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Kofi Annan: African internationalism

By Patrick Smith
Posted on Tuesday, 16 October 2018 12:04, updated on Wednesday, 20 March 2019 12:03

They came from across the world to pay a final tribute to Kofi Annan on 13 September. Honour guards carried Annan's coffin draped with the national flag – red, gold and green with the emblematic black star – through the streets of Accra, made sombre on this funereal day.

Annan, the first sub-Saharan African UN secretary general, had led the organisation at a time when its purpose was questioned more forcefully than at any time since its founding in 1946. That challenge to the UN, and the wider rules-based international system, has grown more insistent and shriller.

For UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, Annan embodied the UN spirit: “The world has lost a standard bearer of global cooperation.” Acutely aware of the UN’s shortcomings and failures, Annan was committed to multilateral solutions to global woes. Those aims underpinned the launching of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals in 2000. Annan’s other groundbreaking UN initiative was getting the 2005 ‘Responsibility to Protect’ resolution, a commitment to protect peoples from crimes against humanity.

The goal seems to be a system of bilateral deals, without any tough global rules

Its roots lay in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and the mass­acre in Srebrenica in 1995. In both cases, UN peacekeepers were on the ground. The top UN officials, including Annan, as head of peacekeeping, and Boutros Boutros Ghali, then secretary general, were blamed for inaction. Singling out the top UN officials without recognising that the decisions to withdraw peacekeepers were taken by the five permanent members of the Security Council is disingenuous. Big powers criticise the UN but stop it from acting effectively.

That ambiguity towards the UN in the 1990s has turned into outright hostility. Four days before Annan’s funeral, US national security adviser John Bolton called for the dismantling of the ICC for daring to consider legal complaints against US soldiers in Afghanistan and Israeli soldiers in the Palestinian territories. The ICC is just the latest target for Bolton and President Donald Trump. cloudbet

Move over WTO, Trump has launched a trade war against China and Europe. Also in their sights are the World Bank and US participation in outfits ssuch as the AfDB.

Their goal seems to be a system of bilateral deals, without any cumbersome international rules. An isolationism that could see the end of US participation in the UN system, and most importantly the end of its acceptance of international regulation – on climate change, genetic engineering or artificial intelligence.

It also coincides with some power shifting away from the US and Europe towards Asia. The rise of China is the critical factor. It is now the third-biggest funder of the UN, so not everyone is giving up on multilateralism.

Annan’s life and work should concentrate the minds of Africa’s internationalists. Whatever the flaws in the global system, trying to make it more accountable and representative is a far better course than joining the race to put the UN and its fellow acronyms on the funeral pyre.

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