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The World According to K

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The following article was published on the website of Progress



Bernard Kouchner, France’s popular and active Foreign Minister, is no stranger to controversy. A minister in Lionel Jospin’s government, he was expelled from the Parti Socialiste in 2007 when he accepted his current ministerial post in Sarkozy’s. Now a book produced by the renowned investigative journalist, Pierre Pean, has thrown doubt on Kouchner’s image as a humanitarian.


The bulk of the criticism in "The World According to K" paints Kouchner as a lackey of US neoconservatives and criticises his policy positions on Rwanda, the Balkans, the Middle East and Darfur. On all these international situations Pean takes strong exception to Kouchner’s position.


More serious are claims that between 2002 and 2007, when out of government, he obtained lucrative contracts from impoverished African countries. During this time Kouchner worked as a private health consultant and Pean claims he was paid huge sums by African leaders, in particular by the President of Gabon, Omar Bongo. Last week Kouchner firmly denied the allegations to the French Parliament, stating that he has not used his ministerial office for private gain. He says he earned an average of 6,000 Euros a month after tax over three years of working for consulting firms Africa Steps and Imeda.


Kouchner has also defended himself vigorously in the press, maintaining that at all times his affairs have been transparent and legal. Within the Parti Socialiste opinion is divided; Secretary-General Martine Aubry has given him her support saying he is an honest man while others such as Arnaud Montebourg has said he must answer these allegations.


While politicians are certainly used to their judgements being challenged, what makes this book unusual is both the level of vitriol and the accusations of financial wrong doing. So far Kouchner has not carried out a threat to take legal action, but as the interview in this week’s Nouvel Observateur makes clear, he robustly disputes the wide range of allegations. He has several hypotheses as to who is behind the allegations which include those he has upset politically.


France’s media is not as aggressive as the British press, but these are serious allegations against someone who is not just a senior government minister. Kouchner is held up as a model humanitarian, the co-founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) and as Kosovo’s first United Nations administrator. He is more popular than President Sarkozy. The next few weeks will show whether he can successfully defend his reputation or he will be forced from office with his character permanently stained. 

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