Former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan believes the Western coalition fighting Libya's Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi has "crossed a line" and is now "fighting on one side of [a] civil war."
During the course of two extensive interviews recently, Annan told Alec Russell of London's Financial Times that calls by presidents Barack Obama of the United States and Nicolas Sarkozy of France that "Gaddafi must go" were "not very helpful." He advocated a political solution to the Libyan crisis, saying that although "a future Libya without Gaddafi" should be part of negotiations, events were currently headed for a "messy" stalemate, with military victory an unlikely prospect.
During the interviews, which lasted over a period of five hours, Annan also discussed Kenya, the "Arab Spring," peacekeeping in the Democratic Republic of Congo, his role during the Rwandan genocide, the need for young African men and women to go into politics and his current passion for promoting agriculture in Africa. The following excerpts from the interviews are published by permission of the Financial Times. The full text of the interview, in which Annan also discusses issues including the Iraq war and the Bush administration, Bosnia, his legacy, and the future of and reforms to the United Nations, can be found here.
Mediation and Libya
Alec Russell: Do you sometimes turn down overtures to mediate?
Kofi Annan: You need to be careful not to over-reach and also assess the capacity you have to work with. In Kenya, initially, I started by advising… and then I went in and, as you know, couldn't leave for six weeks, which really wreaked havoc with my programme for the whole year. But at least I was able to make some contribution.
Sometimes I offer advice or suggest who else can deal with it and, in some situations, deal directly with it. And in Cote d'Ivoire, we [the Elders] had hoped to go in early before things exploded. We were going to go in and talk to the two young men and remind them, the two leaders, that Ivory Coast is bigger than them.
AR: Would you consider getting involved in Libya?
KA: It depends. There are lots of questions which have to be answered. Sometimes when people approach you and say, do this, there are lots of questions. I have been in touch with some of the governments engaged, both western and Middle Eastern governments, to really make an assessment of how they see the situation and what will be required because first of all the coalition itself has to decide how it wants to proceed, which direction it wants to go, because you have several possibilities.
Some may seek a victory. Victory in this situation would mean you have to really win completely, the sort of situation which led to Saddam being found in a hole. And I'm not sure that's likely to be the situation in Libya. Therefore you have to seek a political way out because you are working yourself to a stalemate that could last for a long time and be messy.
So which way do you go? Are they prepared to talk, to find a way out for Gaddafi? And then, of course, you have the council, the Libyan opposition council whose approach, I'm sure, would be, he has to go. And in fact, their approach would be to try and put pressure on the coalition that you can't come and bomb and do all this - you know the kind of man he is - and leave us here with him. So you're going to have rather difficult negotiation discussions with the transitional council itself.
And so the coalition and the transitional council have to get their act together or get into the same place before they can take on Gaddafi. I'm sure Gaddafi has difficulties on his side.
AR: You negotiated with Gaddafi over the years. How would you assess him now?
KA: He came out of the cold and probably felt he had managed a difficult situation very well. He went to European capitals. European heads of government and heads of state flew down to see him. He probably felt he'd re-established and reinstated himself as a member of the international community. And then, of course, this happens. He'll probably wonder if indeed there has been that much progress in his relations with them. My sense is that he'll become much more suspicious today and, unless he's really backed into a corner, will be extremely difficult to negotiate with.
AR: What about the bigger issue of the intervention? There are all sorts of historical parallels one can come up with. One analogy is, of course, 1991 after Iraqis had been pushed out of Kuwait and then the world's policymakers decided not to intervene to stop Saddam putting down the Shiite uprising. Should the policymakers have done the same thing, should they have hardened their hearts this time?
KA: I think the world has moved on. You're right to start with 1991 but one would also need to look at Srebrenica and Rwanda and the repetition of the phrase "never again," or "we will defend the helpless". And there was a situation where Gaddafi himself, he brought it on himself with some of the statements he was making about being "merciless" and "blood will flow" and all that. When a leader makes that sort of statement and you see him approaching populated areas with tanks and military gear and equipment, an international community that had been talking tough and talking of a no-fly zone and rushing to establish a no-fly zone would have had a lot to answer for if they had not intervened to protect the population.
