Kofi Annan: A Diplomat of Distinction

August 24, 2018 Africa , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

UN photo



Abdulyassar Abdulhamid



When I first read Mark Mathabane’s Kaffir Boy in 2010 and came across one philosophical quotation that “Education will open doors where none seems to exist. It will make people talk to you, listen to you and help…and leave poverty, hunger and suffering behind…Above all, it’ll make you a somebody in the world,” I reflected on how ready is the mysterious tempest of education to shoot one to the only-God-knows where.


Later, the idea projected a surreal picture of one diplomat of distinction. The strong bow of education had shot Kofi Annan, one of the greatest Africa’s sons, to the world’s largest diplomatic body.


From Kumasi to the toughest diplomatic post, Kofi Annan was born in Ghana on 8th April, 1938 in the Kofandros section of Kumasi on the Gold Coast (the modern day Ghana). He went on to study economics at Macalester College, international relations from Graduate Institute Geneva and management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


His journey to the rungs of diplomacy started in 1962 when Annan joined the United Nations to work for the World Health Organization in Geneva. He worked in several capacities at the United Nations headquarters between March 1992 and December 1996, before becoming the Secretary-General of the United Nations.


Serving as the General Secretary for United Nations from 1997 to 2006, Kofi Annan was the first to rise from the ranks of United Nations staff to this toughest diplomatic job. He served when the United Nations seemingly lost even its growl due to the war in Kosovo, when the 11 September tragedy shook the world to its roots, during the America’s invasion of Iraq and when climate change became the major threat to the planet.


Most of the things Kofi Annan will best be remembered for and what made him one of the unrelenting champions of peace, as the BBC’s reporter in Geneva, Imogen Foulkes would say, were his generosity and spirit of dedication “to supporting the most vulnerable people on our planet.”


When Peter Maure, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, described Kofi Annan at his wake as the “True humanitarian leader and an ardent champion of peace,” what first comes to mind is the way he doggedly kept on remembering the world leaders of their duties and the idea of putting their subjects above everything else including their political careers, at the very time when the world’s leaders were toying with innocent human lives and their blind thirst for power.


Annan can be passed as the finest humanist and epitome of human decency and grace of his time, for his roles in strengthening UN peacekeeping in many ways that gave way to the rise of the United Nations operations and personnel, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; adoption of the UN’s first-ever counter-terrorism strategy and his Global Compact, an initiative that was launched in 1999 to promote corporate social responsibility, which is in decline.


In 2001, Annan was awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize for Peace together with the United Nations. This is not unconnected with the efforts he made in giving the transition to civilian rule in Nigeria a soft landing, his visit to Iraq to resolve the face-off between the country and the United Nations Security Council, and his efforts that eased the outbreak of hostility that was looming in the world at that time; his role as mediator during the dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria over the Bakassi peninsula and his involvement in the process that saw East Timor as independent country from Indonesia.


Annan cut his name in the imaginary stone of the African continent as a ‘true advocate of peace’ and ‘democrat with a timeless speech,’ entitled Time for Zimbabwe’s Third Wave that he delivered at the Citizens’ Manifesto Forum in Harare, Zimbabwe on 20th July, 2005.


However, to many, especially genuine Africanists, Kofi Annan was nobody but a puppet of the West who was chosen for the job of General Secretary of the United Nations with the United States’ consent to serve them and protect their interests; but whether we take diplomacy as nothing but evil machination, deception, double-talk or deception or not, Annan was a start-studded diplomat.


Kofi Annan was so apt at clothing the African continent in Zimbabwe’s garb. To him, any concerned citizen, “Africa has been through a series of momentous changes. First came decolonization. Then came the second wave, too often marked by tyranny and economic stagnation” that holds Africa in the past and allows it to reflect, only, in those olden days, when the rest of the world is moving progressively by leaps and bounds.


From penchant for coup d’états, many African countries have moved to democracy characterized by dictatorship and military culture of seat-tightness. Many of those countries are today war-torn and at best a zoo of some sort.


Today “Violent conflicts, terrorism, famine, political polarization, economic inequality and many other challenges are testing our states and our societies” that many African countries are reduced to war zones.


However, the world, particularly Africa, is witnessing the largest youth population in human history. Supposing the majority of the youth are committed to peacekeeping, sustainable development and human rights, will there be leadership crises? This is what Annan spent many of his later years advocating for.


Sadly enough, leadership crises and political uprisings are in abundance in Africa. From the recent military intervention in Zimbabwe, despite its being unpopular to dictatorship and abuse of power in Burundi staged by the President Piere Nkurunziza, from President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who, after exhausting his two terms in office, refused to organize election, a decision which was termed by many as a clever attempt to elongate his tenure in office, to the recent crack-down on the oppositions and every perceived enemy of his administration in Egypt by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, what one has in the continent are failed governments, mockery of democracy and gross abuse of human rights.


Many may argue that during Kofi Annan’s tenure as the United Nations secretary-general the world faced its most pressing challenges which the United Nations did nothing about. One of those challenges was the United Kingdom/United States-led invasion of Iraq. But the truth, in the language of double-speak, is Kofi Annan of Ghana was so truthful to the cause of human rights and peacekeeping and blunt to boot. His response as the General Secretary, arguably the toughest diplomatic job on the earth, was the first of its kind: “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter. From our point of view and from the charter point of view was [it] illegal,” he concluded.


As the west, perhaps world, bows to pay glowing tributes to Kofi Annan, a diplomat of distinction, who died on Friday 18 August, in Bern, Switzerland, I argue, indeed, there was a diplomat of distinction, who was more whiter than Donald Trump in the west’s eyes and who was African only, so to speak, in name.





Abdulyassar Abdulhamid

Abdulyassar Abdulhamid, Kano based, is graduate of B.A English from Bayero University, Kano. He is a budding writer, social analyst, freelancer at Sunrise Language Practitioner (SLP) and regular contributor to Nigerian dailies. 
His writings have appeared in The Communicator, a magazine published by Kano State Polytechnic and in Dailytrust, The Triumph and The cable newspapers. He has a strong interest in literary theory.

Editor review


No Comments Yet!

You can be first to comment this post!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.