Kofi Annan Made Ghana And Africa Proud
IT’S true that in the early 1960s, Ghana played a very prominent role at the United Nations.
Although Ethiopia and Liberia – among the black African UN members – had been members of the organisation before Ghana joined it, Ghana was the African country that was the first to offer troops to the UN when the UN faced its worst crisis in Africa — trying to restore order in the Congo. This was immediately after the Congo had gained its independence from Belgium in June 1960.
Law and order broke down in the Congo when the imbecile who was the Belgian commander of the Congolese army (the “Force Publique”) Gen. Emile Jannsens, provoked a mutiny among the Congolese troops,by cynically disillusioning them about to the improvements to their conditions of service, after independence. He wrote on a blackboard, at a meeting with his troops, that “apres l’indepandence = avant l’indepandance (the situation after independence is the same as it was rse, independence! This may have been the brutal truth on the ground, but it inflamed the Congolese soldiers, who had strongly believed that independence would transform their lives.
To prevent Belgium from using the mutiny to reimpose colonialism on the Congo, President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana not only sent Ghanaian troops but policemen as well as technicians and all manner of skilled personnel, to go to p the Congo, under United Nations auspices, to get the country back on its feet. Since then, Ghana has taken part in scores of UN peace-keeping operations and is ranked 10th in the world among countries that contribute personnel for UN peacekeeping.
But in spite of all that, no-one could have imagined then that one day, the Secretary-General of the United Nations — the World’s “Number One Civil Servant”, would be chosen from Ghana. This is a coveted post that the relatively “neutral” white members of the organisation – Norway (Trigve Lie), Sweden (Dag Hammarskjold) and Austria (Kurt Waldheim), had so far “monopolised.” The only African ever to get it, Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, was probably more Arab (culturally speaking) than African. In any case, he had been denied a second term because he had annoyed the Americans. That being the case, the last thing anyone expected was that another African would be chosen to replace Boutros-Ghali. .
That Kofi Annan was chosen for the job was stunning. And that he was allowed to serve a second term, after an American Ambassador to the UN, Margaret Albright, had publicly threatened him because he (too!) had managed to oppose some American policies (Iraq and Libya come to mind) demonstrated the strength of Annan’s personality.
Fantastic tributes have been paid to him, following his death on 18 August 2018, at the age of 80, by world leaders and the world media. So it’s difficult to find anything new to say about him. But I knew him personally, so I shall try and convey to my readers, aspects of his personality that were not well known.
The first thing to say about him was that he was a natural conciliator and therefore carved by Nature for the post of Secretary-General of the UN. in a world peace in which is constantly threatened by one conflict or the other.
I first met him in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he was a relatively junior official of the UN Economic Commission for Africa. There had been a change of government in Ghana, and one Ghanaian official cornered me at a party and began to argue loudly with me about what had just taken place.
I wasn’t a soldier, of course, and so couldn’t speak for those who had overthrown the Government. But never one to run away from controversy, I countered his arguments as much as the facts in my possession enabled me to. As we were both recharging our glasses whilst doing this, we soon began to attract a crowd of eavesdroppers.
The onlookers were obviously enjoying the scene, but just as I was about to launch a verbal blow to my opponent’s solar plexus, I felt a tap on my shoulder and someone whisper to me in Twi, “Gyae m’enka, wae!” [Let it be!]
Now, this was courtly ;language, and I was completely disarmed by it.The tone of the intervention was so soothing — it conveyed the idea of someone who was being wronged! — that when the guy offered to drive me back to my hotel, I followed him like a trained pet.
In the car, he explained to me, quietly and rationally, why officials who had been posted abroad tended to feel threatened about the future of their careers, when there was a change of government at home. He neither supported nor challenged my arguments; he just made me understand that there was nothing to be gained by getting emotional – in the presence of non-Ghanaians – about the inner politics of our country.
I’d forgotten all about the incident when, years later, his candidature as the next UN Secretary-Generals began to make news. I was sure he would get the post, because his self-assurance and quiet ability to defuse situations of conflict were tailor-made for conducting negotiations into boiling issues in the international arena.
He was such a nice guy, generally speaking, that when he got the job and I rang up to congratulate him, he got his communications department to invite me to come and take part in a conference to mark UN press freedom day in New York. My fellow-panellists included a famous columnist of The New York Times and the editorial page editor of The Washington Post.
Kofi Annan’s period of office at the head of the UN was almost as tumultuous as that of the Secretary-General with whom he was often compared (because he was also the victim of Great Power intrigues) the Swede, Dag Hammarskjöld ( who was in office from 10 April 1953 to 18 September 1961.)
Hammarskjöld actually lost his life through an air crash believed to have been procured by a combination of shadowy characters from Belgium, the US, the UK, (then) Southern Rhodesia and South Africa. The Congo was — and is — one of the world’s richest countries, in terms of natural endowments. In fact, the uranium used in the Manhattan Project that resulted in the manufacture of the nuclear bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1945, came from a mine in the Congo. So the Cold War managers of the time were anxious not to allow the Congo to become really independent, in case it allowed the Soviet Union near the Congo’s uranium and other rich minerals!
Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, who wished to establish a truly non-aligned government in the Congo, was murdered. And Hammarskjöld, who wanted to implement UN resolutions seeking to preserve the independence of action of the Congolese central government, also became “expendable” in the eyes of the Western secret services. Up till now, the truth about Hammarskjöld death has been shrouded in secrecy through what diplomats cynically call “plausible deniability”.
Kofi Annan’s problem with the Western Power was primarily about their desire to destroy Iraq. The West wanted to invade Iraq; Annan thought that such an invasion would be “illegal”. This is how his former director of communications,. Edward Mortimer, describes the dispute between Annan and the US (in particular):
QUOTE: In 1998 Annan, by then U.N. Secretary-General and backed by the Security Council, negotiated with the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, an agreement under which, if implemented, U.N. inspectors would have had access to Saddam’s palaces and “presidential sites [reputed to be where Saddam had hidden “weapons of mass destruction”]
“Asked on his return [from his meeting with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad] whether he could do business with Saddam, he replied – understandably, under the circumstances, though in hindsight injudiciously: “Yes, I think I can do business with him.” Saddam failed to keep his word, with the result that, after a three-day token U.S. bombing of Iraq, sanctions remained in place – and with them the Oil-for-Food Program set up at the behest of the United States and the United Kingdom to try and reduce the human suffering that they caused. Annan was mandated to implement this programme, and did so as best he could.” UNQUOTE
Of course, there are many interpretations of Annan’s actions as UN Secretary-General and before then. The massacre of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 and the ethnic killings Srebrenica during the war in Kosovo, are the most controversial. He never tried to disclaim responsibility for his actions but explained them as best he could.
Despite his big title, Annan was full of good humour, and wrote once that he envied “the World Cup” because in that tournament, everyone of the 200 or so participants could agree on the results and how many goals were scored by whom! But with the UN, on the other hand, every member sometimes tried to use the same facts to come to different conclusions to suit their political predilections, with the result that the UN was never bereft of controversy!.
Big Kofi, you have earned your rest and may it be peraeful for ever.
My deep condolences to his family.