SEPTEMBER 15, 2018


The passing away of Kofi Annan was covered around the world yet particularly felt by international civil servants who had worked with our Ghanaian colleague since he joined as an international civil servant.

He was the first to rise from the ranks to the top leadership position and handled himself with grace and dignity. "No one could humiliate you without your own consent," he would say while gently, yet firmly, dealing with controversial attitudes.

Secretary-General Annan launched a summit for the Development Goals, which remain a favored target by the international community. He worked through the U.N. system from personnel to budget to Peace Keeping to field assignments, and finally to the 30th floor of the Secretariat's New York Headquarters.

Like everyone, working in a multinational community or indeed working on issues, he had his keen supporters and detractors. He had no time for diversions and focused on doing his best as he saw best. Even during the controversial "Food for Oil" debacle, he tried to maintain his dignity although his emotions were somehow reflected in his voice and his gaze.

His name in Ashanti meant Friday, the day he was born. Though it sounded to most others like their morning drink, he easily went along, when for example New York Cardinal at the Holy Family traditional ceremony at the opening of the Assembly, mentioned that he remembered the new Secretary-General when having his morning coffee. One of his aides tried to suggest pronouncing it like "Sophie" but everyone maintained the usual pronunciation. Indeed, that made him more known and popular, particularly when his open media approach and his sense of public relations contact, plus his actual work, turned him into a "Diplomatic Rockstar." He was obviously helped by his new wife, Nane, an outstanding lawyer and judge from Sweden, who in her own right made a valuable impact.

When U.N. Secretary-General Guterres signed a book of condolences at the U.N. Headquarters in the presence of a diplomatic community and staff, he pointed out that "Kofi Annan's years in office were an exciting time. He put forward new ideas. He brought new people into the United Nations family. He spoke passionately about our mission and role. He created a renewed sense of possibility both inside and outside our organization about what the U.N. could do and be for the world's people."

More to the point, he reflected the crucial role of international civil servants and his former colleagues who dedicated their careers and many of them who gave the ultimate sacrifice. An overlooked value of devoted international civil servants gave way to a lack of relevance in the current U.N. role. It is only through inspiring international civil servants, recognizing the role, and involving them effectively, that the international community would look forward to a refreshing new role for the U.N.