The mission of healing: Kofi Annan’s failed apology

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Kofi Annan traveled to Rwanda in May of 1998 attempting to repair the image of the United Nations (U.N.) and to heal the fractured political relationship between the two entities. However, the U.N. secretary general largely failed to fulfill his mission. This article analyzes the reasons why Annan's mea culpa failed. It argues that in Annan's address before the Rwandan parliament, his rhetorical choices constrained his ability to repair the U.N.'s image and U.N.-Rwandan relations. Specifically, this article demonstrates that the U.N. leader's nondiscussion of his personal culpability for U.N. action, his democratization of blame for the genocide, and the appearance of personal arrogance created by his language choices hindered his ability to fulfill his mission. The article concludes with implications for image repair theory, lessons from Annan's failure for rhetors who apologize for historical wrongdoing, and directions for further research into the phenomena of public apology.

Original Citation

Edwards, J.A. (2008). The mission of healing: Kofi Annan’s failed apology. Atlantic Journal of Communication, 16(2), 88-104. https://doi.org/10.1080/15456870701840012