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Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma: Kofi Annan tribute
Kofi Annan leaves the world a better place for all
The news of the loss of one of our greatest sons of the soil reached us with great disbelief, as the diplomat par excellence took his last breath on 18 August. We dip our national and continental flags in his honour as we extend our condolences to his wife, Nane Maria Annan, and their children, Kojo, Nina and Ama, as well as the extended family and the people of Ghana.
Like many of our leaders, Kofi Annan was born within a relatively small family but departs us having inherited a continent-wide and global family. Kofi Annan also accompanies one of our foremost pan-Africanists, Zondeni Veronica Sobukwe, who also left us in August.
Your loss is our loss. We thank Kofi Annan’s family for sharing him with us. His contributions to our fight against underdevelopment, poverty and inequality will remain imbedded in the memories of our present and future generations. We lose this gentle and level-headed soul at a time when the nations of the world most require his guidance in securing global harmony as well as peace, security and development.
From his humble beginnings in Kumasi, in colonised Ghana, Kofi Annan saw the contradictions confronting many Africans – with an abundance of mineral resources on one hand and gruesome poverty on the other. Annan knew, as we have proven time and time again, that education is one of the most important weapons to use to defeat the colonial master and to conquer underdevelopment. In his own words: “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress in every society, in every family.”
By understanding this early in life, Annan pursued an economics degree at the Kumasi College of Technology and earned a master’s degree in management from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He achieved this despite the fact that the world Annan came into was one in which no African could dare dream beyond being a drawer of water and gatherer of wood. It was an unstable world that knew no peace, in which the native sons and daughters had been dispossessed of all their land, livestock and livelihoods.
Yet, despite these limitations, Annan rose through the ranks of the United Nations (UN), starting with the World Health Organisation in 1962, becoming under-secretary general for peacekeeping in 1993 and then secretary general in 1996. Having served in various capacities in the UN system, in his words, he knew that “we will not enjoy security without development, we will not enjoy development without security, and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights”.
In pursuing the goal of security for the world, Annan played an instrumental role in resolving the conflicts in Darfur and Burundi, amongst others. It was in the latter conflict that, for the first time, we saw a direct collaboration in peacekeeping efforts between the African Union (AU) and the UN. Incidentally, Annan worked in collaboration with the conflict’s mediator – former president Nelson Mandela, whose centenary we celebrate this year, under the theme ‘Be the Legacy’.
Annan also understood that “in moments of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams”, as the Nigerian proverb goes. Annan was a builder of bridges. One of his accomplishments as UN secretary general was the bridge he built between the nations of the world, the private sector and civil society in the pursuance of common objectives through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were the solid foundation by which we established the current Sustainable Development Goals. Through the MDGs, Annan inspired and activated global corporate citizens to act for the common good through adhering to the 10 principles of the UN Global Compact. Eighteen years on, more than 9,000 of the world’s leading private-sector executives are part of the Global Compact and have signed up to action to secure human rights, fair labour practices, environmental sustainability and the fight against corruption.
Annan showed us that no task was too small or too big for a UN secretary general
Kofi Annan understood too well that such commitments and our superordinate objective for a better world for all required a relevant and agile multilateral system and institutions. That is why one of his key achievements as secretary general was the facilitation of reforms at the UN. In his own words, he explained: “The status quo will not work.”
His was a steady hand that guided the bureaucracy and advised the world’s leaders towards a UN for all. Annan fearlessly led from the front, ensuring that even the most difficult issues were addressed by the UN. Under his guidance, the problem of racism and discrimination received the world’s attention at the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban in September 2001. During the 2001 conference and the World Summit on Sustainable Development hosted in Johannesburg in 2002, Annan showed us that no task was too small or too big for a UN secretary general. From the logistics to the content, Annan was ever attentive and available. We will forever remember his call during the Durban Conference: “We may have different religions, different languages, different coloured skin, but we all belong to one human race.”
We, as Africans, remain ever proud of Kofi Annan. Even in retirement, Annan remained available to us, ready to assist us when we were most in need of his counsel and guidance. This was the case in the aftermath of the 2007/2008 post-election crisis in Kenya, where he successfully mediated between the two main contesting parties. No task was impossible for Annan.
He was never too busy and was ever ready to guide and participate in the activities of the AU. Annan was never too far from us, and he continued to advocate for Africa’s development, particularly as it pertains to education and agriculture. He advised and attended the various meetings and sessions we convened on these subjects.
Africa has lost another big baobab. How do we console a grieving family? What words do we offer a weeping nation and continent?
We take comfort that Kofi Annan ran a good race and that the world he has bequeathed us is far better than the one he found, thanks to his contributions. In his honour, we now have the obligation to carry on with his work and tasks. We must soldier on in order to fulfil his desire for a better Africa and a more just, peaceful and equitable world. We must ensure that we educate our young and achieve a world free of sexism and discrimination. We must ensure that the world we leave behind is one in which the trafficking of people, especially women and children, is no more.
To Kofi, we say may your soul rest in peace as you join the galaxy of our heroes and heroines.
This tribute first appeared in the October 2018 print edition of The Africa Report magazine