Africa: For Kofi, Our Global Brand

Photo: Wikimedia
Kofi Annan.
20 August 2018

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come...

(From Funeral Blues by Wystan Hugh Auden)

He was born a twin, the other being a girl. Since it was a Friday, he was named Kofi. In Akan tradition, many kids derive their names from the day of the week on which they were born. His twin sister, Efua, predeceased him by 27 years in 1991. From his Ashanti and Fante aristocratic family background (both of his grandfathers were tribal chiefs), Kofi Annan attended the Mfantsipim, a high school in Cape Coast, Ghana, established by the Methodist Church in 1876 as an all-boys secondary school dedicated to fostering intellectual, moral and spiritual growth with the professed aim "to train up God-fearing, respectable and intelligent lads."

One of those lads was Kofi Annan who rose from those fortuitous beginnings to bestride the world of diplomacy and the search for world peace like a titan.

For quite a while, Annan, as the first black man to ascend the exalted office of the United Nations Secretary-General, was the best advertisement for what was good and noble about the black man. Those who unduly criticise his stewardship at the UN conveniently forget that Annan ascended the high office at one of the most difficult moments in recent world history when, as Annan himself put it, "The world had become particularly messy".

He took office at a particularly tumultuous period of world history, spending nine years in charge of the UN, in a period that witnessed the 9/11 attacks and the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. His post-retirement career saw him mediate in some of the biggest crises of the twenty-first Century, including the Syrian civil war.

Some critics point to the failure of the UN to prevent the massacre in Rwanda and Bosnia or the allegedly weak response of the global organisation to the oil for food scandal, in which some unscrupulous companies enriched themselves from a UN scheme designed to ameliorate the impact of UN sanctions on the Iraqi people by allowing supervised sale of some Iraqi oil. In 2003, retired Canadian General Roméo Dallaire, who was force commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda, claimed that Annan was overly passive in his response to the imminent genocide and that he held back UN troops from intervening to settle the conflict, and from providing more logistical and material support.

Never one to dodge responsibility whatever the consequences, Anan admitted in 2004, ten years after the genocide in which an estimated 800,000 people were killed, that, "I could and should have done more to sound the alarm and rally support." In his book Interventions: A Life in War and Peace, Annan again argued that DPKO could have made better use of the media to raise awareness of the violence in Rwanda and put pressure on governments to provide the troops necessary for an intervention.

But nobody can take away from Annan his place among the great sons of Africa. He was the man who launched the biggest initiative for promoting corporate social responsibility (the Global Compact campaign) in 1999. He won the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the UN in 2001 for their work for a better organised and more peaceful world. He initiated a comprehensive reforms program to reinvigorate the UN. He was a human rights champion and a strong advocate of the universal values of equality, tolerance and human dignity.

He played a key role in the creation of the Global Funds to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. He strongly advocated for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Africa, the rule of law and human rights. Annan strongly opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Iran's nuclear program at a time many politically correct circles felt it was "impolitic" to do so.

His was the voice of moderation in global affairs. Only last April through a tweet, he voiced his disapproval of the bullying tactics of the Trump administration in the Iranian denuclearisation deal: "I hope the Europeans and the Iranians will stick together and let the US decide to isolate itself."

In 1998, he established the Kofi Annan International PeaceKeeping Training Centre in Accra, Ghana, which provides training and research in peacekeeping and peace operations. More than all these, however, he inspired a whole generation of black people that the world could be their playground if they but set their hands to the plough in singleminded dedication to whatever cause or career they believed in.

His inspiring words ring out loud and clear: "Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development... For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right.... Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realise his or her full potential."

Kofi Annan first married a Nigerian, Titi Alakija, in 1965. Several years after separating from Titi in 1981, he fell in love with Nane Lagergren, a lawyer at the United Nations. Nane and his three children were by his deathbed in his final hours in Bern, Switzerland.

The peace advocate from Africa died a global brand. God rest his valiant soul!

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