Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has paid glowing tributes to the life and work of former Secretary General of the United Nations, the late Kofi Annan, which she described to be rewarding and inspiring. Madam Sirleaf also told world leaders that the Sustainable Development Goals, one of the many initiatives visualized by Dr. Annan will not be fully realized unless women have hurdles and restrictions removed from their paths to full participation in political processes and national decision making.
Madam Sirleaf made the call Thursday, November 4, 2021 in Geneva, Switzerland when she delivered the inaugural address of the Kofi Annan Geneva Press on the topic “Following the footsteps of a Changemaker during the Geneva Peace Week. The event was held under the theme, “Public Service in the 21st Century in Africa” where other prominent international individuals attended to commemorate the life and passion of the late UN Scribe under the auspices of the Kofi Annan Foundation.
Giving the background on where and how she met and got inspiration from the late international figure, Madam Sirleaf said she first met the former UN Secretary General in 1992 at the United Nations when she was appointed as the head of the United Nations Development Program for Africa. After five years of service, in 1997, Madam Sirleaf said she requested for a private audience with the United Nations Secretary General to hint him on her ambition to contest for the Liberian Presidency and she got the encouragement for her to go ahead.
“His words became my mantra and a source of inspiration to which I would frequently return in the quietude of the ebbs and flows of a difficult journey for political leadership, which as a woman, I dared to seek. I would often fall back on those words as I struggled to overcome the hurdles of being the first woman to be democratically-elected President on the African Continent and undertook the task of leading in a country whose culture and values were severely compromised by years of violence, dependency and indiscipline.”
Madam Sirleaf said Kofi Annan lived his life anchored in this fiercely-held faith such that throughout his two terms as Secretary General to the United Nations, he demonstrated these values in every decision and global advocacy for change and for peace. She added that he also embedded these values into the Kofi Annan Foundation, where he focused on promoting elections and democracy, and advocating for the inclusion of the youth, women, and girls into mainstream participation in both business and politics.
Touching more on the legacy of Mr. Annan whom he described as ever the institutional man, Madam Sirleaf said he found a way to improve the system from within, he was the quiet change-maker, not the rabble rouser who altered mindsets and transformed the global post-war institution into one that placed the people it was created to serve at its center.
“As Secretary General, Kofi set in motion the Millennium Development Goals, which today are the Sustainable Development Goals and have become the way the world measures the human condition.
“He secured the global commitment for The Doctrine ‘The Responsibility to Protect’ which speaks loudly to the repression of freedom, and the misuse of political powers to inflict wrongs, sufferings and brutal violence on the people leaders have a duty to serve,” Madam Sirleaf said.
She eulogized the former Ghanaian diplomat and world leader, saying that he also built the structural foundation for the International Criminal Court, the Rome Treaty, the Global Compact and the Peacekeeping Doctrine. He established UNAIDS in response to the HIV/AIDS Pandemic, and subsequently the Global Fund. Today, the Global Fund is mobilizing resources for COVID-19, like it did in 2014 during the Ebola outbreak.
The late UN Secretary General, Madam Sirleaf said, “Chaired and nurtured “The Elders”, a group of eminent, independent global leaders who work to promote peace and human rights, and to challenge leaders and institutions when these values are violated.”
Continuing further, Madam Sirleaf said, “Similarly, he affiliated with the African Progress Panel that brings together African leaders to advocate for equitable and sustainable development in Africa, in memory of the works of Africa’s pacesetter for peace and reconciliation. Kofi Annan was a leader of the world, and a consequential one impressing lasting impacts on the peace, dignity and security of the global human family”.
The former Liberian President further elaborated on how deeply Mr. Annan was involved in the wellbeing of the African continent to the extent that he affiliated himself with the African Progress Panel, an institution that brings together African leaders to advocate for equitable and sustainable development in Africa, in memory of the works of Africa’s pacesetter for peace and reconciliation. She added that he was a leader of the world, and a consequential one impressing lasting impacts on the peace, dignity and security of the global human family.
“When African and world leaders meet in Accra on December 8 and 9 at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center to discuss Democracy and Governance in the continent of complex crisis in West Africa, we will remember the work of Kofi Annan’s spirit and endeavor for peace. Did we do enough?” Madam Sirleaf wondered.
She spoke about Mr. Annan’s concern for Liberia during the brutal civil war and stated that as Secretary General, he authorized the UN Peacekeeping Force, UNMIL, in 2003 and kept them there. Reaching a peak as Secretary General, Kofi authorized the UN Peacekeeping Force, UNMIL, in 2003, and kept them in the country reaching a peak up to 18,000 representing the highest deployments of UN Peacekeepers at the time.
“This helped secure a legitimate electoral process in 2005 and is deservingly recognized as one of the most successful UN peacekeeping operations. Further, he helped to mobilize over $500 million from the donor community to support the nascent Transitional Government, which was so pivotal in a country that was so devastated through decades of civil war”, she said.
“Distinguished audience, it is not lost on me that Kofi Annan and I share not just the year of our births but the honor of being considered outsiders and therefore firsts in such respects. Of course, I stand in his shadow with the hope that the trails we have blazed will inspire many more to follow. Being outsiders and firsts, did not stop us from pushing ourselves. In fact, it motivated us to strive to do more,” she further said.
“In this regard, we must continue to pave the way for the breakthrough of political outsiders especially women, youth and other disenfranchised and disadvantaged populations too long kept on the fringes of the society and global institutions. They must be included, supported and encouraged to seek power, and to make a difference, not as an end in and of itself, but as a means to achieving the inclusive ends that truly empower all peoples. That is the Kofi Annan way”, Madam Sirleaf asserted.
The first African woman to have been democratically elected President also took some time to speak about her involvement with the cause of promoting women empowerment and leadership on the continent through the Amujae Initiative, the flagship undertaking of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development. She told her audience of the recent gathering in Monrovia that brought together women from 16 countries including activists, senior government leaders, CEOs and heads of civil society organizations, whom she said were singled out by the foundation’s leadership as change-makers and force-multipliers in their countries and communities.
The respected former President said Amujae seeks to enhance the capacity of women in public leadership, helping to increase their effectiveness in their current roles, and in their life’s pursuits. She added that the Amujae cohorts, with the Center as their platform, continue to work to challenge systemic barriers to girls’ and women’s advancement, stressing that the Center and the Amujae leaders aim to change the course of African history, one capable, and unapologetically ambitious female leaders at a time.
“During three days of training, we reflected upon the pioneering women of history who carried the torch for freedom and human rights. We applauded the current women who have established, without doubt, the claim of global leadership based on equal or higher levels of capabilities and courage and with the added value of empathy and concern for human dignity. We huddled together, to support each other, learn from one another, and recommit to uplifting women and, in doing so, the human condition”, Madam Sirleaf said.
“As we know, African women, by definition, are political outsiders; they threaten the governing status quo,” the former Liberian leader said, adding that it is a status quo that for too long has held onto power at all costs, while their citizens live in want and deprivation, with their untapped potential never fully realized.
Madam Sirleaf said she will take the appeal to the Africa Union, the European Union, the United Nations, the G-20, the G-7, to put the issue of women equality and participation on the same stage with global warming and climate adding that for only by ensuring that full participation of everyone in all aspects of the democratic process, can we ensure lasting and durable peace and that it is clear that only through inclusion can we truly combat division.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I challenge you as Kofi challenged me: Look into your hearts, believe you can make a difference, then go and make that difference. As it did for me, as it did for Kofi, the world awaits each and every one of you”, she concluded.