As I have written elsewhere, inspiring people have the ability to change the course and intensity of your research area, in my case global health. I was therefore saddened to hear that Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), passed away recently. Hailed as ‘a guiding force for good’ by the current UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, Mr. Annan served as UN chief for two consecutive five-year terms, beginning in January 1997. He was the first Secretary-General to be recruited within the UN bureaucracy and together with the United Nations, was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world.
In many ways, Mr. Annan personified the United Nations., i.e., he was UN. This characteristic leads me to compare him to the second UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld from my home country Sweden. Hammarskjöld was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but posthumously since he died in a plane crash while on a peace mission in Africa (since 1974, the Statutes of the Nobel Foundation stipulate that a Nobel Prize cannot be awarded posthumously). What the two former UN chiefs embodied was their clear idealistic pathways and for making the UN an important force for global change. They were also known for not being affected or intimidated by world leaders regarding policy questions or important decisions, but instead taking into account all its members and for giving the UN its own unique voice despite divided positions between member countries. For instance, Mr. Hammarskjöld famously said:
“The UN was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.”
These former UN chiefs, and others alike, can be a true inspiration and function as role models to young researchers finding their way. Maybe we should pay these individuals some more attention and give them the credit they deserve. For me, Kofi Annan inspired me while being a PhD student in global health. Reading his memoirs inspired me towards more broad global questions on climate change and other global challenges, which later resulted in a course book in global public health.
Though I never met Mr. Annan, he used to spend his summer vacation in Sweden just a few miles from my family home and where I used to spend my summers as well. The reason for him to be here was because of his Swedish wife; this post bares many connections to my home country, since the UN and its institutions have always been highly regarded within Swedish politics with the current non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council as a priority goal. For Sweden, the institutions that constitute the creation and work of the United Nations have been seen as a role model for global cooperation between countries that strive to end ongoing and future wars and conflicts. Until a couple of years ago, the UN Deputy Secretary-General was the Swedish diplomat Jan Eliasson.
Mr. Annan united world leaders to agree on the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a global effort never before seen to end poverty and to reduce mortality and improve health. These goals were later followed by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)to further achieve this goal by 2030. Other achievements were the establishment of the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council but also the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and he called the battle against AIDS his “personal priority.”
At the same time there were setbacks and controversies regarding peacekeeping in conflicts revealing the weakness of the UN system and that it sometimes is no more than the sum of its member countries and therefore only a reflection of their priorities and goals (Syria being the ultimate example where Kofi Annan was one but many taking on the peacekeeping envoy of the UN).
One thing is certain and that is that the world just lost a great visionary and an important voice for global change.
Featured Image: Kofi Annan, Founder and Chairman, Kofi Annan Foundation. The image belongs to the flickr account of ITU Picturesand is used under a Creative Commons CC license Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Andreas Vilhelmsson (October 15, 2015). Deep Reads: Andreas Vilhelmsson’s journey into the world of global public health.PLOS Biologue.
Government Offices of Sweden. Sweden in the UN Security Council.
Government Offices of Sweden. Sweden’s involvement in the UN.
Kofi Annan with (September 3, 2013). Interventions. A life in war and peace.Penguin Random House.
Monica Grady. (November 16, 2017).Is Marie Sklodowska Curie still a good role model for female scientists at 150?Independent.
Rick Gladstone (August 2, 2012).Resigning as Envoy to Syria, Annan Casts Wide Blame. The New York Times.
The Nobel Peace Price 2001 (October 12, 2001). The Nobel Peace Prize 2001 was awarded jointly to United Nations (U.N.) and Kofi Annan “for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world.” The Nobel Prize.
UN News (August 18, 2018). UN mourns death of former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, ‘a guiding force for good’United Nations.
UN News (November 18, 2016). Reflecting on his five-year term, UN deputy chief pins hopes on multilateralism.United Nations.
The Associated Press (August 18, 2018).Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan Dies at Age 80.The New York Times.
United Nations .Dag Hammarskjöld, Second Secretary-General of the United Nations