Eightieth birthday "Hard Talk": Kofi Annan and Legacy

BY: Brigadier General Dan Frimpong (Rtd)
Eightieth birthday
Eightieth birthday "Hard Talk": Kofi Annan and Legacy

For anybody familiar with the BBC Current Affairs programme HARD TALK, the hard questioning done by the hosts justifies the name of the programme. The hosts are often aggressive in extracting answers to their hard questions.

80th Birthday Edition

The special birthday edition in Geneva, Switzerland on the occasion of the eightieth birthday of the world’s seventh UN Secretary-General, Ghana’s His Excellency Kofi Annan on Saturday 21 April 2018 was no exception. Indeed, so hard was the questioning by the host Zeinab Badawi that, the first contributor after Mr Annan’s presentation, the Sudanese businessman and philanthropist Mo Ibrahim, humorously advised Kofi Annan not to invite Zeinab for his one hundredth birthday party.

Kofi Annan

Born in Kumasi on 8th April 1938, Kofi Atta Annan turned eighty on April 8, 2018. He attended Mfantsipim School, and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology before going for a Bachelor’s degree in Economics at Macalester University in Minnesota, USA. Subsequently, he did post-graduate courses in France and the USA.

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Rising through the ranks of the UN system, he became the first “thoroughbred” or “home-grown” Secretary-General when he was appointed in 1996. His two-term period ended in 2006. Among the questions, Zeinab Badawi asked him was what legacy he left behind as a Secretary-General.

“Secretary” or “General?”

In UN circles, SGs have often been classified, perhaps, rather uncharitably, as being either “Secretary” or “General.” So, while Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt was considered a “General” because of his hardliner and aggressive stance on issues which resulted in his one-term only service, Ban Ki-moon has been described as a “Secretary” because of his soft and non-aggressive style as a Secretary-General of the UN. Kofi Annan has been described by many as both, a “Secretary-General” who while drawing heavily from his tool-box of diplomatic experience, also came out very strong and uncompromising when the need arose. Arguably the best Secretary-General the UN has had, his legacy for humanity has been positive.

The question – Ghana’s Leaders

The question I ask myself is, what legacy have Ghanaian leaders of the past left. For our current leaders, what legacy do they intend leaving? How would they want to be remembered by posterity?

Without attempting to re-invent the wheel, I reproduce below part of an article I wrote about a decade ago on LEGACY!

“………..Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK), Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton may arguably be said to belong to the league of “Division One A” of very popular former presidents of the USA. On the occasion of the 235th anniversary of independence on 4 July 2011, a bronze statue was unveiled in London of former President Reagan. Similar statues were unveiled in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in his honour. This was in recognition of the solid legacy of PEACE President Reagan left behind in bringing to an end the Cold War between the West led the by USA and the East led by the USSR in the late 1980s.

One American president who may not have belonged to the league above is Gerald Ford. Indeed, so unpopular was he that, he lost his first contested presidential elections to President Jimmy Carter in 1976. His source of unpopularity was that he granted a presidential pardon to President Nixon for his involvement in the Watergate scandal at a time when American public opinion was for Nixon to be jailed.

Subsequently, however, President Ford’s act earned him the reputation of an honest man whose honourable act of forgiving his predecessor brought respectability to the high office of the president of the USA. He thus left a solid positive legacy behind. In recent times as I think of retirement, I have asked myself the same question many times over. What legacy are we leaving behind for posterity?

In September 2009, I watched a TV programme on the new thirty-six-year-old Managing Director (MD) of Barclays Bank for Ghana. By Ghanaian standards, thirty-six is considered rather young, probably too young to head a Ministry or indeed a Department, let alone a multi-national corporation. In the course of the interview, he was asked by the interviewer how he felt becoming the MD of a multi-national bank at a rather tender age of thirty-six.

Contrary to what one would have thought to be the usual one of expressing joy at his achievement, his answer was that, reaching the top was to him, not the most important thing. The more important thing was what legacy he would leave behind at the end of his tour. He went on to say that, many people see the attainment of the top position as an end in itself and not as a means to an end….. that of making the institution better than one met it; that of contributing to national development.

Answering a barrage of questions, he stated among others that, if leaders were held accountable by the led, and demands made of them at the end of their tour of duty on the legacy they were leaving behind, some people, in his opinion, would refuse the top position knowing in their hearts that they cannot perform creditably! Again, those who thought of getting to the top only as a means to satisfy their selfish desires, and not as an opportunity to render service would think twice. For him, leaving a positive legacy at the end of his tour was more important than the age at which he reached the top.


I found the young man’s answers rather intriguing for a number of reasons. Having been involved in leadership training all my career of over forty years, I have found one particular quality important. However, usually, it does not get mentioned as one of the frontline attributes of a leader like courage, knowledge, initiative or physical fitness in the military. Sometimes, it gets referred to when integrity and honesty are mentioned as necessary leadership attributes. This back-burner quality is that of SELFLESSNESS.

