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Kofi Annan has died

[vc_row type=”in_container” full_screen_row_position=”middle” scene_position=”center” text_color=”dark” text_align=”left” overlay_strength=”0.3″][vc_column column_padding=”no-extra-padding” column_padding_position=”all” background_color_opacity=”1″ background_hover_color_opacity=”1″ width=”1/1″ tablet_text_alignment=”default” phone_text_alignment=”default”][vc_column_text]Just a couple of days ago, Leo and I, head of the UNSA delegations committee, sat down in the UNSA office and discovered that we had some coffee mugs in store saying, “Coffee Annan”. A brilliant pun, we loved it. And we agreed that Kofi Annan was just an all-round swell guy, a formidable gentleman. Then, yesterday morning, the news revealed to the world about his passing. I was gutted.

If before yesterday you had no idea who Kofi Annan had been, this is a tragic way to get to know this man who I think to be one of our time’s greatest.

From 1997 to 2006, he had been the Secretary-General of the United Nations. This job is both immensely important and astonishingly impossible. While formally heading the UN, the position holds little actual executive power. Rather, it is the Secretary General’s role to mediate between the Security Council’s rotating and permanent members. Persuading them to arrive at effective mandates and resolutions is notoriously difficult – for example Russia, China and the US almost never agree on one perspective. Thus, many UN-critics call this first diplomat a “secular pope”; someone, who holds little authority, besides a moral one. Kofi Annan, however, did make the most out of that role.

You may have noticed, that his time of appointment falls parallel to many contemporary tragedies and, indeed, failures of the international community: The Rwandan genocide of 1994, the contingent break-up wars of Yugoslavia between 1991 and 2001 that include the massacre of Srebrenica, 9-11, the US’ interventions into the Middle East, and many more. This is not the place to get into all of these, but Kofi Annan’s handling of these crises has been subject of both criticism and praise. Many criticisms will be fair. However, undeniably he did leave the UN a better organisation than it was before. His is a story of both success and failure, but also one that is sure to have taught invaluable lessons, such as:

  1. The R2P-prinicple; the ‘Responsibility to Protect’. Under the impression of Rwanda and Srebrenica, Kofi Annan championed this cause to prevent any more similar incidents. In 1999, NATO saw it as necessary to bomb Yugoslavia without the Security Council’s approval, because Russia and China had prevented a mandate – technically making the operation illegal. The question of the day was whether respecting a nation’s sovereignty or securing individual safety was more important. While always having been advocating the international rule book, Kofi Annan recognised the need of human rights legitimising the use of force and condoned the NATO “humanitarian intervention”. Later, R2P provided a legal basis for more decisive action in the future. Building on that …

  2. He made the UN a human-rights-focussed organisation. He attempted to move away from the realist powerplays of global powers and instead focussed his efforts to safeguard the wellbeing of the peoples of the 21st One of my favourite quotes of his is “a United Nations that will not stand up for human rights is a United Nations that cannot stand up for itself”. This spirit has prevailed.

  3. Before the end of his appointment, Kofi Annan proposed some reforms to the UN that included overhauling the Security Council’s arguably very flawed design. It never went through, because the Permanent Members had no reason to give up any of their power, but it did serve to raise the issue to the public sphere. That is the main theme of Annan’s time: The complete acknowledgements of his own and the UN’s limitations was always paired with the idealist will to make the best of the status quo and then change it.

Kofi Annan brought decency to international politics, at a time where it seemed to have left the planet. His widely admired charisma, akin to Obama’s, his genuine kindness, that may stem from his friendship with Nelson Mandela, and his sincere idealism, that did actually get things done, make him one of my personal idols. I remember reading his autobiography back when I was 16. I did not understand a thing of the events he was talking about. But I was inspired by the calm, composed manner, in which Annan dissected and dealt with the world’s problems. Like a father, he took care of things, one by one, always principled, but never naive. He knew the UN’s, the world’s and his own personal flaws like no other. Yet, he never lost faith and until his death, he worked for the moral cause. The perfect diplomat.

The world should be saddened by the news of his passing. According to the Kofi Annan Foundation’s statement, he died peacefully after short illness among his family. I, for one, will always remember his ideal demeanour as an international statesman when I take a sip off my Coffee Annan mug[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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