August 19, 2018
Nobel Laureate Kofi Annan–The Gentle Ghanian of Grace, Dignity and Honour
by Phar Kim Beng
COMMENT | Not many know that Kofi Annan was from one of the most prestigious tribes of the Ashanti in Ghana. Nor that his forebears were turned into human cargo during the height of the slave trade.
Though history certainly gave him plenty to gripe about, ranging from white privilege to persistent exploitation of his people, Annan’s entire career was marked by grace, dignity and honour, all of which were rare even in the United Nations.
Indeed, how many have not heard of the shadow plays of the UN Security Council among the Permanent Five?
If anything, the members tend to consult privately among themselves even on matters verging on international war and peace – including crunching economic sanctions that are as blunt as they are crude, only to spare the elites that the sanctions were meant to target.
Annan may have left us at the age of 80, an age in Africa where wisdom is privileged over knuckleheaded rhetorical flourishes, but his legacy lives on.
Take the UN Global Compact, one of the most significant initiatives to have emerged from the UN in ages. It carried deep economic imprints.
It urged all multinationals and companies to comply with labour rules and norms derived from the International Labour Organisation, as well as to voluntarily work towards a corporate system of equity and to steer away from sheer profiteering.
Such templates remain important and abiding in the current process of globalisation, where the interest of the workers, investors and shareholders, can all be protected.
Parallel with UN Global Compact, Annan also encouraged the Global Reporting Initiative.(GRI) to make the process of self-disclosure and compliance more voluntary and imbued with more systems of accountability.
All these were undertaken when US unilateralism was all the rage, and when China and Russia were oblivious to the need to conform to the standards of World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Annan, for lack of a better term, was the first to throw the proverbial pebble in the lake of globalisation, creating a system that is not entirely fair, but also not totally indifferent to the plight of the 99 percent.
The 2008 global financial crisis only confirmed what Annan must have privately suspected: unfettered globalisation that would wreak damage on the world.
Indeed, Annan worked with Jeffrey Sachs first at Harvard and then Columbia University, to come up with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – with the aim of eliminating global poverty, as well as empower women and democracy.
In ASEAN, Annan also served as visiting scholar in the National University of Singapore, with the overarching goal to influence countries in the region to choose the right democratic path.
The May 9 strategic electoral upset proved Annan’s prescient vision right, although Myanmar could certainly do more to stem its bloodbath against Rohingya Muslims.
Annan deserves to be called one of the UN’s best secretary-generals – despite the failure to prevent the war against Iraq, where no weapons of destructions were found. But did he always put the right man on the job to contradict the flawed evidence of the great powers that were adamant in their own ways? He did.
On that, Annan deserves the highest salute for transforming the UN Blue Helmets as one of the most respected institutions, despite what happened in Srebrenica and Rwanda.
Malaysia’s Razali Ismail with Kofi Annan and Boutros Boutros- Ghali
Malaysia should salute Annan, and see his legacy as one striving for international peace, where all great and small powers alike agreed to co-exist peacefully.
Rest well, Annan. For you have left the world a better place.
PHAR KIM BENG is a Harvard/Cambridge Commonwealth Fellow, a former Monbusho scholar at the University of Tokyo and visiting scholar at Waseda University.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.