By Elton Gomes
The former secretary general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, passed away at the age of 80 in Switzerland on Saturday morning.
From 1997 to 2006, Annan served as the seventh secretary-general in the UN and was the first to rise within the ranks of the UN staff. Since 2007, Annan was also a member of The Elders, a humanitarian group of several leaders and activists from all over the world founded by Nelson Mandela. Annan went on to become the chairman of the group in 2013. The Kofi Annan Foundation took to Twitter to confirm his death with “immense sadness”. In 2001, Annan was awarded the Nobel peace prize for his humanitarian work with the UN as an organisation.
Annan died in a hospital in Bern, Switzerland, in the early hours of Saturday alongside his wife, Nane, and three children Ama, Kojo and Nina. He had retired to Geneva and resided in a Swiss village. Annan’s aristocratic style, cool-tempered elegance, and political savvy helped him in becoming the first secretary general to be hired from within the UN.
The world pays tribute
António Guterres, the current secretary general at the UN, said, “In many ways, Kofi Annan was the United Nations. He rose through the ranks to lead the organisation into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination,” the Guardian reported. Guterres was appointed by Annan to lead the UN’s refugee agency. Guterres paid tribute on Twitter as well by stating that “his legacy as a global champion for peace will remain a true inspiration for us all.”
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May also took to Twitter to express her condolences.
Sad to hear of the death of Kofi Annan. A great leader and reformer of the UN, he made a huge contribution to making the world he has left a better place than the one he was born into. My thoughts and condolences are with his family. pic.twitter.com/P0SWagShJM
— Theresa May (@theresa_may) August 18, 2018
President Ram Nath Kovind expressed grief over Annan’s death.
Sorry to learn of the passing of former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan. My condolences to his family and to the UN community #PresidentKovind
— President of India (@rashtrapatibhvn) August 18, 2018
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted that Annan’s death is a “great loss to humanity.”
Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s secretary general, lamented that the world had lost a great leader, “Kofi’s dedication and drive for a more peaceful and just world, his lifelong championing of human rights, and the dignity and grace with which he led will be sorely missed in a world which needs these characteristics more than ever,” Naidoo said, as per the Guardian report.
Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal, also expressed her condolences on Twitter.
Today we mourn the passing away of Kofi Annan. He was an able diplomat who served as UN Secretary-General. His contribution to peace won him the Nobel Prize in 2001. My heartfelt condolences to his family and his admirers around the world
— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) August 18, 2018
Carl Bildt, co-chairman of the European Council on Foreign Relations and former prime minister of Sweden, described Annan as “a man of courage, wisdom and friendship.” Bildt urged people to read Annan’s 2001 Nobel Peace Prize lecture.
Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo expressed his condolences on behalf of the entire nation. The president added that the Ghanaian flag would fly at half-staff across the country and in all of Ghana’s diplomatic missions for a week, from Monday onwards.
A global statesman
Born on April 8, 1938, Kofi Atta Annan came from an elite family in Kumasi, Ghana. Kofi’s father was a provincial governor, while his grandparents were tribal chiefs. Annan attended an elite boarding school and the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi. He completed his undergraduate work in economics from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1961.
During his tenure, Annan has worked for the UN Economic Commission for Africa in Ethiopia, its Emergency Force in Egypt, and the office of the High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva. Thereafter, he took on several senior posts at the UN headquarters in New York and dealt with human resources, budget, finance, and staff security.
Annan was the first secretary-general from sub-Saharan Africa. He took over the position during one of the most turbulent times in the UN’s history. He became secretary-general six years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and his tenure was marked by the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center in the US.
In an interview with Time magazine in 2013, Annan said that the UN’s inability to stop the US from invading Iraq was his “darkest moment”. “I worked very hard – I was working the phone, talking to leaders around the world,” he recalled. He said, “At that point, President [George W] Bush said the UN was headed toward irrelevance because we had not supported the war. But now we know better,” the Independent reported.
Annan’s career was highlighted by the Nobel peace prize that he won along with the UN in 2001 “for their work for a better organised and more peaceful world”. Although Annan had his fair share of critics as well, who blamed him for failing to halt the genocide in Rwanda when he was chief of the UN’s peacekeeping operations, he will be remembered for his leadership.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius.
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