Members of the public pay their respects around the coffin as the body of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan lay in state in Ghana’s capital, Accra. Annan died in Switzerland in August, at the age of 80. Picture: AP/African News Agency (ANA)
Ghana gained her independence from Britain in 1957 and, without wasting time, the following year she hosted the historic All African People’s Conference in Accra, presided over by the first president of an independent African nation, Nkwame Nkrumah.

Invitations were extended far and wide and South Africa was duly represented by E’skia Mphahlele, Patrick Duncan, Alfred Hutchinson and Jordan Ngubane. In that meeting, Nkrumah declared that the “independence of Ghana was meaningless until it was linked to the independence of Africa”.

Today the South African Parliament pays homage and a special tribute to one of the greatest sons of that great country of Ghana, Kofi Atta Annan. It is little wonder that the country of Nkwame Nkrumah, the first African country to give Africa a hope of the reality of freedom and independence, must be the same country that gave the world a Kofi Atta Annan.

From the loins of a proud and colourful people with their toga dress, was born a man whose hold on the strings of humanity was to be felt far and wide. It was not by dint of fate but by a purposeful fore-ordained promise that he rose from the humble beginnings to capture the imaginations of mankind.

The warm humility of the people of Ghana was not lost to mankind and to an impressionable lad called Kofi. The enduring compassion and regard for the true welfare of others is a hallmark that stayed with Kofi Annan all his life.

Kofi Annan was a product of a proud nation that has tamed iron and that has mined gold from time immemorial - a nation that is proud of its aristocracy and that is steeped in the traditions of ancient African traditional authority.

Kofi Annan was raised in the tradition of chieftaincy and the many royal meetings in the traditional courts were an early basis of his later diplomatic upbringing. The consensus building format of conflict resolutions was to stay with him throughout his adult life.

He chose diplomacy as the best possible career at a time when many chose politics, teaching, priesthood and the legal fraternity. He saw far into the distant future about the greater impact that diplomacy would yield than other careers. His soft-spoken nature made him a natural candidate for this ancient craft, because he soon realised that he was a born diplomat.

His placid demeanour made him wear the diplomatic mantle with ease. His honesty and candid views attracted even his adversaries to engage with his ideas.

Kofi Annan was entrusted with greatness from the time of his birth and when the time came, he embraced the full meaning of that natural calling to higher service of humanity. Rising in the ranks of the UN, from the lowest position to its ultimate helm, bespeak a great feat and triumph of his genial soul.

He curved a lasting niche for himself and for his continent in those gilded corridors in New York and engraved his name forever in its annals. Ever conscious and ever vigilant to his historic mission and compassionate about the African agenda, Kofi Annan broke down all the barriers of prejudice and race to assume and sustain the highest office in the UN with pride.

He was not blinded by the laurels of office nor was he indifferent to the struggles of the African continent for the voice to the heard, that is why he made it his mission to fight for the transformation of the UN. To seek to transform is to negate exclusion which brings with it marginalisation and discrimination.

This is the incomplete agenda that South Africa will be taking up when she assumes a seat in the UN Security Council in January.

As a lasting tribute to Kofi Annan, we must struggle to reinstall multilateralism at a time like the present.

As a lasting remembrance of that great son of Africa, we must reject the notion of arbitrary conduct in the affairs of the world. We must insist on the consensus building and we must stand firm on the principle of respect for the sanctity of humanity. We must dismiss the bullies with a united cry that power and might are not always right.

As we mark the centenary of Nelson Mandela, we are reminded of the many great sons of Africa that we have shared with mankind. Thomas Gray wrote in his famous Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard that:

“Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air.”

Kofi Annan did not blush unseen. Alan Moorehead in his book The Russian Revolution once said that “Half measures are no good in this wilderness any more than a leaking boat is any good in an ocean. One needs certainty, a sense of security, something to hold on to in the dangerous void - and it has to be absolutely solid.”

* Luwellyn Landers is Deputy Minister of International Relations and Thami ka Plaatjie, director of the Pan African Foundation, a research and community development NGO, and is a former secretary-general of the PAC.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.