The good, the bad and the ugly of the outgoing UN secretary General

As the New Year arrives, so does a new era begin for the world governing body, the United Nations Organization (UNO), whose  secretary General, Kofi Annan will be stepping down to give room to the South Korean diplomat, Ban Ki-moon as the new  top administrator. The Ghanaian born Annan assumed office on January 1st, 1997 as the seventh Secretary General of the organization, becoming the first person from a black African nation to act in that capacity.

He replaced another African, Egyptian born Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Annan was expected to serve just one term, in accordance with the body’s informal policy of rotating the post amongst all the continents, with each serving two mandates. However, Annan was deemed to have performed so excellently during his tenure of office that members of UN General Assembly in an unusual deviation unanimously decided to select him for another five-year term, beginning on January 1st, 2002. It was not all a bed of roses for Annan.

His second mandate was perhaps the most difficult for any Sec. Gen yet of the organization. With America’s led “war on terror”, coded with the so-called “preemptive strike doctrine” being fought in total disregard of any authorization from the UN, Annan and the UN had no choice but to sit and watch the events unfold. Two major scandals also rocked the organization during his second mandate, notably: corruption in the UN oil for food programme that operated in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq between 1996 and 2003 and uncountable reports of sex abuse by UN peacekeepers the world-over.

So, how will Annan be remembered?

Annan’s Legacy: The Good, The bad and The Ugly.

The Good

Although the UN has been seen as a toothless bull dog since its creation, Annan during his ten years reign took a lot of interesting measures to strengthen the efficiency of the organization. In 2005, Annan proposed sweeping reforms which if endorsed would have made the organization much more effective. The recommendations included a proposal to enlarge the Security Council, redefining the rules on authorization of use of force as well as an agreed definition of terrorism. With member states largely disagreeing to agree on major issues, things remained almost at a standstill. Whether the measures worked or not may be another story, but the intention in itself was good.

The sweeping reforms aside, Annan throughout his two mandates strongly advocated for human rights and the rule of law, a  move that won him much respect the world over. In 2001, he together with the UNO was awarded the prestigious Noble Peace Prize for his promotion and protection of human rights and development, and “for bringing new life to the organization”.

As the UN diplomat with the Council on Foreign Relations Lee Feinstein said of Annan:
“His greatest accomplishment was to set a framework that moved the UN from one century to the next, the response to mass atrocities, the central role of democracy, the importance of human rights, and a priority to development”.

He also spoke consistently against the humanitarian situation in Darfur, and pushed world leaders to intervene to stop the atrocities.

His greatest achievement is perhaps the doctrine of “humanitarian intervention”, which he introduced to bring governments and leaders massacring their own people to accountability. Despite resistance from some countries, 191 states ended up endorsing what is now known as “the responsibility to protect” in 2005.

He also fought against poverty, and the ambitious Millennium Development sought to cut world poverty in half by 2015.

The Bad & the Ugly

On the negative side, Annan will also be remembered for the corruption found in the UN ‘oil for food programme’ that operated in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq between 1996 and 2003.  The UN was actually reached it’s lowest point in 2004, when there were almost daily corruption allegations, there were reports of sex abuse by UN peacekeepers the world over as well as cases of bribery by officials of the UN. Annan’s own son, Kojo Annan was implicated in the oil for food scandal, and it was claimed that received  $300,000 as a bribe from the Swiss company Cotecna, which was responsible for inspection in the Iraqi oi for food contract.

By and large, Annan’s dream fell short of materialising to reality. The sweeping reforms he dreamt of never came to fruition, meanwhile, in a situation similar to the 1994 Rwanda genocide, we have the current Darfur crises.

Despite his open criticism, Annan was unable to contain the US and it’s allies from launching the second gulf war as part of it’s global war on terror. As Annan himself described it, the so-called war on terror, especially concerning the war in Iraq, compleetely disregarded multilateralism and human rights, fostering the doctrine of unilateralism or “go it alone” policy. Although the UN can today boast of some sucess in fighting poverty, a lot remains to be done. It’s reputation is still in shambles as a tootless bull dog, that can bark but cannnot bite.

Last Remarks

Annan says he will remain committed to the issues of the UN, even after his tenure. While delivering his farewell speech on Dec. 12, he said he has become part and parcel of the organization. “You can take the man out of the UN, but you can’t take the U.N. out of the man.” Said Annan.

Annan may be right, but it his past that will definitely make his legacy, not his future. Before he handed over control, he made one last recommendation, in his farewell speech, that a multilateral approach should be adopted to solving world crises.

“How can states hold each other to account? Only through multilateral institutions. So my final lesson is that those institutions must be organized in a fair and democratic way, giving the poor and the weak some influence over the actions of the rich and the strong.” Said Annan.
As Ban Ki-Moon steps into Annan’s shoes, we should thank Annan for the good job and bid him Adieu.

Amin George Forji

[Edited by Simon – English and clarity]



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