As Kofi Annan passed away on Saturday, the world lamented the loss of a man who committed his life to the plight of the underprivileged and world peace.
The former United Nations Secretary General once described his greatest achievement as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs, which were eight in total, set global targets on issues such as poverty and child mortality. They helped change the world! Although, some pointed out everything that was wrong with the MDGs, especially how overly-ambitious the goals were and why Annan’s continent would miss the goals by a wide margin, others like Bill Gates said the MDGs are “the best idea for focusing the world on fighting global poverty that I have ever seen”.
Everyone knew most of the goals would probably not be achieved, but what was more significant than the goals themselves was a global rallying point for the humanitarian cause which they brought, galvanising efforts to help the world’s poorest people.
The headline goal was achieved; the world halved the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day between 1990 and 2015. It happened five years before the deadline set. Some may argue it was bound to happen, even without any goals being set, but the MDGs put the spotlight on how important it is to increase incomes and drag people out of poverty. This set the momentum for every other collective action the world needs to take.
Even after he left office as UN Secretary General, Annan never stopped drawing attention to the plight of those caught up in war, environmental disaster, or are languishing in poverty. Through the Kofi Annan Foundation and The Elders, an organization set up by Nelson Mandela to resolve the world’s conflicts, Annan also worked hard in the cause of peace. Kenya will never forget him for mediating an end to the country’s post-election violence in 2008.
“In Kenya, we retain fond memories of Dr. Annan as the man who stepped in and saved the country from collapse following the 2007-2008 post-election violence. Much remains to be done of the plan he proposed for the country as a road map to lasting peace and stability and it is my hope that we could do it in his honour,” Kenyan opposition leader Ralia Odinga wrote on Facebook as he extended condolences to family and friends of Dr Annan, as well as the UN.
“The world will always remember and honour Dr. Annan for what became known as “the Annan Doctrine” in which he made it clear that the need to respect sovereignty cannot be used as a shield by governments to brutalize their own citizens and that the international community has a right to intervene, when governments fail to protect the lives of their citizens. That will remain a pillar of hope for many people across the world for generations to come if it can be adhered to,” Odinga wrote further.
The late Ghanaian diplomat always reminded world leaders, especially in Africa, that no matter how powerful they became, they needed to care about their citizens and also respect term limits.
“I think Africa has done well, by and large the coups have more or less ended, generals are remaining in their barracks, but we are creating situations which may bring them back,” Anna said in 2016, when he was interviewed during the 5th Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa.
“If a leader doesn’t want to leave office, if a leader stays on for too long, and elections are seen as being gamed to suit a leader and he stays term after term after term, the tendency may be the only way to get him out is through a coup or people taking to the streets.
“Neither approach can be seen as an alternative to democracy, to elections or to parliamentary rule. Constitutions and the rules of the game have to be respected,” Annan had said.
He always showed commitment to Africa’s development and often stressed the need for Africa to look within for solutions to the problems of the continent.
“We cannot always pass a hat around and insist we want to be sovereign, we want to be independent. We should lead and get others to support us—that support will be much more forthcoming when they see how serious and committed we are,” he once said.
He wasn’t a leader who paid lip service to causes he claimed to care about. Annan wanted world peace; he would do anything within his power to prevent war.
As Meryl Gordon wrote in the May issue of New York Magazine in 2005:
When the Iraq war began in March 2003, Annan had a striking personal reaction: He lost his voice. Doctors performed tests, found nothing wrong, and diagnosed stress. “It was completely psychosomatic,” says a staffer. Annan was ordered to limit his speaking and had to cancel appointments for weeks. In the two years since, he’s been vulnerable to similar attacks. Sometimes he whispers his way through meetings; his bodyguards keep Halls cough drops at the ready.
On August 19, 2003, a suicide bomber blew up a cement mixer packed with explosives in front of the U.N. building in Baghdad, killing Vieira de Mello and 21 others. Annan still agonizes over the deaths. “To have done everything I could to help avoid this war,” he says, “which could have been avoided, and sending these wonderful people to help, and they get blown away. You know their wives, their sons. You feel responsible for their lives.
While wars and strife across the world broke Annan’s heart, Gordon noted in the 2005 article titled “No Peace for Kofi: A Father’s Burden,” Kojo also did. Annan’s first son, now 45, is a product of a failed marriage with Nigerian businesswoman Titi Alakija. The couple also had a daughter Ama (now 48) before they separated in the late seventies. Annan was said to have remained an involved parent.
While much was not heard about Ama until the news of her marriage to a Nigerian billionaire broke in 2011, Kojo was in the news at different periods for all the wrong reasons, most of which he, however, denied. Annan almost didn’t survive the Oil-for-Food scandal, with the report of an independent inquiry committee showing how Kojo “hustled” to make money.
In all, the strength of Annan’s character remained a beacon of hope for many.
If he had any, his big regrets would be the UN’s failure to halt the genocide in Rwanda while he was the body’s head of peacekeeping operations. He would also have preferred if the Srebrenica massacre in which 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were murdered by Bosnian Serb forces, did not happen. But he left the world better than he met it and for that he’d smile to the grave.