By Mick Krever, CNN
Action by the Nigerian government and international partners to go after the group that has held more than 200 girls captive in that country should have come sooner, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.
“I think the government should do all it can to get the girls free,” he said, “and I’m very happy that the U.S., the U.K., and other governments are teaming up with Nigeria to resolve this issue.”
“I wish this had happened earlier, but it is happening, and the Nigerian people are also demanding action.”
Boko Haram abducted 276 schoolgirls last month, and Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has come under fire after waiting three weeks to publicly acknowledge the kidnappings.
The Nigerian government also now accepted U.S. and British offers of assistance, officials with those governments said.
The kidnapping, Annan said, are “abominable.”
“It is something that should not be happening in modern-day Africa.”
Annan is uniquely placed to address the issue.
He is an elder statesman of sorts – a member of “The Elders,” in fact – and has spent his time since leaving the U.N. to push for democracy, conflict-resolution, and trying to raise up Africa’s poorest and most vulnerable.
Annan chairs the Africa Progress Panel, which is due to release its latest report soon.
“I think one of the areas we recommend in the report – and [the Nigerians] are beginning to do something about that – is really focus on expanding and working on agriculture,” Annan said.
“Two-thirds of Africans earn their living from agriculture. Others are fishermen and they are on the beaches. And if you can take agriculture seriously, and fishing, you create lots of jobs. The people, if they can make a living in rural areas, are not going to rush the cities and end up in shanty towns.”
Change, he said, has to be “transformative.”
“We need to try and bridge the gap between the poor and the rich. And we need to ensure education for the young people, particularly girls.”
Change, in leadership at least, may not come to South Africa, where the African National Congress – in power since the end of apartheid – is expected to win elections currently under way.
But the participation for the first of a horde of so-called “born-frees” – South Africans young enough never to have experienced apartheid first-hand – is an exciting development to many.
“It’s a wonderful phrase, calling themselves ‘born-free,’ so they have no baggage,” Annan said. “They want good governance, they want democracy, they want to be able to exercise their rights. And I think if they vote in the right numbers, they will make [a] difference.”
“I think the young generation are getting organized, civil society is becoming more active and more robust – not just in South Africa, but around the continent. And they are going to put pressure on their leaders to do what is right.”
Annan’s most public recent role, in 2012, was as the special envoy on Syria for the U.N. and the Arab League.
A truce between the Syrian government and rebel forces in the strategic and symbolic city of Homs went into effect Wednesday, allowing opposition fighters and their families to leave – a rare agreement in the ongoing and bloody conflict.
Separating rebels and government forces may allow help to reach some of the civilian population there, Annan said, but fundamentally the deal is just a sign that “the war is still going on.”
“No comprehensive cease-fire is in the offing, and one is looking at these localized arrangements to offer some relief to the population who are trapped there.”
“And of course now the [Syrian] President [Bashar al-Assad] is talking of elections, which also complicates the process further. Here you're having peace talks in Geneva; and if while the peace talks is going on, a president is being elected, what does that do to the peace process?”
So, Amanpour asked, what does it do to the peace process?
“That's the challenge, yes,” he said.