Why Kofi Annan may need no introduction in Kenya
2 months ago, 23 Sep 00:54
On stepping down as UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan and his wife Nane borrowed a friend’s house next to a forest in Como, Italy, where they intended to stay for three months, to recharge after what had been an illustrious diplomatic career.
The plan was for them to cut off contact with the world, meaning no radio, TV or newspaper.
They would maintain a simple routine, mainly taking long walks in the forest. However, after three weeks, Annan developed the urge to read a newspaper.
He, therefore, broke his own seclusion rule, bringing with him the small group they were staying with, making their way to the nearest convenience store.
As they were walking, a man seeming to recognise Annan made for the group.
‘‘Mr Morgan Freeman,’’ the man said, ‘‘could you please sign for me an autograph?’’
Annan couldn’t believe his luck. He had panicked as the man approached, regretting that he had blown his cover.
But seeing that the man mistook him for actor Morgan Freeman – whose features remotely resembled Annan’s – the former Secretary-General gladly signed the autograph.
‘‘K. Freeman,’’ wrote Annan, possibly an inside joke for Kofi Freeman, a new moniker.
After the incident, Annan’s wife Nane remarked that indeed that was the right way to sign the autograph, since Annan was now a free man, away from his UN responsibilities.
Annan liked telling this story whenever he made public appearances – emphasising that he didn’t assume everyone knew him – urging those introducing him to audiences not to make the “here is a man who needs no introduction” presumption.
Yet in Kenya, Annan is someone who may need no introduction.
Following the 2007/2008 post-election violence, Annan midwifed talks which culminated in Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga shaking hands at Harambee House, signifying a ceasefire.
Sticking to his approach of full disclosure, Annan became a common feature on Kenyan media, thanks to his periodic press briefings as the country held its breath, hoping for a breakthrough. There was even that one time Annan was caught on camera taking an evening walk around Central Park, behind the Serena Hotel, still dressed in a suit and tie.
Wearing sunglasses and with bodyguards in tow, Annan looked more like a lead detective in a Hollywood movie – more like his lookalike Morgan Freeman – than a member of The Elders, the global collective of eminent persons.
There is no doubt that the Annan-engineered Kibaki-Raila handshake meant a lot to Kenya. However, the success of that particular mediation process meant even more to Annan, whose past at the UN was riddled with accusations of not having done enough in instances where he’s believed to have had the power to, including in Rwanda’s case in 1994.
Working as Assistant Secretary-General heading the Department of Peacekeeping Operations at the UN, Annan was accused of either not having taken seriously the initial reports originating from Rwanda, or having taken too long to act in preventing the genocide.
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