The Quiet Revolutionary: A Personal Tribute by Nader Mousavizadeh


28th August 2018

He was a fidgeter. Whether it was the pen on his desk, or the cutlery on his table, they were rarely left still for long. Never walking, except at speed, or listening to a briefing without his eyes signalling an eagerness to hear the next point so he could act on it, Kofi Annan was a man in a hurry.

Invariably described as calm, quiet and patrician, Annan was in truth a restless revolutionary – impatient with the state of the world, unwilling to accept the status quo, and infused with a life-long belief that peaceful change was possible. As the first Secretary-General appointed from within the ranks of the United Nations, Annan immediately seized the opportunity of low expectations on the part of global leaders used to the imperious ways of his predecessor.

Travelling with him in his first year of office as Secretary-General on missions designed to introduce him to presidents and prime ministers, I witnessed time and again a remarkable exchange. His hosts would begin with a sceptical look of having to adjust to a career official as UN Secretary-General, and then, over the course of an hour devoted to setting out Annan’s agenda of a revitalised UN, would conclude by asking, insistently, how they could help make his mission a success.

Annan knew better than anyone that a UN Secretary-General only had the power of persuasion – and with a mix of moral urgency and hard-won pragmatism proceeded to convert one global leader after another to his cause. From his very first day as Secretary-General, he sought to build out of the ashes of the tragedies of Bosnia and Rwanda a new compact between the United Nations and the “We, the Peoples” in whose name its charter was written.

The failures of the international community in Bosnia and Rwanda had many fathers. And he knew that as head of the UN Peacekeeping Department he was one of them. On Bosnia, he came to recognize that the UN for too long allowed the principle of neutrality to morph into complicity with Serbian aggression; on Rwanda, he lived with the knowledge of having rejected a call from the UN Force Commander on the ground to seize a weapons cache in the days before the genocide. He knew that there was no certainty that such a mission would have succeeded – but he also recognized that there was no certainty it couldn’t have derailed the murderous plans of the Hutus. That he received only rejection to his desperate pleas for troops from dozens of governments after the genocide had started, when no one could doubt its magnitude, did not diminish his own burden of responsibility.

His response, once elected Secretary-General, however, was deeply subversive.  He first commissioned two independent reports on Bosnia and Rwanda – both of whose critical conclusions he acknowledged and accepted publicly; then, he set out over the course of a number of speeches and statements to develop a new norm of humanitarian intervention premised on the principle that national boundaries no longer could be used as a shield for gross and systematic violations of human rights.

It is difficult now – in these very different times – to recognize just how radical an act this was. For an African. For a life-long official of an organization created out of the end of colonialism and dedicated to non-interference in internal affairs of newly liberated countries. For a peacemaker too scarred by conflict not to recognize the temptation this doctrine would present to those who would use it to wage war in the name of peace. And yet he persisted, because ultimately it was the cause of the individual man, woman and child in peril – rather than the member states and leaders so often responsible for their suffering – that was his animating mission as Secretary-General. In this act, he reset the moral compass of the United Nations.

At ease with the world and his own place in it – and of a time and a class when courtesy, manners and an easy laugh were the natural expressions of a generous soul – Annan never responded in kind to the sometimes low attacks on his leadership. Nor was he unaware of the myriad ways in which the UN – and he as its leader – fell short of the expectations of the peoples of a world too often promised too much by members of an international community still bound by doctrines of narrow self-interest. His own deepest sense of personal loss grew out of the ruinous Iraq war he did so much to prevent when some of his closest colleagues and friends – including Sergio Vieira de Mello, Nadia Younes and Rick Hooper – were killed in the bombing of the Baghdad UN headquarters fifteen years ago last week.

In his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, Annan drew a direct line between the single life and the fate of the world: “A genocide begins with the killing of one man – not for what he has done, but because of who he is. A campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ begins with one neighbour turning on another. Poverty begins when even one child is denied his or her fundamental right to education. What begins with the failure to uphold the dignity of one life, all too often ends with a calamity for entire nations.”

For Sergio, Nadia, Rick and the thousands of others who dedicated their careers to serving the UN in some of the world’s most difficult war zones, Annan’s words and example served as enduring sources of solidarity and inspiration. They knew Annan was one of them, and that he was imbuing their sacrifice with a greater purpose and honour that only could come from a devotion to the cause of ending the suffering of individual men, women and children.

