HARARE – To some in Zimbabwe, Kofi Annan appeared a distant figure when it came to the socio-economic and political interests of the country, and yet nothing could have been further from the truth.
This unassuming tower of knowledge and diplomacy I used to call KA was, at times, referred to in rather uncomplimentary terms — far removed from the truth and reality — in some sections of our local media.
“You see, GG, this is what I mean. Your people in Harare are cartooning and calling me names…even at this stage when we are trying to work out how best to get your country out of this mess..,” I remember him saying in one of our engagements.
“Oh noooo, my brother; on behalf of my country and the offending media stable, I apologise. They are normally balanced in their reportage and I think the pressure back home is one factor which can cause these sorts of misunderstandings.
“They are not in the picture of what we are trying to do my brother…let’s just soldier on and not be side-tracked. I am really sorry,” I blurted out, embarrassed.
It was an awkward position to find oneself in when you are trying to get out of a deep hole your country has dug for itself…a situation that had potential to bring the country on its knees economically, financially, politically and cause serious social dislocations.
I was genuinely hurt and embarrassed by a cartoon that one of our local publications had published but I also knew that the cartoonist was only doing his job under uninformed instructions.
This was on December 18, 2008 at the Mandarin Hotel, Geneva, Switzerland.
I had gone there to mend ties with KA and, through him, relations with The Elders following the debacle of a month before. At that time, Harare had refused KA and the Elders permission to visit Zimbabwe.
KA’s mission to Zimbabwe was a two-fold agenda.
First, to assess the humanitarian impact of the cholera outbreak that had hit the capital very badly and was killing several hundreds of victims across the country on a daily basis.
Secondly, his mission was to dialogue with the political leaders of Zanu PF, MDC-T and MDC-M, following the disputed election results of March and June that year.
Reader: you may be wondering and getting confused.
You could be saying; what the hell were you doing — dabbling in diplomatic and political matters when you were only a governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ)?
Was this a covert, sanctioned trip? To achieve what? Were you not on the sanctions list and therefore barred from entering Europe?
Was it not the same week, in fact days that Zanu PF was having its annual conference in Bindura, which had been delayed by a week due to the unfortunate death of Cde Elliot Manyika who hailed from host province of Mashonaland Central?
Why are these details only coming out now? Is this not an attempt to seek publicity for yourself Mr Retired Governor and find relevance?
Indeed, all these are valid questions. But understand that this is only coming out now because of wanting to pay tribute, with tangible facts, to a man who put aside personal embarrassment at our hands, and still played a pivotal role — to the disappointment of a world that expected the opposite — to ensure a stable political situation prevails in Zimbabwe.
KA was “a man of peace in a world of war”, as UN author auto-biographer Stanley Meisler would put it in his book Kofi Annan (2007).
This is a tribute to a man who has gone and gone too soon as I believe he still had a role to play in the political and economic affairs of our country.
He is one man who would have been best suited to deal with our current political situation of accusations and counter-accusations by virtue of his stature and experience, but he is no more.
This is a man I was privileged to call by his initials only and he graciously returned the favour, a man whom I always felt highly honoured to call a friend and wise counsellor whenever I needed personal advice, now and then.
This is a man whose love for Zimbabwe and its people has not, at times, been understood and appreciated.
Being the modest, Kumasi-born boy that he was, a twin, I know he must be objecting to my revelations from where he is now but, hey KA, I have to let my fellow citizens know how you saved us from the jaws of the lion when it mattered most!
We would have been fried and served for breakfast, lunch and dinner by those whose appetites were itching for us and for Zanu PF and its leadership then under former president Robert Mugabe.
There were plenty of justifications for Zimbabwe’s occupation. All that was needed was KA’s voice of condemnation and that of the Elders and it would have been game-over, the Libyan style.
This is a tribute to a genuine relationship, which has not been necessary talked about or publicised all along, but stopped all that from happening.
This is a tribute that will only focus on one intervention beneficial to this country and I will leave all other behind-the-scenes to eternity and to our good Lord to reward this gracious man that he has called up to greater service upstairs.
Though I had known KA from way back, the official knuckle-to-knuckle engagement came about just prior to him leading a delegation of Elders — against my advice — to Zimbabwe around November 16, 2008.
This was at the height of our cholera epidemic and negotiations between the three political parties that were to get involved in the Government of National Unity (GNU).
At that time, I didn’t think the timing and conditions were right. The rest is history.
KA and his delegation were later to be denied entry and they flew back to their respective bases.
It was a mistake of gigantic proportions but that is what we did.
It is a grouping one or a country can ignore at their own peril as the amount of international capital they carry by way of reputation and goodwill is enormous and when each one of them or collectively speak, the world listens.
Having made that terrible blunder to belittle and embarrass the Elders, it was inevitable that the UN wanted them to come and report on their findings in Harare and institute appropriate action(s) against a “rogue state” that Zimbabwe was moving towards, including “any measure considered necessary” to protect the welfare of its ordinary citizens who were dying daily in their hundreds because of cholera — an epidemic that was now spreading to neighbouring countries.
