Ban Ki-Moon with Romano Prodi
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi in July 2007. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi was name U.N. Special Envoy for the Sahel region of West Africa by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on Tuesday.

Prodi’s work involves implementing the U.N. Integrated Regional Strategy for the Sahel, said a press release announcing the appointment. The four-point strategy is meant to “strengthen regional capacities to combat insecurity,[and] prevent and respond to large scale crises,” the U.N. said., as well as to fight crime and terrorism. The Sahel region of West Africa, which includes much of Mali, has been suffering from intense droughts and famine, worsening the economic and political instability in the area.

Prodi is described as a “mild-mannered, bespectacled … university professor” who “lacks popular charisma,” who was nonetheless popular enough to become the leader of two political parties and to serve two terms as Prime Minister in the mid-'90s and mid-00s.

In a statement on his website, Prodi said he was “deeply honored” to be appointed to a position of such “great responsibility and extreme delicacy.”

“The Sahel area has been unstable for a long time, and recent political events will bring dramatic focus to the political, economic, social, and humanitarian situation,” he wrote. “I assume this post with the awareness that it will be difficult, and will take all of my resources and hope.”

The U.N. did not immediately respond to questions as to why Prodi was chosen, but in September 2008, Prodi served as the head of a joint African Union-U.N. panel to enhance peacekeeping operations on the continent.

In a letter dated Oct. 6 obtained by Reuters, Ban Ki-Moon told the U.N. Security Council, "Prodi has a long and distinguished career in government and international diplomacy as a consensus-builder, having served as Prime Minister of Italy and President of the European Commission for several years."