sat3 pglogo
Founder & Publisher's Notes
Kofi Annan, the power and burden of the U.N. 

by Chido Nwangwu 

June 6, 1997, at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology is no ordinary day for the world's chief diplomat, and , in a strategic, conceptual sense, for the world itself. As the special guest addressing the graduating class of '97 rightly noted: "as this century draws to a close, we are justified in concluding that international organization has helped tilt the balance toward the domain within which the power of human reason prevails," his audience reveled in the fact that one of their own, an alumnus, was beginning his service of a five-year term as secretary-general of the world's premier international organization, the United Nations. The guest, Kofi Annan, born into aprominent family of Ghana's Fante people on April 8, 1938 in Kumasi, had graduated with a master's degree from the MIT's management from the Sloan School of Management in 1972. 

This event is important to understanding what informs Annan's disposition, strenght and weakness regarding international relations, global conflicts and decision making. He had drawn parallels between science and diplomacy; arguing that in both fields reason is used to engage the forces of unreason. 

Annan, who I had the privilege of attending his presentation on the role of the United Nations in a changing world at Houston's Rice University on Thursday April 23, 1998, has devoted his career to the United Nations, serving in Ethiopia, New York, Geneva, and Egypt, pointed to a litany of tragedies in the 20th century, including the two World Wars and the Holocaust and cited other accomplishments made under global "reason" and the auspices of the United Nations, such as the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the Biological Weapons Convention. Basically, he celebrates the power of human and transnational reason. But in that same lofty belief lies the weakness of his engagement with certain issues in the world, such as dealing with Iraq's Saddam Hussein. 

As a pragmatist, I still believe there are very dangerous and outlaw nations, ideological maximalists and techno-terrorists, who have sought (as Saddam did in Kuwait) and others who still seek, to impose their will, by brute on unwilling neighbors and sometimes on its own pouplation. Reason is not the preferred currency in their international business. By extension, the weight and burden of the general disposition of the U.N and Annan to avoid the use of force, in nearly most situations, buy time for the dangerous, rogue republics of the world; and at worse, an idealistic, pacific internationalism. For example, U.N's delayed action in the Congo cannot be removed from the later day despoliation of that central African country by Mobutu Sese Seko. Annan has come under severe criticism from some African scholars and presidents of some Southern Africa country, chiefly Burundi and Rwanda, for what they consider to be the sloopy, slow effort on the part of the United Nations during the genocidal massacre of the people of that once bedevilled country. It was an event which required more than pious appeal to reason, and hopes that righteous reasoning will overcome systematized devilry. It did not. 

Therefore, the pacific and "reason" paradigm of the U.N on the madness in Rwanda and Burundi (1994-1997) stand as historical benchmarks which shatter the puritanical belief in human reason. What am I saying? There are certainly good and evil forces in the world. There are evil forces for whom, I strongly believe, the only reasonable line of constructive restraint and 'reason' must be appropriate, definitive and , in some cases, blinding force. 

Force cannot be dismissed as a vital component of settling some issues in the games nations play. Von Clauesewitz, the world's foremost theorist on war and force in the 19th century, indeed recommends using such lethal force to weaken the resolve of an aggressor/opponent in conflict. He is right on the money! Therefore, Annan's success as Secretary General must contemplate this factor, however uncomfortable it may seem to the pacific establishment at the U.N., and amongst :peaceniks. Best validation for my argument: force blew the under-belly of Hitler's murderous Third Reich. Second, international force contributed immensely to ending the heinous Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade championed at the time by Spain and Portugal. Third, the Royal British Navy employed lethal force to remove the Argentinian army from the Falklands Islands (otherwise known as the Malvinas, depending on which side of the conflict you are). 

I do not suggest that the U.N become the world's policeman rather it should not become the world's unending talk-shop, where dictators and international pariahs hide under multilateralism, internal affairs" and group voting . For example, as a survivor of the Biafran war (Nigeria 1966-70), I am aware of the fact that a stronger United Nations could have halted the slaughter of millions of Igbos, Annans, Efiks, Ibibios, many south easterners and other Nigerians caught in the cross-fire of that war. 

One of the key burdens of the U.N is the severe limits on its financial and operational resources. Consequently, even if the U.N seeks to become a quasi-military player, it still does not have the resources to execute such as a mandate. Regardless, it is better position in real politik when it is seen and actual respected as having some functional capacity to deter and bring the world together to halt aggresssion and its other emanations. 

Therefore, I believe it is better for the U.N to bring people together where it can otherwise it use the threat of force through coalitions, otherwise it will deconstruct into a global paper-tiger-chief with the reckless comments and childish irreverence of Republican activists such majority leader Trent Lott (Mississippi) and Gerald Solomon (N.Y) against the person and office of Annan. The same Solomon who claims the best defense for her wife is to arm her with .38 gainst criminals with uzi machine guns has expresed a wish to do :what his parents did to some persons of different ethnicity: horse-whip 'em. On his unique way of showing statesmanship and international stature, the bespectacled gentle Senator from Mississippi had the time to weave and bob, and contradict himself in front of any available tv camera on the Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky scandal during the same period and days he did not have the time to meet with Annan who had travelled to DC to rally support for the U.N. Now, you don't have have to wonder much how the Republican leadership hands their scalp to Bill Clinton as meanies and isolationalists during elections! and seek that U.S obey the basic rule of international and :domestic organizations: pay your legitimate debts. The U.S. debt to the United Nations at the end of 1997 was $1.3 billion for regular dues and peacekeeping expenses. It is rising to $1.8 billion in 1998. The best support for his reorganizaing of the U.N will include paying such debts. 

He is a role model for people of differing ethnicities, inspiring at once, his compatriots and professionals of all stripes. For a man who has served the world as Assistant Secretary General for Program Planning, Budget and Finance; head of human resources and security coordinator; director of the budget; chief of personnel for the High Commissioner for Refugees;administrative officer for the Economic Commission for Africa; Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations and moving in 1996 into his current position as Secretary General of the United Nations, Annan has remained a class act and devoted to the interests of peoples of the world. 

Personally, I can only wish the world recognizes Kofi Annan's vision that as an international organization, the U.N is "an experiment in human cooperation on a planetary scale." Hopefully, he will realize his, thus far, excellent 25-year service as an international diplomat "working hard to firm up the grounds on which the project of international organization rests." Although I was very disappointed at Rice University by the fact that Annan avoided mentioning any African nationalist as a role model in his answer to a question about who influenced his worldview. His answer was similar to an American high school student citing personalitie he did not have reasonable intellectual or visual relationship with as role model while ignoring Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, or even later day Ronald Reagan and, for some, Bill Clinton. At best, it was a needless oversight; at worse, he was walking away from his shadow and giants who fought and paved the way for his later ascent. 

Why? Annan was a teenager during charismatic Kwame Nkrumah's presidency in Ghana (He was the first president of Ghana). No matter your political persuasion in Ghana at the time, Nkrumah had towering intellectual and personality which adequately placed him in the natural position of an icon for millions in Ghana and elsewhere. 

Regardless of that error of judgement, as a fellow African, I am very proud of the accomplished global citizen and our brother, Kofi. 

*Chido Nwangwu, Founder & Publisher of USAfrica The Newspaper and, Houston-based public policy and business, returned recently from travelling with U.S president Bill Clinton on his 6-nation tour of the African continent. Also, he is winner of The HABJ 1997 Journalism Excellence Award 
April 26, 1998 

Back to:
News Index,