After many dignitaries gathered in the welcoming sun of Accra to bid farewell to the consummate diplomat and quintessential gentleman, permit me to honour his memory, with all deference, through the lenses of my own personal experiences:
1. British School of New Delhi – I arrived in India in August 1997 and was admitted to the British School of New Delhi. I was soon to be referred to my history and international affairs teacher as Kofi Annan, simply because I was Ghanaian. Indeed, it was her words of encouragement that inspired me to contest for the Presidency of the Student Council. In winning the election, I was told that I had, much like HE Kofi Annan, made small history by becoming the first black President of the Student Council. He will forever remain an inspiration to generations.
2. University of Kent – In my final year, the African Caribbean Society decided to institute an awards event to celebrate its members. I was honoured to be the first recipient of the “Ebony” award (Best Male Student). I am yet to fully grasp why I was given the award but in receiving it, I acknowledged the great inspiration of Mr. Annan on young Africans studying in abroad. He was a man who strived for a more just and fairer society, committed himself to building bridges and served as a fierce advocate for equality. We all have much to learn from him.
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3. London School of Economics and Political Science – One of my four elected modules in my LLM was United Nations Law. I was keen to have a better and thorough understanding of the UN and the potential it possesses to help shape global peace and prosperity. Professor Christopher Greenwood (former Judge of the International Court of Justice) was the lecturer. A debonair, he had enormous respect for the UN as an institution and even more, its Secretary-General, in spite of Kofi Annan’s objection to the invasion of Iraq, which Britain together with the USA had spearheaded. It was a moment of pride to be the sole Ghanaian in his class. Kofi Annan made it a whole lot easier to receive affirmation. Da yie!
4. Joining the Foreign Ministry – In February 2006, my father alerted me to an announcement in the newspaper for recruitment into the Foreign Ministry. Although I was in my final year of the professional law course, I had been approached by a law firm to join them upon completion. However, I knew instinctively that joining the Ministry would set me on an adventurous course. I would get an opportunity to put into practice what I had learnt at LSE and perhaps even meet HE Annan in the course of my work. A dream that came to pass in 2009 when he called on the Foreign Minister in Accra. I was not supposed to be in the meeting room, but they couldn’t stop me. I made a forceful case, to the chagrin of the Chief of Protocol, to be given, together with a few colleagues of mine an opportunity to greet him. We were after all the young ones who would directly benefit from an interaction with the ‘big man’. So I got my first handshake! May his descendants forever be blessed!
5. International Law Course – In July 2010, I joined a group of bright and intelligent young lawyers from across the world in Geneva for a course convened during the session of the International Law Commission. We were put into groups to undertake a critical thinking exercise. When it was time to make the presentation to the class and the ILC members present, the Egyptian colleague looked at me and said: “I think our friend from Kofi Annan’s country should do the honours”. I gave a wry smile and breathed deeply. Osei Kwame abr3 but Yah is faithful and gracious!
7. Diplomacy – In my limited time as a Diplomat, I was fortunate to have attended many multilateral meetings and engaged in often challenging negotiations. In a particular meeting where a contentious issue with highly entrenched positions, was being considered, tempers began to flare. In the heat of the moment, a colleague approached me and said ‘we could benefit from the Kofi Annan spirit and approach’. That was evidently a ringing endorsement of the timeless principles that Kofi Annan espoused: tolerance, understanding, mutual respect and above all, seeking the collective interest. May the spirit of excellence exemplified by HE Kofi Annan be found in all of us.
8. Joining the UN – No sooner had I joined the World Health Organization to work as part of the Secretariat to the High-level Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity when I was reminded of the enormous appeal and goodwill that Ghana had simply because of the exploits of the venerable Kofi Annan. During a coffee break of the Commission’s first meeting, I approached one of the Commissioner’s, who originally hails from the Caribbean but served as an Ambassador of a leading world power to the UN. Upon introducing myself, she affirmed “your countryman represented a true reflection of statesmanship, bravery and candour. In him, you have an excellent role model”.
9. Inauguration of President Akufo Addo – As fate would have it, the area designated for my VIP pass was full, but not the VVIP, which was a few meters away. I saw some familiar faces, including colleagues from the foreign ministry. Most of them were on protocol duties and serving as liaisons to the foreign dignitaries. They welcomed me as one of their own. It was not long before the big hitters started arriving. A procession of business tycoons, heads of UN Agencies, Foreign Ministers, former Presidents and finally Presidents. Yet it was Kofi Annan and his wife’s arrival that generated a buzz. He charmed us with his disarming smile and inimitable presence. Bless his soul!
10. A firm but warm handshake – Receiving HE Annan to the WHO headquarters premises was most humbling. My Director and I escorted him to his car after delivering his statement. He had another pressing engagement. We took a picture and bid him well. He responded with a graceful smile. A shining light and beacon of hope!
Busumuru HE Kofi Atta Annan. Ghana da wu ase. May we all be inspired to do and give a bit more of ourselves for the good of humanity. Mmoo Atta!
Da mirifa due!