Academic journal article Global Governance

Francis Deng and the Concern for Internally Displaced Persons: Intellectual Leadership in the United Nations

Academic journal article Global Governance

Francis Deng and the Concern for Internally Displaced Persons: Intellectual Leadership in the United Nations

Article excerpt

Using the case of Francis Deng as representative of the Secretary-General for internally displaced persons as an example, this article considers how temporary civil servants may become intellectual leaders within the United Nations. During his 1992-2004 tenure, Deng managed to raise assistance and protection expectations for the internally displaced through framing their concerns in the concept of sovereignty as responsibility. He also contributed to legal change through formulating protection and assistance standards--the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. The article argues that a combination of three factors enabled him to exercise intellectual leadership. First, his insider-outsider position at the border between the UN Secretariat (the second UN) and the nongovernmental organizations, academic scholars, and independent experts who engage regularly with the UN (the third UN); second, his personal qualities; and third, his effective ways of framing at an opportune moment in time. Keywords: United Nations, agents of change, internally displaced persons.


"PEOPLE MATTER. IDEAS MATTER." (1) THIS IS HOW THE CONCLUDING VOLUME OF the UN Intellectual History Project summarizes its effort toward uncovering the intellectual contributions of the world organization. People appear as a crucial variable in many of the ideas that are the topics of the project's seventeen volumes. People matter--but how?

In this article, I look at the role that temporary international civil servants in insider-outsider positions may or can play in idea emergence or intellectual leadership. (2) This corresponds to a gap in leadership literature at the UN, which concentrates on the Secretaries-General and other executive heads. Moreover, existing research focuses on either one or two of the following analytical factors to explain leadership: (1) the legal-institutional context; (2) framing; and (3) personality. In contrast, I argue that a combination of their personality, their way of framing an innovative idea at a crucial moment in time, and their position as insider-outsider can enable these individuals to become intellectual leaders.

In the case of Francis Deng during his tenure as representative of the Secretary-General (RSG) on internally displaced persons (IDPs), his particular personality and social and career background in all three UNs (explained below in the section Temporary Civil Servants as Intellectual Leaders) made him a legitimate and effective actor for the cause of the internally displaced. His position as an insider-outsider gave him the necessary space to engage in intellectual leadership while remaining independent of UN bureaucracy, but offered him a position where he could still work from an official platform. Finally, in framing sovereignty as responsibility, Deng was able to raise international assistance and protection expectations for the internally displaced in a manner that was palatable and acceptable to member states.

This article is organized as follows. First, I critically review the existing research on leadership at the UN. Second, I suggest a framework for understanding individual leadership that combines the individuals' personality, their strategic and well-timed framing of an innovative idea, and their institutional position of temporary civil servants as insider-outsider. Third, I apply these arguments to the intellectual contributions of Deng during his tenure as RSG. (3)

Individual Leadership at the United Nations

Despite prominent instances of intellectual or operational leadership throughout the UN's intellectual history, such as Mahbub ul Haq and the creation of the Human Development Reports, (4) individuals at the lower echelons of the world organization have received limited analytical attention. Leadership literature in the UN context mostly focuses on the Secretaries-General, executive heads and, most recently, on the special representatives of the Secretaries-General. …

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