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Footsteps

Kofi Annan (1938-2018)

Volume 15, Issue 2  | 
Published 18/11/2018
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Born in Kumasi, Gold Coast, Kofi Annan was a Ghanaian diplomat who served as the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, from January 1997 to December 2006. He and the United Nations were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December of 2001 ‘for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world’. Annan has described himself as being ‘atribal in a tribal world’.

He was the first to rise through the UN’s own ranks to its highest position and  its most consequential secretary-general since the second, Dag Hammarskjold. He was also the first UN secretary-general from sub-Saharan Africa and his insight that ‘security, development, and human rights are inseparable’ is highly valued.  

Not one to raise his voice in anger, Annan favoured diplomacy. In a press conference in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1998, Annan noted, ‘You can do a lot with diplomacy, but of course you can do a lot more with diplomacy backed up by fairness and force’.

In an address to the National Press Club, Annan declared, ‘If war is the failure of diplomacy, then … diplomacy … is our first line of defense. The world today spends billions preparing for war; shouldn't we spend a billion or two preparing for peace?’

Annan is also well-known for his opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and to Iran's nuclear program.

As a senior official in the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations, he had been involved in the decision not to reinforce the beleaguered UN mission in Rwanda in 1994, with catastrophic results.

Later Annan helped pioneer a principle that would become known as ‘the responsibility to protect’ or R2P. His approach, outlined in the Economist in September 1999, was to insist that state sovereignty cannot be absolute. In a crowning achievement of his tenure, the UN General Assembly unanimously endorsed R2P at its 2005 World Summit.

Annan’s greatest let-down was when US President George W Bush decided to invade Iraq without an explicit UN Security Council mandate. No doubt, Iraq and its aftermath were the darkest days of Annan’s tenure at the UN. 

Kofi Annan has a very special place in the hearts and minds of Kenyans, his name is synonymous with the peace deal that brought an end to Kenya’s post-election violence in 2007/8. The highly disputed general election of 2007 had resulted in deadly chaos that caused the death of over 1000 people and left thousands others injured and without a place to call home.

Annan’s history with Kenya begins on late January 2008 when he arrived in Nairobi with all the backing of the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, and United States. He had come to broker a deal after disputed elections that had Mwai Kibaki, the incumbent, declared the winner against Raila Odinga.

For at least two months in 2008, Kofi Annan, was the only hope for Kenya’s future. Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete tells how former President Mwai Kibaki begged him – through the then Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang’ula – to plead with Kofi Annan not to leave Kenya. The high-level pleading is a signal to how important Annan was to the mediation talks between Kibaki and Raila Odinga in the aftermath of the 2007-08 post-election crisis. Prof George Saitoti, who died in 2012, recalled his private conversations with Annan at the time, which paint Annan as a person with a messianic zeal to save a country in trouble. And it was not until he brokered a peace deal between the two leaders that he finally left the country. 

Kofi Annan is survived by his second wife, former lawyer Nane Lagergren of Sweden whom he married in 1985. His first wife was Titi Alakija whom he married in 1965, the couple were divorced in 1983. Nane is the niece of the diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who saved thousands of European Jews from the German Nazis during World War II. Kofi and Nane have one child.

Last modified on Sunday, 18 November 2018 23:30
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