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Kofi Annan’s Achievement

Great chief executives need a guiding vision for the exercise of authority, and all the more so when that authority is international civil authority. As United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan had such a vision – and the skills needed to realize it.

CANBERRA – Kofi Annan deserves to be remembered as a near-exemplary United Nations secretary-general (SG). Great chief executives need a guiding vision for the exercise of authority, and all the more so when that authority is international civil authority. Annan’s success was based on his ability to combine pragmatism and humility with an enduring vision of human progress and solidarity.

This fusion of vision and character was perhaps best encapsulated in the Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), which mapped an ambitious set of priorities for the UN. In addition, animated by an abiding humanism and faithful to the spirit, as well as the letter, of the UN Charter, Annan stretched the executive authority of the organization through creative interpretations of the Charter and a charismatic personality to secure the adoption of the exciting, but challenging, “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) principle.

The grandson of tribal chiefs and son of a provincial governor in the British colony of Gold Coast (now Ghana), Annan blended an aristocratic style of leadership with soft-spoken personal charm, empathy, intellectual gravitas, and sartorial elegance. His years as SG (1997-2006) were marked by political judgment, tact, and integrity. An eloquent testament to the quality of his ten-year tenure at the helm is the lasting loyalty, bordering on devotion, he inspired in the immensely talented group of senior advisers he assembled.

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