Ghana: Former U.N. Secretary-General Urged to Run for President, February 6, 2007

Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan answered questions during his last scheduled press conference on Dec. 19, 2006 at the United Nations in New York. (Photo: Don Emmert / AFP-Getty Images)

Kofi Annan, the Ghanaian-born diplomat who recently concluded his tenure as the seventh secretary-general of the United Nations (U.N.) — from Jan. 1, 1997 to Dec. 31, 2006 — returned to a hero's welcome in his native country. He served two five-year terms and was first the secretary-general from a black African nation. Annan was succeeded on Jan. 1 by South Korean Ban Ki-moon, whose current term runs through Dec. 31, 2011.

The Malaysia Sun (Jan. 24) covered the diplomat's auspicious arrival in Ghana, accompanied by his wife, Nane Maria Annan:

Ghana's illustrious son, former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, arrived back home to a rousing welcome upon his retirement and is already being mentioned as a presidential candidate for the West African country.

A welcoming party of hundreds led by President John Agyekum Kufuor waved flags. They were there to meet Annan, 68, and his wife at the Kotoka International Airport, where traditional drummers and dancers extolled his virtues Tuesday.

"This has been a wonderful homecoming. We are happy to be home," [Annan] said. "When (my wife) and I looked out of the window and saw that you are here in your numbers to welcome us home, we were really, really moved."

The question on many minds regarding Annan is what his next step will be. According to South Africa's BuaNews Online (Jan. 25):

The accomplished diplomat, who plans to spend his retirement in Ghana, said he was serious about going into agriculture. He noted that Africa was the only continent that had not gone through the green revolution and could not feed itself.

"There used to be starvation in India and China," said Annan. "I would like, in the next phase of my life, to work with international actors and African leaders to take agriculture to a new level."

Reuters South Africa (Jan. 24) reported on the hope that Annan might vie for leadership of Ghana:

Some local media had suggested he might contest the 2008 election, at which Kufuor is due to step down, but Annan ruled this out in November.

Also reporting on a potential presidential run, Australia's Sydney Morning Herald (Jan. 26) asked:

What does retirement hold for the world's top diplomat, a man who has taken swipes at the United States, negotiated for peace in Iraq and Lebanon and tried to halt unfolding genocide in Rwanda, Yugoslavia and Darfur?

If Kofi Annan's Ghanaian compatriots have their way, it will have less to do with golf and grandchildren than with politics and presidential suites. … Mr. Annan is the kind of candidate who would send even seasoned campaign managers into a swoon. He has unprecedented name recognition as a Nobel Peace Prize winner and two-term U.N. secretary-general. And as Ghana's most beloved son, he has enormous approval ratings.

Noting the diplomat's somewhat mixed U.N. legacy, New Zealand's (Jan. 24) said:

His final years as secretary-general were dogged by lingering questions over U.N. scandals, deteriorating ties with the U.S. government, and the repercussions of the war in Iraq, which he opposed.

None of these considerations, however, weighed heavily on the assembled Ghanaians:

But the waiting crowd gave him an ecstatic welcome. "He is our leader. It is good that he is coming home and we are here to welcome him," said Zinatu Mohammed, 25.

Indeed, most Ghanaians were unstinting in their praise for Annan. Some saw his return as a portend of greater things for their country. Ghana's Joy Online (Jan. 28) declared:

The permanent return of Mr. Kofi Annan, former U.N. secretary-general to the country which coincided with the country's 50th independence anniversary celebration is a blessing for unity and reconciliation of Ghanaians.

Nana Osei Bonsu, National President of the Ghana First Movement, a non-partisan nationalist movement in Kumasi, who made the observation, said the two major historical events should be used to promote the stability, unity, reconciliation and accelerated development of the country.

An even more effusive salute was given by the country's The Statesman Online (Jan. 25) in an editorial titled, "Kofi Annan — a gem, born for greatness":

Further, we hope that he will stay, and that he can bring the same passion, dignity, commitment, and skill to Ghana's development that he brought to the office of U.N. secretary-general.

Mr. Annan was perhaps born for greatness; a Fante-Asante twin and the descendent of chiefs on both sides. He is M.I.T.-educated in business management and, what with his U.N. dossier and a Nobel Peace Prize under his belt, he seems to have much to offer to his motherland.

Commendations for Annan came not only from his compatriots, as Pakistan's Daily Times (Jan. 16) reported:

Nobel Prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer has expressed high praise for former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for his service to the cause of world peace.

In a letter published in The New York Times on Tuesday, the South African novelist says she and thousands of others are grateful to Annan for his contribution. She writes, "In terms of dedication to democratic justice, objective analysis, wise forethought and necessary action without fear of the inevitable criticism, his occupation of the secretary-general's hot seat restored the belief that great intelligence and calm insight into the political, economic and social human condition can still exist in an office of virtually universal responsibility."

In the midst of the euphoria at Annan's return, a more cautionary stance at the long-term effects he might have on his native country was struck by columnist Kobby Asmah in the Daily Graphic (Jan. 29):

For once, it looked as if the success story of Kofi Annan had brought the whole country together and forged a strong bond of nationalism among Ghanaians.

However, in all of this celebration was this feeling of anxiety, as I observed our various political leaders try to fraternize with one another in a show of public gesture, all specifically aimed at giving Annan a deserving welcome back home.

Indeed, I kept asking myself whether this huge phenomenal national experience was not going to be a distant mirage and whether Ghana was genuinely and truly ready to listen to their illustrious son for long.

Although speculation over a possible Annan presidential run is rife in the Ghanaian media and general population, an article in Taiwan's Taipei Times (Jan. 26) indicated that some feel Annan has a higher calling:

James Gbeho, a retired Ghanaian diplomat who was the country's longest-serving U.N. envoy, said he didn't expect Annan to take much of a role in local affairs.

"There cannot be any specific local role for Kofi that I can see now," Gbeho said. "He is a global statesman, who will be needed worldwide."

In addition to the commendations already received, the U.K.'s Kenya London News (Jan. 30) brought news of yet another award:

Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been awarded the 2006 Olof Palme Prize, following his retirement from the post after 10 years at the top. The Olof Palme Prize is awarded for "outstanding achievement in the spirit of former Swedish prime minister Olof Palme."

They will share the $75,000 cash prize. The Olof Palme Prize was founded by the murdered Swedish Prime Minister's family and the Social Democratic party after Palme's 1986 assassination.

Although the future of the former U.N. secretary-general seems to be far from set, the lure of having such a prestigious figure as president of Ghana appears irresistible. According to the United Arab Emirates' Khaleej Times:

The [New Life Ghana] movement set up the Web site to campaign for his candidacy. ... the website, which is not endorsed by Annan, said he "is the best qualified person to lead the country at this crucial time."

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