In May 2008 my family and I proudly attended my graduation with a Doctoral degree in Health Policy and Management from Columbia University in a beautiful ceremony held at the main New York campus. One of the guests of honor was a short black man in his sixties with a goatee that exuded the patrician flair of a privileged upbringing and had an halo of unquestioned authority. He was Kofi Annan, the first black elected as General Secretary of the United Nations for two consecutive five years-term starting in 1997 and Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2001.
Africa’s foremost diplomat presided over the transformation of our world from a socio-political stage for the Cold War to its Globalization and the rise of Fundamentalism. He was recruited form the civil corps of the UN bureaucracy, after many years of service. He was a tireless diplomat that sought to find compromise between warring enemies in order to spare the civilian population from the consequences of famine, sickness and destitution. He had the guts to meet some of the most despicable tyrants and engage them in a much needed dialogue; he was severely criticized for sharing a cigar with Saddam Hussein in his quest to avoid war.
He renovated the peacekeeping forces of the United Nations by giving them much more resources and training of the personnel in the vagaries of non-conventional warfare. Sadly his biggest failures were the genocides of Rwanda and Bosnia, which were really the inevitable outcome of naively putting “soft Europeans” to confront the hardened warriors. If the defenseless refugees of Srebrenica would have been defended from the rogue Serbs by a platoon of American Marines or an elite battalion of the Indian Army, the story might have been different; at the very least they would have stood their ground and fought fiercely for the safe heaven.
He was born on April 8, 1938, in an aristocratic family of the city of Kumasi in what was then called the Gold Coast, which would later become the country of Ghana; he had a degree in Economics from Ghana and later also studied at Macalester College in Geneva and at the Sloan School of Management in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His first United Nations appointment was in the World Health Organization of Geneva in 1962 and he worked the rest of his life in different organizations of the institution. In 1990 UN secretary general Boutros Ghali appointed him first as his deputy and then as head of the peacekeeping operations. With the blessing of the suspicious American delegation to the UN, he was finally appointed as it secretary general on January 1, 1997.
After leaving the UN, he continued working for world peace from his position of head of the “Kofi Annan Foundation” based in Geneva, Switzerland. He had just returned from a trip to Zimbabwe last week when he fell ill and passed away on August 18th, 2018 in a Bern hospital.
He had the courage and determination to seek peace, even with the flimsiest of chances.
He had the stamina and patience to deal with the most abject members of Humankind.
He worked until his death to promote world peace, a necessary legacy for a sound future for our children.
Thank you very much Kofi for your priceless public service in the UN.
May God Almighty receive you in his Grace as a dedicated son of Africa.
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