Tribute: Kofi Annan The Gentle Consummate Diplomat

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Kofi Annan. Photo-Twitter.

Tributes poured in from around the world on Saturday August 18th when the sudden demise of Ghana’s most famous son, Kofi Annan was announced by the foundation bearing his name, based in Switzerland.

António Guterres, the current UN Secretary-General, said that, "Kofi Annan was a champion for peace and a guiding force for good."

Annan was the seventh Secretary General of the United Nations and the first Black African to head the organization, serving two consecutive terms. Annan was born on April 8th, 1938, in Kumasi, Ghana into an aristocratic family. He studied in Ghana, Switzerland and the U.S. In 1965, Annan married Titi Alakija, a Nigerian woman from a prosperous family, with whom he had two children, Ama and Kojo. The couple however separated in the 1970s and divorced in 1983. In 1984, Annan married Nane Lagergren, who was a Swedish lawyer at the United Nations.

Annan was not only charming and charismatic but was also a consummate diplomat. He was softly spoken and with a gentlemanly demeanor that won him many friends. He was the epitome of decency. In 2001, he and the United Nations won the Nobel Peace Prize; he for having revitalized the organization's institutions and for giving priority to human rights. The Nobel Committee also recognized his commitment to the struggle to contain the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus in Africa and his declared opposition to international terrorism. He was also a champion for women’s causes.

During his tenure, the United Nations worked to restore stability to East Timor after it declared independence from Indonesia. Annan was also highly praised for convincing Washington to unblock arrears that had been withheld because of the profound reservations about the United Nations expressed by American conservatives.

Annan objected to the invasion of Iraq but the campaign nevertheless went ahead on the American and British premise that it was meant to disarm the Iraq regime of chemical weapons which it did not have; of course no weapons were ever found.

Annan’s tenure was however not without criticisms. In 2003, retired Canadian General Roméo Dallaire, who was force commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, claimed that Annan was overly passive in his response to the imminent massacres. In his book Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda (2003), Dallaire asserted that Annan held back UN troops from intervening to settle the conflict, and from providing more 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 to defend some victims. In 2004, 10 years after the massacres in which an estimated 800,000 people were killed, Annan said, "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, The Department of Peacekeeping Operations, 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.

His reputation was further put in Jeopardy in 2005 after an independent inquiry into alleged corruption associated with the oil-for-food program, a United Nations operation to feed the poor in Iraq as a result of the devastating Western sanctions. The report heavily criticized his son Kojo and a Swiss company. Annan was personally cleared of improper influence in the awarding of a contract to the Swiss company Cotecna. Asked if he would resign, he said, “hell no. “

At the end of his term with the United Nations, Annan still continued serving in various capacities and also founded the Kofi Annan Foundation, a non profit organization to promote higher standards of governance. In 2008, he headed a commission of notable Africans to persuade rival factions in Kenya to reconcile a year after more than 1,000 people were killed during and after disputed elections.

Annan died on the morning of August 18th in Bern, Switzerland, at the age of 80 after a short illness.

The UN High Commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said he was grief-stricken over Annan's death: "Kofi was humanity's best example, the epitome, of human decency and grace. In a world now filled with leaders who are anything but that, our loss, the world's loss becomes even more painful."

"He was a friend to thousands and a leader of millions."
Bijan Farnoudi, a spokesman for his foundation’ said, “He worked until the very end, without giving himself a break and he looked strong and fit doing it.

Annan is survived by his wife, Ms. Lagergren and his children. He once said: “Leadership is about service, and not about the individual who is the leader. Good leaders must also be good listeners.”

His exemplary leadership will be missed and may his soul rest in power.

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