Kofi Annan: A Man of Peace in a World of War was not an endorsed account of the life of the former United Nations (UN) Secretary-General but he was helpful during the project ensuring that his friends and colleagues at the UN shared their experiences with him. Meisler is a journalist and crossed paths often with Annan during his tenure therefore, his interviews with him serve as a source of information as well.
Kofi Annan had his first foreign assignment in 1991 at fifty-two where he was thrust into diplomatic relations and negotiations through the Persian Gulf War. He was tasked to persuade Iraq into letting go of the hundreds of UN workers held hostage by Saddam Hussein. His endeavour was successful and following that, Annan steadily rose in the ranks of UN hierarchy but it was not an easy ascent as it was mired with tensions and disagreements among colleagues, organizational politics and worldwide conflicts and devastations. Eventually, he rose to the rank of Secretary-General in 1996.
Meisler’s writing, at best, is well defined and descriptive such that it makes the reader feel as though they are directly witnessing events unfold. He successfully and seamlessly spells out a timeline of events so that the reader can trace major occasions in Annan’s life. Also, the third-person point of view writing style provides the reader a broad perspective of the story and presents all the thoughts and feelings of other characters. Therefore, it is not completely one-sided. It is clear; nonetheless, from the writings that Meisler held Annan in high regard even stating his generosity, kindness, and Meisler’s indebtedness to him for taking the time to help him understand the UN. That is not to say his narration of events is skewed, but he does shed more light on the positives than the negatives. Although not totally stated, another point of view could be that perhaps Meisler feels that it is unfair to solely blame Kofi Annan for some of the tragedies that occurred during his time in the UN. Following the genocides in Rwanda, Annan was blamed for the disaster because he failed to escalate reports of impending war from the field to the Security Council. However, in his last interview, he shared his version of events and alluded to the fact that at the end of day, all power was in the hands of the UN Security Council and since they remained largely uninterested, he was powerless.
James Traub, author of The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power, wrote an article on Annan’s idealism in the New York Times in August 2018 after his death. Like Meisler, he seemed to think highly of Annan but also at the same time found him to be diplomatic to a fault causing him to often be tossed about between the great powers especially the United States. Unlike Meisler’s book, Traub’s article showed that he was more critical of Kofi Annan.
Despite his numerous challenges, Annan is still largely credited for his achievements. He revived peacekeeping operations, established the right of the international community to intervene politically and militarily when a government abused its people and created an atmosphere of transparency in the UN.
In all, this book is a good reading material for those interested in the United Nations and its functions, history, international relations and diplomacy. I found this book believable, fascinating and understandable.