Letters to Editors

In Defence of Kofi Annan by Ramnik Shah

Dear Editors

I found Karim Hirji`s critique (in Issue 3 of 2019) of Kofi Annan`s obituary (`FootSTEPS`, Volume 15, Issue 2, 2018) to be rather unfair and overly stated.  He was reacting to what he saw as a superficial and one-sided portrayal of Annan`s record in your piece.  That is a matter of judgment, but has to be based on sound evidence. Traditionally, obituaries do not focus on the misdeeds and foibles of their subjects, though of course it is perfectly legitimate to mention or raise questions about them if the context so warrants. In this case, however, the several assertions made by Hirji about Annan`s conduct and character needed to be discussed in a more nuanced light.

After a long introduction about the Rwandan genocide, Hirji concludes that ‘Madeline Albright and Kofi Annan were implicated as key players in [that] inhumane saga’ and ‘(b)oth were rewarded for having well served the interests of US imperialism’.  He regards Annan as having generally ‘toed the US line’ and not having ‘accomplish[ed] anything of lasting value to Africa’. Actually, Albright`s promotion as US Secretary of State was a purely internal affair for the Americans and Annan`s appointment as UN Secretary General was the result of a multinational consensus. Next, he accuses Annan of having been involved in ‘the second major genocide of the 1990s’, referring to the continuous bombardment of Iraq in pursuance of the draconian sanctions imposed on that country after the Gulf War, and further of a ‘tepid’ opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

These are serious charges, but fortunately the answers to them are to be found in a comprehensive biography, `Kofi Annan: A Man of Peace in a World of War`, by Stanley Meisler (USA, 2007) and for present purposes I can do no better than to ask the reader to read my review of the book that originally appeared in the (British) Immigration Asylum and Nationality Law Journal (Vol 21, No 2, 2007). 

The subtitle, ‘A Man of Peace in a World of War’, neatly sums up Annan`s character. The book charts Annan`s personal life and professional career, and his progress through the hierarchy of the UN from lowly beginnings in the early 1960s to the top of the organisation as its Secretary General.  He served in that office for two terms from 1997 to 2006, at a crucial turning point in the world`s history.  But where Hirji has gone wrong in his strictures about Annan is to attribute to him personal responsibility for certain actions, when these could not be laid at his door. 

As I wrote in the review: ‘The popular image of the UN as a supra-national body that is somehow capable of imposing its will on the world community at large is of course fundamentally flawed; its activities are shaped by its structure and controlled by a complex decision- making process both at the policy and executive levels.’  To quote from the book: ‘[Annan] understood the limitations of a job that (gave him an air) of a world statesman but no political or military power of his own’.  Far from being in the position of a CEO, he was in terms of the UN Charter, its chief `administrative` officer – a functionary accountable to higher authority.

At the time of the Rwandan genocide, it was  Boutros-Ghali who was Secretary General, while Annan was his under-secretary in charge of UN peacekeeping operations, in which capacity he, as Meisler put it, ‘presided over the most spectacular rise in peacekeeping in UN history and over its most spectacular fall’, namely Rwanda. While that was something that weighed heavily on him, it has to be remembered that an early warning cable about what was about to happen there had passed through several hands in the UN chain of command, for the consequences of which he could not be wholly or largely responsible.  And let us not forget that it was post-Rwanda that he was appointed Secretary General by a substantial majority of the member states.

The book deals at length with how Annan sought to mitigate the effects of the relentless bombardment and sanctions on Iraq following the Gulf War (`genocide` is too strong a term to use, as Hirji does, for that).  And further, in direct contradiction to Hirji`s description of Annan`s `tepid` opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he in fact openly voiced his view that the legitimacy of any such military action without an explicit `second` resolution of the Security Council was open to question, and not be in conformity with the Charter. 

So, to conclude, all the misgivings expressed by Hirji about Annan`s character and conduct are, I respectfully submit, dispelled in Meisler`s biography and my review of it may provide some useful pointers in that direction.

Ramnik Shah
16 May 2020

Fatma Alloo

Dear Editors,

Yes, it is sad to see the print version stopping but I can see why it is a necessary decision. I congratulate you for a commendable job and marvel at your dedication and commitment. We shall cherish the printed versions we have and I will deposit them in the archives of Tanzania.

I wish you well and this decision is a viable one. And thank you for all your efforts so far.

In solidarity,

Nizar Verjee

My dear Zarina and Zahid,

Thank you for your email, very much appreciated.

I am sure, all reasonable subscribers will understand and be sympathetic. Indeed, the number of subscribers should not go south!

Please keep up the good work. It is excellent reading and, as always, of great archive value. I keep every copy for current and future reference.

I hope and pray that you are safe and well in this difficult time. And we have nothing but hope and more hope. Hope has to take roots🙏

Thank you again. I have always appreciated your unflinching support at all times. I assure you, equally, of my reciprocal support.

With lasting affection, as ever,
Nizar Verjee
Hello in far-off Kenya…

Gerhard A Fuerst

Dear Zahid and Zarina:

Well, we know that times are tough, tragic, traumatic, and rough… and we all need to make modifications and adjustments to be able to carry on… 

Thanks for informing me of these changes.

