A Tribute To Mr. Kofi Annan: In The Midst Of The United Nations State Of Inertia
June 27, 2002
Editor’s Note: On graduation day at Northwestern University (June 22nd, 2002), Artemus W. Gaye (a Scholar in Residence/ Research Affiliate at Northwestern University’s African Studies Program in Illinois) led a peaceful protest on campus against UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who spoke at the program and was also awarded an honorary doctorate degree. Even though the University authorities warned them that there would be no protest or banners at the graduation, the group led by Mr. Gaye (mainly African students, few campus activists), was part of a shrewd plan in distributing this document to the graduates and guests attending the ceremony. A copy was also submitted to Mr. Annan's office. Below is the full text of the group’s position:
Dear graduates, parents, families, friends, and all:
CONGRATULATIONS! Graduation day is indeed a time of celebration by the graduates, honorees, and well-wishers. To you the graduates, wherever life and career’s journeys may lead you, may you find courage, wisdom and strength to meet the challenges ahead in the real world! While we celebrate this great occasion, we just want to call your attention to the purpose of this article. It is to give you another view of the commencement’s speaker, Mr. Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary General.
Furthermore, this article is written as collaboration between refugees, activists, and ordinary folks who are concerned about the state of affairs of the United Nations under the leadership of Mr. Kofi Annan. Thus, our true desire is to register our empathy and support for the voiceless, powerless, and faceless people around the world who are victims of injustice and silence of this international body. In addition, this action is an expression of our frustration over the handling of international crisis around the world by the UN especially in Africa.
For the past three days, thousands of ordinary citizens, and refugees in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Liberia, and even in the USA have been part of a silent and peaceful protest by means of a hunger strike. This is an attempt to help bring an awareness of the plight of people in Africa. Ironically, this falls on the observance of World Refugees day.
While Mr. Annan is being hailed as a peacemaker around the world and winning numerous honors and laureates, it must be known that his administration (from 1993 to present), has witnessed the upsurge of numerous civil blood baths and crimes against humanity, since the end of World War II and the so-called Cold War. We are reminded of his reluctance to send or mobilize peacekeepers to Rwanda with a mandate to halt the genocide. In fact, Kofi Annan’s UN didn’t want to label the atrocious crime in Rwanda a “genocide.” As it turned out, almost a million people were slaughtered in the space of one hundred days…that means one person per every four seconds. Please note that at that time, Mr. Annan was the head for UN Peacekeeping mission around the world.
In Angola after the death of Jonas Savimbi , the rebel leader once nurtured, entrenched, and finally dumped by the United States at the end of the Cold War, the UN has been slow to respond to the humanitarian crisis the Angolan people continued to face. Is it impossible for Mr. Annan to muster the international community to make the same effort as is done for the Afghans in rebuilding and rehabilitating the lives of the Angolans? Do we have to wait for another Jonas Savimbi to emerge in Angola before at least a passive or reactive international community can respond? Why can’t Mr. Annan take advantage of the opportunity to rally both the Angolans and the international community to bring finality to one of the world longest running civil conflicts? Cape Diem! Cease the moment!
Was it not the Americans and Russians who helped to perpetuate this once long running civil conflict because of their political and economic ideologies that culminated into the so-called Cold War? This raises another issue that Mr. Annan is promoting in the name of his allies: Globalization. Angola is one of the wealthiest nations in the world in terms of its mineral wealth. In the name of globalization, Angola’s vast mineral resources are good for Annan’s allies and all the cronies that prey upon Africa’s weak and collapsed states. If globalization is to be embraced, we called for economic and political justice for all nations and peoples who must interact with one another. As an activist writes, “ If we are to live in a global village and not a globe of villages”, justice should be the hallmark of our existence. According to a BBC report, every day 1.2 million dollars worth of illegal diamonds are smuggled out of Angola alone to Europe and the Americas. The three leading exporters of diamonds are all in Africa. Yet, the USA, Britain and Belgium are the leading producers and importers of fine cut diamonds. Mixed with these diamonds are the so-called blood diamonds - “the curse of Africa” that are considered the symbol of love and wealth in the West. Beware of the so-called blood diamonds!
