The Quotable Kofi Annan

What else can a ‘Coconut Boy’ from Ahantaland like me say about this great patriotic man of unadulterated reputation and impeccable integrity produced by Ghana to serve the world? He came and served humanity in humility, appreciating the dignity that every human being deserves in life and even in death. He called on the world, the powerful and the weak to appreciate that we do not need to like one another but accept the fact that every individual has the right to live and be respected as such.

The worth and value of a man are not measured by the material things he has acquired through fair or foul means but by his words and actions. That is why the body he worked for – the United Nations Organization – compiled some of his statements to the world. Dear reader, permit me to share some of his wise sayings with you. It is an old saying that a man dies, but his tongue never gets rotten. Let us read on:

Applaud us when we prevail, correct us when we fail; but, above all, do not let this indispensable, irreplaceable institution wither, languish or perish as a result of Member States’ indifference, inattention or financial starvation. (Address to the General Assembly, 17 December, 1996)

There is no alternative to the U.N. It is still the last best hope of humanity.

(Address to UN Staff, New York, 9 January 1997)

Only a global Organization is capable of meeting global challenges.

(Address to the National Press Club, 24 January, 1997).

Clearly, we cannot meet the challenges of the new millennium with an instrument designed for the very different circumstances of the middle of the twentieth century. (Address to the Council on Foreign Relations, 22 April 1997).

I believe that this new world of ours needs an effective United Nations more, not less, and that public demand for concerted action to avert global threats and secure peace will grow, not weaken, as this century draws to a close (Address to the Council on Foreign Relations, 22 April 1997).

We have to show that this Organization deals not in dusty abstractions, but in crucial life-and-death matters affecting the well-being of all women, men and children, every citizen of this planet. (Address at the International Women’s Forum, 27 May, 1997).

We seek a United Nations that will view change as a friend, not change for its own sake but change that permits us to do more good by doing it better. We seek a UN that is leaner, more focused, more flexible and more responsive to changing global needs. (Address at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 6 June, 1997).

The world is beginning to recognize the many roots of conflict, the economic base of stability and the grim truth that intolerance, injustice and oppression – and their consequences – respect no national frontiers. (Address to the General Assembly, 17 December 1996).

If war is the failure of diplomacy, then… diplomacy, both bilateral and multilateral, is our first line of defence. The world today spends billions preparing for war; shouldn’t we spend a billion or two preparing for peace? (Address to the National Press Club, 24 January 1997)

Lasting peace requires more than intervention of the Blue Helmets on the ground. Effective peacekeeping demands a broader notion of human security. We cannot be secure amidst starvation; we cannot build peace without alleviating poverty; we cannot build freedom on foundations of injustice (Address to the World Economic Forum, 1 February 1997).

It is said that {the failures of States} and the civil and ethnic wars that too often have followed in their wake are inevitable…  The difficulties occasionally faced by international interventions confirm precisely the intractability of these problems… I wish to propose a different view. And that is that these failures, these wars, these problems are political problems and economic problems with political and economic solutions. There is nothing inevitable about conflict in one part of the world, or tyranny in another form. Freedom and human rights are concepts as universal as they are political, amenable to human agency of any colour or creed. The Charter of the United Nations was written in the name of ‘We, the Peoples of the United Nations’. (Address to the Council on Foreign Relations, 22 April, 1997).

Today, security is increasingly understood not just in military terms, and as far more than the absence of conflict. It is in fact a phenomenon that encompasses economic development, social justice, environmental protection, democratization, disarmament and respect for human rights. These goals – these pillars of peace – are interrelated. Progress in one area begets progress in another. But no country can get there on its own. And none is exempt from the risks and costs of doing without. (Address at Cedar Crest College, 13 September, 1997).

During the cold war, peace and security tended to be defined simply in terms of military might or the balance of terror. Today, we have a greater appreciation for the non-military sources of conflict. We know that lasting peace requires a broader vision, encompassing education and literacy, health and nutrition, human rights and fundamental freedoms. We know that we cannot be secure amidst starvation. We cannot build peace without alleviating poverty. We cannot build freedom on foundations of injustice (Address at the Chicago World Trade Centre, 20 October, 1997).

The use of peacekeeping by the international community, in pursuit of common interests must be credible and it must be legitimate. Credible force without legitimacy may have immediate results, but will not enjoy long-term international support. Legitimate force without credibility may enjoy universal support even as it is unable to implement the basic provisions of the mandate… Combined, however, under the umbrella of the United Nations, credibility and legitimacy in the use of force are not only possible, but mutually reinforcing in pursuit of a universal ideal. To achieve this unity of purpose, we must and we will restore the global faith in the United Nations. (Address to the seminar, Adapting to a Changing World, 17 November, 1997).

Experience has shown that once crises erupt, the international community can move swiftly to address the suffering of innocent civilian victims. The United Nations and its humanitarian partners-donors, non-governmental organizations, the Red Cross community-have raised billions of dollars to deliver food to the hungry, provide shelter to refugees and internally displaced persons, and support children, women and the elderly. This has been accomplished despite the major constraints that often accompany deadly conflicts: difficulty in reaching populations in need, a lack of security for relief personnel and disregard for fundamental principles of humanitarian law and human rights (Message to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 16 February, 1997).

The same technological means that foster globalization and the transnational expansion of civil society also provide the infrastructure for expanding global networks of ‘uncivil society’- organized crime, drug traffickers, money launderers and terrorists (Renewal Amid Transition: Annual Report, 3 September, 1997).

We live in an era of realignment… As is true of all transitional periods, very  different expressions of the human predicament coexist  in uneasy tension  today: globalization envelops the world even as fragmentation and the assertion of differences are on the rise; zones of peace expand while outbursts of horrific violence intensify; unprecedented wealth is being created but large pockets of poverty remain endemic; the will of the people and their integral rights are both celebrated and violated; science and technology enhance human life at the same as their by-products threaten planetary life-support systems. It is not beyond the powers of political volition to tip the scale in this transition, towards a more secure and predictable peace, greater economic well-being, social justice and environmental sustainability. No country can achieve these global public goods on its own, however, just as none is exempt from the risks and costs of doing without them (ibid).

Safeguarding the environment… is a guiding principle of all our work in support of sustainable development; it is an essential component of poverty eradication and one of the foundations for peace (19th Session of the Governing Council of the UN Environmental Programme, 5 February, 1997).

These are some of the wise sayings of this great man. May his soul rest in peace.

From Kwesi Biney