Kofi Annan: Activist who led the UN By Emmanuel Onwubiko

OPINION

The world’s leading organization of member nations known as the United Nations organization means different thing for different kinds of people depending on the perspective from which you are looking at it.

An observer in the Western developed society would certainly see the UN as a forum in which their beloved Country plays a big brother role and is beyond reproach. Also, a typical American would see the UN which has about 65 percent of its physical presence in New York as one international symbol of the universal power of their motherland.

But an African from whichever schools of thought would most likely see the United Nations as a ‘big -for-nothing’ contraption that has played not too much of constructive roles to right the many self-inflicted wrongs afflicting much of Africa.

These diametrically opposed worldviews are not withstanding the time tested fact that the United Nations has existed for nearly half of a century and more.

Specifically, the charter of the United Nations was signed on 26th June, 1945, in San Francisco, at the conclusion of the United Nations conference on international organization and came into force on 24th October 1945.

Similarly, the statute of the international court of justice is an integral part of the charter.

Historically, amendments to Article 23, 27 and 61 of the charter were adopted by the General Assembly on December 17th 1963 and came into force on 31st August 1965.

The following are the preambles to the United Nation’s charter:

“Determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”

Furthermore, members affirmed that they will work towards actualization of these ends which would inevitably lead to the universal practice of tolerance and teach members of the human race to live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples.

Members of the UN disclosed in the charter that they have resolved to combine their efforts to accomplish these aims.

Accordingly, the respective Governments of the members, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form have agreed to the present charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.

The purposes of the United Nations are: To maintains international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace; To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace; To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and to be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

Now that the historical context of the United Nations have all been highlighted, let me stress that my analysis of the United Nations which was once headed by the Ghanaian born Mr. Kofi Annan, would be examined from the prism of a former British protected Child whose parents survived one of the most horrific genocides in human history which is the Nigerian-Biafran war of 1966 to 1970 in Nigeria.

Growing up in the rusty town of Kafanchan, Kaduna State, deep in the North West of Nigeria, I had cause to embark on a trip to intellectually ascertain the place of the United Nations bearing in mind that this global body was very much in existence when that uncivil war happened in Nigeria but watched as nearly three million of mostly Igbo children, women and the aged were dispatched to their untimely death through a cocktail of policies by the federal forces which clearly can be adjudged as genocide.

In my earliest years in school in Kafanchan Teachers College, I tried in vain to find out why such a global body could be in existence and allowed such a callous warfare to happen and infact did nothing to stop the big producers of weapons from flooding the scenes with their weapons of mass destruction.

These basic questions remained unanswered even when the black African nation of Ghana produced the United Nations first ever black secretary general in the person of Kofi Annan.

The irony that characterized the United Nations became even more troubling to me when we witnessed the disintegration of USSR which is a permanent Security Council member of the United Nations.

Why is the world still witnessing so much of fragile peace and simmering conflicts nearly half a century after the human race set up the world’s body known as the United Nations?

The exit of Kofi Annan brought these basic questions back into reckoning.

The conflicts such as the Rwandan genocide happened even whilst the same diplomat from Ghana who would rise to become the secretary general reportedly headed the peace keeping department.

The middle East have also witnessed intermittent conflicts to an extent that in Yemen, civilians are at the receiving end of bombardments from Saudi Arabia which buys weapons from the United Kingdom and United States of America, but the United Nations has maintained a disunited approach to these conflicts.

Why keep funding a body whose membership is on the basis of segregation between those wielding veto powers from the hundreds of others who have no such powers?

In a classical book titled: “Fragile Peace: state failure, violence and development in crisis region”, edited jointly by Tobias Debiel and Axel Klein, so much of these raging conflicts are blamed on what is called the weakness of state structure.

Using the erstwhile USSR, this is what the writers of the aforementioned text wrote about weakness of state structure which causes conflicts.

“The collapse of the USSR resulted first of all in a general loss of state authority and considerable fragility of the new nation-states…”

Most often than not, the concept of sovereignty has contributed to the confusing place of the United Nations as an interventionist global peace keeping Army. A Appodorai in his book titled; “The substance of politics” says this of the word sovereignty. “Sovereignty may be defined as the power of the state to make law and enforce the law with all the coercive power it cares to employ.” So how does the United Nations intervene if the people running a government in any part of the globe decides to use the instrumentalist of the national law to promote selfish interests?

Amidst these incontrovertible evidence of inherent weakness of the United Nations, the current secretary general used the event of the demise of the former UN secretary general to remind the world that the forum is still as relevant now even much more than it has always been.