Another issue of deep concern is the continuous abuse of refugees in the Mano river region: Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea by warlords/rebels, government soldiers, and the UN and other Relief agencies staffs. In the case of the UN, these staffs have used their positions to exploit young girls and mothers by demanding sex in exchange for food and medications. When the international media exposed this disgraceful act, Mr. Annan’s response was the usual cliché, “ I am shocked.” For those of us who may never experience or even imagine such exploitation, think for a moment if you were that little girl or teenage mother whose only hope for survival was the little food or medication needed just to live for another day. But your so-called protector (the UN staff) becomes your worst abuser. These negative actions by UN staffs and peacekeepers do not in every sense means that the entire UN is bad or insensitive to the plight of people around the world. Like any human institution, “ to err is human.”
Furthermore, there are well meaning individuals within the UN whose true desire is to see this world being a better place for all of humanity. These people would not compromise their moral and ethical principles as a means of pleasing certain powerful countries on issues or policies of global concerns. They are willing to call “a spade a spade.” These people, indeed, we must honor! Nevertheless, when the top leadership of the UN is aware of the crimes its staff is committing but remains silent and hope that it would go away, that leadership is part of the problem. There is no way Mr. Annan can claim that he was surprise about the sexual abuses occurring in refugee camps by UN staff. Otherwise, there is a complete break down of communication or the bureaucracy at the UN is the main impediment for global progress. Almost six years ago, victims and survivors of war crimes and sexual abuse in refugee camps from Africa and other parts of the world proposed an international conference to address their own plights. All efforts were made to seek an endorsement from the UN. But the UN failed to respond simply because this idea was not initiated by the UN but the very people who needed to raise awareness of their deplorable conditions.
Still on the West African front, the tiny nation of Liberia founded by freed black American slaves in , remained a volatile country. Mr. Charles Taylor, the former War Lord turned President faces tough challenges both internally and externally. Both the United States and Britain, two permanent members of the Security Council, blamed Mr. Taylor for the escalation of the violence and tension in the region that led to one of the world largest inflow of refugees. The irony of Mr. Taylor’s rise to power is the familiar story of Uncle Sam temporarily embracing a friend or ally that is soon abandoned. Mr. Taylor who was imprisoned in Boston, Massachusetts for embezzlement and awaiting extradition to Liberia, according to Washington, “broke jail and fled from the USA.” Even when some members of the US Congress are condemning Mr. Taylor, they never mention about his escape from the United States. Sound familiar?
Currently, the International community through the UN has placed arms and diamonds embargo; travel ban on senior government officials of Liberia. However, there is an insurgency being waged in Liberia from neighboring Guinea by disgruntled Liberian warlords with the support of Guinea. In fact, one of the commanders of this shadow rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), Mr. Damante Konneh, has a direct contact with Lansana Conteh, the Guinean President. Damante's wife is the spiritual counselor of the Guinean president. In 1996 she predicted a coup attempt that was quashed by Conteh. Most recently, Amnesty International and even the UN admitted that the Guinean government is involved in the conflict but fall short of offering any solutions to ending the deteriorating conditions the war is posing on the civilians.
In addition, the American military force is presently training the Guinean army. Let us not forget that this trend of training military or para-military forces around the world by the US has often resulted into nightmares. We need not give any examples. Another despicable act about the sanctions and isolation of Liberia centered on the timber industry. West Africa last and largest reserved forest has become an issue of debate. The United States and Britain were pushing for the inclusion of the timber industry in the embargo. But France, China, and Russia refused. The reason: These nations are the largest importers of Liberia’s timbers. As permanent members of the Security Council, they agreed for the isolation of Liberia. Mr. Annan also concurred with the latter, believing that additional sanctions (timber ban) would hurt the Liberian people. But he failed to realize that the proportion at which the rainforest is being depleted would soon become an environmental and humanitarian disaster. This forest, the Sapo National Rainforest is the home of two rare creatures of the world, the pigmy elephants and hippos. This is West Africa largest forest reserve. Maybe if Liberia is on the radar screen of the international media, let assume fifteen years from now, (as predicted by environmentalists for this impending desertification) the UN may react by rallying the world to help send relief items for Liberians who may be facing starvation and witnessing the end of their country. As usual the bulk of the financial contribution would be used to pay the UN staff. Currently, 12.8 millions Africans in Southern Africa are facing starvation and the UN and other agencies are urgently trying to find ways of “alleviating the situation.” With the exception of Italy and Spain, all of the wealthy nations stayed away from the hunger conference. A UN figure concludes that 80% of the world population lives on less than two dollars a day and in Africa 65% lives on less than a dollar. Ironically, these are the same wealthy nations calling for globalization.
