Sunday, March 17, 2013

232. Interventions - A Life in War and Peace by Kofi Annan (with Nader Mousavizadeh)

Interventions - A Life in War and Peace (Allen Lane, 2012; 383) is Kofi Annan's memoir focusing on an aspect of his work at the United Nations. As the title sounds, the book sought to provide some sort of explanation and reasons behind how 'interventions' became a UN policy. Like all memoirs, the book sought to provide certain reasons for which certain actions were taken. Regardless of the fact that most memoirs - including this one - are a way of putting the author in some good standing and explain away, with hindsight, the importance of the author's actions taken some time ago and as in the case of George Bush's Decision Points remove an indelible stigma that has become associated with them; regardless, there is still something to learn. If one reads between the lines, one is likely to grasp the author's intentions lurking behind.

In the case of Kofi Annan, there are several areas in the book which one could easily argue with. It also shows who the string-pullers are. For instance, the US influence on the UN was palpable and though Annan mentioned one or two instances where he put up some form of struggle, which he liked to describe as independent thinking, it was clear that the US did whatever they wanted - with or without UN sanctions, including their invasion of Iraq. Yet, the fact that US and UK controls the UN is common knowledge. The real shame comes when Annan, describing the bad governance in Africa wrote
In 1965, the white-minority government of Southern Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe) unilaterally declared independence from Great Britain, thwarting the British intent on building a multiracial system as part of the decolonization process.  From 1970, Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo led an armed rebellion against the white minority government, with victory for the freedom fighters arriving in 1980. [167/68]
The question is what was Annan expecting, that the blacks submit to white minority rule? Wasn't there a form of apartheid system in Zimbabwe then? And wasn't apartheid South Africa voting to elect their presidents? He went on to state that 
But the perils of this personalized form of rule only became fully apparent from the late 1990s, when he [Robert Mugabe] launched a series of aggressive and disastrous land reforms. [168]
From here, Kofi Annan went on to talk about some of the things western media has been talking about regarding Mugabe. It was clear that Annan, in his position as a UN Secretary-General, would dislike Mugabe with passion and cherish Mandela, to the extent as quoting him. But posterity will be the judge. Whether disastrous or not, which several researches have stated otherwise, Mugabe was bold enough to address the land issue. In South Africa today, the land issue is still hanging around their necks: blacks are still the lowliest of the low. The recent shootings of miners should have shut Annan up. The fortunes of black South Africans didn't just change because Mandela became president and because of his belief in institutions. If the institutions have systematically made blacks poor, it must be fought. And that is what Mandela did not do. Today, the elemental structure of apartheid still exist. It doesn't break down because a black man broke the mould and became president, or that once in a while a black person breaks through and become rich. Acquiescing to the rich Afrikaans for fear of crippling the economy, at the time, does nothing to the many blacks who were and are poor. What Annan wrote is not different from what one might hear on BBC or CNN.

Annan talked about poor leadership in Africa and this is a fact. But the book is loudly silent on the early crop of charismatic African leaders who were overthrown and/or killed by Western machines. Annan conveniently forgets that Patrice Lumumba was assassinated by the Belgians and the Americans installed Mobutu Sesseseko. He forgets that Emperor Bokassa and Idi Amin were all supported by the West. He forgets that Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown in a CIA-sponsored coup. Now here is the linkage: If the vilest of the vile were supported by the West - from Mobutu to Idi Amin to Mengistu, what kind of example was set for the aspiring leaders of the time? Idi AminThey merely copied the early ones who did business with America and co. After all, Milton Obote and Yoweri Museveni came after and Ghana witnessed several coups after Nkrumah's overthrown. In his writing Annan took the safest route out; thinking that because he is African, he can blame Africans and be deemed bold. He mentioned Mobutu but not how Mobutu came to be. He compared and contrasted the leadership problem in Africa and blamed it continent's underdevelopment. In fact, he claimed that this cause of Africa's underdevelopment - poor leadership - is known by all but for diplomacy sake, all are shying away from it. He talked of how a research he asked done produced the same reasons (colonialism) for Africa's woes and then ordering for a new research that will blame leadership. Here I laughed because as a researcher myself, what you want is not to prejudice the findings of a research. If you know the direction of your hypothesis why conduct the research?

He made that age-old and fickle comparison we all do with Malaysia that at independence Ghana was better than Malaysia but Malaysia has developed and Ghana is still trapped in the quagmire of poverty. Yet, like everybody does, he forgets that Dr Mahathir, credited with developing Malaysia and bringing it to its current state, ruled for 22 years, albeit winning successive elections. In Africa, he would have been described as an autocrat, just like Mugabe is. Again, Annan talked about how China has lifted its people out of poverty; what he forgot is that China didn't do this because they are democratic.

