Stanley Meisler, Kofi Annan: A Man of Peace in a World of War. ( New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2007.) 372 Pages; US$30.00
Reviewed by Ozodi Osuji
In this book, the Los Angeles Times' United Nations correspondent, Stanley Meisler, set out to provide the reader with a profile of Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary General, 1996-2006. The book reads like a memoir but it was actually not commissioned by Annan though Annan was gracious enough to offer Meisler numerous interviews. Annan was not shown the manuscript for input before it went to press; nevertheless, the book reads like a deliberate positive classified advertisement for Annan.
Mr. Annan is of Fante ethnic group in Ghana. The Fante live by the coastal region so they were well acquainted with Europeans both during the slave trade and colonial times. Like other coastal people living along the Atlantic Coast of West Africa, the Fante were exposed to Western education earlier than Africans living in the interior. As a result, Kofi's ancestors were some of the best Western educated Africans. Mr. Annan's father worked for the United African Company, UAC, (earlier called the Royal Niger Company) in many capacities including being a district general manager. When he retired his position he became a regional governor in post independent Ghana. This, of course, means that Mr. Annan came from the westernized class of Ghanaians; he is part of the ruling elite of Ghana.
Kofi was born in 1938 at Kumasi, the Capital of Ashanti. His father was the regional director of UAC at the time of his birth. Mr. Annan attended elementary school and a boarding secondary school. He took his School Certificate Examination in 1957, the year that his native Ghana obtained her independence from Britain, and did not do too well and was not allowed to do form six, a condition that would have allowed him to go the only University in Ghana at that time. Annan registered at Kumasi technical college. By all accounts, he was a mediocre student but got involved with student government and was elected the student body president. In that capacity he represented his college at several national and West African students' conferences.
In 1959, a Ford Foundation official sent to the recently independent Ghana to scout for promising students with leadership potential for scholarship to train in the USA spotted Kofi at a student leadership conference. He offered Kofi Ford scholarship to study in the USA.
In 1959 Kofi registered at Macalester College in Minnesota. Macalester is a small Christian liberal arts college. Kofi studied economics and participated in sports. He established a school track record in the 100 meters dash. Three years later Kofi graduated. He obtained another Ford scholarship to go to Geneva, Switzerland, and study French and International Relations. A year into that program the World Health Organization came to his school recruiting staff.
Kofi was recruited by WHO in 1962. Thus began his career with the United Nations. He worked in the personnel office and became a personnel specialist.
While working at Geneva he met his first wife, a Yoruba (Nigerian) girl who had come to Geneva to study French. They married in 1965. The couple has two children, a boy and a girl. In 1975 they divorced and Kofi subsequently remarried his current wife, a Swede.
In 1965, Kofi transferred to the UN proper as a personnel and budget specialist. He was sent to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to organize the UN personnel office there. He was in that capacity until he left for Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However, he did briefly resign from the UN and tried to work for the Ghanaian Department of Tourism and it did not work out and he returned to his old job at Addis Ababa.
In 1970 the UN sent him to MIT for a master's degree program in business administration. Two years later he obtained his MBA and was retained at the UN New York office, Personnel Department. Kofi worked in personnel and climbed his way to becoming the Human Resource Director by the early 1980s.
In 1982, the Peruvian foreign minister, Mr. Javier Perez de Cuellar became the UN Secretary General. In putting together his staff, Javier took Kofi out of personnel and gave him a job that had to do with the UN mission: international politics. Kofi worked in several capacities for Javier and eventually became his chief of staff. Javier sent him on missions overseas to be his ears. Later he made Kofi his special representative at the UN High Commission for Refugees (whose secretary was a British diplomat).
In 1992 the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Boutros-Boutros Ghali became the Secretary General of the United Nations and made Kofi the Undersecretary for Refugee Affairs.
Kofi handled such tough calls as the refugees flowing from Serbian ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Kofi dealt with refugee issues around the world, including the 1993 Somali debacle, the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Hutus had massacred Tutsi and the Tutsi, under Paul Kegan, took over the country initiating the Hutus flight into neighboring African countries. By all accounts Kofi did an outstanding job in his refugee management position.
For any number of reasons the United States decided that she did not like Boutros Boutros Ghali and opposed giving him a second term as the Secretary General. Without knowing what was going on behind closed doors, the Security Council selected Annan as the next Secretary General of the United Nations.
Annan's tenure as the secretary general encompassed some of the most turbulent era of the United Nations. At this time, the United States, who, incidentally, pays one quarter of the UN budget, was angry at the United Nations because the General Assembly had become a haven for third world countries to make anti American speeches. Most of these countries paid little or nothing to defray the UN financial obligations. Mr. Annan's task became one of begging the Americans to pay their dues so that the world organization could pay its bills and exist. (The UN Budget is about $12 billion dollars annually; this is inclusive of the cost of peace keeping operations and the various branches of the UN such as WHO, UNESCO, etc.)
