Kofi Annan: Diplomat for Africa and the world

Kofi Annan has passed away at the age of 80. He was a moralist and a realist who led the global community with a steady hand. Rwanda and Srebrenica stand out as unlucky chapters in his long career as a global statesman and champion of peace, dialogue and human rights.


Kofi Annan personified the world's conscience in a way few others have. In the wake of his death, the Ghanaian diplomat will be remembered as a global statesman who used his reputation as a moral authority to tackle the AIDS epidemic, terrorism and other global issues.
Annan worked his way up the administrative hierarchy of the United Nations before becoming the first UN secretary general from sub-Saharan Africa in January 1997.
Annan then presided over one of the most ambitious reform processes in the United Nations' 60-year history and saw some of the best and worst times at the world body, before and during his 10-year tenure as UN chief.
Annan left his mark on the highest offices of the UN beginning in 1987 as deputy secretary general and then as head of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
The genocide in Rwanda in 1994 was one of the darkest chapters in Annan's UN career. Tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups led to the deaths of between 800,000 and 1 million people, and it took Annan 10 years to take at least some of the responsibility for the failure of peace efforts.
Canada's Romeo Dallaire, at that time commander-in-chief of the Blue Helmets in Rwanda, had warned of the looming annihilation of the Tutsi minority. But Annan stopped Dallaire's planned attack on a weapons cache that was to be used for the mass murder and did not refer the matter to the UN Security Council.
Annan's expression later of "regret" - and his assertion that the "international community", not he himself, had failed - were seen as a weak accounting of the bloodbath.
The massacre of 8,000 Muslims in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995 - the biggest war crime in Europe since the Second World War - also weighed heavily on Annan's shoulders. Dutch Blue Helmets who were physically present failed to prevent the carnage.
Both of these tragedies came to haunt Annan after his appointment as UN secretary general in January 1997, and after his re-election for a second five-year term beginning in 2002.
As head of the UN, Annan travelled the world to urge governments to support the UN and devoted his attention to ending hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians.
Though he received strong backing from the US early in his
term, he repeatedly clashed with Washington in his final years,
denouncing the US-led Iraq invasion in 2003 as illegal and calling
for the closure of the detention prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The US worked with Annan during the UN reforms to raise the
administrative powers of the secretary general's position, which it
viewed as the UN leader's key role, rather than that of chief world
In the last few years of his second term, Annan was shrouded in a cloud of accusations of mismanagement in relation to the oil-for-food programme in Iraq and sexual misconduct by UN peacekeepers, which tarnished the reputation of the world body. But he also presided over a series of reforms at the UN, including the creation of a new and improved Human Rights Council and a commission to help countries emerge from conflict.
In 2000, Annan was lauded for personally taking on the fight against HIV/AIDS and creating a global fund that calls for governments to contribute funds to combat the epidemic on a global scale.
Under his direction, the UN General Assembly in 2000 adopted the Millennium Development Goals, under which heads of state and government agreed to: meet targets in reducing poverty and HIV/AIDS; provide education to all young children and health care
to women and children; and fight gender discrimination.
These achievements led Annan and the UN to share the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 - the second secretary general to win the accolade following Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden in 1961.
Annan forcefully endorsed military intervention to prevent
humanitarian disasters, in part due to his regret over the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. A UN inquiry had later found that the organization had ignored signs of a coming massacre and even reduced troops when killings began.
"Of all my aims as secretary general, there is none to which I
feel more deeply committed than that of enabling the UN never again
to fail in protecting a civilian population from genocide or mass
slaughter," Annan said.
In Switzerland in 2007, Annan founded the Kofi Annan Foundation, which works to promote democracy and mediate in crisis situations. He also advocated modernizing agriculture in Africa as the key to a better future.
Although he had never returned to Ghana as an adult for an extended period, his heart and his mind often turned toward his homeland and the African continent. Annan said Africa's growth could double and poverty could be drastically reduced if governance across various countries improved.
Annan's first name is not uncommon in Ghana, where Kofi simply means "Friday" in the local language of Akan. Kofi Atta Annan was born on April 8, 1938 - a Friday - in Kumasi, when his West African homeland was still the British colony Gold Coast.
With his passing, Annan leaves a towering legacy of a world diplomat and humanitarian who will be remembered for his lifelong dedication to peace and human rights.

Saturday, August 18th 2018
By Johannes Schmitt-Tegge und Juergen Baetz,

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