Kofi Annan was a man driven not by greed or a lust for power but by a genuine desire to make the world a better place.
He was Secretary General of the United Nations from 1997 to 2007, and he died on 18th August at the age of 80.
Born an Anglican and educated in Ghana, the USA, and Geneva, Annan worked over 30 years at the UN before being elected Secretary General of an organisation whose limitations had recently been exposed by the horrors of Rwanda and Bosnia.
Annan was a man whose life embodied the primary goal of the UN: ‘to maintain international peace and security’. In 2000, by persuading every member state to sign up to the Millennium Development Goals to fight poverty, hunger, and disease, he began to offer a solution to ‘international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting… respect for human rights… for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion’.
Less successful, however, were Annan’s attempts at peace-making or peace-keeping. Hampered by the structure of the UN, and particularly by the role of the irremediably divided Security Council, as well as by flaws in his own judgment, ‘he left office’, according to The Times’ obituary, ‘reviled by the USA, leaving an organisation weakened by its own irrelevance over Iraq and impotence over Darfur’.
How should we assess this man? Jeffrey Sachs, author of The End of Poverty (2005), and for years Annan’s close colleague, wrote on Monday: ‘In Jewish tradition, there are at all times 36 tzadikim, righteous people, without whom the world would perish. Kofi Annan was one of the righteous people, a man of extraordinary intelligence, warmth, and joy of life. He helped to keep our world from blowing itself apart or dividing mercilessly between the rich and the poor.’
In a world where high office can often be inextricably tied up with greed and a lust for power, Annan’s life stands as a beacon of selfless commitment. Indeed, instead of retiring to a mansion in the Caribbean, to the end of his life Annan was working to improve the lot of Africa’s farmers. What an example for Christians!
Considering Annan, I am reminded of Professor Higgins’ lament in My Fair Lady, ‘why can’t a woman be more like a man?’ to which I echo, ‘why can’t world leaders be more like Kofi Annan?’ Or ‘more like Jesus Christ’?
Helen taught in African universities for 20 years and, from 1985 to 2016, was a voluntary member of staff at LICC.