The confident Ghanaian
His calm disposition was one of his outstanding qualities. He was by no means a pushover.Far from it.
And the air of simplicity around him was there for all to see.
Some people have wondered how he managed to keep his distinctive Ghanaian accent after all these years abroad.
But all the things we liked and admired about him point to one thing – his confidence.
In his “Interventions: A life in war and peace”, Kofi Annan walked us through the basic influences in his life – one of whom was his father whose job brought him into contact with many people in the country.
He said of his father: “My father worked as an executive of the United Africa Company, a subsidiary of Lever Brothers, the Anglo-Dutch multinational corporation that later became globally known as Unilever.
His job kept us moving from city to city, town to town… and in this shifting panorama of home and belonging, no part of the country was foreign to us.”
He continued: “every day would bring a new face, a different language or tribal tradition into our home and teach us a life lesson about the richness of the mix and mash of cultures and peoples.”
He was grateful for such an upbringing. He summed up the net effect of his upbringing as follows: “…we were raised non-tribal in a tribal society, political moderates in an era of radical activism and conciliators in a time of choosing sides.”
He also discussed his running battle with his nationalist father on the role that he, Kofi Annan, was to play in the then newly independent state of Ghana.
As a result, he had Ghana on his mind all through his studies.
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After completing his masters degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a Sloane fellow, he went to the United Nations but was actively seeking opportunities to serve his motherland.
Till he landed one.
He received an offer from the Ghana Tourist Development Company – an entity under the supervision and control of the Ministry of Tourism.
“The aim (of the tourism company) was to boost tourism to Ghana by encouraging investment, establishing hotels along the coast, and creating duty-free shops to attract tourists to visit and shop.
What I found, instead, was a Ghana transformed by military coups.
The country was now living under the heavy shadow of military rule – and defined by a debilitating combination of stultifying corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency”, he noted.
At this realisations, his days were numbered in Ghana.
According to him, “If it had been just a matter of bureaucratic obstacles, I suspect I would have stayed in Ghana and sought to change the system from within…between the forces of bureaucratic inertia, bad governance and military rule, I saw little possibility of advancing the kind of change that was so necessary to Ghana’s – and Africa’s progress I reluctantly concluded that I would have to pursue my career outside my home country.”
In an interview he gave to the BBC some years ago, he demonstrated how his Ghanaian upbringing influenced his roles and duties at the United Nations and international diplomacy in general.
He noted: “You don’t hit somebody on the head when you have your fingers behind their teeth.
This simple proverb throws into sharp focus the values of negotiations, discussions, interdependence and the peace settlement of disputes.”
Those who knew him personally have spoken of how amiable he was and also his sharp wits. Kofi Annan once told a story about a meeting he had with the members of the Security Council when he failed to get reform passed in his self-imposed six-week time period.
“I got up and apologised for not getting U.N. reform passed,” Annan said. “And then Sergey Lavrov (then Russian Ambassador to the United Nations and currently Foreign Minister) stood up and said, ‘God took a shorter time than you to create the entire world.’” Annan Replied: ‘But God had the opportunity to work alone’.
There was laughter from his audience.
Mr Annan deserves to rest in peace.
He has served his nation and indeed the world well.