His Excellency President Ouattara, Her Excellency, the First Lady, Former Heads of State [there are too many to here this evening to name], Ibrahim Laureates , Honorable Ministers, Mo Ibrahim Foundation Board Members, Colleagues, friends, brothers and sisters, Future leaders of tomorrow,
Thank you for convening this event and giving us a reason to gather such an amazing group of leaders and young people from all corners of Africa and the world.
I am honoured to join you here at the world-renowned Ibrahim Governance Weekend. I can think of no better way to start than with this special tribute to Kofi Annan.
The film we have just seen captures Kofi in all his multifaceted glory – the diplomat, the mentor, the quietly forceful speaker, the compassionate human being.
It was hard to pick from among the highlights, but I was especially struck by the young woman who said that Kofi had “opened my eyes for the first time to how far and promising the way could be for an African”. That is a standard to which we should all aspire.
Mo, I know Kofi was your guest at the governance weekend two years ago, and that he contributed greatly to the work of your Foundation and Prize Committee. He was, as you said upon his passing last August, “a comrade in arms in the fight for better governance and rule of law in Africa”.
Thank you for bringing us all together in his honour tonight, and for focusing this weekend on some key challenges that engaged Kofi across his life -- youth, migration and leadership.
We are privileged to have Kojo Annan here with us. Dear Kojo and cherished members of the Annan family, let me express once again our condolences on your loss – which was also, so painfullly, the UN’s loss and the world’s loss.
Kojo, you saw the outpouring of love and admiration last September at the memorial ceremony we held at United Nations Headquarters in New York. The General Assembly Hall was filled to capacity with people but most importantly with memories. And in the days that followed, as world leaders took the podium for the annual General Debate, leader after leader voiced their sadness at his passing, their appreciation for his achievements, and their high regard for his service to the world.
Kojo, thank you for continuing to sustain Kofi’s legacy through the Kofi Annan Foundation.
For the United Nations, Kofi was the right person at the right time. We all recall the turmoil of the immediate post-cold war period. But the end of the ideological rivalry between the superpowers also created a renewed sense of opportunity for what our Organization could do and be for the world’s people. Kofi grabbed the moment with gusto.
He set many initiatives in motion.
Understanding that governments cannot, by themselves, address today’s global challenges, he opened the doors of the United Nations to new partners, from the private sector and civil society to the academic and philanthropic communities.
Strongly committed to human dignity, he supported the establishment of the International Criminal and nurtured what became the breakthrough concept of the responsibility to protect people from grave violations of human rights.
And as a firm believer in multilateral action, he pushed the Organization to tackle big challenges, such as HIV/AIDS.
With these steps and so much more, the United Nations became a hub of dynamism and hope, embodied by Kofi himself. And even when the international community failed or fell short, he did not hesitate to study and admit what went wrong in order to fortify the United Nations for the future.
For me, if I may, Kofi was a touchstone, a guide, an inspiration as an African and as a person of the world.
In a very real sense, one can draw a straight line from his tenure as Secretary-General to the role I fulfill today.
The articulation of the eight Millennium Development Goals – yet another breakthrough -- occurred on Kofi’s watch, under his close direction. The Goals became a rallying point for the development community and a framework that produced tangible improvements in millions of lives.
I worked on the Goals in Nigeria, including on education and other aspects. Eventually, one thing led to another, and I ended up having the privilege of serving Kofi’s successor as Secretary-General and working with Member States and people around the world to shape the 2030 Agenda, including the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Now, in my current role as Deputy to Secretary-General António Guterres, I spend my days pressing for the implementation of those goals – and I feel the spirit of Kofi looking over my shoulder and urging me on. He understood the mutually reinforcing relationship between peace, development and human rights – and the 2030 Agenda is indeed the heir of the vision that animated so much of Kofi’s work as Secretary-General.
Even after his retirement from the UN, he did not finish his service to the world. He did not retire from retirement; a joke he and his dear friend Madiba laughed about amongst themselves. His expertise and deep knowledge were leveraged and deployed for meditating conflicts around the globe in Kenya, Syria and Myanmar. He spoke to young people in Zimbabwe and marched in South Africa. He went where he was needed, and everywhere he went he brought solutions. Kofi’s wisdom and counsel were sought out constantly until the very end.
I have been touching on Kofi’s substantive contributions. Let me say a word about Kofi the person.
He was courageous and kind, humble and humorous.
It was said often that Kofi “knew everyone”, by virtue of his long career and many postings, including in human resources.
Many are the staff members who can recall an unexpected telephone call asking after their well-being, or that of their family.
Many are the staff members who remember meetings at which opinions were welcome from all, regardless of level.
But whether or not one knew Kofi personally, a distinct bond encompassed all, forged by his awareness — unique among Secretaries-General — of staff aspirations, frustrations and responsibilities.
As Secretary-General Guterres said at Kofi’s funeral in Ghana, “Kofi Annan was the United Nations and the United Nations was him”.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The world today needs more leaders like Kofi Annan.
We are living through a period in which we find our core values and multilateral foundations under threat.
Inequality is on the rise, among and especially within countries.
Trust in political establishments is on the decline.
Intolerance, extremism and virulent nationalisms are increasingly widespread.
People are nervous about jobs and about the prospects for their children’s future.
Kofi’s example can inspire us as we seek to meet these challenges.
He had a special affection for young people, recognizing the duty not only to leave the world a better place for them, but to build that future with them.
Wherever he travelled, he would be sure to visit universities and schools, young activists and entrepreneurs, to encourage them in their studies and their struggles.
Let us carry on this legacy by doing far more to advance the well-being of youth in Africa and across the world at time when jobs and hope itself may be in such short supply.
Kofi also had a bond with the world’s migrants and refugees – being a migrant himself, and having worked at the UN Refugee Agency. His approach – like that of Secretary-General Guterres today -- was based on one word: solidarity.
Africa today shows remarkable generosity in hosting nearly a third of the world’s refugees and internally displaced persons. Indeed the continent steps up far more than do other regions, where borders are often closed or the climate is hostile.
At a time when there are more people on the move than ever before, in search of safety or opportunity, let us take our cue from Kofi and by assisting the vulnerable, recognizing the benefits of migration and upholding human rights, all while addressing the challenges and getting at the root causes of human displacement.
Kofi was also insistent on the responsibilities of leaders to serve their people – and to make way, peacefully and democratically, for their successors at the end of their terms. This is the way that societies, again in and beyond Africa, can build stability, resilience, cohesion and institutions that meet the needs of their people. Kofi spoke this truth repeatedly and fearlessly.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Kofi Annan was a champion of peace and people right up to the end, including through various trouble-shooting assignments and his work for the Elders.
This proud son of Africa left a lasting imprint on the world; he left us enriched; and sadly, he left us too soon.
I hope we will all continue to be inspired by his example as we build on his contributions and carry his vision forward.