Kofi Annan Was A foe of Autocracy and Championed life-long Learning


Kofi Annan. Photo–Twitter.

Kofi Annan became Secretary-General of the United Nations in 1997 after a distinguished career as a UN civil servant. He joined the United Nations after graduating in economics.

As a staff member of the United Nations, I worked under his overall supervision; and, as an African, I followed particularly closely what he said and wrote that had relevance to Africa especially Africa south of Sahara.

Annan articulated his views very well including during an interview with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who at that time was co-editor of Transition and director of Afro-American studies at Harvard University.

Annan’s position was very clear on many issues that were relevant to Africa. He believed in democracy, good governance, economic and social development including human capital formation as well as retaining colonial borders.

He often expressed his concerns about crises in Africa caused in large part by challenges of leadership, management and greed. In this regard, he stated, “It’s a question of management, it’s a question of leadership, it’s a question of greed, and it’s a question of ethnic conflict”. He noted further, “We have discovered that one of the main reasons why we have these conflicts is that one ethnic or religious group feels discriminated against by the government”.

On the question of changing African borders, arbitrarily drawn up after the 1884/85 Berlin Conference, in order to diffuse conflicts, Annan’s response was very clear. “I think it would make matters worse, quite frankly. I think any attempt to change the borders of Africa would lead to greater conflict, and I think the Organization of African Unity rightly recognized that early on, when they agreed that there would be no border changes”.

Kofi Annan also articulated his position unambiguously on the issue of human rights by stating that we are in an era of human rights and there is agreement that the principles of human rights are universal. He added that what needed to be done was, “how we shift from the emphasis on state security, state protection, and state sovereignty, to an emphasis on the individual within the state”.

Kofi Annan’s position on the link between democracy and development was very clear as well. He did not buy the idea that autocracy was needed to maintain economic progress. According to him the best way to release the energies and creativity of a population “is to empower them, and you can empower them through education, through healthcare, by giving them an opportunity to have a say in the decisions that concern them”.

Not least, Kofi Annan continued the UN policy of encouraging staff to improve their expertise, professionalism and experience through training, research and publication.

My condolences to family members, relatives and friends of His Excellency Kofi Annan who passed on last week after a short illness.

May he rest in eternal peace.

Eric Kashambuzi
New York, USA.

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