From his native Ghana to the US, tributes yesterday poured in from top leaders around the world after former UN chief, Nobel peace laureate and “diplomatic rock star” Kofi Annan died at the age of 80.
The Ghanaian national was a career diplomat who projected quiet charisma and was widely credited for raising the world body’s profile in global politics during his two terms as head of the UN from 1997 to 2006.
The first UN secretary-general from sub-Saharan Africa, Annan led the organization through the divisive years of the Iraq war and was later accused of corruption in the oil-for-food scandal, one of the most trying times of his tenure.
Annan “astutely guided the United Nations organization into the 21st century defining an ambitious agenda that had made the UN truly indispensable to peace, prosperity and human dignity around the world,” Annan’s successor, former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, said in a statement.
Annan’s family said he had passed away peacefully on Saturday after a short illness.
Annan, who lived not far from the UN European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, died in hospital in the German-speaking part of the country, Swiss news agency ATS reported.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described Annan as “a guiding force for good.”
“In many ways, Kofi Annan was the United Nations,” he said. “He rose through the ranks to lead the organization into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination.”
The UN said it would fly flags at half mast at all of its locations around the world through tomorrow, while Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo announced a week of mourning for “one of our greatest compatriots.”
In 2001, as the world was reeling from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US, Annan was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the world body “for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world.”
Another Nobel laureate, retired South African archbishop Desmond Tutu, described Annan as “an outstanding human being who represented our continent and the world with enormous graciousness, integrity and distinction.”
Born in Kumasi, the capital city of Ghana’s Ashanti region, Annan devoted four decades of his working life to the UN and was the first chief to rise from within the organization’s ranks.
In 1993, he took over as peacekeeping chief — a position he held through two of the UN’s darkest chapters: the Rwandan genocide and the Bosnian War.
His tenure as UN chief was tarnished by a 2005 investigation of Annan and his son over the oil-for-food scandal, seen by some as payback for his comments that the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq was “illegal.”
An inquiry cleared Annan of any serious wrongdoing, but found ethical and management lapses linked to his son Kojo’s ties with a Swiss firm that won lucrative contracts in the oil-for-food scheme.
Annan later admitted the scandal had sorely tested his mettle not only as UN secretary-general, but also as a father.
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