The question is where you draw the line. Was every action taken by the coalition designed to protect helpless civilians or, in some cases, to support the weak, rebellious army? And how far do you go? And does it fit with the [UN] Security Council resolution and the mandate? And we should remember that it wasn't a unanimous decision and some pretty important countries abstained. So you start with a divided Council, which makes it even more important that those in action respect the mandate otherwise the divisions widen. And the Council can get paralysed on future decisions on Libya.
AR: Is there implicit hypocrisy that there is intervention in Libya but not Ivory Coast where an awful conflict is raging?
KA: Yes. The timing of this [Libyan] initiative is very difficult and awkward. Even before you go to Ivory Coast, questions are going to be put as to whether, if there were to be a similar situation where civilians are at risk in some of the other countries, whether Syria or Yemen, what should the international community do? Should they consider going in? And then, of course, you have Ivory Coast where you have, in a way, international presence already on the ground, you have UN forces on the ground. They don't have the adequate numbers to do what they probably would like to do.
AR: So we have to weigh up each situation separately and coolly?
KA: Coolly, and be coldly realistic as to whether the action or the initiative we are contemplating would help or make matters worse.
AR: You seemed to imply, from your earlier remarks, though, that you were in favour of the Libyan intervention.
KA: I'm in favour of the efforts that were made to protect the people. You see, the problem, the argument the Libyan intervention will lead to, is they quoted the "responsibility to protect" but it's a graduation. You sort of go through a whole series of events and as a last resort you use force; political pressure, sanctions and others.
Of course, one could claim that we were beyond that, that the way events were moving so fast, you couldn't influence a situation by applying political or diplomatic pressure, imposing sanctions, and that more effective measures had to be used, and this is the argument that has been made.
And I think the whole world saw that time was on the move with the people in Benghazi and they felt that action was taken to stop the tanks before they got to Benghazi and did lots of damage. I'm sure everyone will support that, or most people will support it. I can say most people will support that.
The following remarks on Libya were made in an interview conducted in Geneva during the last week of April 2011.
AR: Are you still being contacted from Tripoli and urged to get involved?
KA: It's gone quiet there. Also I haven't called them because I'm not sure how the actors are playing it, because I don't think it's gone cold or dead, but… you need to know what the coalition wants to do, what the transition council wants to do, and right now, I think they have problems amongst themselves in the sense that the coalition is not united as to approach.
And, as I suspected, the rebels will not be ready to talk to Gaddafi. They want Nato to help remove him, and of course, I think eventually probably he will have to go, but you cannot put it upfront the way people are saying: Gaddafi must go. A future Libya without Gaddafi must be part of the negotiations and handled properly. It should be part of the agenda, and this mantra of Sarkozy, Cameron, Gaddafi is one… Obama saying Gaddafi must go. Putting it upfront like that… it's not very helpful.
But, on the other hand, I see their problem. If, at the end of the day, he stays… how do you explain to the population – both the Libyan and the western populations – that you went through all of this and you leave them with Gaddafi? But on the other hand, I think they were right, as I have said, to get rid of the air defence systems. Most people forget that even in Iraq, by the time the air and no-fly zone was established, the air defence system had been removed through the first Gulf war. All of them had been neutralised.
They were right to stop the guns and the tanks from getting to Benghazi. The problem they have now is the sense that they've crossed a line and are now part of the civil war and fighting on one side of the civil war.
But here, I will tell you… you will find this interesting, because I said this to Samantha Powers [the academic and liberal interventionist in the White House] and she said: "How can one say a civil war? One side is so weak. The other side is so powerful." I just listened. I kept saying, but who told you in civil war, the sides have to be evenly matched? It never starts like that. But it is a civil war, and they are now perceived as having been sucked in, and where does it stop? How far… how much deeper do you get in? And if it drags on, how patient will the population be and the parliaments be? This is a problem.
AR: Is the Arab spring a 1989 moment or will many of these revolutions be crushed?
KA: The Arab spring reminds me a bit of the decolonisation process where one country gets independence and everybody else wants it. How about us, when do we get it, when do we make our move? And you have a situation where someone has been in power for decades, where the integrity of elections, democracy and security have really not been debated or discussed and most people suspect that elections are rigged and that the democratic rotation that elections are supposed to ensure doesn't really happen. And when this goes on for a while you are sitting on a powder keg.
