HomePersonal Tribute to Kofi Annan by Iqbal Riza

Personal Tribute to Kofi Annan by Iqbal Riza

                                                                                              20 Sept. 2018


Personal Tribute to Kofi Annan by Iqbal Riza,

Kofi Annan’s Chef de Cabinet




21 SEPTEMBER 2018 

Speaking in my personal capacity.

Kofi Annan literally was my first friend in the UN in 1978;
He had joined UN in Geneva in 1962 - and was a consummate UN insider;
I had spent 20 years in PFS (Pakistan’s Foreign Service) in bilateral posts, and joined the UN at a junior level - an total outsider.

From our first chance meeting, we bonded;

I sensed his special qualities: exceptional intelligence and acumen, an innate courteousness, a quiet self-assurance, a slightly impish sense of humour;

Later, other attributes emerged - a deep commitment to the goals of the UN, a strikingly wide circle of friends outside the UN, a dazzlingly memory, and a natural charisma;

We started meeting after work, he invited us home where we first met Ama and Kojo as young children; they are present here [at the memorial tribute].

Then a very special memory for me:

While he was with UNHCR, I stayed with him in Geneva; he introduced me to a young lawyer in UNHCR, Nane Lagergren, of striking intellect - and also beautiful and charming;

Soon they married, and she is with us here, with her lovely daughter Nina, albeit in this most sad of contexts.

For 15 years our official task were on separate tracks;

Kofi rose rapidly in the Secretariat management structure;

I was involved in political missions abroad;

First to Iran and Iraq with Mr. Olof Palme and Jan Eliasson;

Then sent by SG PdC [Javier Pérez de Cuéllar] to head of missions in Nicaragua and El Salvador:

While away, I knew I always could phone Kofi at HQ for wise advice and support.

Then our careers converged;

In 1993, SG BBG [Boutros Boutros-Ghali] designated Kofi as head, and myself as deputy head, of the new DPKO;

Now, working together, our friendship strengthened under the pressure of 16-hour days and 12-hour weekends;

We were supported by remarkably talented young UN staff and close reliable teamwork.

I recall vividly our first meetings in 1993 with the PRs [Permanent Representatives] of the P-5;

Kofi, a young colleague and myself on one side of a long table;

On the other the five powerful Ambassadors, their aides behind them;

Their questions, justifiably, were sharp - but some also were openly condescending;

The fledgling USG showed no sign of unease, retaining his quiet composure;

A week later they were more collegial;

In the third meeting he received not just cordiality but candid respect.

In 1994, the uncertainty of a second term for SG BBG was no secret, and Kofi began to be considered a possible successor;

Then, unexpectedly, he was assigned during 1995 as SRSG in UNPROFOR in Zagreb, and returned to DPKO after the Dayton accord;

I succeeded him as SRSG during 1996 in the reduced UN mission, with HQ in Sarajevo;

During those two years we remained in phone contact, not only on DPKO matters, but also on the politics for the next SG;

At one stage he seriously considered resignation in order to campaign openly, which I advised against.

The pattern of voting and parallel vetoes in Nov-Dec 1996 are on record;

On Friday (Dec 13th) at around 7 am, Kofi phoned to say that the PR concerned had called to inform him that the veto would be lifted;

Of course I congratulated him, and his response was that now I would be his CdC [Chef de Cabinet]- and that was that;

After the formal appointment by the GA some close friends gave advice to the new SG;

When I remarked that he would have to develop a thick skin in UN politics, he laughingly retorted that he knew that “SG” also stood for “scapegoat”.

With just two weeks for the transition, we moved quickly;

The core DPKO team of Elisabeth Lindenmeyer, Wagaye Assebe, Anastasia Delenda, Shashi Tharoor, Fred Eckhard and Lamin Sise all moved to the 38th floor, soon fortified by Edward Mortimer (enticed from The Financial Times), and Nader Mousavizadeh (later to co-author Kofi’s memoir);

One of my first instructions was that the new SG would be addressed as SG - no more “Kofi”.

