Feature Article of Friday, 19 October 2007

Columnist: Sikanku, Etse

Kofi Annan: Not that Great

Even though Kofi’s Annan’s last days at the United Nations (UN) were filled with turbulence the verdict on his tenure has been more definite. It’s official: Kofi Annan left the United Nations a failed diplomat. What else? Busumuru Kofi Annan was America’s stooge. He was unable to shake off America’s strangling loop over the UN and did little if not worse to erode worldwide perception that Africans are inherently corrupt, easily manipulated and consistently ineffective. In the end Annan was the terrible chief executive who did not only bring disgrace to himself but to the world’s most dignified organization. What a shame.

Now and again we read or hear several tributes extolling the virtues of the former Secretary General. I have lost count of the number of awards and honorary degrees that he has won. Were such degrees a criteria for the presidency I bet Annan would have been the unchallenged heir to Kufuor. Well, thank goodness it isn’t. When he arrived in Ghana after his scandalous regime, the red carpet was rolled for him by his compatriots-too shy, timid or afraid to point out his flaws-and more out of patriotic reverence than an act of commendation. But if we were a bit more observant we would have realized that Kofi cast a worried figure-deeply humiliated by his son’s-and possibly his own involvement with the oil company Cotecna and the Oil-for-Food programme.

Honestly speaking Annan had his good days. Wasn’t it only six years ago that he won the Nobel peace prize together with the United Nations? Annan introduced sweeping reforms (through his report ‘In Larger Freedom’) during the 60th anniversary of the UN and had it not been for the intransigence of so called ‘Group of 77’ developing nations, those novel changes will have been implemented. Among other things it would have seen at least two African countries gain seats on all powerful UN Security Council with South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and Kenya lining up as the hottest candidates. Ghana, anyone?

In those days every school child in Ghana and around Africa will tell you his ambition in life was to become the UN Secretary General, quite a clean breathe of air from the usual hierarchy of doctor, lawyer and engineer that we often hear. A few years ago during my term as the country’s representative to the Commonwealth Youth Caucus i remember often feeling enormous pride as colleagues spoke glowingly about Annan when we met at conferences. Back then Annan was an immediate role model for millions of children worldwide, in Africa and particularly in Ghana. Not a bad achievement at all for a continent which has been known for all the dark stories of the world. But in the end Annan betrayed us all. Was he an awesome role model? Good but not that great.

It was always going to be difficult for any Secretary General to deal with the Bush administration’s defiance of the United Nations. But Annan’s own indulgence or rather over indulgence with the American regime right from the start set him up in a tight position. Even before Annan was pro-American he was American. Nobody likes to admit it but I’ll say it: Annan was a puppet of the United States. To date his opposition to the Iraqi war-though apparently his nemesis-stands as the most decisive decision he took as a leader. But then again, even before Annan was opposed to the war he was in favor of it. As a result Washington had little trouble dealing with their yes man when he began to show dissent. After all it was through their conspiracy- ‘Operation Orient Express’-and with Annan’s full involvement that eventually led to the toppling his former boss Boutros Boutros-Ghali. At the time it is believed that Ghali was supported by every member of state except the United States for a second term. But he was loathed by the Americans for his ‘feet dragging over Bosnia and talking too much about Africa.”

However according to Perry Anderson (whiles reviewing autobiographies on him) “Annan sprang to life and, at Albright’s request-without consulting Boutros-Ghali as Secretary General-he authorized NATO to start heavy bombing of Serb positions”.

Before then Annan is known to have blocked a fax from Romeo Dallair the Canadian Lieutenant in Rwanda from getting to the Security Council. Why? According to Anderson “The Clinton Administration gearing up for intervention in the Balkans, was determined not to allow any distractions over killings in Africa to deflect public attention from Bosnia-where the scale of death though high, was neither proportionally nor absolutely near that in Rwanda.” He writes that “strategic interest, not to speak of skin color, made the region altogether another matter” Annan’s reward? The US pushed him for the position of Secretary General.

So here’s why Annan’s not that great-he failed the people of Africa in order to further his personal ambition. Ghali shouldn’t have left the UN the way he did. This is not the first time Annan has failed to do something. According to reports from close sources he also failed to pick up a degree from the Graduate Institute for International Studies in Geneva under the sponsorship of the Canergie Foundation

If Annan made no mistakes, then he is stone. But the fact that his administration is remembered more for the bad than for the good should hurt. Even then, he alone is responsible for his decisions. He may not have been directly implicated for wrong doing in the horrendous oil-for-food scandal but everybody knows Annan was not totally innocent. According to Anderson “, anyone who thinks Clinton told the truth about Paula James is entitled to believe Annan did so about Cotecna”. He lied about not meeting company officials before later admitting that he did-- not once but twice. Annan could have done more for children in Darfur and prevented millions of deaths worldwide if only he was not busy building up a reputation as the ‘social star of New York’.

Indeed the possibility of further inquiry or future law suits for Annan is far more probable than many imagine. It would be the first time any Secretary General will face such a suit.

Surely, Annan has made a mess of himself.

One more thing: Annan should not have become the secretary general in the first place. I’ve always thought that he shouldn’t have accepted to go for a second term. Had he stepped down after a first term like Mandela he would have been spared the fall out of 9/11. This is what every diplomat worth his salt should have done in wake of the multitude of scandals--he should have resigned his position. But then again, he is only African. Or is he?

There is reason to mull over Anna’s actions. As Secretary General Annan more than anyone else at the time had the best chance to bring change and progress into the world. If we set aside his early achievements he didn’t really do anything other than follow US scripts. In addition if Annan had any shame he would apologize to the good people of Ghana and Africa for that matter for dragging their name into disrepute. But the former UN Secretary General is a stubborn cat.

Bottom line is Annan needed to rise above the ordinary. But he did not and for that he scored average marks.

Don’t get me wrong though-Annan was a fine chief executive-just okay but not so great.

Etse Sikanku
Graduate Student Journalism and Mass Communication
Iowa State University

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.