In Sierra Leone, the once brutal civil war has finally ended with the completion of a successful democratic election. Four years ago, Sierra Leoneans went to the poll and voted in a democratic elected government that was under threat by a rebel insurgency. Thousands of civilians marched to street and begged the UN and the World Superpowers to use their influences to end the war and help protect Sierra Leone's fragile democracy. The UN did nothing and the United States said it was an internal crisis that needed to be resolved by Sierra Leoneans themselves. Nevertheless, Sierra Leone’s diamonds were “ external commodities. The end result was a complete anarchy. It was a war of enormity and greed for power and blood diamonds. With no regard for humanity, rebel soldiers committed some of the most gruesome crimes against humanity by killing, amputating and maiming civilians. Finally, the UN stepped in by sending the largest UN peacekeeping force ever in the world (many thanks to Mr. Annan), when CNN reluctantly showed a documentary, "Cry Freetown” once considered “too graphic for American audience.” However, the UN forces lacked a mandate and purpose in Sierra Leone, except to be humiliated by the rebels. At last, the British took full control of the situation by applying military and political pressures on the rebel Revolutionary United Front [RUF].
Now with peace in sight and the quest for reconciliation, rehabilitation, and reconstruction of lives in Sierra Leone, would the UN be a part of this “process of progress” with the Sierra Leonean people or would it step back and wait for the rise of another Foday Sankoh, the infamous rebel commander? Foday Sankoh, the founder of the RUF rebel organization presently faces an impending UN war crime tribunal. Shamefully, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, speaking on behalf of the United States government three years ago, compared Mr. Sankoh to the person and image of Nelson Mandela, the model of humanity and civilization.
Unlike his predecessor Boutros Boutros Ghali, Mr. Annan seemed to be well loved by the United States and her allies because he plays their game of "silence, wait, see, and react” when a situation is acknowledged by the US or British." "As long as it is not happening here...it is fine." This means that the UN is more of an emergency relief agency of these "Super Nations." Every time a crisis reaches a global proportion by means of the media, Mr. Annan’s cliché is "I am shocked or deeply saddened." Just read a release from his office on these global events. You do the count and tell how many times the same sentences or words are used.
This release is not intended to present Mr. Annan as an insensitive and disengaging person. In fact, Mr. Annan has been able to accomplish some very significant achievements during his tenure at the UN. His effort in addressing humanitarian and health issues are paramount. For example, his cry for the global HIV/AIDS fund is significant. In addition, his plea for debt relief for poor nations is of importance. But can he go beyond this by addressing the root causes? Furthermore, he is just one person. So, it would be an illusion to expect him to solve all the world’s problems. Nevertheless, there is growing sentiment expressed by millions of people around the world currently facing political, economic, and social upheavals, that the UN is rapidly losing its purpose for world peace, economic, and political justice. And this should be a concern for all peoples.
Finally, if Mr. Annan would have to save the UN from an impending collapse and powerlessness, he must then begin to advocate seriously for economic and political balance of power in the world. This means he has to deeply engage or challenge the rich and powerful nations to genuinely live up the true meaning of the freedom and democratic principles they always challenge the so-called undemocratic nations to embrace. In addition, he has to embrace sweeping organizational and structural changes so that the UN can be relevant in meeting the challenges of the World... otherwise, Mr. Annan stands to always be a passive leader who waits on the instructions of these “Super Nations” to depict his agenda or order of the day.
Let us end with these words from a fellow activist. “Hundred years from now, it will not matter what our bank accounts was, the sort of house we lived in, or the kind of clothes we wore. But, the world may be much different because individuals like you, did the RIGHT THING when it was NECESSARY." It is in the respect, we call upon you to be world citizens and help revive the image of the United Nations by asking Mr. Annan to introduce sweeping changes that would make the UN effective for the sake of global peace and justice!