Mr Kofi Annan's death a great loss to the world

Sunday, August 19, 2018

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The common sentiment in the mountain of tributes paid to Mr Kofi Annan yesterday was that he was a decent human being who used his two terms as United Nations (UN) secretary general to work at making the world a better place.

In fact, the view that we believe best reflected Mr Annan's impact on the world was offered by Mr Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, who said that Mr Annan “was humanity's best example, the epitome of human decency and grace”.

Mr Al Hussein went on to state that, “In a world now filled with leaders who are anything but that, our loss, the world's loss becomes even more painful.”

That sentiment echoed Mr Annan's observation of the state of global leadership made to the French news agency Agence France Presse in an interview last year.

“Honestly speaking, we are in a mess,” Mr Annan said on December 12 just before a major climate conference in Paris.

“In the past, when we went through this sort of crisis you had leaders who had the courage and the vision to want to take action, to understand that they needed to work with others,” he said as he urged more cooperation on terrorism, migration, and climate change.

Mr Kofi Atta Annan, who Mr Al Hussein described as a “friend to thousands and a leader of millions”, died yesterday at the age of 80.

The Ghanaian diplomat, who served as the seventh secretary general of the UN from January 1997 to December 2006, was the first black African to head the world body.

While he used his excellent diplomatic skills to ease many social and political conflicts across the globe, he had some of his biggest successes in Africa. In fact, just last month he and The Elders — a group of statesmen he co-founded and which speaks out on global issues — visited Zimbabwe ahead of general elections to meet political leaders, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, members of the diplomatic community, civil society representatives, and the media in an effort to support a free, fair and transparent vote.

His passing yesterday therefore came as a surprise, as we had no idea he was ailing.

The world has indeed lost a great man — a man who, through his dignified actions, embodied the concept and spirit of the United Nations to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian nature.

It was therefore no surprise that in 2001 Mr Annan and the UN were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their “work for a better-organised and more peaceful world”.

Naturally, given Mr Annan's position at the UN, he had detractors, some of whom criticised him as ineffective, especially in relation to the UN's peacekeeping operations in response to the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda and the slaughter of Muslims in Bosnia in 1995.

However, his global accomplishments allowed him to maintain his stature as an ambassador for peace, a man who, as European Commission chief Mr Jean-Claude Juncker said, “helped to rebuild bridges where they had been destroyed”.

We share Mr Juncker's suggestion that the greatest recognition we can give Mr Annan is to “keep his legacy and his spirit alive”.

We also implore the world's leaders, as they reflect on Mr Annan's life, to heed his advice to “remember that only promises that are kept are promises which matter”.

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