Positive Profile: Remembering The Legacy of Kofi Annan and What It Can Teach Us

Kofi Atta Annan passed away on August 18th, 2018 at the age of 80. He is mourned by the world, who will remember him as a champion for Global Human Rights. His family will also remember this legacy but also mourn the loss of a beloved husband and father. Today, I write to remember someone who I aspired to have the pleasure of working with, and strongly believed I would have the opportunity to do so in this lifetime. As this is no longer possible, I must put forth my best effort in writing an inspiring piece about Mr. Annan, it is the least I can do for someone who has so inspired me in my young life. Mr. Annan’s story began on April 8th, 1938 in Kofandros, Kumasi, Ghana, which at that time was still known as Gold Coast. Mr. Annan was a twin, sharing his birth with a sister, Efua Atta Annan, their shared middle name bearing the meaning “twin” in accordance with Akan naming traditions which sometimes recognize the day of the week on which a child was born, or their situation during birth, which in this case involved twins. Mr. Annan had what might be described as an upperclass upbringing, coming from an aristocratic family, he attended the Mfantsipim boarding school in Cape Coast From 1954 to 1957. Mr. Annan has most famously been quoted to say that his time at the school opened his mind to the reality “that suffering anywhere concerns people everywhere”, arguably setting in motion his life’s work from an early age.

1957 was a remarkable year for Mr. Annan in more ways than one, it was the year he graduated from the Mfantsipim school, and also the year that the Gold Coast gained it’s independence from the United Kingdom and would begin going by Ghana.
One year later, in 1958, Mr. Annan commenced his studies in economics at the Kumasi College of Science and Technology which is presently known as the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology of Ghana. The successful recipient of a Ford Foundation grant, Mr. Annan, in 1961 went on to complete his undergraduate studies in economics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, United States. Following his completion of economic studies, he earned the diplôme d’études approfondies DEA degree in International Relations at The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland in 1962, and his education did not end there. From 1971 until 1972 he studied at the MIT Sloan School of Management and earned a master’s degree in management. Mr. Annan’s amazing quest for knowledge knew no bounds, outside of the classroom, not unlike many children and adults from African nations he was multi-lingual. He was fluent in Akan, English, French
Annan was fluent in English, French, Akan, various Kru languages (Widely spoken in Liberia, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso) and various other languages spoken across, and native to the African continent.

In 1962, following his completion of studies in Geneva, Mr. Annan began his work as a budget officer for the World Health Organization until he left to begin pursuing his Master’s degree. From 1974 to 1976, he worked as a manager of the state-owned Ghana Tourist Development Company in Accra, and in 1980 he became the head of personnel for the office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva. He clearly had a very diverse range of experience both inside and outside of the classroom by this point, and in 1983 he went on to become the director of administrative management services of the UN Secretariat in New York, from which point he continued to grow within the organization. 1987 saw Mr. Annan appointed as Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management and Security Coordinator for the UN system. Three years later in 1990, he changed positions and began work as Assistant Secretary-General for Program Planning, Budget and Finance, and Control.
Then Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali took a step in 1992 and established the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, appointing Mr. Annan as the new Deputy to then Under-Secretary-General Marrack Goulding. However, only a year later, Mr. Annan was appointed the position of Under-Secretary-General of that department in March 1993.The 29th of August, 1995 saw Mr. Annan perform successfully under pressure. Secretary general Boutros-Ghali was unreachable while in-flight, and Mr. Annan instructed United Nations officials to “relinquish for a limited period of time their authority to veto air strikes in Bosnia.” This strategy allowed NATO forces to conduct Operation Deliberate Force, and though perhaps a risky or controversial move, he was able to make a solid decision during a high-pressure period, which shows his strength in leadership. Serving from November 1995 until March 1996, he was appointed Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the former Yugoslavia.

