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February 21, 2019

GODFREY SANG: How Kofi Annan failed Africa

Justice Philip Waki Hands over the envelop containing the names op post election violence inciters to chief mediator Kofi Annan
Justice Philip Waki Hands over the envelop containing the names op post election violence inciters to chief mediator Kofi Annan

Kwame Nkrumah was often described as a good African but a bad Ghanaian. Well, Kofi Annan could easily be described as a good Ghanaian but a bad African. Nkrumah was so described because of his ideological leanings and its disastrous implications for Ghana, but was lauded for ardently embracing Pan-Africanism, envisioning a glorious future for a liberated and united Africa. He was, therefore, a good African.

Annan was his polar opposite. In many ways, he seemed to embrace that jaundiced view of Africa, seeing her bleak prospects through the same prism that post-Imperialist Western powers have always used. But he was a good Ghanaian. Earlier this year, he made a supportive phone call to the faceless Ghanaian anti-corruption journalist Anas A Anas for exposing widespread corruption in Ghana. Since he died last week, there has been a sharp focus on his career in diplomatic circles, particularly on how it affected Africa.



We will remember him for brokering a difficult truce in 2008, bringing two leaders of the political divide to the negotiating table and getting them to work together. But it was the aftermath of the ICC that we will remember him the most.

He was the brain behind the court. But he did more than that. When it became apparent the Kenyan cases (which were developed from his insistence) were not going to his liking, he openly expressed his dissatisfaction. He even advocated the detention of William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta at The Hague for the duration of their trial. And when the court allowed them to be free as they pursued, Annan questioned the decision, further proving that the ICC was (is) nothing but a political court. In fact, his sentiments monstrously betrayed his political preferences in the Kenyan situation. The confessions of former prosecutor Luis Ocampo that he was under pressure by some ‘diplomats’ to do more to prevent Uhuru and Ruto from contesting in the 2013 elections exposed Annan.


The ICC profoundly changed Kenya. Very early in the cases, it was quite apparent the indictees were selected politically – balancing from the political divide. It was a woeful miscalculation that brought in the wrong people to power and a mistake for which Annan could scarcely feign ignorance. In the first place, the ICC was his baby, and the institution, which will never touch any other conflict around the world, has become the shameful face of Western imperialism with regard to Africa. And to imagine that an African had supported its formulation only brings up memories of the brutal black slave driver of the plantations of America’s deep south. And you will be certain Uhuru and Ruto will not be missing Annan for what they went through under the ICC.



If ever the sin of omission was imputable to one man over the Rwanda genocide, that man would be Kofi Annan. I still remember my Rwandese university roommate Murengezi, who arrived in campus in March 1994 only to lose his entire family two weeks later. In those bleak April days, our room became a monitoring centre, as we listened desperately to BBC broadcasts on Shortwave radio for news about the genocide. There was no internet, no mobile telephony, and making international calls was extremely difficult. Even then, all communication with Rwanda was completely cut off. We were left with only radio and so we listened breathlessly to grainy Shortwave broadcasts hoping his family was still alive. We finally got the news much later, that only his father, who was out of the country at that time, had survived. He, too, had survived because he came to Kenya. The rest had perished and even their remains could not be traced. You can imagine what a teenage freshman must have felt at this time.

Then it came to light finally that Annan, then working as the head of UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, had refused to authorise a UN intervention in Rwanda, despite being alerted that a massive spate of killings was in the offing and would come any moment. The result of his decision was that Murengezi lost his family and a million other Rwandese died. Although you cannot fully blame the genocide on Annan, the worst part of it was that he consistently refused to acknowledge his part in it, either directly or otherwise.

He refused to take personal responsibility for whatever role he played. It was only after we heard the story of Canada’s General Romeo Dallaire that we knew what Annan had done, or better still, had refused to do. He was specifically warned about detailed plans “to provoke a civil war” and even lists of Tutsi’s had been drawn up, which according to Dallaire’s informants suspected was “…for their extermination.” In fact, Dallaire’s informant had already drawn up a detailed list of Tutsis and told him that his men had the ability to kill up to 1,000 Tutsis in 20 minutes. Armed with such impeccable information, Dallaire immediately asked for permission to act. His plan was to start by seizing caches of illegal arms that had been prepared.

