By Kola King
The sudden death of Mr Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations came as a rude shock to the world. He died on 18th August in a hospital in Bern, Switzerland after a short illness. He was aged 80. Mr Kofi Annan was a global icon of peace. He straddled the United Nations for a decade as its Secretary-General during which he worked tirelessly to ensure global peace and security. During his distinguished career and leadership of the UN, he championed the cause of peace, sustainable development, human rights and the rule of law.
Kofi Annan, a product of the UN, having joined the World Health Organisation in 1962, had the singular distinction of being the first career bureaucrat of that body to be elevated to the enviable position of Secretary-General. He had earlier served as Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping between March 1992 and December 1996. He replaced Boutros Ghali, the first African to head the UN. He was the 7th chief of the UN and he served for two terms.
An excellent diplomat and global statesman, he was committed to multilateralism as key to solving the world’s intractable problem. He craved for a fairer and more peaceful world. He will be remembered for his singular effort in the run-up to the Iraq crisis during which he made strenuous efforts to broker peace between the United States and Iraq under Saddam Hussein. His aim was to avoid conflagration in the Middle East. His advocacy of multilateralism in resolving that crisis fell on deaf ears. However, the US had presented the UN with a fait accompli, citing Iraq’s failure to comply with past Security Council resolutions, and later using it as pretext for war. In the end, Annan’s yeoman effort came to naught as the United States under President George Bush Jr disregarded the wise counsel of the UN and instead rolled out both ground and air forces to pound Iraq into submission. Later Mr Annan had described the US and UK action as not in conformity with UN charter, and was therefore illegal.
He was a harbinger of reforms in the UN during his era. He reformed the UN bureaucracy and worked to combat HIV/AIDS especially in Africa and launched the UN Global Compass where the goals of the UN and those of business can be mutually supportive. He regarded the HIV/AID pandemic as a personal priority and proposed the establishment of the Global Aids and Health Funds dedicated to battle against HIV and other debilitating diseases. As part of UN reforms, he introduced strategic management to strengthen unity of purpose, establishment of the position of Deputy Secretary-General, 10% reduction in post, cut in administrative cost, as well as reaching out to civil society and the private sector as partners. He also recommended the expansion of the Security Council.
As the prime mover of the Millennium Development Goals, Kofi Annan in his report following a Millennium Summit called on states to “put people at the centre of everything we do. No calling is nobler, and no responsibility greater, than that of enabling men, women and children in cities and villages around the world, to make their lives better.” The priority area of the report which served as the basis for Millennium Development Goals, aims to “free our fellow men and women from the abject poverty and dehumanizing poverty in which more than one billion of them are currently confined”.
Furthermore, Mr Kofi Annan played a vital role in restoring Nigeria to the path of democracy. He’s widely applauded for his peace initiative and support for the transition from military to civilian rule in 1998. He also worked towards supporting efforts of East Timor to secure independence from Indonesia the following year. Again he brokered peace between Nigeria and Cameroon which subsequently led to the settlement of the dispute between the two countries over the Bakassi peninsula, avoiding a potential Kashmir crisis in Africa. He was also instrumental in raising UN peacekeeping mission to Darfur, Sudan.
At the centennial of the UN in 2001, a fitting tribute for his peace efforts culminated in the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to both the UN and Mr Kofi Annan as joint winners for having revitalized the UN, and for having given priority to human rights. The Nobel Committee noted his commitment to the struggle to control the spread of HIV in Africa and his declared opposition to international terrorism.
Despite his meritorious career in the UN, in 2004 a UN’s Oil for Food programme report came to the fore that Kojo, the secretary- general’s son received payments from a Swiss company, Cotecna, hired to monitor humanitarian imports into Iraq under the programme. As the fallout from this, Mr Annan came under scrutiny, and there were calls for him to step down. Soon after an independent commission of inquiry investigated the report, and later exonerated Mr Annan from any complicity in the deal. However, the statesman drew his greatest flak for the passivity of the UN as head of its peacekeeping mission during the Rwandan genocide in which about 800,000 lives were lost. The UN peacekeeping mission also experienced varying degrees of failures in Somalia and Bosnia under his watch.
As if to buttress this point, in 2003, Canadian ex-General Romeo Dallaire, force commander of UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda, claimed Annan was passive in his response to imminent genocide. In his book Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda (2003), Gen Dallaire asserted that Annan held back UN troops from intervening to settle the conflict and from providing more logistical support. Although in 2004, ten years after the Rwandan genocide, Kofi Annan admitted that “I could and should have done more to sound the alarm and rally support.” In his book Interventions: A Life in War and Peace, Annan argued that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) could have made better use of media to raise awareness of the violence in Rwanda and put more pressure on governments to provide troops necessary for intervention.
Perhaps on account of this huge omission, Kofi Annan had introduced, prior to his departure from the UN, the doctrine of ‘Responsibility to Protect’ as part of the ‘Larger Freedom’ which gives rights to states to intervene in crisis situations to protect civilian populations at risk.
Despite his exertions as UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan realised that there was still much work to be done. Because of the partial failings in the world body, in his farewell address to the UN in 2006, he outlined 3 major problems of “an unjust world economy, world disorder and widespread contempt for human-rights and the rule of law,” which he believes, have not resolved but sharpened” during his time as secretary-general. He also pointed to violence in Africa and Arab-Israeli conflict as two major crises that require attention. Although long on rhetoric but short on action, still Mr Kofi Annan believes “The UN can be improved, it is not perfect but if it didn’t exist we would have to create it,” he told the BBC’s HardTalk during an interview for his 80th birthday last April.
Even after retirement Kofi Annan still remained relevant. His widely acknowledged negotiation and mediation skills recommended him to serve as UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria to help find resolution to the conflict there. He later quit when he admitted to being frustrated on the peace initiatives. In 2016, he was appointed to lead UN commission to investigate the Rohingya crisis.
In retirement, he founded the Kofi Annan Foundation dedicated to the promotion of better global governance, which builds up capacities of peoples and countries to achieve a fairer and more peaceful world. He was a member and chairman of the Elders, a group of independent global leaders founded by Nelson Mandela, dedicated to global peace and human rights. Kofi Annan was a recipient of several awards and honours. He was a recipient of over 20 honorary degrees from universities all over the world in recognition of his contribution to global peace and security.
A man overflowing with dignity and grandeur, Mr Kofi Annan exuded personal warmth, and he was a sincere and honest broker. He was an epitome of peace, patience, goodness and gentleness. Mr Annan will be remembered as an eminent statesman, global icon of peace, astute diplomat, peacemaker and humanist par excellence. His exit has made the world the poorer, for he was a quintessential diplomat and excellent administrator. An illustrious son of Ghana and Africa, Kofi Annan worked and died for global peace. A champion of peace, Kofi Annan has left his footprints on the sands of time.
This article was originally published by Greenbarge Reporters in 2018 in memory of Mr. Kofi Annan who died on August 18, 2018.