A tribute to Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-general

Kofi Annan

I was saddened this weekend when I heard on the Swiss TV about the death of Kofi Annan, who died on Saturday, August 18, 2018 in Bern, Switzerland at the age of 80.

Born in 1938 in Kumasi, Ghana, Kofi Annan started his UN career at the World Health Organization in Geneva at the age of 24. He moved rapidly within the international organization and became deputy director of UNHCR. He was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations in 1997.

In his opening speech as UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan spoke about his agenda and already mentioned fighting poverty and AIDS as well as addressing global warming as priorities for the United Nations.

During his mandate, his life-long commitment to peace was recognized worldwide when he was co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize with the UN in 2001.

He left his position at the UN in 2006, but continued working with the same energy for the enhancement of peace through his engagement with the Elders, a group of former diplomats founded by Nelson Mandela, whose members regularly meet and plan discreet interventions in world conflicts.  In 2013, he succeeded Archbishop Desmond Tutu as Chairman of this group. The list of members, including BSL Doctor H.C. Mary Robinson, can be found following this link: https://theelders.org/

The intense collaboration of these people and their close friendship is reflected in the words of Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway and Deputy Chair of The Elders:

“We are devastated at the loss of our dear friend and fellow Elder. Kofi was a strong and inspiring presence to us all, and The Elders would not be where it is today without his leadership. Throughout his life, Kofi worked unceasingly to improve the lives of millions of people around the world. While we mourn his passing today, we resolve as Elders to continue to uphold his values and legacy into the future”.

There are now numerous obituaries and tributes in newspapers, websites, etc. all justifiably insisting on Kofi Annan’s crucial role for a better world.

I don’t intend here to cite all his achievements, which would be incredibly difficult,  I prefer to develop reflections related to three points: the launch of the UN Global Compact, the Kofi Annan Business Schools Foundation (https://www.kabsf.org/) and the strong links of Kofi Annan with our country, Switzerland.

UN Global Compact

Personally, I was very impressed by the fact that Kofi Annan, then secretary-general of the UN, launched the UN Global Compact. Kofi Annan announced it at the World Economic Forum on 31 January 1999, and the Global Compact was officially launched at the UN Headquarters in New York on 26 July 2000.

It was truly visionary, in particular for someone who dedicated his career to diplomacy and was used to dealing with governments, to understand the crucial role that companies of all sizes from SMEs to big multinational corporations should play in the development of a better world.

Mr. Annan asked corporate leaders to commit publicly to Ten Principles in the areas of human rights, labor, the environment and anti-corruption, encouraging businesses worldwide to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies, and to report on their implementation.

The UN Global Compact is now the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative with 13’000 corporate participants in over 170 countries. It supports the broader UN goals, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Joining the UN Global Compact in 2006 and taking part in the activities of the Swiss network was a first step in the sustainability journey of BSL.

The Kofi Annan Business Schools Foundation

The aim of this Foundation, a part of the larger Kofi Annan Foundation, is clearly explained on their website: “The idea behind the Foundation is to facilitate access to Masters and MBA education at leading business schools for those from Least Developed Countries. The aim is to provide opportunity for talented and motivated individuals from these countries, who do not belong to a privileged class and lack sufficient financial means to graduate with a degree from an international business school. Upon return to their home countries (a condition of the Fellowship), the Fellows are expected to contribute to the strengthening of entrepreneurial capacity and the fostering of a stable market economy as an effective catalyst for their country’s development, job creation and poverty alleviation”.

 What is very interesting in my opinion in this statement is the snowball effect it implies. If the scholarships help talented students to reach their goals, by coming back to their home country these educated people can contribute to the development of Least Developed Countries.

BSL sponsored a few students from African countries over the past years.

The links of Kofi Annan with Switzerland

In 2006, Kofi Annan was awarded the “Prix de la Fondation pour Genève”. In his speech as the recipient of the prize, Mr. Annan reminded us of a few facts: He was a student at the “Institut Universitaire des Hautes Etudes Internationales” in the early 60s and started his UN career at the WHO whose headquarters are in Geneva. He also met his second wife, Nane Lagergren, in Geneva.

In his speech he also mentioned that no other city in the world counts as many international organizations and institutions.

When he left the UN in 2006, Kofi Annan chose to settle in Geneva.

Among the Swiss personalities who made public declarations after Kofi Annan’s death, I would like to mention Jean Ziegler, who was a student at IUHEI at the same time than Kofi Annan and remained a friend of his. Jean Ziegler was chosen by him as the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food in 2000.

Dr. Joseph DeissDr. Joseph Deiss at BSL, when he was President of UN General Assembly (2010)

I would also like to mention Joseph Deiss, a former President of the Swiss Confederation and another Dr. H.C. of BSL. Joseph Deiss insists in an interview published in Geneva based newspaper Le Temps on how welcoming Kofi Annan was towards Switzerland and how he alleviated his hesitations to ask the Swiss population if they wanted to join the UN. Dr. Deiss also believes that Kofi Annan increased the confidence of his compatriots in the organization. In fact, the adhesion to the UN had been rejected by 75 % of the Swiss population in 1986, but in 2002, it was accepted by 54 % of the population and by 12 cantons against 11.

If Switzerland was only the 190th country to join the UN, it was the first one to do it as the consequence of a popular vote.

We, the BSL Community, are truly and deeply saddened by this news. Our heartfelt condolences go out to all his family and friends. This world will never forget your significant impact and we are all honored and blessed to have been alive during the time you brought such significant change, which touched the lives of so many. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts, and may your soul rest in peace.

 

Philippe Du Pasquier, President of the Board

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