Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General (UNSG) between 1997 and 2006, used to say:

“To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.”

The world is mourning over the loss of Kofi Atta Annan, when he passed away on August 18 at the age of 80. Described by his foundation as “a global statesman and deeply committed internationalist who fought throughout his life for a fairer and more peaceful world,” Annan proved that being widely remembered both alive and even post-death means living out his life for the cause for the people.

So what good deeds did he do throughout his life to deserve all the humble tributes and honourable recognition from around the world? Here are some of the remarkable ones worth mentioning:

1. “He was the UN.”

Even the current UNSG, Antonio Guterres, recognised Annan’s commitment to the vision of the UN.

“In many ways, Kofi Annan was the United Nations,” he commented about Annan. “He rose through the ranks to lead the organisation into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination.”

During his service as the UNSG, Annan was at the forefront of all efforts that promoted world peace and justice. Despite encountering numerous challenges in realizing these ideals, it did not stop him nor distract him from continuously doing good for the world and he faced numerous global issues head-on and attentively: AIDS/HIV, global poverty, global warming, and also the global political crisis.

‘Renewing the United Nations: A Programme for Reform’, ‘In Larger Freedom’, ‘Investing in the United Nations, For a Stronger Organization Worldwide’, ‘Mandating and Delivering: Analysis and Recommendations to Facilitate the Review of Mandates’, ‘The Brahimi Report’; these are all among his reports for reforming the UN operations.

Not only that, Annan also established many noble global-scale efforts during his tenure such as the UN Global Compact, Millennium Development Goals, Global AIDS and Health Fund, and the UN Information Technology Service (UNITeS).

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2. The leader of the world’s peacekeeping troops.

In 1993, Annan was nominated by the then-UNSG as the under-secretary-general for peacekeeping. In other words, he was put in charge of 75,000 peacekeepers around the world.

Throughout his tenure, he experienced and witnessed firsthand what war and hostile conflicts between countries brought to the world: lives were sacrificed and the rights of humans were trampled on.

This experience then moulded his ideas and plans for the world and it became a mission that he consistently fought for afterwards, for they made him realise the importance of intervening in the violation of human rights.

3. A Nobel Peace Award joint-receiver, together with the UN.

In 2001, Kofi Annan with the UN was awarded the Nobel Peace Award for the commitment to the world’s peacekeeping, and hence reforming the UN accordingly. Gunnar Berge, the chairman of the Nobel Committee described Annan as “Probably the most effective Secretary-General in the UN history,”.

Annan was a man of principles when he openly and firmly condemned the invasion of the United States of America in Iraq in 2003, a decision which was overruled by the UN Security Council at that time. Annan was recorded to claim it as ‘illegal’ which then invited the anger of Washington, yet Annan stuck on to what he believed to be right.

4. “Young people today are truly citizens of the world.”

Fostering dialogue and leadership amongst young people was among the main focus of the Kofi Annan Foundation. This foundation that was established in 2007, was aimed at ‘promoting better global governance and strengthening the capacities of people and countries to achieve a fairer, more peaceful world’.

Through its three pillars: Peace and Security, Sustainable Development, and Human Rights and the Rule of Law, Annan worked on four principles that included private diplomacy, where he and his team would informally give counsel and participate in discreet diplomatic initiatives to avert or resolve a crisis.

The other three principles are public advocacy, convening power and evidence-based analysis.

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5. Even ‘The Elders’ still care.

Post his career at the UN, Annan believed that there were still many things that need to be done to achieve world peace. He then fought side by side with Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter and other notable diplomats and activists to achieve this goal.

The organisation, which was then chaired by Annan, was brought together by Mandela. Its emphasis is on the nature of political independence to help in solving world conflicts.

6. He was genuinely concerned with the plight of Syria.

Although this effort put Annan at the centre stage of the UN again, he did express his frustration with the UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria mission. To him, the world’s big powers refused to acknowledge and honour what they have been struggling with all these while.

Motivated by his dream for peace, Annan lined out a six-point plan for peace, including ‘timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected’ and ‘to commit to stop the fighting and achieve urgently an effective United Nations that supervises the cessation of armed violence in all its forms’.

7. Leading the UN commission to investigate the crisis of Rohingya.

Perhaps this was the last responsibility put on Annan’s shoulder. He went to Myanmar, leading the Rakhine Advisory Commission, to put an end to the genocidal act towards the local Rohingya Muslim minority.

The commission released a 63-page report, which included the surprising fact that Rohingya make up the single largest stateless community in the world and 10 percent of the world’s stateless people.

The commission then urged the government to ensure the right of the Rohingyas. Not only that, they met and advocated this mission to over 1,100 politicians, village leaders, Muslim imams, monks, businessmen, and even high-level regional representatives. Annan himself called to the UN to put pressure on Myanmar.  

However, even key political parties and civil society groups boycotted the commission, despite it being established by Myanmar’s civilian government.

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Our part

Annan now has left us for good. His legacy in world peacekeeping showed us that despite the setbacks, hurdles and challenges he had to endure in achieving peace for the world, he persevered, gave his best for the good of the world and work tirelessly towards achieving it, even when sometimes support and influence were not on his side.

It is now our time to become the next Annan on every level — individual, family, society and nation — to advocate and voice out our concerns and actions for global peace, to work tirelessly for it and to not discount even the smallest of effort that could be done to nurture peace in today’s world.