As Boutros Boutros-ghali Bows Out


Boutros Boutros- Ghali, the sixth Secretary-General of the United Nations (January 1992 to December 1996) has died aged 93.

As an Egyptian, many Africans were elated when he became the first 'African' to head the United Nations.  When he also became the first Secretary-General of the United Nations to be denied a second term in office, there was a feeling among many Africans and Arabs that the historical disrespect for 'Third World' leaders 'who were not afraid to speak truth to global power' was at play. Paradoxically when Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian, was elected to succeed him, a simple question of 'who is the first African Secretary General of the United Nations?' suddenly required convoluted answers or answers with several qualifiers.

At the heart of that question was the whole notion of Africanity. Was Bourtros Boutros Ghali, an Egyptian and Arab, African?  Are Arabs living in Africa Africans? If yes, are they Africans on the same level of Africanity with say Ghanaians and Nigerians? Is Obama whose father is Kenyan African? Who decides who is an African and why?

Debate about African identity has raged among Africanists for years. Inspired by renewed conversations on the theme, in 2009, I edited a book entitled: Who is an African? Identity, Citizenship and the Making of the Africa-Nation. I got several of the leading Africanists who had taken strong positions on the issue to contribute.  They included the late Ali Mazrui, whose own Africanity had been questioned by his critics such as Kwesi Prah, Wole Soyinka and Chinweizu.  Mazrui, who had Arab ancestry, contributed three chapters to the book. Other contributors included Gamal Nkrumah (Kwame Nkrumah's son), Helmi Sharawy, Kwesi Prah, Steven Friedman, Mammo Muchie, Marcel Kitissou, Bankie Forster Bankie and Garba Diallo.

Mazrui sought to answer the question of whether Boutros Boutros-Ghali was an African on the same level of Africanity with say Kofi Annan by making a distinction between 'Africans of the blood and Africans of the soil'. For Mazrui, “Africans of the blood are defined in racial and genealogical terms. They are identified with the Black race. Africans of the soil on the other hand are defined in geographical terms. They are identified in nationality and ancestral location”.  In other words, for Mazrui, Boutros-Ghali was as much African as Kofi Annan, but just a different African. His position was similar to that of Steven Friedman, a White South African. For Friedman, a White or Arab African is just a “belonging of another type”. He contends that the view that White South Africans, “because of their European roots, lack insight into African culture misses the point that the continent is not culturally homogenous – there is no single African culture.

“One implication is that excluding Whites (or anyone else on the continent) from Africanness is likely to do little to enrich African identity”.

For Kwesi Prah, in  “many parts of Africa, people who do not regard themselves as Africans are regarded as such by Africans. Being African is virtually equated with citizenship. I think this is often deliberate and wicked”.

As the editor of the volume, my conclusion, was that a “proper definition and delineation of the African will involve the development of a taxonomy of elements used in identifying the African – geography, race, consciousness, place of birth, culture, residence and citizenship.

“This will of course imply that there are categories of Africans and that yes indeed some are more African (the more of these attributes they posses) than others. This will also suggest that one's Africanness can expand (as when one engages in projects that help to uplift the continent) or contract (as when one relapses into Afro-pessimism”.

The debate on who is an African remains ongoing.  Boutros-Ghali's election as the Secretary General of the United Nations and his succession by Kofi Annan merely animated that debate.

Boutros Ghali appeared tailor-made for the UN job when he presented himself as a candidate for the job. As an Egyptian, he was African enough to win the enthusiastic support of Africa's UN members. As an Arab, the Arab world was comfortable with his candidacy – as were the Jews, given that his wife was Jewish. Boutros-Ghali's grandfather was Egypt's first Coptic Prime Minister and his own father was once Egypt's finance minister. He was regarded as a sophisticated intellectual who had studied International Law at the Sorbonne. France championed his candidacy because French was his preferred language and he was at home in the Francophone world. He was also seen as “one of us” in the Western because he was fluent in the English language and comfortable in Western mannerisms. The Russians and the Chinese equally supported his candidacy because they were confident he would be his own man and not a Western puppet.

Boutros-Ghali worked on a radical reform programme for the UN. He was encouraged by the first ever summit of the Security Council, which commissioned him to draw up a blueprint for the improvement of the “UN's capacity for preventive diplomacy, for peacemaking and peacekeeping”. In June 1992, he came up with the ambitious Agenda for Peace – regarded by many as one of the best reform proposals yet put forward for the UN. He envisaged a revamped UN, which would have enough muscle to stifle conflict and promote peaceful settlement of disputes.

Boutros-Ghali was later to anger Washington by his opposition to NATO's bombing campaign in Bosnia in 1995. He was also considered too arrogant, too close to France and too preoccupied with the problems of the African continent. During the Rwandan genocide in 1994, he was also criticized for the UN’s failure to prevent the massacre.

Boutros-Ghali was born on 14 November 1922 into a Coptic Christian family in Cairo. He graduated from  Cairo University  in 1946 and received a PhD in  international law  from the  University of Paris . Between 1949 and 1979, he was variously Professor of International Law and International Relations at Cairo University. In 1977 he became Egypt's foreign minister under president Anwar al-Sadat.

After leaving the UN, Mr Boutros-Ghali served from 1998 to 2002 as secretary general of La Francophonie – a grouping of French-speaking nations. . He died in a hospital in Cairo, Egypt, after being admitted for a broken pelvis, on 16 February 2016

From the Unknown to the Unknown
And talking of death, our inevitable transition, at God's own appointed time, from the unknown to unknown, can be quite painful. This is especially so if such transitions come suddenly. Dr Chiku Malunga, a Malawian prolific author and capacity development consultant became my friend when he approached my publishing firm, Adonis & Abbey Publishers ( ) in early 2008 for us to publish his book, Making Strategic Plans Work: Insights from Indigenous African Wisdom. The book was well received. I later met him in early 2011 when he visited Abuja and I had just relocated from the United Kingdom a month or two before. When I visited South Africa a few years ago, he asked his niece to take me around.

Last year we began discussions about his fourth book with us, which he told me would be his magnum opus. The new manuscript, which he titled Organization Paremiology: A New Approach to Organizational Improvement, is already with the proofreaders. On January 11 2016, we exchanged about five emails between us. He was going to Ghana and we agreed to work to bring out the title by the middle of March this year.  On February 15 2016, I got an email from his close friend Emmanuel Chinunda, who is also one of our authors, informing me that Chiku Malunga had died on January 13 2016 and had already been buried.  Chiku had taken ill while in Ghana and had died of kidney failure. I refused to believe the story and immediately called his numbers but they rang without anyone picking them up. I sent an email which is yet to be replied. It is just too painful. I had on 6 February just returned from burying a brother in law.

Late last year, Ibrahim Auduson, former Opinion Editor of the Daily Trust, also transited. I kept close contact with Auduson throughout the period he was ill. I called him sometime in November 2015 after he moved from an Abuja hospital to a clinic in Kaduna. He was in high spirits and told me that they had taken off his dialysis machine the past ten days and that he was doing exceedingly fine.  For him, his recovery was a miracle. He said he planned to return to work by the end of November last year.  In December I got a text message telling me Ibrahim Auduson had gone to meet his Maker.  Adieu dear friends and comrades.

Each time someone we are close to dies, it not only reminds us of our own mortality, but also challenges us to question life itself.

Written by Jideofor Adibe
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