Tribute to Kofi Annan - Extracts from a Speech by Luwellyn Landers MP (ANC) in the National Assembly on Thursday 06 September 2018

Madame Speaker/ Honourable Chairperson-

Ghana gained her independence from Britain in 1957 and without wasting time the following year she hosted the historic All African People’s Conference in Accra presided over by the first President of an independent African nation, Nkwame Nkrumah. Invitations were extended far and wide and South Africa was duly represented by E’skia Mphahlele, Patrick Duncan, Alfred Hutchinson and Jordan Ngubane. In that meeting, Nkrumah declared:

“the independence of Ghana was meaningless until it was linked to the independence of Africa”.

Today the South African parliament pays homage and a special tribute to one of the greatest sons of that great country of Ghana, Kofi Atta Annan.

It is little wonder that the country of Nkwame Nkrumah, the first Africa country to give Africa hope of the reality of freedom and independence, must be the very same country that gave the world a Kofi Atta Annan. From the loins of a proud and colourful people with their toga dress, was born a man whose hold on the strings of humanity was to be felt far and wide. It was not by dint of fate but by a purposeful fore-ordained promise that he rose from the humble beginnings to capture the imaginations of mankind. The warm humility of the people of Ghana was not lost to mankind and to an impressionable lad called Kofi. The enduring compassion and regard for the true welfare of others is a hallmark that has stayed with Kofi Annan all his life. Kofi Annan was a product of a proud nation that has tamed iron and that has mined gold from time immemorial. A nation that is proud of its aristocracy and that is steep in the traditions of ancient African traditional authority.

Kofi Annan is a descendant of generations of Ghanaian tribal chiefs. He was born on 08 April 1938, one of twin sons of the manager of a chemical company in Ghana, who was in line to become chief of the Fante tribe.

Kofi Annan was raised in the tradition of chieftaincy and the many royal meetings in the traditional courts were an early basis of his later diplomatic upbringing. The consensus building format of conflict resolutions was to stay with him throughout his adult life. He chose diplomacy as the best possible career at a time when many chose politics, teaching, priesthood and the legal fraternity.  His soft spoken nature made him a natural candidate to this ancient craft because he soon realised that he was a born diplomat. His placid demeanour made him wear the diplomatic mantle with ease. His honesty and candid views attracted even his adversaries to engage with his ideas.

Kofi Annan was entrusted with greatness from the time of his birth and when the time came he embraced the full meaning of that natural calling to higher service of humanity. Rising through the ranks of the United Nations from the lowest position to its ultimate helm, bespeaks a great feat and triumph of his genial soul. He carved a lasting niche for himself and for his continent in those gilded corridors in New York and embosomed his name forever in its annals. Ever conscious and ever vigilant to his historic mission and compassionate about the African agenda, Kofi Annan broke down all the barriers of prejudice and race to assume and sustain the highest office in the UN with pride.

Kofi Annan rose to the top of the United Nations despite all the obstacles and restrictions placed in the way of anyone coming from the developing global south. Despite his rise, he was not blinded by the laurels of office nor was he indifferent to the struggles of the African continent and other countries of the global south, creating the space for their voices to the heard. He made it his mission to fight for the transformation of the United Nation.

London’s Daily Telegraph reminds us that on reform Annan did not disappoint. He stripped a thousand redundant posts from the United Nations, and made a string of popular appointments to some of its bodies, including former Irish Prime Minister Mary Robinson as High Commissioner of the UN Human Rights Council.

To seek to transform is to negate exclusion which brings with it marginalisation and discrimination. This is the incomplete agenda that South Africa will be taking up when she assumes the seat in the UN Security Council in January. We are enjoined by historical ties that bind us to continue the struggle that Kofi Annan waged for the people of Africa and the developing world.

As a lasting tribute to Kofi Annan we must struggle to re-install multilateralism at a time like the present. As a lasting remembrance of that great son of Africa, we must reject the notion of arbitrary conduct in the affairs of the world. Kofi Annan was a firm believer in multi-lateralism. Equally, he was a firm believer in the transformation of the UN global governance institutions, systems and architecture to make them fairer to the countries of the developing south. He actively lobbied for the transformation of the Bretton Woods Institutions. In his quiet unassuming manner he made an enormous contribution in this regard.

It was under his watch that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were crafted and adopted. It was also under his watch that the UN Commission on Human Rights was transformed into a fully-fledged Human Rights Council in 2006.

Moreover, it was during his tenure that the United Nations became far more sensitive and co-operative to working with African countries to resolve African problems. For example, SANDF troops were deployed to the DRC to assist in conflict prevention.

Even after he stepped down as Secretary-General he continued to champion the cause of multi-lateralism, democracy, peace and stability, human rights and development of countries of the south. He worked tirelessly but quietly in exposing human rights abuses, resolving conflicts and building democracy i countries like Myanmar, Kenya and Syria

We must insist on consensus building and must stand firm on the principle of respect for the sanctity of humanity. We must dismiss the bullies with a united cry that power and might are not always right.

As we mark the centenary of Nelson Mandela we are reminded of the many great sons of Africa that we have shared with mankind.  Thomas Grey wrote in his famous Elegy written in the country church yard that:

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen
and waste its sweetness on the desert air.”

Kofi Annan did not blush unseen nor did he waste his sweetness in the desert air. Alan Moorehead in his book The Russian Revolution once said that “Half measures are no good in this wilderness any more than a leaking boat is any good in an ocean. One needs certainty, a sense of security, something to hold on to in the dangerous void- and it has to be absolutely solid.” Kofi Amman gave us that assurance that “half measures are still not good in this wilderness.” Humanity needs a sense of security, a sense of stability and a sense of peace that can fill this dangerous void.

Humanity dips its flags in sorrow at the loss of one of its finest sons. May his soul rest in eternal peace.


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