His life was not, however without the odd critic here or there. In 2003, retired Canadian General Roméo Dallaire, who acted in capacity as force commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, was one of these critics. General Dallaire alleged that Mr. Annan was too passive in responding to the imminent genocide that took place in Rwanda. His book, “Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda”, asserts that Mr. Annan was guilty of holding back UN troops from intervening in settling the conflict that took place between the Hutus and the Tutsis. He went on to say that Mr. Annan failed to provide adequate logistical and material support. Dallaire claimed that Annan failed to provide responses to his repeated faxes asking for access to a weapons depository; such weapons could have helped Dallaire defend the endangered Tutsis. In 2004, Mr. Annan admitted, “I could and should have done more to sound the alarm and rally support.” However, he went on to further explain his difficult position. In his book “Interventions: A Life in War and Peace”, he explains that events which took place in Somalia and the collapse of the UNOSOM II mission bred a certain level of hesitation amongst UN Member states to approve such peacekeeping operations. Due to this factor, when the UNAMIR mission was finally approved mere days after the battle, it’s force lacked the troop levels, resources and mandate to operate as effectively as it could have. Mr. Annan raised the point that DPKO (Dept. of Peacekeeping Operations, UN) could have made more effective use of media in raising awareness of the violence that was taking place in Rwanda and put further pressure on governments to provide the troops necessary for a successful intervention. This again, is an illustration of Mr. Annan’s dedication to helping solve conflict, but remaining a sort of pillar between all the parties involved. He did his duty in balancing the risks, but also in admitting his mistakes once clear and unmistakable damage had been done.

During his time working as Secretary-General of the UN, Mr. Annan definitely left his mark. In January of 1997, he began his first term in this role, and would continue for a second appointment. Following his appointment, Mr. Annan began advocating for management reform within the UN through the establishment of a cabinet-style body to act under the Secretary-General and group the UN’s activities in accordance with four core missions. Some of his proposals included the introduction of strategic management to strengthen unity of purpose, the establishment of the position of Deputy Secretary-General, a 10-percent reduction in posts, a reduction in administrative costs, the consolidation of the UN at the country level, and reaching out to civil society and the private sector as partners. Throughout his time as Secretary-General, Mr. Annan was a pioneer of reform within the UN and how it went about running it’s operations. Following years of research, he also had important words regarding the UN Human Rights Council, including noting that it had begun to incur “declining credibility” had “cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system. Unless we re-make our human rights machinery, we may be unable to renew public confidence in the United Nations itself.” However, he did believe that, despite its flaws, the council could improve to do better. In March 2000, Mr. Annan appointed the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations to conduct an assessment of the shortcomings of the then existing system and to make specific, realistic recommendations for change. The panel, composed of individuals experienced in conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peacebuilding, chaired by Lakhdar Brahimi, called for 3 main changes:
1) renewed political commitment on the part of Member States;
2) significant institutional change;
3) increased financial support.

Mr. Annan also put into action several Millennium Development Goals, by releasing a report in 2000 entitled “We the peoples: the role of the United Nations in the 21st century”.The report called for member states to “put people at the centre of everything we do. No calling is more noble, and no responsibility greater, than that of enabling men, women and children, in cities and villages around the world, to make their lives better.”
Mr. Annan also called to “free our fellow men and women from the abject and dehumanizing poverty in which more than 1 billion of them are currently confined”. Following the Millennium Summit in September 2000, national leaders implemented the Millennium Declaration, which later became entrenched in the United Nations Secretariat as the Millennium Development Goals in 2001.

2001, the centennial year of the Nobel Peace Price committee was the year that the Peace Prize was split between the UN itself and Mr. Annan. The UN was awarded the Peace Prize “for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world.” While Mr. Annan was awarded on the basis of his commitment to containing and preventing the spread of HIV in Africa, along with his opposition to the international threat of terrorism.

Finally, on September 19th, 2006 came Mr. Annan’s farewell address. He spoke to world leaders who attended at the New York UN headquarters, ahead of his pending retirement which would commence on December 31st, 2006. Mr. Annan focused on what he thought of as the 3 major problems of “an unjust world economy, world disorder, and widespread contempt for human rights and the rule of law”. He also placed importance on the ignorance of the world to violence on the African continent, and the Arab–Israeli conflict. His very final speech as Secretary-General came on December 11th, 2006, where he spoke at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri. Mr. Annan paid tribute to Mr.Truman’s in stating that “the responsibility of the great states is to serve and not dominate the peoples of the world”. These words were the perfect end to a wonderful legacy that will continue to live on for years to come. Mr. Annan reminds us that we are not here to dominate, we are not here to one-up each other, what we are here for is to form a symbiotic relationship between nations, what one lacks, another may have and vise versa, in this way there should be a healthy exchange across nations, an idea inspired by these very words Mr. Annan spoke. This article merely skimmed the surface of Mr. Annan’s legacy, and I urge young people to read up on this inspiring change-maker.

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