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Kofi Annan: Activist Who Led The UN



An observer in the Western developed society would certainly see the UN as a forum in which their beloved Country plays a big brother role and is beyond reproach. Also, a typical American would see the UN which has about 65 percent of its physical presence in New York as one international symbol of the universal power of their motherland.

But an African from whichever schools of thought would most likely see the United Nations as a ‘big -for-nothing’ contraption that has played not too much of constructive roles to right the many self-inflicted wrongs afflicting much of Africa. These diametrically opposed worldviews are not withstanding the time tested fact that the United Nations has existed for nearly half of a century and more.

The purposes of the United Nations are: To maintains international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace; To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace; To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and to be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

Most often than not, the concept of sovereignty has contributed to the confusing place of the United Nations as an interventionist global peace keeping Army. A Appodorai in his book titled; “The substance of politics” says this of the word sovereignty. “Sovereignty may be defined as the power of the state to make law and enforce the law with all the coercive power it cares to employ.” So how does the United Nations intervene if the people running a government in any part of the globe decides to use the instrumentalist of the national law to promote selfish interests?

Amidst these incontrovertible evidence of inherent weakness of the United Nations, the current secretary general used the event of the demise of the former UN secretary general to remind the world that the forum is still as relevant now even much more than it has always been. The Secretary-General of the UN, Antonio Guterres, and staff members, remembered former Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Wednesday, describing him as a leader who put people at the centre of the UN work.

During a wreath-laying ceremony in New York, Mr. Guterres led staff members in paying respects to Mr. Annan, whom they described as the embodiment of the intergovernmental organization that worked to improve the lives of men and women worldwide. Kofi Annan died on Saturday at the age of 80 in Switzerland.

The United Nations described Mr. Annan, as a mild-mannered diplomat from Ghana, who rose through the UN system to become its seventh leader in January 1997, serving two consecutive five-year terms till December 2006. The United Nations system says that Mr. Kofi Annan’s years in office were an exciting time. He put forward new ideas. He brought new people into the United Nations family. He spoke passionately about our mission and role.

The late UN scribe reportedly created a renewed sense of possibility both inside and outside our organization about what the UN could do and be for the world’s people. “He put people at the centre of the work of the United Nations, and was able to turn compassion into action across the UN system,” Guterres said.

He listed some of the actions Annan took to include uniting world leaders to agree on global targets on poverty and child mortality – linchpins of the landmark Millennium Development Goals.The former UN chief also joined with civil society and the healthcare injury to save lives from HIV and AIDS. As his successor noted, Annan also did not shy away from addressing challenging issues.

Annan faced up to the grave errors made by the United Nations in the 1990s – in its response to the Rwanda genocide and the Srebrenica killings – by shining a light inside the UN. The reports he commissioned aimed to make sure such terrible mistakes are never repeated, and set the international community on a new course in its response to mass atrocities,” Mr. Guterres said. He stated that the passing of his predecessor was “a personal loss” for many who worked in the UN system.

Jason Daley who peened a piece published by the SMITHSONIAN.COM however think that Kofi Annan left a legacy of a more interventionist United Nations. These assertions are, however, very much debatable given that there are bottled up angst among some observers that he made no attempt to condemn the infamous cancellation of the June 12th 1993 election that could have seen Chief Moshood Abiola become president even until he was killed in government detention in Abuja, Annan maintained conspiratorial silence they said.

Jason Daley wrote that: “Annan, born in Ghana in 1938, was the first leader of the United Nations elected from the organization’s staff. Trained as an economist, he began his work at the U.N. in 1962 as a World Health Organization budget officer. In 1980, he moved to the U.N. refugee agency, reports James Doubek at NPR. In 1993, he was tapped to head peacekeeping operations. He faced some of the U.N.’s most complex problems, including the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the Rwandan genocide and war in Somalia. In 1997 he became the first black African chosen for the role of secretary-general, and served two five-year terms.”

“His tenure included the beginning of the war on terror, which came with deep divisions over the Iraq War, reports Alan Cowell at The New York Times. Annan’s legacy is tied to these military and political crises, though he had little or no control over the U.N. Security Council, which handles such matters.

Instead, his legacy—or at least what he hoped would be his legacy—was turning the U.N. into the world’s moral conscience and arbiter. Deservedly, Annan was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for combatting terrorism, prioritizing human rights, and helping to establish the Global AIDS and Health Fund. In his acceptance speech, he outlined the U.N.’s goals for the 21st century. “Only in a world that is rid of poverty can all men and women make the most of their abilities,” he said. “Only where individual rights are respected can differences be channelled politically and resolved peacefully. Only in a democratic environment, based on respect for diversity and dialogue, can individual self-expression and self-government be secured, and freedom of association be upheld.”

But for all his good intentions, Annan’s legacy is not without controversy. Timothy Longman at The Washington Post reports that Annan was in charge of peacekeeping in 1994 when a crisis in Rwanda developed into genocide.

Lastly, I remember Mr. Kofi Annan for correctly interpreting the reason for Nigeria’s political backwardness. He was recently quoted to have told a young Presidential aspirant in Nigeria and publisher of Sahara reporters that Nigerian youngsters are in love with electing their ancestors to head the country even in this 21st century. Kofi Annan in effect was advocating for a change of leadership in Nigeria made up of very young and educated people to make Nigeria to regain a pride of place in the World. These sentiments expressed by Kofi Annan has endeared him to me.

– Onwubiko is of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).