Kofi Annan and Us,
A Tribute from Africa
Gabriel C Banda
THE passing of Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary General January 1997 – December 2006, has left us with deep reflection and key life lessons.
His sudden passing, Saturday August 18, 2018, at Bern, in Switzerland, immediately made us reflect on Kofi Atta Annan as a person and some of the times he was involved with. Born April 1938 in Kumasi, Ghana, he has died at 80.
Kofi Annan’s personality and leadership has much to teach those living now and in future. Dr Kofi Annan, who spent a lot his working life as a servant of the United Nations system, was a remarkable example of rulers and leaders.
Kofi Annan was always, always, calm. He was extremely polite. He was thoughtful. He was measured. He was a listening person, no matter who he was speaking with. He was unhurried. He was friendly. He showed great humility.
Grey-haired yet youthful, Kofi Annan was soft speaking. He showed that to make a valid point and be listened to, you do not have to package and wrap it in an aggressive tone.
It is in the mood or adopted style of some persons to make their points aggressively and in offensive tones that their disturbed audiences end up reacting to instead of considering the merits of the points.
Sample of Peace
Kofi Annan was a sample of a person at peace. He was what a United Nations leader can be expected to be. Very composed.
He was unruffled. Kofi Annan seemed to have mastered himself. He came out as a Sage, wise and calm. And understanding and tolerant of others. He had an air of deep sincerity. You found you loved him and had some bond with him.
These are qualities that many wish in good leaders and rulers. The world would be less violent with more leaders and rulers that are students of Kofi Annan.
The seventh Secretary General, he was concerned about the mission of the United Nations and was sincere in its implementation. He was concerned about how leaders and rulers, some he did not name but we can name, have caused tensions that have brought disharmony amongst governments and citizens of the world.
In an audience-attended BBC World Service feature facilitated by my sister Zeinab Badawi to mark his 80th birthday anniversary, Kofi Annan called for selfless contribution by rulers instead of being self-centred and negatively driven by ego.
Even after he retired from the United Nations, the United Nations mission in his spirit did not leave him. He continued to contribute to various activities all over the world.
At United Nations, Two to Three Minutes meeting
What the Kofi Annan came across as in the media is what person he was when met in person. I met Kofi Annan on May 25, 2003, at the United Nations headquarters, New York. For some two minutes or so, perhaps some three minutes, the two of us spoke, just the two of us.
I had gone with Dr Kenneth Kaunda, first president of Zambia, to the United Nations where KK had been asked to make a key-note address in recognition of Africa Day. It was the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the Organisation of African Union, later turned into the African Union.
So, after the talk, away from the hall, there was a time I stood together with Kofi Annan. There was just the two of us. And that is when we talked for some two to three minutes.
I commended him for his composure and thoughtfulness. I said he was representing well many in the world, we who were citizens of humanity and believed in deep human cooperation.
Perhaps, as with many things in many fields of life, some things could have been approached differently.
Weapons of Mass Destruction
I was unhappy with the recent invasion of Iraq by the George W Bush administration as it would have many implications for the whole world.
The March 2003 raid and occupation by USA and team, on the unproved pretext of Saddam Hussein and “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” had largely been condemned worldwide.
Then living in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, I had known about fairly wide local American opposition to the threatened raid on Iraq. When the possibility of invasion was gathering, there were even some protests. It was moving to see school pupils marching against the coming invasion.
As one supportive of non-violence and critical of impact of armed conflict, I was hoping, like others, that the invasion would not take place. But it took place on March 19, 2003. The consequences were as feared, and even worse, for many in the world. The effects are still with us today, just as the effects of the invasion of Libya and offshore supported rebel attacks on Syria are with us worldwide.
Withdrawing Weapons Inspectors
As an observer and student of peace and conflict-settlement, an issue that has occupied my mind was how the invasion of Iraq could have been aborted. One thing I have always wondered about was what would have happened had the United Nations not withdrawn its weapons inspectors from Iraq.
I believed that the Kofi Annan administration could have helped abort the attack on Iraq by refusing to remove the weapons inspectors. From the beginning, I believed that the US administration would not have gone ahead to bomb Iraq if UN weapons inspectors did not leave Iraq.
The weapons inspectors were from various countries, including the USA. I did not see how the USA forces would have gone ahead, starting with horrible air bombardments, to attack Iraq with the weapons inspectors present. That is something I continue to think about.
That day at the United Nations, in May 2003, after commending his dignity, as an observer of peace issues, I very briefly wondered about that to Kofi Annan. We did not go into discussing this as I was aware that, although I had been privileged to have met him, his time was limited.
A person who at some point came close to where we were standing was Gideon Manasseh, the New York photographer and teacher contracted by the South Africa UN mission to cover the Africa event. Recently, I learnt that our brother Gideon Manasseh passed on in 2016.
I have always wished another occasion to meet my Big Man Kofi Annan and ask that question about withdrawing weapons inspectors and its effect on USA raiding Iraq.
Of course, Kofi Annan and team were dealing with more factors than I may know. In recent times, in some BBC feature, Kofi Annan indicated that, while hard he tried to prevent the invasion, it was already cast by a determined George W Bush Jr administration.
Sadly, now I will not have the opportunity to directly hear from Kofi Annan more about this issue of withdrawing weapons inspectors and its effect on possible aborting of invasion or going ahead.
The state funeral and burial ceremony in Accra, Ghana, Thursday September 13, 2018, will be very moving and will give many persons further reflection and inspiration.
What is clear is that Kofi Atta Annan’s composure, thoughtfulness, dedication, and dignity have inspired many and will have great impact on us and many around the world, for generations to come.
Based in Lusaka, Zambia, the author is involved in writing and the arts, social development work, and observation and analysis of peace and conflict-settlement issues.
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GCB, August/September, 2018, LUSAKA.