Again, Annan spoke glowingly about the establishment of the ICC, despite what Robin Cook said that the ICC was not established to bring to book the prime ministers of the UK and the presidents of the US. According to Annan, it was established to try human rights abusers from countries with weak judicial systems. He even talked about the role of the ICC in Libya and others. He mentioned that a person has to be reported to the ICC before he could be arrested. Now we know the rate at which peaceful demonstrators could easily transform into rebels with weapons; so who is qualified to report a person to the ICC? These rebels who are fighting the government (as in Libya)? Or is it the president who wants power (as in Ouattara against Gbagbo)? Why wasn't Ouattara also arrested when it was clear that he and his forces were not passive participants but also committed serious atrocities? Can Annan justify this? The ICC has become the judicial wing of western imperialism. If they come militarily and they fail, they will put some people together to charge you at the ICC, and because people have affinity for law and order you are more likely to be arrested. It was so in the case of Qathaffi until he was assassinated. In fact, who decides whether a country has the right structures to try human right abusers? The statements by Luis Ocampo, the ex-prosecutor of the ICC, are common knowledge. This is what Jimmy Carter writes in his book Our Endangered Values - America's Moral Crisis
The ICC charter, signed in 2002 by 139 nations, was carefully drafted to prevent punishment of Americans for genocidal acts overseas, provided US courts will address such crimes. However, the United States is now attempting to force subservient nations to guarantee blanket immunity for American military personnel, contractor employees, and tourists. [106]
And they got this blanket immunity when they went round threatening African countries to sign the Non-Surrender Treaty. According to Annan himself, a US judge once referred to the ICC as a kangaroo court. Will the US charge itself for human right abuses in Pakistan, Yemen and other countries where drones are killing citizens? What can the UN do about nation-states like the US, UK who use the ICC as a tool to get their stooges into presidential positions (as France did in Cote d'Ivoire)? If Annan fails to answer these pertinent questions, then in the ICC, he has created a weapon and handed it over to the bosses of the non-super-power countries to use it as and how and when they deem fit.

Annan talked about the UN's 'intervention' in Libya when we know that those people fighting the government weren't 'peaceful demonstrators'. That is not an intervention, it was an invasion. Annan equated demonstrations with underdevelopment. And here he writes like a BBC journalist describing the London economic riots as having been perpetrated by 'hooligans' and 'neighbourhood gangs' and a demonstration in the Arab and Africa regions as 'uprisings, springs, awakenings, and demonstrations'. What I would want to know from Annan and his UN is that were they going release a report on Libya in relation to the strides it has made in its economy before they were invaded?

On the myriad problems confronting Africa's agriculture Annan writes;
This is not because of lack of effort by Africa's farmers but lack of knowledge, resources, and infrastructure to support their hard work. A uniquely "green revolution" would have a positive impact not only on food security but also on many of the other challenges facing the continent. [206]
These problems exist. However, Annan once again conveniently forgot to mention, in this part - only mentioning it 42 pages away - that humongous subsidies Europe and America give to their farmers that has effectively destroyed the livelihoods of millions of Africa's rice and cotton farmers, creating massive trade imabalances. According to Dambisa Moyo (author of Dead Aid, whom Annan namelessly addressed in several paragraphs of his book)
In 2003, US cotton subsidies to its farmers were around US$ 4bn. According to Oxfam cotton farmers receive more in subsidies than the entire GDP of Burkina Faso...[Yet, Dambisa writes] the livelihoods of at least 10m people in West and Central Africa alone depends on revenues from cotton, including some 6m rural households in Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Mali, and Zimbabwe. [116]
In the United States alone, the total amount of farm subsidies stands at around US$ 15 billion, and that number is rising. As a share of farmers' income, subsidies rose from around 14 percent  in the middle of the 1990s to around 17 percent today. The 2002 US Farm Security and Rural Act gave US farmers nearly US$ 200 billion on subsidies for subsequent ten years... The Europeans are just as protective. The Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) eats into around half the European Union's budget of Euros 127 billion (direct farm subsidies alone are worth Euros 40 billion), and EU subsidies are approximately 35 percent of farmers' total income. [115]
This is the type of globalisation Annan is preaching. Even when he talked about this unfairness on page 248, it was only in passing and only when he was adressing Dambisa's concerns. Yet he spent time to talk about a 'unique African Green Revolution', putting the last two words in inverted commas. And this is where the interest lies. The Africa Report No. 47 February 2013, on Philantrocrats states that:
In 2006, the Gates Foundation joined with the Rockefeller Foundation to found the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). It is African-led and US funded: US$ 165 m out of its US$ 400 m startup budget came from Gates Foundation. It also boast of Kofi Annan as Chairman of the board. [27]
And Annan talked about AGRA in his book and how they seek to end food insecurity on the continent. What more will lift people out of poverty than fair trade? But this is not the end; AGRA is championing the introduction of GM foods into Africa, which will make Africa dependent on foreign companies for its food needs. In the report Annan is quoted as saying that the choices between GM and non-GM is a 'decision they (African governments) will have to take'. The report went on to state that the Gates Foundation has a US$21.3 m stake in Monsanto, the makers of the GM food in question. Now with all the scientific tug-of-war between GM foods and the recent French studies showing its clear linkages to the development of tumours, is Annan saying that without GM, Africa shall not be food secured? Such a blunt swipe of the pen shall no longer be borne unquestioned. If Africa cannot depend on non-profit oriented Western countries for infrastructural development, how can it depend on capitalist companies whose primary objective function is profit-maximisation and payment of huge bonuses for its food needs? On the issue of trade and aid Annan mounted a strong defence for aid, when we all know how aid cripples a country and maintains underdevelopment, and in more places than one the reader is likely to think that he was directly addressing to Dambisa Moyo's thesis.