My own advice to people who would be in office for two or three terms is that they must accept democratic rotation. Ideally not put themselves up for re-election and allow the system to work. It is extreme arrogance for one to think he…and it's usually he, is the only one who can govern his country and nobody else can do it. We're all human. After 10, 15 years you get tired, you run out of steam and ideas, you have to give a chance to somebody else. And whether you yourself are inclined to stay on, all those around you are pushing you to stay on for what they will gain. One has to have the strength of character to say the time has come to move on…unless you are a king.
AR: There is, of course, inevitably a concern in the west about the Arab uprisings. This is in effect: "Uh oh, what if the change brings with it destructive forces?
KA: I think that concern is not entirely misplaced because revolution by its nature can not be overly programmed or directed. There are so many forces at work that you don't know where and how it all ends. But what is encouraging about what has happened, particularly in Egypt and Tunisia, was that it was home-grown. It was a sort of force from the people, demanding change, demanding dignity, demanding freedom and democracy.
But the point you make is right. Depending on how the change is managed, it can lead to consequences that one may not have anticipated or wished for. Change is a process which has to be managed. If it's managed and managed well in the interest of the nation and the people, the likelihood is that it will end well.
The risk you run is in these situations is that those with advantage are the organised. The young and dynamic and idealistic people in the square do not have the chance to organise themselves politically, to be able to follow through their dreams in six months time, to play an effective role in the future.
And so as we move beyond the initial phase they really have to find a way, because in Egypt, political parties were not encouraged. I saw this, for example, with my good friend Mohamed ElBaradei, who went in looking for change. But then he discovered how difficult it was to form a political party, he couldn't raise funds….. These are some of the odds.
It takes lots of energy, persistence, for them to stick with it. And not only stick with it, but they need resources, they need determined leadership to be able to go all the way, before the revolution is hijacked by the organised who may not necessarily share their dreams.
AR: [Question follows discussion of Bosnia] It was a very different scenario, of course, a couple of years later in Rwanda, where it wasn't an issue of arms, with big forces, but militia with machetes. In particular, there was that memo in which [it was said], "the overriding consideration would be avoiding a situation that might lead to the use of force". What do you think of that now?
KA: I think you need to step back a bit. First of all, we had a very small force and by the way - I don't want to make an issue of it - as head of the department, all cables went out in my name. As I've said, it wasn't done by me although I take responsibility for it.
When that message went out, "avoid the use of force", one has to put it in context, to know the context in the sense of what happened in Somalia. In a way, I often say that for all of us, Rwanda, in a way, became a victim of Somalia. Rwanda exploded when we were withdrawing from Somalia and why were we withdrawing from Somalia? Because a plane had been shot down and Americans killed and their bodies dragged through the street, and a 38,000-peacekeeper operation [had] disintegrated.
And, if a couple of months later you are sitting in Rwanda and you get a recommendation that would lead to the use of force and the consequential event where everyone withdraws... When the US left [Somalia], all the western countries withdrew and that was the beginning of the end of this operation. So, at the department, we were very conscious about not taking similar risks in Rwanda and I think that's why that cable went.
And in fact, not long after that, 10 Belgian soldiers were killed and the Belgians withdrew. The Belgians withdrew, the Sri Lankans were given instructions to protect only themselves. So you were left with half a battalion from Ghana of about, I think, 250 men in that sea of killing. And the question of increasing the forces; the Council wouldn't accept it. The Council rejected it.
Bill Clinton has himself gone to Kigali airport to regret it and say, that was a big mistake. And so, as I say, there were a series of decisions which, in my judgment, were a result of what had happened months before. For the US were not going to repeat Somalia. And there was a time when nobody wanted to hear the word Somalia uttered because of what it meant. For peacekeepers, one had to be very careful not to get a couple of peacekeepers killed, and then the operation unravels.
So when a commander comes and says, I want to take this risk, it's not unreasonable for one to say, be careful. In fact, when the US withdrew their troops from Somalia, I recall making a comment that [in] the way the peacekeepers had been withdrawn from Somalia, the impression had been given that the easiest way to unravel a peacekeeping operation is to kill a few soldiers.
