Saturday, August 18th, Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General, passed away in Switzerland at the age of 80. Recently Akufo-Addo, president of his homeland of Ghana, announced that he will receive a state funeral and buriel September 13th. Regarding the upcoming activities he said, “It’s going to be a major event for our country… I expect many leaders to be present,” adding that he would be buried in Accra’s new military cemetery.
While Kofi Annan had a very recognizable face, many in our community may not be aware of just how much his service influenced not just our society, but the entire world. He had a colorful, impactful life, devoting decades to advocacy for peace and reform. Here are five things you may not know about him.
1) Born in Ghana, he had international background.
Kofi Annan was born in 1938 to a prominent family in Kumasi, Ghana’s second-largest city. The son of the governor of the Ashanti province under British colonial rule, he attended top schools in Ghana, Switzerland and the United States. Kofi Annan started his U.N. career at just 24, working as an administrator at the World Health Organization (WHO). He quickly rose through the ranks, serving as head of personnel for the U.N. mission in Cairo, deputy director of the UNHCR in Geneva, and deputy U.N. secretary-general and under-secretary-general for peacekeeping. In 1997, he was elected secretary-general, making him the first person from Sub-Saharan Africa to hold the position.
2) He sought to implement a new vision for the U.N.
In his opening speech as U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan spoke of his goals to shape global politics as well as carry out administrative tasks. His original agenda ranged from fighting global poverty and AIDS to addressing global warming. In 2001, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to both Annan and the United Nations. Gunnar Berge, the chairman of the Oslo-based panel, said in an interview at the time that Annan was “an excellent representative of the United Nations and probably the most effective secretary-general in its history.”
3) He occasionally found himself under fire, most seriously concerning Rwanda.
While serving as head of U.N. peacekeeping troops in 1994, he faced severe criticism when radical Hutu militias killed over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in an episode later known as the Rwandan genocide. Accused of failing to provide adequate support, later he expressed regret saying, “The international community failed Rwanda, and that must leave us always with a sense of bitter regret and abiding sorrow.
4) After he left his job, he continued to serve.
Kofi Annan stepped down from his post in 2006 but continued to hold an influential role in international diplomacy. In 2007, he acted as negotiator when post-election violence broke out in Kenya between the government and the opposition. In February 2012, he was named special representative in the Syrian Civil War but stepped down six months later. Most recently, he headed an expert commission to determine a solution to violence against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar in 2017. In 2013, Kofi Annan became chair of the Elders, a group of retired world diplomats who meet regularly and plan discreet interventions in world conflicts, founded by Nelson Mandela.
5) Annan was known for his modesty
When accepting his Nobel Peace Prize, Annan said, “This award belongs not just to me. I do not stand here alone. On behalf of my colleagues in every part of the United Nations, in every corner of the globe, who have devoted their lives – and in many instances risked or given their lives in the cause of peace – I thank the Members of the Nobel Prize Committee for this high honor.”
Kofi Annan will be remembered as soft-spoken yet commanding, a small man dressed in tailored suits with a trademark white goatee. He’s survived by Nane Lagergren, his second wife, and two children from his first marriage.
*Some content courtesy of News24