Former UN chief Kofi Annan dies at 80

Saturday August 18 2018

By AGENCIES

Former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan has died aged 80 in a hospital in Bern, Switzerland.

"It is with immense sadness that the Annan family and the Kofi Annan Foundation announce that Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Laureate, passed away peacefully on Saturday 18th August after a short illness," the foundation said in a statement.

Annan's wife Nane and their children Ama, Kojo and Nina were by his side during his last days, the foundation said.

Annan served two terms as the world's top diplomat from 1997 to 2006 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work in 2001.

The Ghanaian diplomat was the first black African to become a UN secretary-general.

He later served as the UN special envoy for Syria, leading efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.

In 2008, Mr Annan, leading the Panel of Eminent African Personalities to Kenya, held closed-door talks that sealed a deal between the former president Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga after violence broke out over disputed presidential election results.

"Wherever there was suffering or need, he reached out and touched many people with his deep compassion and empathy. He selflessly placed others first, radiating genuine kindness, warmth and brilliance in all he did," the foundation said.

He was also a member of The Elders since 2007 when it was founded. He later became its chairman in 2013. The Elders is a group of global leaders working for human rights.

Charisma

Annan, who lived in Switzerland, was a career diplomat who projected quiet charisma and was widely credited for raising the UN's profile in global politics during his two terms.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for helping to revitalise the international body, during a period that coincided with the Iraq war and the HIV/Aids pandemic.

Kofi Annan described his greatest achievement as the Millennium Development Goals which — for the first time — set global targets on issues such as poverty and child mortality.

However, he was not immune to criticism. His critics blamed him for the UN's failure to halt the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s when he was head of the organisation's peacekeeping operations.

Later, after the US-led invasion of Iraq, he and his son Kojo were accused of being involved in the "oil for food scandal" that led some to call for his resignation. Though he was later exonerated, a commission of inquiry found ethical and management lapses linked to Kojo's ties with a Swiss firm that won lucrative contracts in the oil-for-food scheme.

Annan later admitted that the scandal had sorely tested his mettle not only as secretary-general, but as a father.

In an interview with the BBC's HardTalk to mark his 80th birthday in April, Annan acknowledged the UN's shortcomings, saying it "can be improved, it is not perfect but if it didn't exist you would have to create it".

"I am a stubborn optimist, I was born an optimist and will remain an optimist," he added.

Current UN chief Antonio Guterres has been leading the tributes to his predecessor, describing Mr Annan as "a guiding force for good".

"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," he said in a statement.

Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo announced that the national flag will fly at half-mast at home and in the country's diplomatic missions across the world for one week in honour of "one of greatest compatriots".

'Humanity's best example'

Born in Kumasi, the capital city of Ghana's Ashanti region, Annan was the son of an executive of a European trading company, the United Africa company, a subsidiary of the Anglo-Dutch multinational Unilever.

After ending his second term as UN chief, Annan went on to take high-profile mediation roles in Kenya and in Syria.

He enjoyed some success in ending post-election turmoil in Kenya in 2008 but he resigned from the peace mission for Syria in 2012.

Annan complained that divisions among world powers at the Security Council had turned his job as Syria envoy into a "mission impossible."

He later set up a foundation devoted to conflict resolution.

The Elder

He was also a member of The Elders since 2007 when it was founded. He later became its chairman in 2013. The Elders is a group of global leaders working for human rights.

The group, founded by anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, said it was "shocked and deeply saddened" by Annan's death.

"Kofi worked unceasingly to improve the lives of millions of people around the world. While we mourn his passing today, we resolve as Elders to continue to uphold his values and legacy into the future," deputy chair of the group Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former Norwegian prime minister and former head of the World Health Organisation, said in the statement.

"His warmth should never be mistaken for weakness. Annan showed that one can be a great humanitarian and a strong leader at the same time," NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, another former Norwegian prime minister, said in a statement.

"The UN and the world have lost one of their giants," he said.

The UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said he was grief-stricken.

"Kofi was humanity's best example, the epitome, of human decency and grace. In a world now filled with leaders who are anything but that, our loss, the world's loss becomes even more painful," he said.

"He was a friend to thousands and a leader of millions."

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