in memory-Kofi Annan
19. august 2018 Av: Liv Tørres
“We need better leaders and better leadership” said Kofi Annan when he last visited us. This was during my first days in my position at the Nobel Peace Center and I was star struck. Yet, Annan quickly made me feel at ease with his soft-spoken style, cool manner and natural unpretentiousness. This was not his first visit. In fact, Annan had previously popped by both announced and unannounced. It is said that the first time he came by, he just walked by with his wife, Nane, and asked at the entry whether there were special ticket prices for Nobel Peace Prize laureates.
Kofi Annan comes from African aristocratic background, but that did not give him many free tickets for his later endeavours. He had to work hard, first at the Methodist church at the Cape Coast in Ghana before studying Economics and later International Relations and Management. Annan later said that his schooling taught him «that suffering anywhere concerns people everywhere”. His professional work started in the World Health Organisation, he was then appointed Director of Tourism in Ghana before proceeding to the UNHCR and later, from 1983, the UN Secretariat. In the early 1990s, the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Gali, established the UN Department of Peace Keeping Operations where Annan was appointed Deputy to its Under-Secretary General. Later he took over the Department and was Head of Peacekeeping during the clashes in Somalia and the resulting collapse of that peacekeeping mission. Annan also led this Department during the genocide of approximately 800 000 in Rwanda and the massacre of around 8 000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serbs in Srebrenica. No doubt this also shaped his years as Secretary General of the UN.
The failures of Annan, the UN and International Community to intervene and stop the genocide in Rwanda and the attacks in Srebrenica later led him to apologize. Due to this, in his later period as UN Secretary General, he spent considerable resources to strengthen the peacebuilding operations and human rights fundament of the UN. He became in many ways the Father of the Millennium Goals and later the Sustainability Goals. Annan set the international community´s “responsibility to protect” civilians higher on the agenda, with him also asserting the need for all of us, including the Corporate Sector, to have a human rights base. This resulted in the establishment of the Global Compact. In addition, his commitment and investment in containing the spread of HIV should be mentioned among his many achievements. In 2001, the Nobel Peace Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Kofi Annan and the UN where they particularly emphasized the role Annan had played in revitalizing the UN and prioritizing human rights. It was on his watch that both the UN Peace Building Commission and the Human Rights Council were established.
When Annan accepted the Peace Prize, he said:
“No one today is unaware of this divide between the world’s rich and poor. No one today can claim ignorance of the cost that this divide imposes on the poor and dispossessed who are no less deserving of human dignity, fundamental freedoms, security, food and education than any of us. The cost, however, is not borne by them alone. Ultimately, it is borne by all of us – North and South, rich and poor, men and women of all races and religions.
Today’s real borders are not between nations, but between powerful and powerless, free and fettered, privileged and humiliated. Today, no walls can separate humanitarian or human rights crises in one part of the world from national security crises in another.
Scientists tell us that the world of nature is so small and interdependent that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon rainforest can generate a violent storm on the other side of the earth. This principle is known as the “Butterfly Effect.” Today, we realize, perhaps more than ever, that the world of human activity also has its own “Butterfly Effect” – for better or for worse.”
Annan invested his work and resources with the recognition of what begins with the failure to uphold the dignity of one life, all too often ends with a calamity for entire nations.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureates all share an extraordinary degree of courage and stubbornness. They have all paid a price. It would have been both easier and cheaper to give up. And, while they are many differences between them, they have all left us with experiences and wisdom of high relevance for today’s conflicts. Annan told me that he does not think that today’s guerrilla movements can be fought only by military means, but rather we need to assure that people are integrated and part of society. To confront the kind of challenges we now face of extremism, radicalization and populism, we need, in his view, better leaders and stronger leadership. We need leaders who look to the future and not only towards the next election they aim to win.
Rest In Peace #KofiAnnan – you were indeed such a leader!