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Kofi Annan: A measure of a man

By Matthew Hassan Kukah
17 September 2018   |   1:32 am
At the John F. Kennedy School of Government, one of the Professors who taught a subject called Reading History gave us an assignment. The strongest part of the course was the need for students to prepare themselves for problem-solving roles, which come with leadership in public life.

Kofi Annan

A measure of a man is not determined
By his show of outward strength,
Or the volume of his voice,
Or the thunder of his actions
Or of his intellect or academic abilities
It is seen rather in the measure of the love he has
For his family and for everyone.
The strength of his commitments
And the genuineness of his friendships,
Sincerity of his purpose
The quiet courage of his convictions
The fun, the laughter,
the joy and happiness he gives to his family
and to others His love of life
His patience and his honesty
And his contentment with what he has.
-Grady Poulard

At the John F. Kennedy School of Government, one of the Professors who taught a subject called Reading History gave us an assignment. The strongest part of the course was the need for students to prepare themselves for problem-solving roles, which come with leadership in public life. The idea was to let students know that as leaders, the problems of yesterday could repeat themselves. The idea was to use the experiences of leaders to teach.

One day the Professor came to class with a small basket. Towards the end of the class, he asked that the small basket be passed around the whole class. It contained pieces of paper which he said we were just to pick one piece of paper but not to open it. A few minutes later, he asked everyone to open the little paper he or she had. We all did. The pieces of papers were names of prominent leaders around the world. I opened my own piece of paper and there before me was the name, Hanna Ashrawi. The Professor said we were all to research on the names we had chosen. The following weeks, we would each have ten minutes to address the class impersonating the person we had chosen.

I thought it would take away the essence of the programme if I complained that I had chosen a woman. I admired the brilliance and spunky patriotism of Dr. Ashrawi and I knew little bit about the Palestinian question, so fitting into her shoes was going to be great fun, I thought. Then, as the class ended, one of my female classmates walked up to me and said: Father Matthew (as I insisted they call me), I picked Kofi Annan and I do not see how I, a white female can mimic Annan without making a fool of myself. I think you would make a good Kofi Annan (I was the only black person in the class!) Who did you pick, she asked me? I told her I picked Dr. Hanna Ashrawi. She said she hadn’t heard of her but it would make sense so, she pleaded with me to take Annan and give her Ashrawi. I told her we needed to clear with the Professor. He graciously agreed. Although it spoilt my fun, being Kofi Annan had great appeal. 

I set about researching on Kofi Annan. When my turn came, I wore a suit and told the class about my rural but aristocratic background and the good education I had received. I was a prince from Kumasi and now, Secretary General of the United Nations. In my fake speech before the class, I spoke about coming from Africa, studying in MIT just down the road from the Kennedy School. In the course of my research I had decided to go to MIT and look up the place so I spoke with some little of authority. I spoke of the challenges of  being the number one peacekeeper in the world. Pretending to be Annan was quite some fun and in the end, the class agreed that I had really faked it well.

My chance of meeting the legend in real life came in January 2014 after the Conference of Political Parties that had been convened by Chief Ben Obi of the Office for Interparty Affairs then. Chief Emeka Anyaoku chaired the conference and I had accepted the invitation and planned to attend, but in the end, I could not make it. Late that evening, I got a call from Anyaoku. I was convinced he had called to ask why I had not made it to the conference. Rather, he was gracious but then went straight to the point. Have you met Kofi Annan? he asked in his gentle, authority-laden but firm voice. I told him I had not had the honour and then he proceeded: “If you are free, Mr. Annan and I are at the Transcorp Hilton and he will like to meet you, but he has a flight to catch tonight.” I dropped everything else I was doing and rushed to the 10th floor of the hotel where I met the two great men waiting for me. 

Anyaoku made the introductions and as I shook his hand, I told him how very pleased I was to finally meet him. Time did not allow me to tell him I had successfully faked him. I congratulated him for having held the candle for Africa at the United Nations and the great work he was still doing for peace in the world. Anyaoku had already requested me to convene the National Peace Committee and therefore introduced me to Mr. Annan in that regard. We discussed briefly the prospects and he informed me of his willingness to assist the NPC in any way we wanted. We must all ensure that Nigeria succeeds he said firmly, as we bade goodbye. I thanked and bade him goodbye.
• Kukah is the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto.

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