These events were taking place when then US president George W Bush was concluding his term of office and we were neither the darling of the western powers and their allies with whom Zimbabwe already had running battles dating back to the beginning of the millennium.
Suffice to say the conditions that were prevailing in Zimbabwe at the time provided fertile ground for the UN to proscribe whatever actions they saw fit and no one would have stopped those countries who had a different agenda against us from meting out whatever retributive punishment they saw best fit, and today, Zimbabwe would be a different country altogether, either for the better or for worse.
It was these scenarios that KA and myself spent considerable time discussing on the phone. At first very upset, KA basically informed me that he was going to lead his team to the UN Security Council to report on their findings and ill -treatment and that they would not be held responsible for whatever decisions would be taken against us.
I understood this message very clearly and given my position at the RBZ, nothing was lost in translation.
I began to engage KA over a two week period to try and soften him with apologies and offers to invite him back to the country, an invitation he flatly refused to consider.
In the end, he accepted my pleas for a face-to-face meeting and the next couple of days we haggled over venue… he flatly said Zimbabwe was not an option. I suggested Dubai… I suggested South Africa but he wouldn’t take any of those options. He insisted on London or Geneva.
I had a problem with both locations because I was one of those on the European Union sanctions list.
He expressed surprise and disappointed that I was on the sanctions list and promised to speak to a couple of those countries to grant me temporary suspension of those sanctions against me to allow our discussions to continue in Geneva ahead of his trip to the UN on December 22, 2008.
On December 10, I got a call from one European Embassy advising me that they would grant me a 72-hour stay in Europe for my meeting with KA and they wished me good luck.
In all these discussions, I briefed the then president, Cde RG Mugabe and emphasised the need to avert imminent danger to the country and what a mistake it had been to prevent KA and his team to enter their country.
My principal acknowledged this fact and encouraged me to try and negotiate ourselves out of the deep hole we had dug for ourselves. He also appreciated the urgency of the matter when all facts of possible consequences were laid out before him.
KA had insisted that I come to Geneva fully empowered by the president to take actions that would bind the country to a course of action towards progress and recovery.
The then president agreed to KA’s preconditions including that the mission be kept strictly under the radar.
One other person I engaged was the then United Nations Development Programme resident representatives in Zimbabwe, Dr Agostinho Zacarias, a Mozambican national who thoroughly understood what was at stake and the thrust of thinking in circles within his reach.
I was accompanied to Geneva by my former advisor Dr Munyaradzi Kereke, arriving early morning on December 18, 2008.
Upon checking into our hotel, I called KA to confirm arrival and we agreed to start the first session around 10am.
I am not at liberty to go into the details of what we discussed and which factors convinced KA to give us another chance in line with protocol and covenants that binds diplomacy.
But suffice to say that the devastating impact of sanctions; the genesis of the cholera outbreak and what actions government had done to contain the epidemic — with the support of the RBZ — were discussed.
One major area of KA’s wishes, which became part of our pact, was to convince my principal and his political leadership to introduce a basket of stable currencies as a way of stabilising the economy and monetary inflation.
The RBZ had already began a journey to ease the foreign currency hustles to increase the availability of basic commodities in our retailing outlets throughout the country with a remarkable dent on inflation as signified by the continued decline in prices pegged in foreign exchange as well as increased direct access to foreign currency for raw materials — enabling the economy to sustain and increase in capacity utilisation.
A commitment was made to get back and make sure that all systems would be aligned towards the full liberalisation of trade in foreign exchange.
A couple of other assignments were also agreed upon to ensure thatextremist positions in the political discourse that was underway between the GNU partners would be managed with his and my modest involvement.
There is no doubt in my mind and in reality that some of the compromises made during the periods that ensued were a result of KA’s enlightened interactions’ with the many sitting and former heads of State and governments in the Sadc region, the AU and other critical organisations he had influence over.
I am aware that he had planned to visit Zimbabwe in April/May 2009 to assess how the various players in the GNU where getting along as well as how the economy was now performing, but through our interactions we agreed that the visit had the potential to divide the coalition government and so he took advice not to come and never did until recently even though from far away he had his finger on the pulse including at the time when in October 2009 MDC-T temporarily withdrew from government.
On this particular issue, he assisted me with a formula that broke the deadlock between the then president and MDC-T leader Mr Morgan Tsvangirai in a matter of days over the period 28 to 30 October 2009 and everything went back to normal.
So much about the man whose love for this country went unnoticed!
It may have escaped the attention of many that from December 2008 to date, the voice of KA and, indeed, of the Elders was less critical and vocal than before.
And how strange that the figure eight (8) has been significant in KA’s life.
Born April 8, 1938, our meeting on Zimbabwe took place on December 18, 2008 and on the 18 of the month eighth month of this year (2018), my brother is taken away from me.
Go well Kofi Annan; go well my brother.
* Dr Gideon Gono is the former governor of the RBZ