Kofi Annan: An Idealist in a Realist Era
In this paper, we examine Kofi Annan’s two most consequential roles in the course of his long career at the United Nations: his role in the Rwanda genocide in 1994 as the head of UN peacekeeping and his tenure as Secretary-General. A realist analysis of the Rwanda genocide which continues to be the referent point for critics of both Annan and the UN is presented. We find that, more than any personal or institutional failings, it was the retreat into a post-Cold War posture of realist non-interventionism of global powers based purely on realist considerations of national interest that mostly accounted for the inevitability and irreversibility of the Rwanda genocide. The paper also explores Annan’s bold idealist global initiatives during his time as Secretary-General and his contributions to human rights, human security, justice, conflict resolution and commitment to sustainable development in Africa, the continent of his birth.