1900, $1000, and $1600 respectively.

So, each of these individuals spent the equivalent of an entire year's wealth for one of his population for a single night's accommodation.

In a nut-shell, this is my largest complaint about the current state of "diplomacy."  It's manifestly ridiculous - perhaps offensive - that allegedly democratic institutions (the president of Mali pictured above was ostensibly elected to power in his nation) lavish truly wasteful luxury on their leaders in such a manner.  In the US, as the government has repeatedly teetered at the brink of bankruptcy, it's now become famous the travels of the president for his personal vacations as well as for "official" business.

The French revolution was in no small part precipitated because the common man desires leaders, not rulers.  We are citizens and not subjects.

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