Kofi Annan, former Secretary- General of the United Nations, dies at age 80
With the death last Saturday of Mr Kofi Annan, Africa has lost a major statesman, global ambassador and leading diplomat. In his tribute, current UN Secretary – General, Mr Antonio Guterres hailed Annan as “a guiding force for good” and a “proud son of Africa who became a global champion for peace and all humanity,” adding: “He provided people everywhere with a space for dialogue, a place for problem-solving and a path to a better world. In these turbulent and trying times, he never stopped working to give life to the values of the United Nations Charter. His legacy will remain a true inspiration for us all.”
Born in Kumasi, Ghana, Annan read economics at Macalester College, International Relations from the Graduate Institute, Genevain Switzerland and management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), United States before he joined the UN in 1962, working for the World Health Organisation’s Geneva office. He went on to work in several capacities at the UN headquarters including serving as the Under-Secretary-General for peacekeeping between March 1992 and December 1996. He became the UN Secretary-General on 13th December 1996, making him the first office holder to be elected from the UN staff itself and the first black African. He was re-elected for a second term in 2001, and was succeeded as Secretary-General by Ban Ki-moon on 1 January 2007.
It is instructive that Annan assumed the Office of the UN Secretary-General at a time when Africa’s position in the world body had become a moral burden. The appointment of the Egyptian, Boutros Ghali before him did not quite assuage the reservations of sub-Saharan Africa. It was Annan‘s appointment that reassured and challenged Africa to global responsibility which he discharged with outstanding surefootedness.
Supported into office by the United States, Annan assumed the leadership of the UN at a critical point in recent world history. Rwanda was unravelling in open genocide. This was closely followed by the Kosovo crisis in former Yugoslavia. In both crises, Annan was in the eye of the storm. He was later to regret that in spite of his best judgments, he had in both situations made some tragic errors of judgment which may have contributed to the huge toll in human lives.
As the Secretary-General, Annan helped in no small measure to reform the UN bureaucracy and that earned him and the global institution a joint Nobel Prize for Peace. After the end of his term as UN Secretary-General, he founded the Kofi Annan Foundation in 2007 to work on international development. During the 2015 presidential election in Nigeria, Annan helped to broker one of the pre-election negotiations that culminated in a free and fair process and the acceptance of defeat by an incumbent president.
Annan brought to the office of UN Secretary General a certain cosmopolitan attitude and rock star popularity that endeared him to the New York diplomatic community and high society. He increased the popular appeal of the UN in the process. In spite of his closeness to Washington, he openly opposed the US invasion of Iraq in the second Gulf war, condemning it as brazen power mongering not based on solid intelligence or right international relations. And despite close encounters with avoidable scandals involving UN humanitarian operations, Annan left office unblemished and returned to his country, Ghana, to establish and pursue his foundation and further global assignments.
Without doubt, Annan has departed the stage as one of the most significant Africans of the century. His life and work should inspire future generations of African leaders and diplomats who seek a better world for all mankind.
May his gentle soul find perfect peace.