The Secretary-General of the UN, Antonio Guterres, and staff members, remembered former Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Wednesday, describing him as a leader who put people at the centre of the UN work.

During a wreath-laying ceremony in New York, Mr. Guterres led staff members in paying respects to Mr. Annan, whom they described as the embodiment of the intergovernmental organization that worked to improve the lives of men and women worldwide.

Kofi Annan died on Saturday at the age of 80 in Switzerland.

The United Nations described Mr. Annan, as a mild-mannered diplomat from Ghana, who rose through the UN system to become its seventh leader in January 1997, serving two consecutive five-year terms till December 2006.

The United Nations system says that Mr. Kofi Annan’s years in office were an exciting time. He put forward new ideas. He brought new people into the United Nations family. He spoke passionately about our mission and role.

The late UN scribe reportedly created a renewed sense of possibility both inside and outside our organization about what the UN could do and be for the world’s people.

“He put people at the centre of the work of the United Nations, and was able to turn compassion into action across the UN system,’’ Guterres said.

He listed some of the actions Annan took to include uniting world leaders to agree global targets on poverty and child mortality – linchpins of the landmark Millennium Development Goals.

The former UN chief also joined with civil society and the healthcare injury to save lives from HIV and AIDS.

As his successor noted, Annan also did not shy away from addressing challenging issues.

Annan faced up to the grave errors made by the United Nations in the 1990s – in its response to the Rwanda genocide and the Srebrenica killings – by shining a light inside the UN.

The reports he commissioned aimed to make sure such terrible mistakes are never repeated, and set the international community on a new course in its response to mass atrocities,” Mr. Guterres said.

Mr. Guterres stated that the passing of his predecessor was “a personal loss’’ for many who worked in the UN system.

Jason Daley who peened a piece published by the SMITHSONIAN.COM however think that Kofi Annan left a legacy of a more interventionist United Nations.

These assertions are however very much debatable given that there are bottled up angst among some observers that he made no attempt to condemn the infamous cancellation of the June 12th 1993 election that could have seen Chief Moshood Abiola become president even until he was killed in government detention in Abuja, Annan maintained conspiratorial silence they said.

Jason Daley wrote that: “Annan, born in Ghana in 1938, was the first leader of the United Nations elected from the organization’s staff. Trained as an economist, he began his work at the U.N. in 1962 as a World Health Organization budget officer. In 1980, he moved to the U.N. refugee agency, reports James Doubek at NPR. In 1993, he was tapped to head peacekeeping operations. He faced some of the U.N.’s most complex problems, including the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the Rwandan genocide and war in Somalia. In 1997 he became the first black African chosen for the role of secretary-general, and served two five-year terms.”

“His tenure included the beginning of the war on terror, which came with deep divisions over the Iraq War, reports Alan Cowell at The New York Times. Annan’s legacy is tied to these military and political crises, though he had little or no control over the U.N. Security Council, which handles such matters.

Instead, his legacy—or at least what he hoped would be his legacy—was turning the U.N. into the world’s moral conscience and arbiter.

Deservedly, Annan was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for combatting terrorism, prioritizing human rights, and helping to establish the Global AIDS and Health Fund.

During his acceptance speech, he outlined the U.N.’s goals for the 21st century. “Only in a world that is rid of poverty can all men and women make the most of their abilities,” he said. “Only where individual rights are respected can differences be channeled politically and resolved peacefully. Only in a democratic environment, based on respect for diversity and dialogue, can individual self-expression and self-government be secured, and freedom of association be upheld.”

But for all his good intentions, Annan’s legacy is not without controversy. Timothy Longman at The Washington Post reports that Annan was in charge of peacekeeping in 1994 when a crisis in Rwanda developed into genocide.

Annan was faulted for not heeding warning signs of violence and failing to intervene.

He later wrote that he regretted his lack of leadership during the genocide. He also lamented his inability to stop the war in Bosnia, and decided on a more aggressive response. Military intervention was a controversial move, since the NATO bombing didn’t have the backing of the U.N. Security Council.”

Lastly, I remember Mr. Kofi Annan for correctly interpreting the reason for Nigeria’s political backwardness. He was recently quoted to have told a young Presidential aspirant in Nigeria and publisher of Sahara reporters that Nigerian youngsters are in love with electing their ancestors to head the country even in this 21st century. Kofi Annan in effect was advocating for a change of leadership in Nigeria made up of very young and educated people to make Nigeria to regain a pride of place in the World. These sentiments expressed by Kofi Annan has endeared him to me.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko heads the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @ www.huriwanigeria.com; www.emmanuelonwubiko.com www.@blogspot.com.

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