The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Kofi Annan not only recognises countless U.N. staff working backstage, but is also a tribute to the way the U.N., under this Secretary-General, has become the one global organisation in today’s world.
WHEN the call came from an excited colleague at 4:58 a.m., New York time, on Friday, October 12, telling me that my organisation, the United Nations, and my boss, Secretary-General Kofi Annan, had won the Nobel Prize for Peace, I had been lying awake for nearly an hour. It was a call I had been expecting, indeed hoping for; but for three years now, we had heard the same rumours, and twice they had proved untrue. So it was in a mixture of anticipation and dread that I tossed and turned that night.
Kofi Annan himself, typically, had no such anxieties. He was sleeping soundly, untroubled by the prospect of either triumph or disappointment, when his spokesman woke him with the news. “Given the sort of business we are in,” the Secretary-General later remarked, “usually when you get a call that early in the morning, it is something disastrous.” But this Prize was “a wonderful way to wake up”, recognising the U.N.’s work and giving him, and the men and women he leads, encouragement for the future.
Regular readers of this column know that I leave the U.N. largely out of it, even if some of the concerns I discuss are properly also the concerns of the world’s major international organisation. But this time (though, as the U.N.’s head of public information, I am hardly an impartial observer) I am making an exception. It is not every day that one finds oneself directly touched by an event of this magnitude — the grant of the world’s most famous prize. A senior colleague said to me that morning that “the U.N. could not have won without Kofi Annan, and Kofi Annan could not have won without the U.N”. My own comment to the Secretary-General was less even-handed: “it was you,” I said to him, “who brought the U.N. to the point where we were worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.”
There is no doubt that the Prize recognises the work of the thousands of unsung U.N. staff striving anonymously behind the headlines — bearing the brunt of the outflow of Afghan refugees, waging the long and thankless battle to overcome poverty in Africa, fighting the scourge of HIV/AIDS and other killer diseases, patrolling the frontlines in 16 peace-keeping operations around the world. But it is also a tribute to the way that the U.N., under this remarkable Secretary-General, has become the one indispensable global organisation in our globalising world. The Nobel Committee itself recognised this in its citation, proclaiming “that the only negotiable route to global peace and co-operation goes by way of the U.N”.
The man who has brought the U.N. to this point — and who, in a Scandinavian poll this summer, ranked as the world’s most admired statesman, with more than double the popularity of his nearest rival, British Prime Minister Tony Blair — is unusual, first of all, for being the first to climb the ranks of the organisation from its lowest professional level to the very top. When Kofi Annan became Secretary-General of the U.N. at the beginning of 1997, he had not been a world figure like some previous contenders for the post; those who make it their business to follow the U.N. knew his resumi, but not his biography. Of his popularity with the staff there was no doubt: the jubilation in the corridors and offices of the U.N. Secretariat five years ago, when the news of his election was first announced, had to be seen to be believed. For U.N. officials beleaguered by ill-informed criticism and beset by financial crisis, anxious about the polemics surrounding the defenestration of the previous Secretary-General and crushed by the rapidity with which the post-Cold War euphoria about a “new world order” had soured, the ascent of a man who knew their problems and their strengths was a shot in the arm.
But it is not the fact that he is an insider, nor even that he has worked for the U.N. in both Headquarters and the field, not even that he has served in a remarkable range of areas (budget, personnel, refugees, peace-keeping), that explains the continued exhilaration at the U.N. at his re-election earlier this year to a second term, or the screaming, weeping, cheering throng that greeted him as he entered the Secretariat building after learning of his Prize. It is something altogether simpler. Kofi Annan possesses that rare ingredient not always found in successful men: he is a wonderful human being.
Born into a family of traditional chiefs of the Fante tribe in Ghana, Kofi Annan grew up in Ghana, where he became a student leader of note. A scholarship brought him to college in the United States (and later in Geneva) and, unus
Source: The Hindu