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".

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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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    That Kofi Annan had a successful career as a diplomat is not in doubt. He was such a good diplomat that he did not challenge the powers that put him in high office. More disgraceful is the fact that in Rwanda and Nigeria he failed to speak up for the victims. Through him Africans missed a great chance to strengthen democracy and the rule of law. Not cool.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    The UN is a bad joke, thankfully few take it seriously.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Annan, it seems to me, brought third-world governance standards to the UN and left it an empty shell, devoid of moral value and credibility. African politics is quite an ugly affair, and even uglier when its standards are transferred to the global stage. Surely Annan would do best to retire quietly?

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Further more, Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra Leone, etc all fell, engurfuled by Civil wars what Kofi Anan did , What quick action did he take, to stop the chuping of arms and limbs in Sierra Leone? The Kimbelly Blood Diamond Accord, Can Kofi Anan or even You, tell the world, How meny Blood diamonds did the UN cofisticated? If it was not the UK, up till now, Sierre Leone war is in progress. Is that COOL?

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Hi Elizabeth, *Mr.Cool Guy* What cool had he done in office as UNSG. George W. Bush and Tony Blair violated and over rule the UN, waged war in Irak, despite the UN refusal to give the green light, Kill innocents people, women and children. What Kofi Anan, do about this crime?
    If he is Mr. Cool, then why he did not authorised the arrest of the two people, so that they can face trial at La Hague

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Mr. Annan will always be a true icon for Africa. It is a pity that some still criticize him for failing to stop the Rwanda genocide, it's important to note there are certain situations that slip through our fingers no matter how hard we try to get grip of it. Let it not be forgotten so soon that Mr. Annan's and has been one of the UN's S-G that possess what it takes to deal with autocratic leaders

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    There's nothing spectacular about Kofi Annan to fawn over. He has done well for himself and his family as a career diplomat but can't say he has done much for Africa and African problems and solutions to those problems. All he has done is serve the interest of western countries to whom he owes his position and career. Mr Cool has not been so cool in helping Africa solve its own problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Awful. You write that the "Rwanda genocide story" was "probably the biggest catastrophe he presided over". Er - am I dreaming, or are you glossing over a disgusting genocide as if it were no worse than a bad restaurant experience in East Africa?

    Incompetence doesn't even begin to describe Annan's tenure at the UN. If only Rwanda's dead could speak up.

    Shame on Africa.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Hello Elizabeth - for some unknown reason, I got a bit emotional reading your column. I really feel proud to be first, an African and a Ghanaian.

    Indeed, education is the only light that can get humanity out of "Plato'" cave regardless of colour or creed.

    Well done - keep it up Liz!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Mr Annan is the proof that Africa can produce good & competent leaders. In one swoop he has dismantled the ignorant assertions that Africans are not capable enough to aim for the highest offices/positions on the world stage.

    He has shown the importance of education.

    Whatever your view are about the guy, he is a cool dude!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Look Mr Annan was general Secretary of UN. What he have donne for Africa or Ghana! In Ghana ,children are still studying under trees that should be issues here not about his book.

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    Comment number 7.

    Mr Annan is a real statesman and doesn't matter which Africa country this book is lunched it for Africa and the world who know Mr Annan as the greatest stateman in the world. African leaders need to out of their shell and respect their people who put them in office and serve them instead of stealing from the very people who place them in office. This continent resources if Europe will love it

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Mr. Kofi's service at the UN is a proof that Educated Africans are at par with leaders of other Nations.It also shows that exercising your skill with a free mind is a driving force to Nation building.Unfortunately Our Leaders are not learing from the above & govern people that do not know how to catch Fish but beg for IT because of the lack of Educated Africans who serve abroad & not Africa

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    "A Life in War and Peace" to me will be one of the book, which must be read about anyone, who loves Africa and would want to see the continent progress. I second with Kofi Annan to continue to critise Africa and the leaders until they change their approach towards situations, and the continent as a whole.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Kofi Anan continue to make Africans proud, even after leaving the UN Secretary General post. I also agree with him that he earned the right as a son of Africa to criticize Africa and African Leaders. This reminds me of a Yoruba proverb: "If you fail to warn your family member and room-mate about eating cough causing insect, his coughing at night will keep you both up"


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