I was sad to hear of Kofi Anna’s death. The former UN Secretary General and Nobel Peace Prize winner always impressed me with his mild yet firm manner and diplomatic abilities.
Like me he was born on a Friday, hence the name Kofi (an Akan day name given to a male child born on a Friday). My Ghanaian friends used to call me Efia (the day name given to girls born on a Friday). I spent some time in Ghana in the early 1990s for work and visited Mr Annan’s birth town, Kumasi. It is perhaps for sentimental reasons that I cheered at his election.
Reading the various obituaries and commentaries on his personal and professional life, I came across criticism of some of his decisions (or lack of). Here I will not want to argue the political or even humanitarian pros and cons. I am not sufficiently qualified.
But I want to acknowledge how Kofi Annan responded to choices he made while in office. Because, he, like you and I, will have made choices we may regret or are not proud of.
Speaking for myself, there are a few things I have not / done in the past, and it bugs me, because I wish I had
- had more courage then;
- known then what I know now about the situation and myself;
- an opportunity to explain to those who were affected or let down by my actions.
I have written before about regrets. They can break us and they can shape us.
And it is in this spirit that I hold dear a comment Kofi Annan made, when asked about the Rwandan Genocide, while he was the head of the UN’s peace keeping department:
On the 10th anniversary of the genocide, Annan acknowledged his shortcomings.
“I myself, as head of the UN’s peacekeeping department at the time, pressed dozens of countries for troops,” he said in 2004. “I believed at that time that I was doing my best.
“But I realised after the genocide that there was more that I could, and should, have done to sound the alarm and rally support. This painful memory, along with that of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has influenced much of my thinking, and many of my actions, as secretary-general.”
We all make choices and decisions – all of the time. Not only will they affect us, but others, too. We don’t need to be global influencers. What we do or don’t do can have a lot of meaning, joyful or painful consequences.
And what we do in response, then or much later, can have consequences, too. We can
- avoid the reality
- run away
- let someone else sort it out
- face the consequences of our actions
- repent, change, put the experience to good use
Kofi Annan responded that these experiences influenced much of his thinking, and many of his actions. No doubt, there are those who think that’s not good enough. It is not for me to comment or judge.
The point I want to make is, that facing our short comings, thinking about them and letting them shape us – THAT is not the easy way out. Sometimes, avoidance and self-defence, can keep the external and internal doubters and critics off our back.
But facing up to what we have done, without letting it destroy us, that’s the hard bit. And that’s where a lot of personal growth, inner strength and inner peace comes from. And it can be a lonely place.
In recognition of Kofi Annan’s death and my memories of Ghana I would like to share with you this 3 minutes piece of music: An Ashanti funeral dirge for atenteben (bamboo flute).
It is strong yet fragile, happy yet sad, deep in meaning and moves the soul.
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