Annan was virtually everywhere in the world where peace was needed, including Nigeria in 1998 to support the transition to civilian rule after many years of military dictatorship.
The day Mr. Kofi Annan resigned the position of Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the Arab League for Syria, in 2012, it became obvious then that the one-year old war would consume hundreds of thousands of lives. When a man who is a “stubborn optimist” as he is often described feels frustrated to the point of throwing in the towel in a peacemaking effort, you know there is a lot of danger ahead. Six years later, the Syrian War has continued and with it the devastation, bloodshed and human tragedy that go with war. There is still no political programme for Syria. President Bashar Assad with Russian help has regained the military initiative, yet the war cannot end without a political solution. Numerous meetings in Geneva, Russia and elsewhere have led nowhere.
READ ALSO: UN remembers Kofi Annan
Kofi Annan was the first UN Secretary-General elected from the staff of the UN. He rose from the ranks and the last position he held before his election was Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping between 1992 and 1996. He lived for peace, he worked for peace, he spoke about peace and went all over the world in search of peace. Russian President Vladimir Putin stated: “I sincerely admired his wisdom and courage as well as his ability to make balanced decisions even under the most dire and critical circumstances. Russians will keep the memory of him forever,”
The immediate past president of the United States, Mr. Barack Obama noted that Kofi Annan was “a diplomat and humanitarian who embodied the mission of the United Nations like few others,…a man who never stopped his pursuit of a better world.” In the run up to the US invasion of Iraq, and in his desperate bid to avert war he ran into trouble with the Americans. Thus if anyone would have saved the United States from its wrong-headed decision to begin a war in Iraq, Kofi Annan would have been the person. And he became Secretary-General with solid American support. France vetoed his candidature four times in the Security Council but to Kofi Annan, the cause of peace was more potent than such sentiments. The UN weapons inspectors and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) played their roles which could have prevented the war. But the American administration, controlled by the warmongers called neoconservatives were determined to strike Iraq and teach “Saddam Hussein a lesson.” When the UN couldn’t stop the invasion and the war began, Kofi Annan did not mince words in calling the invasion an illegal war. It irked the Americans to no end that their action could be so negatively described by the Secretary-General of the UN. But the US could not get the UN to endorse the war and their case was worsened by a resolution of the General Assembly which actually condemned the war.
The subsequent Oil for Food scandal which involved Annan’s son was thought to have been a reprisal to tarnish Annan’s records and perhaps force him to resign. But Kofi Annan was not only a man of courage, he was also a man of integrity. After a huge and dramatized public inquiry, the verdict was returned that Kofi Annan was innocent of any wrongdoing in the scandal. Indeed, in November 2005, the Sunday Times of London, the original purveyor of the scandal acknowledged that the allegations were untrue and agreed to apologise and pay a substantial sum in damages to Kofi’s son, Kojo Annan, who had been libeled by the paper.
READ ALSO: Kofi Annan and the African personality
Annan was virtually everywhere in the world where peace was needed, including Nigeria in 1998 to support the transition to civilian rule after many years of military dictatorship. He was deeply involved in the granting of independence to East Timor from Indonesia after what looked like an endless colonial struggle. On Darfur he was instrumental to transferring the African Peace Mission to a UN one. One eye witness of his role spoke of his courage and determination at a meeting in which he politely insisted that the Sudanese government must do the right thing. In 2001, the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to Kofi Annan and the United Nations “for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world.” He also received plaudits for revitalizing the UN and giving priority to human rights.
He regards the Rwandan Massacre as one of the world’s spectacular failures. Indeed, in 2003, retired Canadian general Romeo Dallaire claimed Annan was overly passive in his response to the imminent genocide. It is clear that the stubborn optimist he was, Kofi Annan never believed that a genocide was being contemplated let alone executed by the Rwandans. He, like former US President Bill Clinton, continued to regret the massacres as blot on the pages of African and World history. He tried to make up for it in the initiative titled the “Responsibility to Protect” in which he asked in a presentation to the General Assembly in 1999, whether the international community had an obligation in such situations as Rwanda and Srebrenica to intervene to protect civilian populations against genocide. His argument was that the UN and its member states should be willing to act to prevent conflict and civilian suffering. The Canadian government joined the initiative and established a committee to address the balance between state sovereignty and humanitarian intervention. In 2005, Annan included the doctrine of “Responsibility to Protect” in his report which was endorsed by the UN General Assembly which amounted to its formal acceptance by member states of the United Nations.
In UN history, Kofi Annan’s diplomacy is only comparable to that of Dag Hammarskjold, the Swedish man who labored as hard for world peace in the 1960s. It is in the realm of reform of the UN that Annan has no peers. As soon as he took over in 1997, he released two reports, one on Management and Organisational Measures. Then in July 1997 he issued a comprehensive reform agenda in which he proposed the reduction of costs, personnel, administrative costs and the consolidation of the UN at the country level. He probably was best suited for these reforms because he was an insider and has been assailed by the numerous criticisms of the UN coming from all the member countries, especially the United States.
In March 2000 he appointed a panel to review the activities of the UN Peacekeeping Operation, to assess its shortcomings and make recommendations for change. The panel consisted of individuals who were experienced in conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peace building. It was chaired by Lakhdar Brahimi and it noted the need for changes in three areas (1) renewed political commitment on the part of Member States, (2) Significant institutional change, and (3) increased financial support. The Millennium Development Goals which today is the world’s most important blueprint for development is a legacy of the work of Kofi Annan “enabling men, women and children, in cities and villages around the world, to make their lives better.”