Kofi Annan © City Press Photo
Reading the news that former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan passed away on August 18, 2018 left me feeling so downhearted. Annan served as the former UN Chief from 1997 to 2006 and is notably the only black African to have held the position. Originally from Ghana, Annan was also co-awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for his, “work for a better organized and more peaceful world” (Nobel Peace Prize 2001).
I like to think of the Secretary-General as a multifaceted diplomat, CEO, advocate and face of the mission and goals of the United Nations. For those who may not know, the UN consists of sovereign states (currently there are 193 Member States that are equally represented in the United Nations General Assembly) that together serve to, “maintain international peace and security, protect human rights, deliver humanitarian aid, promote sustainable development, and uphold international law”.
As a young girl growing up close to Manhattan, I remember touring the United Nations headquarters in New York City with my parents and feeling overwhelmed by the tremendous gravity of what was happening in that space (I know there’s a photo album of that particular visit because I so clearly remember sitting in the seat of the Permanent Representative of Colombia to the UN and my mom making me smile for a picture – I was an extremely shy child, and my cheeks were beet red with embarrassment -).
Additionally, as an undergraduate student studying International Relations in Washington, DC, I was well exposed to intergovernmental organizations (IGO) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) both in and out of the classroom. I learned about their roles within countries and the world at large, and also how they function and can impact everything from economies, to the media, various population groups and even how they can impact the drafting and passing of domestic and foreign policy.
Specifically, I loved the United Nations “Millenium Development Goals” (UNMDG). The UNMDG were established in 2000 and set to be achieved by 2015. As a quick summary these goals (there were 8) were:
- To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
- To achieve universal primary education
- Promote gender equality and empower women
- Reduce child mortality
- Improve maternal health
- Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
- Ensure environmental sustainability
- Create a global partnership for development
While Kofi Annan had numerous successes throughout his career, the UNMDG…what started as this grand idea, the implementation of the plan was so profoundly inspirational to me.
To backtrack, I’m certainly not a Pollyanna (I’m well aware of the bad things that can happen and are happening in the world and can individually occur in someone’s life). Likewise, I don’t think that there is an IGO or even NGO that is entirely perfect, there is always room for improvement. I still believe in the mission of the United Nations. I do believe that the discourse among nations, the ability for countries to come together to the table (as part of the UN) and listen to each other and work together can positively change the lives of citizens, can reduce suffering, inequality and bring much-needed peace and justice to our world.
So, I feel saddened that the world has lost such an empath, humanitarian and strong advocate.
May he rest in peace.