By Chris Zumani Zimba
As his father was governor of Ashanti province under British colonial rule, Kofi Annan was born from a noble family in 1938 in Ghana’s second biggest city of Kumasi. Having attended top schools in Ghana, Switzerland and later in the US, Annan joined the UN at the age of 24, first working as an administrator at the World Health Organization before becoming head of personnel for the UN mission in Cairo, deputy director of the UNHCR in Geneva and eventually deputy UN secretary-general. In 1993, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali nominated him under-secretary-general for peacekeeping, putting him in charge of 75,000 peacekeepers around the world which created a global visibility platform for his diplomatic leadership career.
As the US and Europe seemed to have little interest in getting involved in the ethnic politics of Rwanda, Koffi Annan as the head of UN peacekeeping troops experienced the first real challenge in his global stag career in 1994 when radical Hutu militias killed over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the Rwandan genocide. Following accusations of failing to provide adequate support in the east African country despite the prior warnings by Romeo Dallaire, the head of the UN peacekeepers in Rwanda, Annan expressed regret on behalf of the UN 10 years later that: “the international community failed Rwanda, and that must leave us always with a sense of bitter regret and abiding sorrow”. This is how honest and humble he was.
With the backing of the US, Annan was elected UN secretary-general in December 1997 and thereby becoming the first person from sub-Saharan Africa to occupy this position. As UN top man, his priority agenda included the fight against global poverty, global warming, and AIDS, and the resolution of political crises. Later, he described the signing of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000 as a highlight of his period in office. He also acted as a negotiator in the Cyprus conflict and with Iran over its nuclear program. Annan was also an outspoken critic of the attacks by the Sudanese Janjaweed militia in the Darfur region.
In 2003, Annan also came under pressure for his stance against the US invasion of Iraq under President George W. Bush as he openly said the US violated the UN’s Charter while he tried to prevent military intervention with a round of negotiations. He also acted as a negotiator between the government and the opposition in Kenya after post-election violence broke out at the end of 2007. In February 2012, he was named special representative in the Syrian civil war. He stepped down six months later after several failed attempts to negotiate a ceasefire. When violence against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine state grew in 2017, Annan headed an expert commission that looked into how the conflict could be resolved. Over his tenure as secretary-general, he tried in vain to reform the body, as his plans to give other countries, especially those in Africa, Asia and South America, seats on the Security Council failed largely because of resistance from the US and the body’s other permanent members.
In 2001, the Norwegian Nobel Committee recognized Annan’s diplomatic and peace contributions to the world, awarding both him and the UN with the Nobel Peace Prize. The chairman of the Oslo-based panel, Gunnar Berge, described Kofi Annan an “an excellent representative of the United Nations and probably the most effective secretary-general in its history”. As Ghana, Africa and the world mourn and remember Koffi Annan, the words of the Nobel Peace Prize Chairman stand; Annan was the best diplomatic flagship of our time that Ghana and Sub-Sahara Africa deployed to the world. In other words, a sweet soul and ambassador of peace for the human race. Kofi Annan is survived by his second wife, Nane Lagergren, with whom he lived in Geneva, and a son and daughter from his first marriage.
Chris Zumani Zimba is a Political Scientist, Author, PhD Scholar, Lecturer, Researcher and Consultant