Kofi An­nan em­bod­ied the spirit of the UN

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - News - AN­TÓNIO GUTER­RES An­tónio Guter­res, sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the United Na­tions, de­liv­ered this eu­logy at the fu­neral of Kofi An­nan in Ac­cra, Ghana, on Septem­ber 13.

SINCE the shock of for­mer United Na­tions’ Sec­re­tary-gen­eral Kofi An­nan’s death, I have been re­flect­ing on what made him so spe­cial.

To my mind, it is sim­ply this: Kofi An­nan was both one-of-a-kind and one of us.

He was an ex­cep­tional global leader – and he was also some­one vir­tu­ally any­one in the world could see them­selves in: those on the far reaches of poverty, con­flict and de­spair who found in him an ally; the ju­nior UN staffer fol­low­ing in his foot­steps; the young per­son to whom he said un­til his dy­ing breath “al­ways re­mem­ber, you are never too young to lead – and we are never too old to learn.”

Like few in our time, Kofi An­nan could bring peo­ple to­gether, put them at ease, and unite them to­ward a com­mon goal for our com­mon hu­man­ity.

There is an old joke: The art of di­plo­macy is to say noth­ing es­pe­cially when you are speak­ing!

Kofi An­nan could say ev­ery­thing, some­times with­out ut­ter­ing a word. It came from the dig­nity and the moral con­vic­tion and the hu­man­ity that was so deep in him.

He had that gen­tle voice, that lilt that made peo­ple smile and think of mu­sic. But his words were tough and wise. And some­times the graver a sit­u­a­tion, the lower that voice would get.

We would lean in to lis­ten. And the world would lean in. And we were re­warded by his wis­dom.

Mys­ti­cal sense of UN role Kofi An­nan was coura­geous, speak­ing truth to power while sub­ject­ing him­self to in­tense self-scru­tiny. And like his pre­de­ces­sor as UN Sec­re­tary-gen­eral, Dag Ham­marskjold, he had an al­most mys­ti­cal sense of the role of the United Na­tions as a force for good in a world of ills.

All of this added up to a re­mark­able record of achievement.

He pi­o­neered new ideas and ini­tia­tives, in­clud­ing the Mil­len­nium De­vel­op­ment Goals and the land­mark re­forms in his re­port, “In Larger Free­dom”.

He opened the doors of the United Na­tions, bring­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion closer to the world’s peo­ple and en­gag­ing new part­ners in pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, de­fend­ing hu­man rights and com­bat­ing HIV/AIDS and other killer dis­eases.

Kofi An­nan was the United Na­tions and the United Na­tions was him.

He was also my good friend. We marched through life to­gether in many ways.

When the peo­ple of Ti­mor-leste were seek­ing self-de­ter­mi­na­tion, we worked to­gether – he from the United Na­tions, and I as Prime Min­is­ter of Por­tu­gal – to sup­port the peace­ful res­o­lu­tion of their plight.

When the UN Refugee Agency needed new lead­er­ship, Kofi blessed me with his trust in ask­ing me to fill that role – and then pro­vided un­wa­ver­ing sup­port to pro­tect and shel­ter the most vul­ner­a­ble of the vul­ner­a­ble.

Now that I oc­cupy the of­fice Kofi once held, I am con­tin­u­ally in­spired by his in­tegrity, dy­namism and ded­i­ca­tion.

To him, in­dif­fer­ence was the world’s worst poi­son.

Even af­ter fin­ish­ing his term as sec­re­tary-gen­eral, he never stopped bat­tling on the front-lines of di­plo­macy.

Point­ing the way to peace He helped to ease post-elec­tion ten­sions in Kenya, gave his all to find a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to the bru­tal war in Syria and set out a path for en­sur­ing jus­tice and rights for the Ro­hingya peo­ple of Myanmar.

Kofi strad­dled many worlds, North and South, East and West. But he found his surest an­chor in his African roots and iden­tity.

The great Nel­son Man­dela, ac­cus­tomed to be­ing called Madiba, had his own nick­name for Kofi, and called him “my leader”. This was no jest. Kofi was our leader, too.

When I last saw him not long ago at the UN, his bear­ing was how I will al­ways re­mem­ber him: calm yet de­ter­mined, ready to laugh but al­ways filled with the grav­ity of the work we do.

He is gone now and we will miss him im­mensely. But I am sure of this – if we con­tinue to lean in and lis­ten hard, we will still hear the words and wise coun­sel of Kofi An­nan.

“Please carry on,” I hear him say­ing. “You know what to do: Take care of each other. Take care of our planet. Recog­nise the hu­man­ity in all peo­ple. And sup­port the United Na­tions – the place where we can all come to­gether to solve prob­lems and build a bet­ter fu­ture for all”.

Let us con­tinue to heed that voice of grace and rea­son – that voice of moral­ity and sol­i­dar­ity. Our world needs it now more than ever. As we face the head­winds of our trou­bled and tur­bu­lent times, let us al­ways be in­spired by the legacy of Kofi An­nan – and guided by the knowl­edge that he will con­tinue speak­ing to us, urg­ing us on­ward to the goals to which he ded­i­cated his life and truly moved our world.

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