afrol News, 15 December - As the UN's General Assembly today swore in Ban Ki-moon as the 8th United Nations Secretary-General, sub-Saharan Africa's and Ghana's first-ever 10-year leader of the world body is praised for his great efforts to move the African continent forward. Kofi Annan put African development on the world's agenda like no other leader, but also failed to show strength at many important crossroads.
Mr Ban today outlined his priorities when he is to take over Mr Annan's office on 1 January. His foremost aim was to "restore trust" in the UN and among UN members. But the new UN chief also revealed geographical preferences when meeting the press after his inauguration ceremony. The Middle East was singled out as a priority, and on other regions, Mr Ban especially mentioned ongoing conflicts such as Darfur, while signalling a stronger attachment to US foreign policy aims.
Outgoing UN leader Annan, on the other hand, had made his major focus the eradication of poverty. While poverty always was the centre of Mr Annan's thoughts, he saw the important issues of peace, health and environment in that perspective. And it was a very much African perspective, something the UN Secretary-General never tried to hide.
During Mr Annan's ten years at the UN's steering wheel, the world body therefore has been very engaged in helping African and other nations to end their conflicts, assure peace and democracy, fight epidemics, secure a good environment and find donors to fund development - all in a perspective of fighting poverty. Mr Ban, at a first glimpse, signals he will focus more on preventing and mediating conflicts - for the sake of peace alone.
But what has Mr Annan achieved for Africa during his chieftaincy? The biggest victories have been ending the great regional wars in the Great Lakes and in West Africa, bringing in one record-large UN peacekeeping mission after another to secure peace in Sierra Leone, Congo Kinshasa, Liberia and Burundi.
It needed the firm dedication of Mr Annan to be able to send such expensive and effective missions to Africa - a region that previously always had been ignored when it came to peace-building. Mr Annan did not accept that only political hotbeds with great media attention in donor nations - as the Middle East, Korea and Cyprus - should be granted effective peace-building, while the world accepted Africa as a "hopeless" region where one had to expect wars anyhow.
His insistence on taking African conflicts seriously - even if they were without the greatest impact on global security or trade - was not an easy task. The sending of enormous troop contingents to Sierra Leone came in the aftermath of the disastrous UN-US intervention in Somalia - which had crippled Western interest in getting militarily involved in Africa - and the UN's greatest failure ever; preventing the Rwanda 1994 genocide.
The Rwanda genocide also marked Mr Annan strongly. While he was not yet UN Secretary-General, he was in a position at the UN where he should have done more and done it faster. Many observers have seen Mr Annan trying to make up for this fatal 1994 error by fighting strongly for effective UN peace missions in other African countries.
But Mr Annan's greatest failures are also related to African conflicts. The conflicts in Darfur and Western Sahara demonstrated his inability to show strength and his poor power base. Outside Africa, the Iraq war proved this even stronger.
The Ghanaian, without the backing of any powerful home country, during his ten years in New York mostly was held as a hostage of US foreign policy interests and - less often - of other great powers. In Darfur, Mr Annan became too attached to the Washington administration's radical approach to Sudan, leaving him without confidence in Khartoum. In Western Sahara, Mr Annan was willing to disregard UN resolutions and international law by letting the stronger part - Morocco - setting the agenda. As a US-supported initiative led by James Baker gave up on the conflict, Mr Annan also lost his interest.
But Mr Annan has done much more for Africa than trying to resolve conflicts. Fighting poverty being his top agenda, the outgoing UN Secretary-General will always be remembered for his Millennium Summit, which reached a decision to halve poverty in the world by 2015, halt the spread of AIDS and provide universal primary education. The UN's Millennium Development Goals have "galvanised unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest," in Mr Annan's words.
The other prime mark Mr Annan has set of African history is the war he has declared on the AIDS pandemic. He has dedicated himself to establish a global multi-million dollar fund to fight AIDS and tuberculosis in Africa and has made uncountable appeals to donors to finance his crusade against the disease and affordable AIDS drugs. Due to his work, AIDS awareness has risen sharply in Africa and awareness of Africa's AIDS crisis has risen throughout the world.
Mr Annan's greatest legacy therefore has been to put African issues on the world agenda, despite an initial disinterest among other, more powerful regions. His other main legacy - the strengthening of the UN's position on world policies - may assure that African issues stay on the world agenda while the UN will have to wait decades for another African chief.
Mr Annan therefore will be remembered as one of Africa's great sons. Happy retirement, Mr Annan!
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