A BILLION LIVES by Jan Egeland


An Eyewitness Report from the Frontlines of Humanity
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A former UN official’s defensive memoir of serving as the international community’s first responder to civil wars and natural disasters.

It’s hard not to like someone who braved danger in Iraq, Colombia, Darfur, Lebanon, Palestine, the Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe and Uganda as UN undersecretary-general and emergency-relief coordinator from 2003 to 2006. Now director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and UN Special Envoy for Conflict Resolution, Egeland can at last comment freely, he observes. It’s true that the author doesn’t exactly blow kisses to George W. Bush, to John Bolton, the president’s outspoken former ambassador to the UN, or to conservative pundits and bloggers who lambasted his undiplomatic comment at the onset of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami crisis that major Western powers had been “stingy” with development aid. Yet Egeland squanders readers’ sympathy with a largely unreflective, platitudinous narrative. He’s content to simply assert that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is “principled,” Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette “impressive” and chief arms inspector Hans Blix “able” without ever showing actions that demonstrate these qualities. Other times, he descends to posturing. “Our only option is to speak the truth, always,” he notes, though if he had criticized tyrants and warlords all the time, they would never have agreed to negotiate with him. In claiming that multilateralism works, Egeland begs the question of why so many nations—not just the United States, but even, he admits, Asian and African countries—forego coalitions. He reproves both sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict, but comes down more heavily on Israel’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank for derailing the Oslo peace process (in which he participated) than on the PLO’s Second Intifada in 2000. Likewise, while claiming that the Oil-for-Food program prevented an Iraqi humanitarian catastrophe, he refuses to acknowledge that some officials, including the former UN head of the program, stole significant amounts of the aid meant for Saddam Hussein’s impoverished subjects.

Unenlightening and unpersuasive.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-4165-6096-8
Page count: 364pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2008


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