Kofi Annan, the first black African to become United Nations Secretary-General and co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, died on August 18 at the age of 80. A Ghanaian by origin his many accomplishments include the creation of the Millennium Development Goals which provide targets for social development for developing countries to this day, the establishment within the UN of the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council, and the setting up of the Kofi Annan Foundation.
Annan’s record was not unblemished. During his term, UN peacekeepers were found wanting when massacres took place in Rwanda and Srebrenica. His son’s name appeared during investigations of the Iraqi “oil for food” scandal and later in the Panama Papers. His criticism of Indian soldiers for a rescue operation in Sierra Leone where they bypassed the local Nigerian peacekeeping commander strained relations with the then Vajpayee government.
Author William Shawcross, who travelled extensively with Annan in some of the most troubled parts of the world, wrote that Annan “has an unusual presence that seems to come from an innate sense of calm and politeness. He speaks softly and rarely appears angry or even flustered.” He was said to have the ultimate diplomatic skill of being able “to get people to shift their position witout feeling threatened or without any tension.”
Annan, in a speech at his alma mater Macalester College in Minnesota, described how unexpected his life’s trajectory had been. “I figured that after my schooling I would make some money in the business world, then I would – at, say 45 – enter politics in Ghana and help develop the country. At 60 I would retire and become a farmer. And I would die at 80 in bed.” In the end, his last expectation was the only one that came true and Africa was the better for it.
August 28, 2018