From the BBC:
Kofi Annan, the only black African to become UN secretary-general, has died.
The 80-year-old “passed away peacefully on Saturday after a short illness”, the foundation named after him said.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for helping to revitalise the international body, during a period that coincided with the Iraq War and the HIV/Aids pandemic.
My abiding memory of Kofi Annan is his repeatedly appearing on my TV screen shaking his head sadly and saying he was “gravely concerned” about something or other, and that something or other continuing as if he didn’t exist. I always thought he was probably a decent guy, but hopelessly weak and easily manipulated. The Iraq War probably did more damage to the UN than any other event: firstly the weapons inspectors dillied, dallied and let themselves get pushed around for a decade; then two permanent members of the security council undermined the very sanctions they voted for by doing illegal business with Saddam Hussein; then two other permanent members decided to gather up a posse and attack Iraq under the auspices of Resolution 1441, telling a pack of lies in the process. Of the five permanent members and the UN itself, the only entity that came out looking good was China. And doesn’t that tell you everything? As the UN was rendered impotent by its senior members, Kofi Annan shook is head and said he was gravely concerned. Nobody cared.
This would not be so bad were this not the first time something awful happened on his watch, but as the BBC says:
However, Annan was not immune from criticism. His critics blamed him for the UN’s failure to halt the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s when he was head of the organisation’s peacekeeping operations.
Kofi Annan was head of UN peacekeeping between 1992 and 1996. During that period we not only had the Rwandan genocide – which happened right under the UN’s nose – but also the Screbrenica massacre. I find it hard to blame the individual Dutch soldiers in blue helmets who stood by and let a few thousand Bosnians get murdered by Serbs, but the Dutch government was so ashamed they resigned en masse in 2002. Not Annan, however: despite having failed to prevent two of the worst acts of genocide in my lifetime he got promoted a short time afterwards to the top spot. I’d be interested to know what you have to do to miss out on promotion at the UN, let alone get fired.
Unfortunately, Kofi wasn’t the only Annan making headlines during his tenure either. His son Kojo was also in the papers for being neck-deep in Iraq’s oil-for-food scandal, which (again) occurred right under the nose of his father. As Mark Steyn said back in 2005 in an article that’s worth reading in full:
You’ll recall that Kofi Annan’s son Kojo – who had a $30,000-a-year job but managed to find a spare quarter-million dollars sitting around to invest in a Swiss football club – has been under investigation for some time for his alleged ties to the Oil-for-Food programme. But the investigators have now broadened their sights to include Kofi’s brother Kobina Annan, the Ghanaian ambassador to Morocco, who has ties to a businessman behind several of the entities involved in the scandal – one Michael Wilson, the son of the former Ghanaian ambassador to Switzerland and a childhood friend of young Kojo. Mr Wilson is currently being investigated for suspected bribery over a $50 million contract to renovate the Geneva offices of the UN World Intellectual Property Organisation.
The actual head of the Oil-for-Food racket, Kofi sidekick Benon Sevan, has resigned, having hitherto insisted that a mysterious six-figure sum in his bank account was a gift from his elderly aunt, a lady of modest means who lived in a two-room flat back in Cyprus. Paul Volcker’s investigators had planned to confirm with auntie her nephew’s version of events, but unfortunately she fell down an elevator shaft and died.
Most of the Ghanaian diplomatic corps and their progeny seem to have directorships at companies with UN contracts and/or Saddamite oil options. I had no idea being a Ghanaian ambassador’s son opened so many doors, and nor did they till Kofi ascended to his present eminence.
I got the impression the world gave Kofi Annan a pass on almost everything because, as an African, he was held to appallingly low standards. The same bigotry of low expectations which plagues prominent Africans everywhere was applied to Annan time and again, but reading the tributes pouring in it seems he’s been deified in the same manner as Nelson Mandela. For example:
Saddened to hear that Kofi Annan has passed away. His warmth should never be mistaken for weakness. Annan showed that one can be a great humanitarian and a strong leader at the same time. The UN and the world have lost one of their giants.
— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) August 18, 2018
Well, okay. But I remember him for being utterly ineffectual and presiding over a UN which proved itself to be both impotent and corrupt in equal measure, both of which got considerably worse when he was in charge – perhaps because he was in charge. This from the BBC sums up his career for me:
He later served as the UN special envoy for Syria, leading efforts to find a solution to the conflict.
He quit his post as UN envoy to Syria after only six months in the role, citing the failures of world powers to fulfil their commitments.
He did seem like a kind, decent person and I wish him to rest in peace, but he is undeserving of the professional platitudes being heaped on him.