This is the quality of a leader leading his followers to achieve the group’s goal without any consideration for personal gain. This could run through a broad spectrum of leading a small team to that of leading a big nation. The man described as the African of the last millennium Ghana’s first President Dr Kwame Nkrumah certainly had his faults as an ordinary mortal. However, whatever his faults were, he stands tall by any standard in the world as a SELFLESS leader. He died poor in another country (Guinea) having been overthrown in a coup d’etat in 1966. What is even more striking is that, he left behind no material acquisitions, not even a single house for his family.

Referring to the selflessness of Kwame Nkrumah at a ceremony, Air Vice Marshal Ashley-Larsen (Rtd), a former Chief of Air Staff, disclosed that in 1964, the Ghana Air Force had a fleet of eighty-four aircraft all of which were operational. In spite of commanding such a large fleet, Nkrumah did not have a “Presidential jet”


Between 2008-2009, I lived in Uganda working as the Senior Military Adviser to President Chissano, former President of Mozambique, the Secretary-General of the United Nation’s Special Envoy (SESG) for the Lord’s Resistance Army(LRA)-Affected Areas. What struck me were the daily reports in the Ugandan newspapers of gruesome murders. Shocked at the spate of killings in the country, I questioned a Ugandan colleague why murders were so rampant. He explained that, people killed with impunity because they knew nothing would happen to them. People got away with murder and therefore a culture of impunity had developed over time!

In recent times, greed, selfishness and corruption and to some extent murder appear to have become endemic in Ghana probably for the same reason for which murder has become routine in Uganda. It appears not to matter where one gets one’s wealth from or how one gets it! What matters is the fact that one has it as an effective tool of influence. Reckless dissipation of State funds and resources are the order of the day as the numerous FM radio stations and newspapers trumpet daily!

What happened to all the societal values our parents taught us at home and got reinforced by our teachers in school like respect for fellow man, integrity, hygiene and environmental cleanliness, among others? Aside respect for adults which was automatic, we were taught as children to respect one another. We did not insult one another. Why has impunity taken over?

Again, what happened to health and sanitation which was enforced by sanitary inspectors of the Town Councils nicknamed “tankass” (corruption of Town Council)? Some friends have told me they have stopped watching the 7pm TV News because of the unsightliness of the filth shown almost daily which only succeeds in killing their appetite at dinner!

Indictment by the children

Again in September 2009, three children aged thirteen, eleven and eleven years were interviewed on a local FM station. For their ages, their depth of knowledge, intelligence and general understanding of issues all articulated in impeccable English, was outstanding. What struck me most, however, was the answer they gave to the question on who their role model was! One after the other, all three kids chorused the same answer……OBAMA! While not disagreeing with them, the presenter asked for their Ghanaian role models.

To my disbelief and obviously the presenter’s, they all stated categorically that, they did not have a Ghanaian role model! When asked why, their answer was simple. “All our politicians do every day on radio is to insult one another. What are we supposed to learn from adults who have no respect for themselves and one another?” The answer given by the first was quickly supported by the other two.

They then spent some time lambasting Ghanaian adults for failing them by not giving them any good leadership. They substantiated their claims by giving examples of huge sums of monies alleged on a daily basis on radio and television, to have been embezzled by Ghanaian adults.

I was shell-shocked and could not believe my ears. I could only bury my head in shame! For children that young to pass such judgment on my generation which executed Generals and Judges in the name of ‘cleaning’ society was unthinkable and unfortunate! I wondered why none of them cited their parents as their role model as we did when we were children. This was a terrible indictment on my generation and probably those ahead of mine!

Making Amends

Now the question is, how and why have we degenerated to a stage where little children do not have any role models in Ghana? The indictment on us by the three children is what our children think of us. They have seen through the insincerity with which our leaders talk and what they do in practice. Posterity and history will certainly not be kind to us if our own eleven-year-old children only see us as greedy, deceitful and indisciplined adults who have dedicated our lives to plundering anything in sight for ourselves and our families and friends, such that they have no role models.


While popular American presidents left legacies behind on account of popular decisions they took, the unpopular President Ford still left a legacy of honesty, forgiveness and national reconciliation in spite of granting presidential pardon to his predecessor President Nixon. This decision did not go down with the American public who wanted Nixon jailed. In annoyance, they voted President Ford out of office. However, years later he was vindicated and today is a highly respected former president.

The saying that a good name is better than riches adequately summarises this discussion. For many of us, tangibles like money, property, land and even good education may be considered adequate. However, certain intangible core values like integrity, honesty, selflessness, respect for one another, national vision and a sense of belonging, honour, as well as accountability, are more important than the tangibles as demonstrated by President Ford.

Without these core values, the tangibles may not be of any use. It is my hope that, after over forty years of dedicated service, we leave a positive legacy which posterity will be proud of, and not the difficulty the thirteen-year-old and the two eleven-year-old kids had when asked to name a Ghanaian role model…….”

Kofi Annan left behind a solid legacy of service to humanity that makes Ghana proud. What about Ghana’s leaders?

The writer is Brig Gen Dan Frimpong (Rtd)
Former CEO, African Peace Support Trainers Association (APSTA), Nairobi, Kenya
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