AR: We can see some decisions in context now, but still, they were wrong, weren't they?
KA: Wrong in the sense of...?
AR: If [General] Dallaire had acted, might that not have saved thousands of lives?
KA: Dallaire himself said, if I had 5,000 men, I think I could have stopped this. And seeing the size of the murderous operation I agree that if he had 5,000 men he probably could have stopped it. Sometimes in peacekeeping operations you show force in order not to use force - people realise that there's a pushback and there's a solid force there that's not going to be pushed around, that sometimes helps. But he didn't have that force and, given the numbers, I'm not too sure that if he had acted it would have scared the people away.
When you look at the extensive nature of the plan, of the conspiracy, it may have slowed them or stopped them in Kigali but I'm not sure it could have stopped the nationwide attack. And it could also have accelerated the withdrawal of the UN troops because some of them would have been killed much sooner and the Belgians would have gone much faster. And that was our most effective unit with good equipment.
AR: On a personal level, when you look back over your tenure, is that the one thing that you might have done differently?
KA: Yes. I think Rwanda was painful. I'd say, both Rwanda and Srebrenica. The question of what I could have done differently; I often wonder and you raise the question indirectly. If one had shouted from the rooftops to say that the situation in Rwanda is so desperate, thousands may be killed – at that time we really had no idea of numbers – would it have made a difference? Probably it was worth a try but at that time, as I said, those statements were reserved for the Secretary-General, not for his underlings. They were the Secretary-General's but maybe one should have shouted and then publicly challenged states to do something.
They may not have, but at least one would have placed the issue openly and firmly on the table. Nobody believes the governments [who] say they don't know but some say they didn't know that this was coming. They even had more information that they got from their embassies and staff there. They were much more plugged-in and had more assets on the ground but say they didn't know. The question is, what did they do when they found out? They sent planes to evacuate their nationals whilst the killing continued. You see? And they refused to send in reinforcements even through the Council. So it was a policy issue, it was not a question of lack of knowledge.
We in the Secretariat made mistakes in the sense that maybe we should have shouted loudly about this killing but, of course, you don't also function that way. You give the council a synthesis of assessment, not that I got this cable from the general today. So that's in private consultations you can tell the Council.
AR: What of the Congo mission, over which the UN has been heavily criticised?
KA: When people talk of the UN's largest mission, in terms of area of operation, the numbers are very small. And the mandate of the peacekeepers, given the fact that they can't be everywhere, is to protect civilians. And in some situations, they moved reinforcements to certain areas to be helpful. The difficulty is, you have a force that raises expectations.
In fact, we used to say, sometimes with peacekeeping you send in a force that's too big to hide and too small to be effective because the sense is, do something, not that you've done effective military planning, that you're going in there to contain the situation and deal with it. And, honestly speaking, sometimes the mandate is given but the resources do not follow.
When you come to this Congo situation, what we really need in peacekeeping is a sort of rapid response capacity, where in the theatre, if… they are mass-raping women or can be… then you have the capacity to reinforce. You can come in with the additional resource, additional forces to deal with it.
It has two impacts. First of all, it encourages the peacekeepers on the ground to take more risks, knowing reinforcements are available and the commander will bear that in mind. Without reinforcement, sometimes – the question I raised – they hesitate to take risk.
When you talk to the UN commanders, it pains them that they are not [doing as much as people would want.] But the generals say that when you have a situation where these guys come in at night, move from hut to hut, committing these brutal acts of rape, he said they've struggled with that. How do you provide protection, how do you use your men?
And invariably it's difficult for them to know and they don't have enough men to be able to spread out and do what would be required. And I don't have arguments to challenge them on this. You can always tell them you should do more, you must protect civilians. But on the rape issue, which has come up time and time again, they haven't been able to work out a strategy to do this. And it can happen again tomorrow, I'm sorry to say.
AR: So what does this tell us about the giant peacekeeping structure? Should there be a small, permanent rapid-reaction force?
KA: In some operations we've had the rapid-reaction force but if you have a rapid-reaction force, it has to be a force that's readily available, which means that it's not a force that you assign normal duties because once you assign them normal duties, you've lost that ability to move rapidly.