Annan clearly showed in this memoir that it is America's rules. The section on America's invasion of Iraq for weapons that didn't exist was so much filled with details and explanations regarding Saddam's behaviour and trickery (on disarmament) that one come out feeling 'then Saddam deserves it'. In fact, he writes that in order to be able to engage both sides of the global divide, he avoided an outright condemnation of the illegality of the invasion. This is one who has early on in the book condemned the whole African continent and its presidents (except Mandela). He writes, even when he has clearly witnessed how post-invasion Iraq has become a hub for terrorists,
I had expressed this view, in less direct ways, on other occasions in the past. I had up to that point always sought to retain my ability to engage both sides of this deep global divide by avoiding an outright condemnation of the illegality of the war. But it was no longer possible to sustain this position - even if a television interview was a less than ideal venue for saying that the emperor had no clothes. [357]
According to Annan, Bush told him that the world will be a safer place without Saddam; I guess it is with people dying everyday from explosions. It is sad to note that Annan described the terrorists on the streets of Damascus as youth pleading for accountable government, when we all know that they have been armed by other governments to cause mayhem, when we know that what is going on in Syria has nothing to do with accountable governance but rather nation-state who want a regime change (having implication for a broader geopolitics). Did America support the Shahs of Iran? Besides, why aren't they talking about Saudi Arabia? Are they democratic? This is absurd. This is and out-of this-world hypocrisy.
Nowhere did a regime resist this change more fiercely, or more doggedly, than in the Syrian capital Damascus. Over the course of a bloody year that began in March 2011, the world witnessed the youth of Syria take to the streets week after week pleading for a better, more just, more accountable government. [368]
Finally, Uhuru Kenyatta has won the presidency in Kenya, what has Kofi Annan to say? Will he go back and lambast him or will he blame African leadership, so myopically defined that it is good when it suits their interests.

In this book Annan showed his affinity for diplomacy which made him a great diplomat; he glossed over obvious problems, obvious reasons, obvious causes and pretended not to know the deeper causes, which is unbelievable coming from a man of his stature. He wrote like a western journalist assigned to cover issues outside America and Europe. He sees things in isolation and spoke of issues in discrete terms without regards to globalisation and imperialism. It is as if a country's decisions is independent of other countries' and that one can do as it wishes without any interference or grumbles from another. Africa's poverty is not linked to the skewed trade policies; America's interest is not related to its treatment of countries; when NATO and America invades Libya it is to protect the 'peaceful demonstrators', etc. Annan glossed over issues and causes; in some parts his assessment and analyses are superficial at best.

This is not a book I would have ordinarily read but it is also good that I did. After all, such books open the reader's mind and eyes to the real happenings in the world. Makes you know that those Africans whose bread is buttered in the West would always speak Western lingua. Recommended.


  1. LMAo @ Makes you know that those Africans whose bread is buttered in the West would always speak Western lingua. Recommended.
    What do you expect him to do? There is an old adage that says something like .."one does not break the hand that brings food to his mouth" LOL.. Again, I am happy there are still people who will not swallow just any food, even though it was brought to their mouth.

    Nice review. I am not looking forwrd to reading the novel anyway.


  2. Nana, this is a powerful and courageous review. Well done. Some of the revelations were shocking to me I dare say. But you said it all, Kofi Annan is a diplomat and his book is a manifestation of his trade at its best. You think he does not know the real facts? He does but to concede and write about the truth will indict him now. What did he do during his tenure to halt some of these aggressive acts of the US? After all they put him in the position twice.

    Incidentally I have never been enamoured of the guy. I have no reasons but a probably gut feeling.

    1. Neither was I. I have a theory that says that 'he (the African) who the West praises the most must be watched with another eye'. So I was somewhat skeptical. But these are just my opinions, others will disagree entirely. Whatever the case may be, we are all entitle to our opinions.

  3. Reading through this review is a great irony to what really affects Africa. In real sense, most of the first presidents from different countries had good ideas and aspirations for their countries. However, the US and the west did not borrow, instead they had to brain was the same ideas through crook means. Today, those criticing Africa are yet to understand the new wave -Africa Rising- this is why, they are afraid of how powerful we are becoming in defining our own paths, our destiny.


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