You are doing a much needed, necessary, and most valuable service to inform, being daring and truthful even, or especially, in the face of felony, fraud, corruption, treachery and travesty, prejudice, bigotry, and xenophobia at the highest levels… Be courageous and carry on as planned!

Here’s wishing you well, and I look forward to receiving notice of the first e-edition.

A very impressive issue indeed, again well done, with very important, informative, and powerful content!

Cordial greetings,
Gerhard A Fuerst
Kalamazoo, MI, USA

Neera Kapur

Dear Zahid and Zarina

Hope you are both well.

Awaaz has gone through a great evolution ever since its semination, and I thank you for this journey. The present situation has been a big turbulence in individual lives in families and in organisations. Well done for your determination to continue despite all these hurdles.

Of course, we will miss holding a copy in our hands to read in the comfort of our bed….

Keep safe
Neera Kapur

Ramnik Shah

Dear Zarina and Zahid

Wow!  Well done indeed.

You have nicely explained why it has become necessary to put AwaaZ on an e-platform, and all one can say is that judging by this first issue it is sure to go from strength to strength.  

Gosh, there is so much packed in there that reading its diverse contents is going to occupy me for the next couple of months as part of my bedtime routine.

Let me also add a few specific observations: at the top is the equivalent of the front cover of a print issue.  It neatly features the focus and other highlights of the issue – quite impressive really, as is the next page with the pictorial graphics depicting the corona phenomenon.

Then we move to the Contents – again an impressive and a comprehensive overview of all that the issue contains.  I had previously agreed that moving me out from the front cover as the single regular columnist was fine – but please retain the `London Calling` title for my columns as a readily identifiable moniker. 

I am really looking forward to reading all about Samir Amin and all the tributes to Mohinder Dhillon from distinguished contributors, plus the film and book reviews.  In fact, I have just started reading `Insurgent Empire` by Priya Gopal which has a long chapter on Mau Mau and the Imperial Benevolence.  And lots more besides!

Incidentally, it occurs to me that under AwaaZ mail, you could have added an editorial note below the first contribution from `Mohinder` (who, where?) pointing out that that issue is of course accessible on the AwaaZ website!  

But that aside, one other feature of the new-look AwaaZ is of course the clear black on white eye-pleasing font style – that makes easy reading.

So all in all, once again, and now in some haste, well done.  Hope you will have good feed-back from others too.

Ramnik Shah

Mohamed Keshavjee

Thank you Zahid

Excellent edition
Sad to note about Mo Dhillon.
Raficq’s obit done beautifully.

Hope you are doing well in this coronavirus scourge and warmest prayers for you Zarina and all your loved ones. 

Mohamed Keshavjee 

Oyunga Pala

Hello Zahid and Zarina,

Thank you for the update and for all the complimentary copies. I completely relate to the necessity of the change. I remain a big supporter of Awaaz. I would like an annual subscription to the e-magazine. Please let me know how to go about that.

Oyunga Pala

Paul Kelemba (Maddo)

It’s kind of sad to let go of the printed Awaaz. Of course as you assure us, the publication will live on digitally. You’ve done your best over the years but worldwide trends are punitive.

Long live Awaaz!
Paul Kelemba (Maddo)

Yash Tandon

Dear Zahid and Zarina,

You have been in the forefront of our struggle for two decades to bring hundreds of us together, and to offer an alternative narrative to the dominant neoliberal discourse.

Thank you.

May Allah give you strength, Keep well.

Yash Tandon

Karim Hirji

Dear Zarina and Zahid: Many thanks for another stellar issue of Awaaz. It is truly inspiring that you continue to produce outstanding issues despite all the constraints of these days.

With warmest wishes
Karim Hirji

Sarah Nkuchia

Hello Zahid and Zarina,

Thank you for sharing this, and I know how agonizing the decision must be for you. 20 years in print has been an outstanding feat. I hope that the suggestion from Firoze works out, but either way, I know the online editions will be just as engaging, and hopefully reach a wider and more youthful audience at the same time.

Could be just me, but I have not been able to download the online version. Do you mind resending the link please?

Sarah Nkuchia
Board Member

Alexander Opicho

Good evening Sir Zahid and Madam Zarina.

I hope you are well and safe. I got the e-copy of Awaaz Magazine on Samir Amin. It was the most serious work ever to come from Awaaz Publishers. I enjoyed. At most I enjoyed Zarina’s epexegesis of the October Revolution, it was done at her authorial brio. I do also enjoy the e-copy, it minimizes some hurdles that come along with the petit bourgeosie kind of service at the posta.

Alexander Opicho.

Laura Fair

Re: Issue on ‘Indian Cinema in East Africa’ – Issue 3/2019

Oh Zahid!!  This is FANTASTIC!!

Sadly, no the hard copy never reached me, but I am DELIGHTED to finally be able to see the issue.  What WORK you have done!  I cannot wait to have time to read it!

I am currently in the midst of packing up a farm I have lived on for 13 years and will be moving the end of the month.  One evening soon I will be delighted to read this latest issue of AWAAZ!

With gratitude,
Laura Fair