From dance-hall to Sesame Street: Kofi Annan’s pop culture moments

From dance-hall to Sesame Street: Kofi Annan’s pop culture moments

The former UN chief was loved by the creative worlds of song, TV and art

Saeed Saeed

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan shows an AK-47 assault rifle that has been transformed into a guitar in front of workers at Vienna’s United Nations headquarters. Annan was guest of honour at the naming ceremony of the Kofi Annan Building. – Former United Nations Secretary General and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kofi Annan has died on August 18, 2018 after a short illness at the age of 80. (Photo by SAMUEL KUBANI / AFP)

He ran the United Nations for a nine-year period from 1996, but the success of the late Kofi Annan, who passed away at the age of 80 in Switzerland on Saturday, also came down to an intrinsic appeal that extended beyond the international diplomatic circuit into the sphere of the arts and entertainment industry.

In addition to penning books reflecting on his career, Annan also appeared as himself in films and television programs, as well as being venerated in an arts exhibition and even in a pop song.

1. A successful author

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As well as running the United Nations for two terms, Annan was an active writer, having authored a range of policy centered works, including 2003’s Pandemic: Facing Aids and 2014’s We the Peoples: A UN for the Twenty-First Century.

However, his biggest literary success lay in his 2012 memoir Interventions: A Life in War and Peace. Written with Nader Mousavizadeh, the former diplomat looked back at his career in the UN during the organisation’s various flash points, ranging from the September 11 attacks in 2001 to the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia.


Kofi Annan writes for The National: In Abu Dhabi, the world has a chance to eradicate polio


The book was hailed by critics for Annan’s disarming candour, and it struck a chord with the public for its insights. An example is Annan’s view on the importance of dialogue in any form of conflict: “If you have a problem and you can’t find a solution, you meet again tomorrow and you keep talking until you find a solution. You can disagree with behaviour or a particular position, but you do not resort to calling an opponent worthless.”

2. The subject of a dance-hall song

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When Nigerian music sensation Yemi Alade decided to pay homage to her home continent with her 2016 album Mama Africa, it seemed only right to have a song paying tribute to one of Africa’s most famous sons. However, this is not a straightforward homage to Annan’s rise from a childhood in Ghana to occupying the big chair in Geneva. The dance-hall banger has Alade chastising a string of men who want to woo her with romance and trips abroad. She admonishes their ulterior motives and advises them in the chorus to be classy and “do the Kofi Annan.”

3. His work on the small screen

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Due to his role as the UN chief, Annan’s television credits are understandably filled with appearances in international current affairs programs, in addition to some memorable political documentaries such as 2015’s The Diplomat (which focused on the life of former US ambassador Richard Holbrooke) and 2014’s Rwanda: The Untold Story. While those features were solemn affairs, Annan also had a chance to showcase his funny side with a special appearance on Sesame Street in 2009. When Elmo, Grover and the gang began bickering over who will sing the alphabet, Annan arrives with the solution of “let us sing the alphabet all together.”

4. A café in his honour

With his moniker, it is not entirely surprising that cafe would be named after the diplomat. One venue that pays homage to the former UN leader is Coffee Annan in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. Situated within Mount Bental, the cafe overlooks the border with Syria and an area of land that UN troops patrolled under the orders of Annan.

5. His own art exhibition

A perk of being a diplomat are the tokens of appreciation you receive along the way. When it comes to Annan, a lot of the gratitude came in the form of portrait paintings from an artist from all corners of the globe. Last year these worked formed the exhibition, Portrait of Kofi Annan, at the Berj Art Gallery in Ghana’s capital Accra. The pieces were made in different forms ranging from charcoal, to water colours and a ragged bronze statue. Annan donated the works to Ghanaian education bodies upon the end of the exhibition.



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