African viewpoint: Ghana's 'Mr Cool'

Kofi Annan with a camera in South Africa (Archive shot - 2002)

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Ghanaian Elizabeth Ohene enjoys the memoirs of one of Ghana's most renowned statesmen - the former UN boss Kofi Annan.

There certainly are advantages in being a Ghanaian. Of course, there are challenges as well, but for the moment, I am concentrating on the advantages.

There is an advert in a recent issue of the Spectator magazine, for "a Spectator Events Exclusive" at which "the famous S-G is appearing" and a "renowned writer and broadcaster, will lead the discussion of Mr Annan's new book Interventions, A Life in War and Peace".

Start Quote

I am not sure that I would describe Mr Annan as oozing with charisma as one of the speakers claimed, but I would certainly agree he is cool”

End Quote

Now I just went to the launch of this book at the University of Ghana and the great man himself was there, the famous former secretary-general in the advert that is, and he told the assembled hall why he wrote the book and he went to great lengths to tell his side of the Rwanda genocide story, probably the biggest catastrophe he presided over.

He took questions from the audience and he signed copies of the book which were offered to us at a huge discount.

I did say there are advantages in being Ghanaian, remember?

Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, is probably the most famous living Ghanaian and the University of Ghana, of which he is chancellor, organised the launch of the book.

The launch did not go the way book launches normally go in these parts.

Nobody auctioned the first copy for an outrageous sum of money and, indeed, somebody suggested during the question and answer session that the book should be made available for free online.

'Goose pimples'

I was not quite sure if this was to be just for us Ghanaians or for the whole world.

It was impressive that all the speakers at the launch managed to find something interesting to say about the book and its well-known author.

Kofi Annan walks past skulls at a memorial site on 8 May 1998. Mr Annan was criticised for the UN's failure to stop the Rwandan genocide

I am not sure, though, that I would describe Mr Annan as oozing with charisma as one of the speakers claimed, but I would certainly agree he is cool.

By the way, he is apparently called "Mr Cool" by his colleagues.

I had heard some of the anecdotes that have found their way into the book, but the story about the meeting with the imprisoned Nigerian opposition leader Moshood Abiola still gives me goose pimples.

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I am African... I reserve the right to criticise Africa and Africans and I will keep on doing this ”

End Quote Kofi Annan

Mr Annan tells the story about being taken to see Chief Abiola in the middle of the night (the description of the journey there alone would justify whatever you pay for the book).

A few minutes into the conversation, as Mr Annan was negotiating the terms of his release, Chief Abiola suddenly asks: "But who are you?"

When he is told he is speaking with Kofi Annan, secretary-general of the UN, he asks: "What happened to the other one? The Egyptian?"

Suddenly you got an insight into the conditions under which Chief Abiola - the presumed winner of the 1993 presidential elections - was detained by Nigeria's then-military regime.

Chief Abiola did not know that Boutros Boutros Ghali was no longer the UN secretary-general.

Then there is the anecdote about the press conference in Gabon with a group of African journalists.

Why, Mr Annan was asked, did he so often criticize Africa and African governments?

Moshood Abiola (20 August 1993) Moshood Abiola died while in detention by Nigeria's military

Part of his answer to this question is music to my ears and makes me proud to call Mr Annan my compatriot.

"I am African," he said, "and I reserve the right to criticise Africa and Africans and I will keep on doing this."

I really must borrow this answer whenever I am taken to task for criticising African leaders.

The Spectator magazine called their event - which takes place on 17 January - with Mr Annan the perfect Christmas gift. The tickets cost $32 (£20) plus value added tax.

Well, I just had the perfect gift and I did not pay a penny for it.

There are advantages in being Ghanaian.

If you would like to comment on Elizabeth Ohene's column, please do so below.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    too bad people think the UN is a powerful institution. Folks it is not. The UN works when member states wants it to. Remember Syria (Russia and China's veto powers). I think Mr Annan was a puppet for the US and its allies but who can blame him? they put him there so they call the shots. Bang Kim Moon is no different, until the UN becomes a governing body,it will be just that. UNITED NATIONS

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Mr. Annan is free to stay around -- but his "cool" has been severely dented by persistent "mapendeleo" (one-track listening) quite visible in the following instances:

    1. Rwanda Genocide (1994)
    2. Iraq Oil Scandal (2000)
    3. Kenya Election Campaigns (2012)

    Repair that weakness Bwana SG and you will be a great man indeed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    I am of the opinion that Annan was a coward. He never used his brains, he was a disapontment to Zimbabweans in Particular when he was still a UN-SG. He with Grca Machel,tried to resolve the Zimbabwean crisis when he had left the UN-SG post hence in a weaker position! Mugabe told him to go to hell. Ironically he refused to go hell, he is still in Ghana? What a shame from a

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I bet most of you would have blamed western countries for invasion. The Bigger question is why can't Africans live in harmony with each other? We need to take responsibility and stop blaming others for our own actions.What is gravious is a group of black Africans diabolically planning to wipe out another group of Africans.As an African, do you consider your nation first or your tribe?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    This article's Afrocentrism is disturbing. The idea seems to be - "he's one of us, he must be OK, and let's overlook his disastrous tenure at the UN".

    This ethnicity-based adulation is badly misplaced. I expected more from the BBC. I never expected much from Annan - and, indeed, he delivered litle that was positive and much that was negative.


Comments 5 of 23


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