And often, they don't have the numbers to have a rapid-reaction capacity with the numbers required to be able to move very quickly. Really, one should have that capacity within the theatre in a situation like Congo, where you have these kinds of problems, so that they can be called on and they can go in. There has to be a force on the horizon that can come very quickly. But the way we run and fund peacekeeping, this capacity is unavailable.
AR: When and why did you decide to focus on agriculture in your post-UN career?
KA: Over the years I was following developments on the continent and when we came up with MDGs [Millennium Development Goals], one of their roles was reducing hunger and poverty by 50 per cent. The only way this continent can reduce hunger is by increasing its food production. I also saw the work of welfare programme organisations expanding constantly, bringing food aid to Africa when we should be focusing on getting agriculture right.
With climate change, the problem was going to get bigger and I couldn't see how one can live on food aid. When you look at the continent and the question of development, agriculture can be such a multiplier. If we get agriculture right in Africa, where most of the people now are working in that sector, not only would it help boost development but we will be secure in terms of food and nutrition and then be able to move on to other areas. I felt that if I, as a free man, when I step down as Secretary-General, devote a bit of my time to this, I may be able to help move it forward.
AR: Would it be over-psychoanalysing to say that after decades in this huge global bureaucracy this is now finally a chance to actually…
KA: Do some of the things I was pushing? That is part of it but another reason was that there is an economic basis to conflict and often that fight over scarce resources can lead to conflicts and competition. So, in a way, what you said was right but you can also see it as trying to help provide a solid basis, which eventually can diminish that fight over resources, which often leads to conflict around the world.
AR: How much of an issue is genetically modified food, which is a sensitive subject in Africa? Is it going to be tricky?
KA: It does come up and yet, as we move forward, you cannot resolve the potential food crisis or shortages without science being part of the solution. Science has to be part of the solution but African governments – and these are decisions for governments, whether they embrace or do not embrace genetically modified food – and for the moment, most African companies do not accept genetically modified seeds.
We had an interesting experience about five, six years ago. There was famine in Southern Africa and we had food for then – the World Food Programme, that is. The US offered food which was genetically modified. They refused it, including Zambia and Tanzania, on the grounds that if they allow this genetically modified produce to come in, it may affect their own production. And if that were to be the case, they could not export anything to Europe so they didn't want to take the risk.
And in fact, I recall sharing this story with Bush and [Jean] Chrétien at the G8 summit and Chrétien said, but I have lived on that all my life and here I am at the ripe age of almost 70 to tell it. And George said, I'll be damned, you mean they were starving and they didn't take the food we were giving, the food we eat? I said, I'm sorry….. but they wouldn't take it because it was genetically modified.
So this is something that, over time, they will have to decide. Just as Europe is struggling with it, this continent is struggling with it too, because it's very linked to the European position.
AR: Looking back on your 10 years, what do you regard as your finest achievement?
KA: Most people expect me to say the Nobel Peace Prize. But I think two things stand out. One is the Millennium Development Goals, and getting leaders to accept that they need to fight poverty and do something, and that the gap between the rich and the poor cannot keep growing without nothing being done about it.
Second, I also became convinced that there was an economic basis to conflict. Usually, when you look around the world, people are killing each other, fighting over scarce resources. So I was very happy that in a way they accepted the concept of fighting against poverty, and that the MDGs became more or less our global framework for helping the poor.
The other thing I was happy about was that the leaders accepted the norm of the "responsibility to protect". I think I first raised it in 1997, and then in the general assembly in 1999, and it was in 2005 that the member states finally embraced it. It was not universally popular and in fact some thought it will never go anywhere. So you can imagine my satisfaction when I saw the Security Council relying on that now when it approved the Libyan resolution.
AR: What about the flipside? What about regret, what could you have done better?
KA: One of my biggest regrets was the fact that as an institution and an international community we could not stop the war in Iraq. That really was very difficult and very painful. Every fibre in my body felt it was wrong. I spoke to leaders, we spoke to people, we tried... we couldn't stop it... and we see the results. The other... apart from some mediation things, where Cyprus or Western Sahara didn't work, was UN reform.
Annan's future and conclusions on the UN
AR: Were you ever tempted to go into politics?
