All the world’s a stage; And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts. (As you like it, Act II, scene VII, William Shakespeare.)
Indeed, Kofi Annan, born in 1938, entered the world in the City of Kumasi in Ghana, and exited the world in 2018 as a humanitarian, a true statesman and a peacebuilder.
He became Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) a few years after the demise of the Soviet Union. The collapse of the bi-polar world reduced to the barest minimum the constraints imposed by the Cold War rivalry on the world body. It also led to the expansion of its role and responsibilities to address the new challenges and dimensions of security.
Annan’s tenure began a few years after the (re)introduction of two important international security lexicons – peacebuilding and human security. These two were popularised in the UN commissioned works by former Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s An Agenda for Peace (1992) and the Pakistani economist, Mahbub ul Haq. Boutros-Ghali’s initiative expanded the UN’s role and responsibilities to the world. It also redefined global peace and security architecture.
The 1990s was characterised by complex and intractable armed conflicts. The period saw a significant shift from inter-state to intra-state conflicts. There was a rise in the number of
failed states as well as egregious violations of human rights.As the Under-Secretary-General of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and later the Secretary-General, Annan’s task of overseeing the implementation of the new security agenda was no doubt arduous.
The fight against poverty
Throughout his life Annan committed himself to peace and security, human rights and rule of law. He was committed to ensuring respect for human rights and improving human security. Both were considered important in improving the quality of living of people. On one occasion he remarked:
…anyone who speaks forcefully for human rights but does nothing about human security and human development – or vice versa – undermines both his credibility and his cause. So let us speak with one voice on all three issues.
He pursued the agenda of improving the quality of people by getting world leaders to commit themselves to addressing the basic concerns of the world’s population – poverty. In his 2000 report, We the peoples: the role of the United Nations in the 21st century, he urged member states to:
Put people at the centre of everything we do …. to make their lives better.
In the concluding part of the report, Annan admonished:
Free our fellow men and women from the abject and dehumanising poverty in which more than 1 billion of them are currently confined.