From his first days as SG, Kofi started to blossom in his grueling role, “the most impossible job in the world”;

He moved swiftly and surely to bring far-reaching changes in the UN;

A Senior Management Group of all heads of dep’t and funds and programmes, including those away from NY, was established; (no previous SG had such a coordination system);

The first DSG [Deputy Secretary-General], Louise Frechette, was appointed and assigned substantive portfolios, such as the reform programme and oversight of the Oil-for-Food programme;

Human rights was assigned a special priority;

The world-wide campaign against HIV-AIDS was launched;

The UN opened its doors to new constituencies such as academia, foundations and even a link with the private sector, and further other innovative measures;

My modus operandi was to take as many decisions on the SG’s behalf as I considered prudent, so that our most valuable asset - the SG’s time - could be devoted to sensitive political issues; and I stayed at HQ whenever he was overseas;

The pressures were formidable, the support my talented special assistant, Fatemeh Ziai proved vital;

As we all know Kofi’s first term was crowned by the Nobel Prize awarded jointly to the UN and personally to him in December 2001;

I still recall his brilliant speech, in which he declared that the world had entered the new millennium “through a gate of fire”;

Toward the end of his first term I asked him to appoint new CdC for his second term, as I was tiring; and also my two sons were cross at my not finding time for their children.

He insisted that I continue and we agreed on two years, then later a third, a total of eight;

Kofi’s second term was to bring a sea of troubles, which can only be briefly mentioned here;

beyond their global repercussions, they were to bring dire lethal consequences for the UN.

The attacks on major cities of our host country on Sept 9, 2001, justifiably drew massive retaliation, under the self-defence provisions of the UN Charter, validated ex post facto by the Security Council for a coalition that was formed;

And Afghanistan, already ravaged by the country’s warlords and violent extremism, now also suffered huge bombardments with heavy civilian casualties;

The SG turned to Lakhdar Brahimi, the undisputed maestro of complex political negotiations;

Later he was asked to take on an equally daunting assignment to Iraq, a reflection of Kofi’s high esteem for him;

Iraq too suffered lethal consequences which its regime brought on itself;

Most here know that Saddam Hussein faced accusations of covertly developing nuclear weapons, and intensive investigations by the UN were under way;

Here, please permit me a vignette: when satellite photographs were being displayed in the Security Council as evidence of Iraq’s secret efforts, I whispered to the SG: “the General [Colin Powell] is not comfortable with what he is saying - he is following orders”;

After the massive attack by the coalition, the Council decided to deploy a UN mission [to Iraq];

Sergio Vieira de Mello was a colleague of extraordinary talents, and Kofi assigned him as SRSG;

The three of us met in the SG’s residence on a Sunday, and Sergio accepted the assignment with some reluctance;

None of us can forget the calamity that struck the mission on 19 Aug 2003, killing Sergio and twenty-one other courageous and dedicated UN colleagues;

For Kofi, and for all the UN, Sergio was a true hero, and he remains a hero to the entire UN family;

Kofi’s selection of Lakhdar and Sergio reflected the special aptitude he had developed to   identify the most qualified persons for the most difficult missions;

Here please permit me to mention Gen. Romeo Dallaire who, after the Security Council virtually decimated the mission in Rwanda when the massacres began, refused to abandon its people in their blood-soaked nightmare - another UN hero.

Beyond containing wars and civil conflicts, the SG, late in his second term, was confronted by a right wing campaign in the host country on the Oil-for-Food imbroglio, bringing him into the political line of fire;

Accusations and insinuations flew around, but eventually the Volcker inquiry exonerated him, but left him wounded;

Yet he prevailed to complete his second term; such resilience is a rare quality.

Some vignettes:

Kofi and I occasionally reflected on the course to his high office, and he would muse: “sometimes I feel there may have been a hand on my shoulder”;

I would remind him occasionally that in Nane he also had a strong anchor in the storms that confronted him, and he always smilingly concurred;

Occasionally I would ask him if his hat size had expanded - he would assure me it was still the same;

In his second year as SG, I remarked to Nane that her husband had become a celebrity - she was scandalized and denied it;

But the fact was that he, and a very reluctant Nane, inevitably became world celebrities, and were recognized wherever they went;

Once on a street in Italy a passer-by asked for an autograph, saying “please, Mr. Freeman”. and Kofi with a flourish signed “Morgan Freeman”;

What will I always remember about Kofi Annan?

As our Secretary-General:

A builder of confidence and bridges between antagonists;

A crusader to better the lives of the unfortunate and the deprived, refugees first;

A dedicated defender of human rights everywhere;

The epitome of soft power; earning the sobriquet “the secular Pope”.

As a special friend:

A man of innate and naturally deep kindness, generosity of spirit and ever-ready empathy, characteristics fully shared by Nane;

Only on the day after his passing did the reality strike, and involuntarily a verse from Shakespeare meandered back to my mind;

It is from the last lines of Julius Caesar, when Brutus, in deep remorse for joining in the assassination, takes his own life;

Please permit me to quote it as an epitaph:

"His life was gentle,

and the elements so mixed in him

that Nature might stand up and say to all the world

This was a man!"