KA: No. When I was stepping down I had lots of approaches to run for office [in Ghana. They said the timing worked, because I was stepping down in 2006 and the next elections were in 2008, and I remember some people coming to me who were thinking of running, but [they] said, if you are going to be a candidate we won't run. And others said we want you to run, and I kept saying, no, I've had 10 years as secretary general and I think I've made my contribution, and besides, you need the next generation. You need younger men in Africa, men and women in African politics. I think the generational change is going to be so important for Africa that we really should encourage and push it as much as we can, because some of these younger men and women, who are men and women of their times, and are also connected to the rest of the world, wouldn't even know how to behave in the way some of the old leaders do.
I can't think of a 30- or 40-year-old who can behave like Mugabe. They wouldn't even know where to begin, and given their own educational exposure, I think it will be very positive for the continent.
AR: When you first joined the UN it was a time of great dreams and hopes for the organisation. Again in the early 1990s was another time of great hope, and both times those hopes have been dashed. Was that inevitable? Is the UN dream impossible to achieve?
KA: There was a time, with the Berlin Wall down, that [it looked as if] the UN finally could do what it was set up to do, the rivalry between the two camps would dissipate, and we could all co-operate. And then, of course, Iraq came and blew it all apart. These upheavals will always take place in the world, and the design and construct of the UN ideally should be such that it can deal with these upheavals, and possibly influence them, and survive and thrive, but it doesn't work out that way, because as an organisation we are so dependent on the same member states. It's extremely difficult for a secretary general to deal with the world and the organisation when you have these major upheavals. Let me give you an example.
During the Iraq debate, the question of the second resolution was being debated, whether the second resolution was needed in the council before one could go to war. I said, in my judgement the second resolution was needed and that the council should pass the second resolution before any action was taken. Immediately, I got a call from the capital, saying, oh, we see you've taken the side of the French. I give you this example, because it's interesting that when there is such division the secretary general has several roles. Apart from focusing on the substantive issue at hand, he has to also play a role of conciliator and bring in both sides.
AR: And if you don't have the US onside you're finished?
KA: You're finished, and in some situations it's not just if you don't have the others, the US… I kept telling them that veto is a negative power. You can use it to block things, but you cannot use it to make things happen. In the end you need the support of the other members, you need at least those nine votes, and, as you say, if you don't have the US onside on certain things it won't move. Not only the US, others won't move, in some situations, and we saw it in Somalia, when the US decided they were leaving, all the well-equipped soldiers left.
AR: I have seen two sides of Kofi Annan. I have seen the man of Africa, steering a great agricultural project, and now I'm seeing you in the role you're better known in, in Geneva. When I spoke to Mo Ibrahim, I said, how do I understand Mr Annan, and he said, you must understand he's a great African. Which is the real Annan?
KA: In a way, you can say that it is two separate roles. I spent my youth and my most formative years in Africa. I left Africa when I was about 20, 21, and when Mo says a great African, I was really moulded by my African experience, although I had the good fortune that by the time I was 24 I had studied and worked on three continents - Africa, the US, and Europe. But I came to the agriculture from the work I did in New York, particularly when we talked about fighting poverty and freedom. A hungry mind is not free, and I felt if we were really going to make a difference and fight poverty we should at least start with the ability to feed ourselves, and the millions of Africans who don't have it.
In a way, it's also interesting to come from the ideals and the theories to the practical, trying to implement some of the things, to help, advocate, or implement some of the things you are pushed for from the glasshouse of New York. This is something I really believe will succeed. I think we can make a difference in the lives of the poor, and the millions. It will also bring us a bit closer to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and reducing poverty, as we've sworn we want to do.
AR: What is your view of autocracies?
KA: We tend to look at countries in terms of failed states and functioning states, which is rather simplistic. Good, healthy democratic societies are built on three pillars: there's peace and stability, economic development, and respect for rule of law and human rights. And where all three are present, you stand a very good chance of making a go of it. But often, we take stability - peace in terms of security and economic activity - to mean a country is doing well. We forget the third and important pillar of rule of law and respect for human rights, because no country can long remain prosperous without that third pillar.
AR: In Kenya you stopped what was becoming a hideous civil war. Is that a template for other such scenarios?
