The Internet and newspapers are awash with glowing tributes to the former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan . I for one will always remember and thank him for having inspired the youth especially those from the Developing countries to understand and appreciate that everything is possible if you believe in yourself and are prepared to work hard. Kofi Annan was the seventh UN Secretary General but the first African south of the Sahara to head this prestigious Organisation. He replaced Boutros Boutros Ghali of Egypt in 1997.
This trail blazer was born in an aristocratic family in Kumasi Ghana, studied in USA and Switzerland was then recruited as a budget officer in the World Health Organisation in 1962.
He rose through the ranks to become the Secretary General of the UN and served in this capacity for two terms. He considered it a great honour to serve the world from 1997 to 2006. He was considered as an international diplomat, a citizen of the world but referred to himself as ‘ a stubborn optimist’.
He served during a period that had numerous challenges among them the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the September 11 attacks, the war in Iraq, all demanding for critical solutions .
He and his team at the UN worked hard to create a more equal and peaceful world. He shared the 2001 Nobel Peace award with the UN Organisation.
He was in the Peacekeeping Operations during the 1994 Rwanda genocide. After the UN had pulled out its peace keepers, over 800,000 people were brutally murdered. This unfortunate tragedy weighed on his conscience for the rest of his life.
All in all, he was up to the task and made us feel extremely proud to be African. Many young Africans were empowered and wanted to be like him. Role models like him, instantly accomplish what laws and policies on paper take years to achieve. The UN itself has been struggling to meet the 30% quota for women employment in the UN for the last thirty years! Available records show that the closest it has ever come to it was in 2012 with 24% of women at senior management level.
As a medical doctor, I cannot thank him enough for having set up the HIV/AIDS Global Fund. Through it , poor countries like mine were able offer Treatment and run better Prevention Programmes for its people. His team also set up the proposals for the Millennium Development Goals in the eight key areas of poverty, education, gender equality, child mortality, maternal health, the environment and global partnership. These time bound targets were commissioned by the UN Secretary General in 2002.
The Millennium Development Goals (2005-2015) were set up to alleviate extreme poverty in the world. They impacted the African continent and triggered some beneficial changes that improved ordinary people’s lives.
As an East African, I remember him and thank him for his mediation between the two parties of the conflict after the 2007/2008 post –election violence in Kenya. It could have erupted into something more sinister for the whole region.
While researching for material for this post , I learned that Kofi Annan was a great athlete at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. It got me thinking that after the firm foundation at home in Ghana, he developed the characteristics of all great athletes namely: drive, discipline, competitiveness, self-confidence, aggressiveness, commitment, determination, adaptability and good time management. He must have brought these characteristics to the UN job and they helped him serve with honour.
Among the many tributes was that of Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland. She had worked with him earlier on at the UN and later on they were both members of the Elders an international Organisation founded by the late Nelson Mandela to promote peace and human rights in the world. She described Kofi Annan as a gentle gentleman who was committed to creating a more peaceful world.
Last July, they were together in South Africa to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s centenary. Though Kofi Annan was unwell and had been advised to go back to Switzerland for treatment, they proceeded to Zimbabwe a few days before the July 30th general elections. He was being driven by his relentless pursuit for peace and justice.
To the shock of many, shortly after, he breathed his last in Switzerland on 18th August 2018.
Ghana declared one week’s mourning for this great son of Africa. We are the poorer without him but at the same time we remember with pride all that he was able to achieve for mankind. His life’s work will live on forever. We take off our hats to him and bow our heads in great respect and admiration of him.
Christine Gregoire , an American politician and lawyer said: “ Education can lift individuals out of poverty and into rewarding careers.’’
She also said that, “ It’s our responsibility to pass on what we inherited , not to squander it, but to build on it.’’
Kofi Atta Annan will live on in his children, all that he created with a lot of commitment and devotion and the Kofi Annan Foundation.
I owe it to him to ask myself every day : “What am I doing to make my community, country live better than I found it?”
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