Opinion | Sep 11, 2018

Annan: Ghana’s Biggest Export And A Wonder Of The World

“History is not the burden of any one man or woman alone but some are called to meet a special share of its challenges; it is a duty that you discharge with dignity, determination and distinction that are widely admired”

I have had a sentimental attachment to Kofi Annan for a while: his persona alone sparked a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear and wonder. The last couple of days, I have been beating myself to a pulp over his passing, particularly because I never had the opportunity to meet him in flesh. How could Annan be gone? An all-time mentor who animated our childhood dreams and gave African parents; both home and abroad, a meaningful reference point to motivate their progeny about the lengths they can go, if they put their minds to it. He may mean different things to different people but Annan was a big deal for me. In my thinking, he typified the word “legend” way before the rest of the world gave meaning to it.

So as I watched the world mourn him; the avowed poetry and prose of good-natured eulogies drooling poignantly from the cracks of the world’s most important human lips – Annan was global. I couldn’t agree more with Guterres; “He was the United Nations”. I was just about 7 years when I first heard of the man. I remember vividly my fickle mind attempting to fondle with the idea of who he really was and what he represented in the global scheme of things. An older friend would later put my mind to rest, probably in a language I could understand best at the time; “he’s the President of the World” he said with an edge in his voice.

Much later in my adult life when I caught up on the knowledge of diplomacy and international relations; I would develop a pin-hole identification of what being Secretary General of the UN really entailed. But like every strand of his characteristic grey hair, what Kofi Annan represented in my mind hasn’t altered till date. He was indeed the world’s President.

Annan the Inspiration.
Most often than not, in the midst of finding what to become as children, our minds travel very far and wild. We speak vaguely of our ambitions and ignorantly petition the forces that be, to make them happen. We speak of the impossible. We ask to be doctors with the least idea of what medical school entails; to be Presidents with no idea what politics is about. But that is the gift of childhood – freedom. Annan was the art of the possible. He mirrored the freedom and tangibility of our hopes and dreams and gave true meaning to our possibilities. A boy born in the Gold Coast; starting out as a Budget Officer of one of the UN’s agency; rising through the ranks to become the UN’s Secretary-General. For our parents, the lesson was clear; “If Kofi was able to do it, you too can do it”. And Kofi’s distinction came with all the other hard lessons that re overly-flocked in the African home - Patience, Hard work and Humility.

If there is a thing the world agrees with Annan’s rise in the UN, it’s that he earned the Secretary General position. He had worked as the head of personnel for the office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, as director of administrative management services of the UN Secretariat in New York; has been appointed Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management and Security Coordinator for the UN system in 1990, and become Assistant Secretary-General for Program Planning, Budget and Finance, and Control among others.

  1. the famous double barrel-named Secretary-General of the UN, Boutros Boutros-Ghali established the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in 1992 and appointed Kofi Annan to the new department as Deputy to then Under-Secretary-General Marrack Goulding, little did he know that he was anointing the head of a successor. Legend has it that on 29 August 1995, while Boutros-Ghali was unreachable on an airplane, Annan instructed United Nations officials to "relinquish for a limited period of time their authority to veto air strikes in Bosnia." a move that allowed NATO forces to conduct Operation Deliberate Force and made him a favourite of the United States - and boy did he know how to seize the moment. And by the way, it was the same US that vetoed Boutros-Boutros Ghali’s second term candidature. Ghali would subsequently suspend his run for a second term, enabling the likes of Annan to emerge.

Annan the Reformist.
Indeed, much of the UN’s recent reformation is ascribed to Annan. It was he who announced a reformation plan barely six months into taking office as Secretary General. No matter how you assess Annan’s performance, you find a unison; that he left the UN better off. By the time he left, a clear guiding vision for executing many of the UN’s administrative and budgetary protocol had been set. Kofi Annan provided leadership; one that was largely infested with a strict sense of statesmanship. Kofi was a statesman par excellence; he provided the cement that sealed the UN’s shared idealism as a comity of nations and made meaning to the unity of its ambitions, passion for freedom and abhorrence for injustice. Above all, Annan tackled economic turbulence the world over, worked to protect the health of those without wealth and through him, our world sought the precious balance between security; which was too often threatened and human rights; which were too often denied [2] . Many would fondly remember him for his intellectual depth, soft-spoken yet quick-witted personality.

Annan’s striking Humanity in the face of a crooked world

António Guterres, the current UN Secretary-General, describes "Kofi Annan as a champion for peace and a guiding force for good”. How else could you describe a chap whose core concerns were human rights, world peace, eradicating poverty, HIV/AIDs. Indeed, the Kofi Annan foundation was created to “promote better global governance and strengthen the capacities of people and countries to achieve a fairer more peaceful world”. That was Kofi’s business after he retired; a business he had strongly been pre-occupied with even during his tenure as Secretary-General. In April 2000, Annan gave out a five-point “Call to Action” to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic. He called it his “personal priority”. He was concerned about the common good of mankind, creating a just world and liberating the energies of its people to change their stories.

Indeed, anything that Kofi Annan has been identified with has in one way or the other stood for dealing with some of the most critical threats to humanity; climate change, HIV/AIDS, human rights and poverty, inequity among women and conflict. Yet he had failings which he acknowledged when he had to.

In 2009, I borrowed a book from my step-father titled “Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda”. It was a fantastic first-hand account of the Rwandan genocide written by Romeo Dallaire, a Force Commander of UNAMIR, the United Nations peacekeeping force for Rwanda at the time of the genocide. Dallaire chronicled in his own words, the failing of humanity in preventing what was an imminent genocide. In the book, he lashed out Annan for holding back the UN troops and being less responsive in providing for logistics to deal with the situation. It remains one of the often cited blemishes in Annan’s clean cloak of peace; his lack of aggression in responding with the Rwandan Genocide. Listen to Annan’s sterling humanity and concession when he had the opportunity. “I could and should have done more to sound the alarm and rally support” – That was Annan the Nobel Prize winner.

I tell you what, both the East and the West wings of the world are for once, right about Kofi Annan and who he was and at least my country Ghana got it right with the birth of that Friday-born twin; Kofi Atta Annan. In the regimental band of the most extra-ordinary Ghanaian drummers on the world stage, Annan was a drum-major. A distinguished statesman, our country’s biggest export, hero and a true citizen of the global community – A wonder of the world. A world that is obviously poorer by his loss.

As I deal with my personal loss, I’m reminded of the words of the famous British Politician and Speaker of the British House of Commons, John Bercow who in one of his historic effusions summarised persuasively: “History is not the burden of any one man or woman alone but some are called to meet a special share of its challenges; it is a duty that you discharge with dignity, determination and distinction that are widely admired”. Kofi Annan was a veritable representation of these hallowed words. On top of that, he exemplified the all-time revolutionary weapon of humanity; even in a failing world – Kofi makes me want to become a better man.

That man, Kofi was our country’s biggest export and a wonder of the world. May history remain faithful to his 80-year long life on earth and as we say of many of our greatest heroes; Kofi Annan never dies.

He was the man!!!

[1] The Writer is Ghanaian educated and British seasoned. A feral sea-side chap; aspiring to be great.

[2] Words summarised from John Bercow’s encapsulation of statesmanship in a speech delivered before the British Parliament on the visit of US President Barack Obama.

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