KA: There are lessons from Kenya that could be helpful in other situations. Having said that, let me hasten to add that each crisis is different, has its own specificities, and we need to look at it critically; look at each one in its own terms. There were lessons in Kenya, which I believe can be applied elsewhere, in the sense that what I and the team tried to do was not to stitch up the differences between the political leaders, but to get them to tackle other long-term issues, and also deal with issues of concern to the people. As an international community, we have a tendency when we get into these situations sometimes to look at how do we make peace between the political elite and those who are fighting, forgetting the people underneath them and the nation?
In Kenya, we made the conscious decision that we should not only deal with the war and political leaders, but we should also deal with issues of concern to the people, and that is one of the reasons why we set up a commission to look into who committed all these atrocities, who engineered it, which has led to six of them ending up in the Hague, as well as looking into what went wrong, why the elections were so flawed, what lessons do we learn from that, and how can they reform the electoral process... to make sure this doesn't happen again? And this again led to the new constitution and a lot of this happened.
That was a very conscious thing that we did. We also made a conscious decision that this is not an issue between [members of] the political elite. The people are involved. You have to bring in civil society, religious leaders, the business community, media owners, women's organisations and human rights activists. So they all played a part right from the beginning, and we tried to make it as transparent as possible by telling the people, we are not going to keep you in the dark. Every agreement we sign, we will make public so that you can also monitor it and make sure it's implemented. It's your agreement. It's your country.
And I think that has made a difference, because there was a buy-in by the people. Recently, when you look at the Kenyan papers, it's quite remarkable, the role civil society has played, and most of them are headed by women.
Today business leaders meet once a month or so with the prime minister, discussing these issues, and you hear them saying, look, the type of political discourse is affecting confidence in business and is going to slow progress, and these are things they should have been saying. So I'm quite encouraged, even though the political leaders have not changed their stripes.
AR: Well, that seems to be the worry. Next year, there's meant to be another election. Is that not also going to be swamped in violence?
KA: It is worrying the way the elite handled this. When you look at all the effort that has gone into protecting those who are accused… the six who are accused, and compare that with the effort they have made to help the displaced and the victims, it's rather sad. It's rather sad.
But I think what gives me hope is I have the sense that the people of Kenya have turned the page. They are keen to get a new political dispensation. They are keen to fight corruption and impunity, and in that sense they are leaving the political elite behind. They have turned the page, but the political elite don't seem to have realised it, and I hope the results of the 2012 election, and how they vote, will drive this home.
AR: But what if the political elite decide to dispute a result or to turn their supporters against each other?
KA: This is where I would hope the people would also have learnt a lesson. Last time around, they paid with their lives. This is where it's a bit sad when you see a situation where the people were manipulated to turn on each other and kill each other, and the same people are being used to defend the accused. They are saying, if you touch us, there'll be holy hell to pay. There will be riots and all this.
AR: How high up does it go? Does it go to the very top? There's endless speculation about whether the guilt goes up to the president and to Raila Odinga?
KA: There is speculation, but I will have to let the law take its course and say that obviously having indicted the six, the evidence seems to stop there. In the case of Sudan, the court did not hesitate to go all the way, and I would suspect if they had the evidence, they would have gone all the way as they did in Sudan.
AR: Is this one of the things you're proudest of?
KA: The Kenyan situation was quite frightening. In a relatively short period, over 1,000 people were killed and 350,000 uprooted in a region that has had Rwanda and has had Somalia. And in a relatively short time, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda were affected economically because they rely on Kenyan infrastructure and there were shortages coming. So it was not just a national problem. It would have created a serious regional problem, and the international community worked very effectively with me and the panel of eminent persons and I think that the collective international effort was the only way. In fact, Roger Cohen of the New York Times [and] the International Herald Tribune did a piece referring to it as the first test of responsibility to protect, where political, diplomatic and economic pressure was used, short of military…
You go through various stages of pressure and then you use force as a last resort, and so from that point of view I was happy that the international community stood together, and, using political, diplomatic and economic pressure, was able to turn the tide and pull… get Kenyans to pull themselves back from the precipice.
A feature on Kofi Annan by Alec Russell, published in the Financial Times Weekend Magazine, can be found here.