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Al Eisele Headshot

Kofi's ghana and Ki-moon's rising

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You can't imagine my relief on learning that Latvia's Vaira Vike-Freiberga had withdrawn her name as a candidate for Secretary General of the United Nations.

Even though it means that she will not become the first woman to head that organization since its creation in 1945, her unselfish decision has paved the way for Korea's Ban Ki-moon to succeed Ghana's Kofi Annan as the ninth man to head the UN when his second five-year term expires at the end of this year.

Thankfully, it has made it easier for us Western journalists to write about the world's largest and least effective bureaucracy. Having barely mastered the correct spelling of Annan's predecessor, the alliterative Boutrous Boutrous-Ghali of Egypt, before he was denied a second term when the U.S. blocked his reelection in 1996, not to mention having to grapple with the spelling of his two-term predecessor, Peru's Javier Perez de Cuellar, we are delighted to have a Secretary General whose name is no more difficult than that of a New York Yankees pitcher.

After a half century of struggling with the spelling of the names of Secretaries General like the first one, Trygve Halvdan Lie of Norway, and his successors, the sainted Dag Hammerskjold of Sweden, U Thant of Burma, Kurt Waldheim of Austria, Perez de Cuellar and Boutrous-Ghali -- Kofi Annan was easy, once you got past his first name -- we journalists and copy editors will have one that most of us can spell without googling his name up when the Security Council casts its vote on Oct. 9.

But we really dodged a bullet. It could have been Vike-Freiberga or one of the five other candidates officially nominated for the job, including Shashi Tharoor of India, Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka, Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan, Surakiart Sathirathai of Thailand (how would you like to hear Tom Brokaw try to pronounce his name?) or Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein of Jordan, all of whom withdrew their names in recent days.

Because any of the five permanent members of the Security Council can veto any candidate for Secretary General, most candidates come from non-aligned or non-powerful countries and high profile candidates are never selected. Too bad, it would have been great for journalists if two other potential candidates who chose not to run had been selected. I'm talking about Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

So I guess we'll have to get used to writing about Ban Ki-moon, who we fervently hope isn't related to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.