REMARKS OF H.E. RAILA ODINGA AT Our Shared Humanity’ – The Legacy of Kofi Annan CONFERENCE; 3–4th June 2019, Chatham House, London:
That Kofi Annan was different things to different people came out clearly in the tributes upon his passing: to President Nana Akufo-Addo he was a cosmopolitan, consensus builder, proud African and a peacemaker.
To UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres Annan was “a guiding force for good” who combined compassion, commitment and diplomatic skill to bring the UN closer to the people. To former President John Kufuor Annan was a man whose comportment and temperament set new standards for public officials and international office holders.
Kufuor spoke of Annan’s “tough love” for African leaders especially those he felt were failing the people.
Time magazine once described Annan as “a brass band of hope, ideas and energy.”
Annan is widely respected for the peace he helped broker in Kenya and there is reasonable expectation that I will dwell on that.
But Kenya was simply an extension of his wider belief that the world should NOT spectate when conflicts are consuming civilians in some part of the universe and when the State has taken sides in such conflicts.
Annan’s legacy stands out in three areas:
1: International Intervention in conflict as contained in his doctrine of Responsibility to Protect.
2: Social and Economic well being especially of citizens of poor nations. We see that in his approach to issues of poverty in general and HIV/Aids in particular.
3: Diplomacy in global affairs. Annan believed most of the world’s conflicts could be prevented or stopped without bombs and guns.
The end of Cold War came with deadly conflicts in places like Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, East Timor and Bosnia to mention but a few.
It came with warlords like Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladić and Slobodan Milosevic. This is the world Annan inherited.
One of Annan’s greatest contributions to global agenda was to refine a policy mandating states to step in wherever and whenever human lives are threatened by hate, disease or poverty.
He advocated an end to the old notion that states can do as they please behind their borders because of sovereignty.
The idea that Sovereignty is Not a Shield was a critical part of Annan’s legacy to the world.
We must always remember that Annan had come to office against the background of Rwanda genocide where the world had stood aside as armed militia butchered thousands of civilians in that country.
He seemed to be permanently balancing the madness and goodness of humanity. Annan approached global problems from the position that just as there is limitless capacity for evil in human beings, there is also some potential for goodness in everyone, if only we listened to each other enough.
As the world geared for invasion of Iraq in 1998, Annan made it clear that he was going to negotiate with Saddam Hussein.
He later had the courage to report that he had “a good human rapport” with Saddam to the bewilderment of those who saw the options as either arms inspectors or bombs. Perhaps the world should have approached Iraq differently.
In Kenya, we had the fortune to taste Anna’s diplomacy first hand for at least two months in 2008.
Annan’s intervention gave way to the most comprehensive review of our laws and governance structure ever undertaken in our country.
Annan strived to make leaders and nations, especially the rich and powerful, understand that they have a responsibility that goes past their own borders and citizens; that they cannot afford to be inward looking in an interconnected world.
Nowhere is this legacy of responsibility of the rich and the powerful to the poor and powerless more visible than in the battle against HIV/ AIDS.
Annan took over the UN at a time HIV/ AIDS was killing more in Africa than all the wars that had been fought on the Continent.
In 1997, some 23.3 million people were living with HIV/AIDS, there were 3.2 million new HIV infections and access to life-saving treatment was only available to a privileged few and nobody seemed to care.
Annan pushed world leaders and pharmaceutical companies to tackle HIV/AIDS. In 2000, the Security Council adopted a resolution identifying AIDS as a threat to global security.
In 2001, the General Assembly held a Special Session on HIV/AIDS. That was the first-ever meeting of world leaders on a health issue at the UN.
In 2000, the world was investing less than US$ 1 billion in AIDS. Annan pushed for a war chest of at least US$ 7–10 billion for AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria leading to the Global Fund.
Post-UN, Annan continued to work on things he believed were critical to ensuring human dignity and abolishing poverty’s. He pursued a vision of agricultural revolution in Africa through AGRA.
Regrettably, the post Annan world has seen the erosion of these gains. Inward looking regimes are emerging, divisions between the rich and poor nations are growing in areas like democratization, trade and immigration.
Conflicts rage in many places that cry for honest peacemakers, and budget cuts loom for some of the social and health programs including HIV and Aids and women’s health. Drums of war are sounding now more than at any other time in the post-Cold War era.
We need to study Annan ever more closely. To honour Annan, the world must care about the things he cared about.