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New Notes Reveal France’s Role in Preventing Salim’s Bid At the UN

France said it’d only endorse a candidate who speaks French, promising to veto anyone who doesn’t. Dr Salim didn’t speak the language.

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Dar es Salaam. The Salim Ahmed Salim Digital Archive published new notes by the former Tanzanian prime minister on Thursday, revealing, among other things, France’s role in blocking the celebrated diplomat’s bid for the United Nations (UN) secretary-general position.

The notes reveal that former French president Jacques Chirac told his South African counterpart, Nelson Mandela, who supported Salim’s bid, that the European nation would only support a candidate who speaks French, posing a threat to the Tanzanian’s bid as he doesn’t speak the language.

The notes, dated December 6, 1996, reveal that President Mandela found France’s decision to make the election of UN secretary-general a matter of language “unreasonable,” urging the former colonial power to “reconsider” its condition for support.

“It was clear, I pointed out, that thus far, France is determined to insist on the language factor,” Dr Salim writes in his notes. “It was thus important to establish whether they [were] going to stick to this position and veto me. If that is the case, then there is no point [in] having my name submitted. I did not see what [could] be gained through a confrontation.”

President Mandela, who was prepared to submit Dr Salim’s name on behalf of South Africa, continued diplomatic consultations with several other governments worldwide with “determination and deliberate speed,” Dr Salim writes. Despite much convincing, the French stuck with the language as a condition for support.

READ MORE: Tanzania Launches Salim Ahmed Salim’s Digital Archive As Centre for Foreign Relations Renamed After Former PM

The notes quote a French official as saying, “I am sorry for Salim. We like him, but the language factor for us is important,” which made Dr Salim think that it was “unwise” to present his name for the race given the French determination.

But to his surprise, South Africa declared publicly her support for Dr Salim’s candidature for the UN  secretary-general position.

“This development should be seen within the context of the fact that I had no idea that such a public declaration was forthcoming,” Dr Salim writes in his notes. 

“It also came amidst a number of developments earlier today [December 6, 1996], which all led to the conclusion that it was neither wise nor desirable for my name to be presented given what was becoming the increasingly clear French opposition for linguistic reasons – irrational as that may be – given France’s support for my candidature in 1981,” the retired diplomat adds.

Still, Dr Salim thought it would not be wise to submit his name, telling then-president Benjamin Mkapa that it’d be better for the government to intensify consultations to determine France’s bottom-line position and, in the process, attempt to persuade them to demonstrate flexibility.

All this time, Dr Salim’s stance was clear, concluding that if the French’s position of insistence becomes a condition prerequisite, “then clearly my candidature is still-born and thus there is no point in having my name presented,” he writes.

READ MORE: Goodbye, Mzee Rukhsa, You Leave Us Stronger And Better As Tanzanians

Despite South Africa’s unwavering support for his candidature, including a commitment by its government to formally present it to the President of the UN Security Council, Dr Salim insisted that if the French are determined to veto, he sees no point in pursuing the issue.

“I maintained that a confrontation [would] not help anyone and certainly not me,” Dr Salim argued. “Furthermore, such a confrontation, besides the fact that it will not lead to my election, has the potential of creating divisionwithin our own ranks.” 

“I pointed out that in the last seven years as Secretary General of the [Organisation of African Unit] OAU, I have endeavoured, with some success, to bridge the differences between the so calledAnglophones and Francophones in our Organisation,” he added. 

“I cannot, therefore, afford to do anything which could be used to rekindle [the] Francophone-Anglophone divide and, in the process, undermine all that I have been fighting for.”

Dr Salim, who served as Tanzania’s Permanent Representative at the UN between 1970 and 1980, sought to succeed Algeria’s Boutros Boutros-Ghali, whose five-year term ended in 1996. 

Salim’s name was never submitted, and Ghana’s Kofi Annan succeeded Mr Boutros-Ghali as the seventh secretary-general of the United Nations.

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