For Ban Ki-moon, the past few weeks have arguably been the most dramatic he has encountered since becoming United Nations secretary-general nearly four years ago. In Côte d'Ivoire, U.N. peacekeepers are guarding the internationally recognized winner of this month's presidential election while the country slides toward chaos. Meanwhile, in New York, the Security Council spent Sunday locked in fruitless debates on the simmering Korean crisis.
Ban, as South Korea's former foreign minister, can do little to shape the council's discussions of his home country's security. He has based his tenure on maintaining good relations with both Washington and Beijing, and taking a forceful stance on the Korean situation would inevitably alienate one or both. As a result, Ban must focus on Africa instead.
That doesn't just mean Côte d'Ivoire, though. Ban and his advisers are painfully aware that another crisis is in the making in South Sudan, which is slated to hold a referendum on independence from Khartoum on Jan. 9. Unless the poll is delayed or rigged, it will almost certainly result in a vote for independence. The resulting tensions could tip into major violence, either immediately or, more likely, later in 2011.