In January 1994 Annan replied telling Dallaire not to act, but rather to follow diplomatic protocol. He asked him to share his information with Rwanda’s President Juvenal Habyarimana. Three months later, everything Dallaire had predicted happened with the precision of an Old Testament prophet. My friends and I were left with the uncomfortable task of consoling a broken young man, who later quit university anyway.



Even for his incontrovertible failure at UN Peacekeeping, he was rewarded with an unprecedented promotion to Secretary General, becoming the first UN staffer to rise to the position. But really, he was America’s man for the job and not Africa’s. You will remember clearly the humiliation served to Africa’s Boutros Boutros-Ghali, when the US numerously vetoed his appointment for a second term. This was largely because he had criticised America’s conflict-driven foreign policy and smarting from empty victories in Kuwait and disaster in Somali, the US had little appetite for criticism.

With hindsight, it is now clear the US put in Annan to satiate its desire for global dominance and much less to placate Africa for gutting the more Afro-centric Ghali. As you will know, it was about this time that the world was talking about globalization, they needed a friendly hand in the UN. Annan was their man, and even Africa scarcely owned his tenure. America then continued rumbling through the world and returned to finish a job it had started in Iraq. Together with Britain, they plunged an otherwise peaceful region into unending conflict and to this day, the ouster of Saddam Hussein still hangs over every conflict in the Middle East – from the Arab Spring to the ISIL conflict to the Taliban and others.



Born in Kumasi, Ghana’s sprawling city and centre of the ancient Ashanti Kingdom, he was a descendant of powerful chiefs on both sides of his family. It is difficult to tell if his background prepared him or failed to prepare him for the challenges of leading an organisation such as the UN. With a relatively privileged upbringing, he went to good schools eventually studying abroad and obtaining advanced credentials. He joined the UN system early in his career and rose up the ranks to a position that made him one of the most powerful men on earth. His tenure, however, was marred by controversies, from corruption within the UN system and sometimes involving his own family to failure to prevent or end some of the worst conflicts.

He seemed impervious, even ill-disposed to Africa’s perennial problems and to this day, the continent continues to deal with her problems — political instability, coups, war, famine, hunger, poverty, disasters, economic and political emigration, diseases, underdevelopment, emergent neo-colonialism, slavery, human trafficking, the thousands of Africa’s immigrants in the trans-Mediterranean route and the refugee crisis from intra-African conflicts. Others include political and religion-motivated terrorism, border disputes, wars of aggression, inter- and intra-tribal disputes, pre- and post-election conflict, governance-related problems, including weak institutions and government structures, failure to apply or implement the rule of law, ideological disputations, illegal arms trade, skewed trade agreements, exploitation of African resources, the debt burden among others.

I have taken the trouble to list them so that in your own analysis, you can see that few, if any, of these problems were associated with Africa before 1886, and only came after Western powers came over. And the same powers continue to sustain them to this day. What did Annan do about them? He did something. He instituted the Millennium Development Goals. They began with noble ideals but most countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where they were meant to help, only registered dismal progress in achieving them. Analysts have pondered into why this happened. Having studied them myself, it is my considered opinion that the MDGs were reductionist in nature, they failed to look at the inter-dependence of the problems mentioned above. Exploitation of African resources for instance, has a direct effect on infant mortality and maternal deaths and others. It was necessary to solve the problem of resource exploitation first before you tackle infant mortality, otherwise tackling infant mortality without its antecedent cause, was an exercise in futility. He knew it would not be easy and even predicted that by 2015, most of the MDGs would not have been met. In 2016, the UN replaced the MDGs with sustainable development goals, which were more inclusive.



Finally, it was his choice of Switzerland as a place of retirement that only further betrayed his attitudes towards Africa. Unlike Shakespeare’s Bollingbroke, who ate the bitter bread of banishment, Annan enjoyed the sweet bread of self-exile – living in the comfort of Switzerland, obscured from Africa’s sufferings and maintaining a bird’s eye view. Well, there you have it. There are many good things that can be said about Annan. He has been feted variously as one of Africa’s finest sons for which he was even awarded a Nobel prize. I think he could have done more.


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