What Kofi Annan Meant to a Young Black Boy from Sub-Saharan Africa
This article was first published on my LinkedIn a few days after Kofi Annan died on August 18 2018.
It has been two years since Kofi Annan the former United Nations Secretary-General passed away at the age of 80.
The encomiums came pouring in very quickly. Current United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres hailed him as “a guiding force for good.” British Prime Minister, Theresa May observed that he helped make “the world he has left a better one than the one he was born into.” Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister Annan opposed over the Iraq War called Annan “A great diplomat.” Desmond Tutu, the iconic South African Archbishop mourned his passing as “a devastating loss.” Even Russian President Vladimir Putin “admired his wisdom and courage, his ability to make informed decisions even in the most complex, critical situations.” Ghanaian President Akufo-Addo affirmed that “ His was a life well-lived.” His family’s tribute was much more telling. They noted that he was “as present with each of us and the family as a whole as he was with every crisis, every mission and intervention.”
He served as the United Nations Secretary-General from 1997 to 2006. He succeeded in charting a new course for the organization with the Millenium Development Goals. He also worked tirelessly against HIV/AIDS and signed the Global Compact. After leaving the UN, he contributed to humanity with his Kofi Annan Foundation and as Chair of the Elders.
Of course, as a global statesman, many were quick to highlight his gaffes. A commentator on a program on Nigerian cable news channel, TVC News argued that Annan had done “nothing to uplift the development of the average African.” His obvious failure to proactively prevent the outbreak of the Rwandan Genocide is a blight on his stellar international career.
For me, it is a lot more personal.
Kofi Annan was not just another international statesman. He meant so much more.
First, Kofi Annan convinced me that Africans have the right to be at the helm of global affairs. This might not mean anything to the average youth from the global North of Western Europe and the United States but you have to understand that the narrative of Africa has been persistently negative across centuries. From the Hamitic Hypothesis that proclaimed that there was nothing worthwhile in Africa and everything of value could be traced to European origins to the haunting era of colonialism, the spotlight on sub-Saharan Africa has hardly been positive.
Tune through your Western news channels and Africa is still being portrayed as a land of disease, hunger, corruption and despotic governments. This conjures up images of the infamous dismissal of the region as “The Hopeless Continent” by The Economist in their cover of May 11th 2000. Almost two decades after, it may not be vocally expressed but little has changed in the perception of Africa by the rest of the world- a region paralysed on its knees and in need of aid hand-outs from the West and now China through avenues such as the regular Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. It isn’t just sub-Saharan Africa. Even in multi-cultural environments that are supposedly better off like the United States, they still have to be reminded that Black Lives Matter in the 21st Century up until the death of George Floyd in 2020!
You can thus imagine the revolution in my self-esteem when I discovered that a sub-Saharan African was the head of the global body that tackles worldwide problems.
Similarly, Kofi Annan solidified my interest in world affairs. I had always been inquisitive about international affairs as a child growing up in Jos, a city in the North-Central region of Nigeria. That explains why I went page by page through the almost 2,000 pages of the BBC World Dictionary my Dad bought to gather all the information I could on the capitals, languages, currencies and largest cities of all the countries of the world and international organizations.
I was midway through my secondary education when Kofi stepped down as the Secretary-General of the United Nations in 2006. I went on to do a first degree in International Studies and Diplomacy and a Master’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies. Kofi Annan made me believe that my voice deserves to be heard and I have something to contribute to the global discourse to help make the world a better place. He always emphasised the power of education to transform the lives of people worldwide.
Finally, Kofi Annan made me realise that the colour of one’s skin rarely matters. Humanity is plagued with common problems and challenges. Electoral malpractices are not endemic to Africa- Donald Trump alleged that the 2016 and 2020 United States election could be rigged against him. From the United States to China, the rights of minority groups are being trampled upon. The fears of people in Europe of being left behind by globalization contributed to Brexit and rise of populist parties in Europe. Poverty is still a major issue in 21st-century superpowers such as China and India. Every country is plagued with the dilemma of good border management- how do we keep out criminals and facilitate easy movement of people? No part of the world is immune from terrorism! Humanity is one; all we need is love!!
Kofi Annan was a great man. His Wikipedia profile says it all — Born in 1938 in Kumasi, Ghana, died in 2018 in Bern, Switzerland. Annan was born a Ghanaian and died a Global Citizen!! Alas just like Edwin Stanton, then American Secretary of War mourned at the deathbed of the great American President, Abraham Lincoln, “Now he belongs to the Ages!”
It is only fitting to close with the words of Kofi:
To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.
I am sure you have your viewpoints about him too. I would like to hear them below