Kofi Annan: The question of legacy


Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan

By Idowu Omisore

One weighty question serious leaders ask themselves is this – “What will be my leadership legacy?” At the end of the day, all our so-called achievements, acquisitions and awards will disappear into the dustbin of nothingness but what will continue to speak volumes about us will be the positive impact we made on the lives of people within our space and under our leadership. As endowed as Africa is, we are still unable to unleash our potential because we have a dearth of legacy-conscious leaders – leaders who would sacrifice the ultimate for the immediate.

One is not surprised at the surge of tributes from all over the globe at the death of Kofi Annan, the first black African secretary-general of the United Nations. When a well-known person passes on, there is usually a deluge of tributes pouring in from both friends and detractors. And culturally, when a person dies, people say good things about the person and avoid making negative comments, though it is sometimes obvious that some of the tributes are mere platitudes. But in Kofi Annan’s case, it is crystal clear that he deserves the kind words showered on him. Thinking through tributes posted on Twitter to celebrate him, one cannot but be moved to live a life of honour and service. Here are some of the tributes: “Learning with deep sadness of the passing of #KofiAnnan: international leader, wise mentor, valuable adviser, good friend, role model. We at UNHCR – and millions of others around the world – will miss him very much”. — Filippo Grandi; “I’m so heartbroken at the news that one of my life’s greatest inspirations is no more. May you Rest In Peace Mr. Annan in knowing that you served humanity with depth & compassion. My ultimate dream was to serve & be under his mentorship. #KofiAnnan” — Nomzamo Mbatha.

“The great oak tree has fallen, a salt worth its taste, a beacon for Africa that will shine till thy kingdom come. A journey of life well lived, death!! Is inevitable but we will celebrate and not mourn you. RIP #KofiAnnan”— KodjoNutifafa; “A son of #Africa who brokered peace in the most impossible of circumstances. Thank you @KofiAnnan for inspiring me to believe in peace when many leaders from our continent lacked the courage & nobility you carried. A legacy complete. RIP #KofiAnnan #Ghana #UN”— Mahmoud Shire; “#KofiAnnan, one of Africa’s great peacemakers, is now with the gods. Sierra Leone will remember how you stood up for us and brought us peace”. — Joseph Kaifala; “A sad day. RIP #KofiAnnan Kenyans will never forget what you did for us in 2007. — ayni elmi; “Kofi Annan, what an inspiration, what a life, someone to celebrate and look up to. The example he set as UN General Secretary is exactly what we need to aspire to in these fractured, binary times. Thank you for all you did, rest in peace #kofiannan #un #rolemodel” — Kerry Gooderson; Former U.N. Secretary and Nobel Peace Prize winner Kofi Annan has passed at age 80; “The world needs visionaries of peace more than ever, and his life is an example of the possible. Thank you for your service to us all. #KofiAnnan #RestInPeace”— Ilari Äijälä; “Thank you for your great advocacy for Peace. You have left our world a better place to be at.” — MIIK.

As reported in the media, “Annan spent virtually his entire career as an administrator in the United Nations. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2001. Annan worked for the UN Economic Commission for Africa in Ethiopia, its Emergency Force in Egypt, and the office of the High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, before taking a series of senior posts at UN headquarters in New York dealing with human resources, budget, finance, and staff security. Just before becoming secretary-general, Annan served as UN peacekeeping chief and as special envoy to the former Yugoslavia, where he oversaw a transition in Bosnia from UN protective forces to NATO-led troops.” Taken together, Annan served humanity with the leadership opportunities he had. It is particularly heartwarming that he is an African and that means Africa has great leadership potential. Though not without his personal failings, Kofi Annan remains of the brightest lights Africa has produced, and whose light will continue to shine.

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Here in Nigeria, the world’s most populous black nation, our perspective about leadership needs to change radically if we will make any significant progress. The average person on the street thinks leadership is an opportunity to become rich and influential, thinks it is an opportunity to be served. This kind of thinking is dangerous for us as a nation and as a continent. The needlessly huge salaries, allowances and perks that come with holding political offices in this country are our greatest undoing. The earlier we begin to see leadership as a call to serve, the better for us. It is difficult to come across people who want to serve their communities without ulterior motive. The society needs to purge itself because citizens who volunteer and tries to make a difference without seeking for money or political benefits are seen as unwise.

Leadership is a solemn responsibility and must be seen as such. A leader’s utterances, actions and inaction can affect the fortunes of millions of people. It’s sad and shocking that we have leaders that do not realize the tremendous powers and resources at their disposal with which they can put smiles on the faces of the downtrodden and increase the standard of living.

Elections are close; another opportunity for us to choose our leaders is near and here. Are we going to act differently? Are we going to uphold the status quo or vote for a real change? We need leaders who know what to do and who have a proven track record of fulfilling their promises. Over the years, we have had politicians who promised heaven and earth but at the end of their two terms, the same problems they campaigned about are still staring us in the face. The Nigeria of today is the legacy bequeathed by yesterday’s leaders. We will be remembered by what we have done. There are leaders who die and people roll out drums to say “good riddance to bad rubbish” and there are leaders who pass on and people all over the world start mentioning their numerous positive contributions with tangible proofs. What kind of a leader are you in your home, on your street, in your community? What will you and I be remembered for? What legacy are you going to leave behind?

Omisore, youth development advocate, writes from Lagos

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