What was Annan's stellar accomplishment as the secretary general? Keeping the organization funded and going was probably his best accomplishment? As you may recall, at that time some American politicians were working to dismantle the United Nations. John Bolton, who later was foisted on the UN, called for some one to cut off the UN Building at New York in the middle (to reduce its alleged bloated bureaucracy).
Mr. Annan has excellent interpersonal skills and was able to get along with most member nations (currently, 192). It helped that he was not weeded into a particular political ideology and, therefore, could get along with socialists, capitalists, jihadists and assorted others on a mission to convert the world to their worldview.
Annan is the quintessential bureaucrat, a smooth operator who did not make waves and did not ruffle feathers. He is quiet in demeanor and speaks slowly and carefully enunciates his words. (Many Africans tend to be excitable and speak rapidly, and Americans scarcely understand them.) Annan chose his word very deliberately; there is a kind of musical cadence to his speech; in fact, his words tend to calm excited nerves, rather than irritate them some more.
There is no history of Annan offending anyone with his spoken or written words. He is truly an outstanding diplomat. Additionally, he is by nature a peace maker. Apparently, he chose the right career: to work for an organization that began in San Francisco, California in 1945 (to replace the defunct League of Nations) and is dedicated to making peace around the world.
What shall we make of Annan? He is a consummate bureaucrat and understood organizational politics and played his part without bringing down the house. (African politicians tend to run their countries to the ground; see Mugabe's Zimbabwe.) His is quite an accomplishment, for to climb the UN bureaucratic ladder, from the lowest administrative rank (Administrative officer 1) to the highest administrative class, the Secretary General, is no small achievement, particularly for an African battling white racism.
What is Annan's legacy? The jury is still out on that one. What is his liability? Many have criticized the UN's slow response to the Rwanda pogrom. Annan, an African, was in charge of refugee issues during the Hutu killing of Tutsis and his response to intelligence indicating what was in the offing apparently was slow? All the facts are not yet in, so judgment must be differed on this issue. Annan also has been criticized for his inability to get the big powers to stop Arab Janjaweed killing of black Sudanese.
By far, the darkest mark on Annan's tenure at the UN was his son, Kojo's role in the oil for food affair. After the first Iraq war the UN allowed Saddam Hussein to sell just enough oil to buy food for his people. The UN was in charge of coordinating this whole sordid affair. Apparently, there was some corruption involved in the management of that classic neocolonial program. Annan's son, Kojo, got some unbided contract hence allegation that Annan used his influence to secure a position for his son.
Several investigations have been carried out on the bungled UN oil for food program, including the one led by Paul Volker, the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, US. None of these investigations implicated Annan for any wrong doing. We shall take the exoneratory findings of these investigators as evidence that Annan was an honest international public servant.
This book is a good read for those interested in working for the UN and or for those just interested in understanding how the UN works. It gave a lot of insight into the politics of the United Nations.
Consider the politics surrounding the second Iraq war. Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, came to the United Nations and gave the Security Council doctored documents to the effect that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He attempted to obtain the UN's blessing for the US to go to war in Iraq. Failing to do so, the US reinterpreted an earlier UN Resolution to the effect that Saddam was in violation of the demand that he come clean with his entire weapons program hence justifying attack on him. Clearly, George Bush had his mind already made up to go to war with Iraq and was manipulating the UN to bless his war of choice. Kofi was opposed to that war but what could he do? Bite the finger that feeds him? If the US stops funding the UN the organization goes belly up. So he bit his tongue and went along with Bush's undisguised maneuvers to hoodwink the world to going to where he wanted to go. It takes amazing coolness of character to not alienate the big boys, the five permanent members of the Security Council ( USA, China, Russia, Britain and France) when one knows that what they, or some of them, are doing is not right. Annan had to be a very savvy diplomat to carry it out, to tolerate the shenanigans of the Bushy bullies, the arrogant Hegemon of the new world era.
The picture of Annan that emerged from reading this book is that he is an excellent bureaucrat and a peace maker.
However, it appears that he lacked initiative and it is doubtful that he could be a political leader initiating political goals for his constituency to accomplish. As Max Weber pointed out, a bureaucrat is not always a good politician; the one implements policies made by the other.
Kofi performed the role assigned to him rather well: implemented policies made by the political actors at the Security Council. It would, however, seem a mistake to assign this perfect bureaucrat a political leadership role; As Max Weber would say, the well adjusted bureaucrat lacks charisma, that indescribable quality needed in politicians, to initiate, mobilize and use men and material to accomplish political goals.
March 22, 2007
Ozodi Osuji, PhD, can be reached at email@example.com