Devoted till the very end of his life to the cause of democratic change on his beloved Continent of Africa, he went to Zimbabwe only last month to urge its new leaders to mark the end to the Mugabe dictatorship with a commitment to building a legitimate and accountable government. Perhaps this last mission will bend one more decision, one more judgement, in favour of justice, development and peace in Africa – and for that, he would have been grateful.

Nader Mousavizadeh, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Macro Advisory Partners, served as an aide to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan from 1997-2003 and is the co-author, with Annan, of “Interventions: A Life in War and Peace.”


Strategic advantage in a volatile world

The Firm

Nader Mousavizadeh and David Claydon founded Macro Advisory Partners in 2013 to provide a global client base with a competitive advantage in a complex world. Driven by a belief in the value of independent, long-term strategic counsel, MAP's co-founders created a firm that delivers actionable macro strategies to decision-makers in business, finance and government.

A volatile and fragmenting global landscape requires an integrated understanding of the political and economic drivers of change. Drawing on MAP's unique network, the firm’s partners — including Andrew Feldman and John Sawers — create tailored and innovative macro solutions mapped to the specific exposures, risks and opportunities facing the firm’s clients.

MAP's London and New York-based team of partners, directors and associates is supported by a Global Advisory Board and a group of Senior Advisors drawn from leadership positions in the worlds of business, finance, politics, diplomacy and technology.

Global Advisory Board
  • Louise Arbour

    Jurist in Residence, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP
    Louise Arbour is a jurist in residence at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, and former UN Special Representative for International Migration.
  • William Burns

    President, Carnegie Endowment
    Ambassador Burns is President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and was the 17th United States Deputy Secretary of State.
  • Mala Gaonkar

    Co-portfolio Manager, Lone Pine Capital
    Mala Gaonkar is Co-portfolio Manager at Lone Pine Capital, and a former consultant at the World Bank.
  • Vikram Mehta

    Executive Chairman, Brookings India
    Vikram Mehta is a leading Indian businessman who was Chairman of the Shell Group of Companies in India.
  • David Miliband

    President, IRC
    David Miliband is President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, following a distinguished political career in the United Kingdom.
  • Vali Nasr

    Dean, SAIS
    Dr Vali Nasr is Dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University.
  • Jonathan Powell

    Director, Inter Mediate
    Jonathan is Director of Inter Mediate.
  • Carl-Henric Svanberg

    Chairman, BP
    Carl-Henric Svanberg is Chairman of BP Plc.


Macro Advisory Partners provides corporate, investor and sovereign clients with the strategic insights to navigate the intersection of global markets, geopolitics and policy.

In a world defined by volatility and uncertainty — and an abundance of information, yet scarcity of insight — we identify the strategic implications for decision-makers tasked with maximising opportunity and minimising risk. The Archipelago World is characterised by fragmenting markets, populist politics, policy unpredictability, revolutionary technology, and weaponised arenas of finance, regulation and cyber.  The implications of this environment are dramatic and lasting. To help our clients anticipate and navigate these shifts in the macro landscape, we bring together deep on-the-ground analysis with long-term strategic judgement tailored to our clients' specific interests, exposures and concerns.

For today's global investor and business leader, macro is just as disruptive a factor as technology. Our advice — delivered by the firm's partners through trusted, personal, long-term and dynamic client engagements — is drawn from the policy expertise and connectivity of our global network, supported by advanced data analytics. The firm's Global Advisory Board and a team of Senior Advisors with backgrounds in diplomacy, macro intelligence, investment strategy, academia and industry, support our partners with the judgements that enable us to provide clients with relevant, actionable and investable macro solutions.


A culture of partnership defines our firm — among the individuals we have attracted to our endeavour, and with the clients whose long-term interests we view as our own. Our team brings to our work a diverse range of global business, finance and government experiences that enable us not only to interpret a changing macro environment for our clients, but also to design specific solutions that enhance their performance and prospects.

The principles of independence, integrity and intelligence define our culture. Our clients include the world's leading technology, consumer, energy and financial services institutions. Our commitment to them — and to our people — is to deliver on our founding aim of building the world's leading macro advisory firm.


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