Annan and gods of destiny

NJUNGA Mulikita.

LAST week, the world woke up to the sad news that 7th UN Secretary- General, Ghanaian diplomat Kofi Annan had died after a short illness.World leaders paid glowing tributes to the 80-year-old diplomat, the first from sub-Saharan Africa and the first career bureaucrat to rise from P2; entry point for university graduates into the UN bureaucracy; to Secretary- General, the pre-eminent position in the UN bureaucracy. Kofi Annan’s extraordinary career trajectory teaches us all one lesson; the gods of destiny tend to thwart the ambitions of very visible and overtly assertive individuals.
In this case, the gods of destiny selected a quiet, unassuming and very modest individual for the world’s top diplomatic post ahead of more flamboyant, loquacious and ambitious diplomats
In my view, Annan came into the job with a profile that was uniquely different from the individuals who had held the post. The first secretary- General, Trgvie Lie, had been Foreign Affairs Minister of Norway. His successor, Dag Hammarskjöld was a State Minister of Sweden. After Hammarskjold perished in the Ndola air crash in 1961, he was succeeded by U Thant, then serving as Burma’s Ambassador to the United Nations. U Thant was replaced by Kurt Waldheim, Foreign Minister of Austria. In 1981, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) presented the very impressive candidature from Tanzania, Foreign Affairs Minister Salim A. Salim. However, Salim who had served as Tanzania’s Ambassador to the UN for eleven years was vetoed by the United States whilst Waldheim who was seeking a third term, was vetoed by the People’s Republic of China. In the ultimate analysis, both Salim and Waldheim suspended their candidatures and this paved way for Javier Perez de Cueller (Peru) to become first UN Chief from South America. When the political drama among the Great Powers at the end of 1981, was playing out in New York, who could have imagined that a soft-spoken Ghanaian bureaucrat called Kofi Annan, a specialist in budget and personnel questions in the Secretariat, would in 15 years’ time be hoisted into the position of secretary-general?
Ten years later, in 1991, the OAU summit in Abuja, Nigeria, put together a shortlist of candidates for the position of UN Secretary-General. On that list were prominent names like Olusegun Obasanjo, the Nigerian statesman, Dr. Bernard Chidzero, a highly-respected Minister of Finance of Zimbabwe, James O.C. Jonah, Assistant Secretary General in the Department of Special Political Questions (Sierra Leone), Kenneth Dzadzie, a Ghanaian diplomat then serving as Secretary- General of the UN Conference on Trade & Development (UNCTAD), and the eventual winner of the contest, the eminent scholar and former Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Boutros Boutros Ghali. Who could have peered into a crystal ball to predict that in 1996, the United States would elbow out Boutros Ghali and in his place, camera-shy Kofi Annan, a man who had never been a Minister or Ambassador, would emerge to occupy the coveted position of Secretary-General?
Thus in 1996, the gods of destiny selected the soft-spoken Annan from a pool of African diplomats who had attained formidable political/ diplomatic credentials namely; Amara Essy (Ivory Coast), Salim A. Salim(Tanzania), Ahmed Ould Abdallah (Mauritania), Hamid Algabid (Mauritania) and several other candidates.
The author is Dean of the School of Social Sciences, Mulungushi University.

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