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September 21, 2018

Kofi Annan: A champion of peace and best example of humanity

Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan participates in a panel discussion at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, September 24, 2009. /REUTERS
Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan participates in a panel discussion at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, September 24, 2009. /REUTERS

Kofi Annan's roles as a humanitarian took centre stage following his death on Saturday; the world has plenty to remember him for.

Annan was former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation. He died in hospital in Bern, Switzerland, in the early hours of Saturday.

Read: Former UN chief Kofi Annan dies at 80

In a statement announcing his death, his family and the foundation described him as a "global statesman and deeply committed internationalist who fought throughout his life for a fairer and more peaceful world".

"During his distinguished career and leadership of the United Nations, he was an ardent champion of peace, sustainable development, human rights and the rule of law," the statement stated.

“After stepping down from the United Nations, he continued to work tirelessly in the cause of peace through his chairmanship of the foundation and as chair of the Elders, the group founded by Nelson Mandela. He was an inspiration to young and old like."

A LONG GLOBAL CAREER

Kofi Annan was born into an aristocratic family in Ghana on April 8, 1938.

His career at the UN began in 1962 with a budget officer role at the World Health Organization. 

Annan took a break from global initiatives from 1974 to 1976, when he worked as the director of tourism in Ghana.

Biography.com notes that from 1987 to 1996, he consecutively served as an assistant secretary-general in Human Resources, Management and Security Coordinator; Program Planning, Budget and Finance, and Controller; and Peacekeeping Operations.

Annan was under-secretary-general from March 1994 to October 1995. He resumed the position in 1996 after a five-month appointment to serve as a special representative of the secretary-general to the former Yugoslavia.

As noted in the biography, the United Nations Security Council recommended that he replace the previous secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, in 1996.

After a successful vote by the General Assembly, he started the role on January 1, 1997.

As head of UN peacekeeping operations, Annan was criticised for the world body's failure to halt the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

Canadian ex-General Roméo Dallaire, who has been the force commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, accused him of being overly passive in his responses to the killings of at least 800,000 people.

Ten years later, Annan admitted that he "could and should have done more to sound the alarm and rally support," according to a BBC article.

Annan brokered a peace deal for Kenya, President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, that ended post-election turmoil in 2008. He described the experience as his toughest ever.

The mediator led the Panel of Eminent African Personalities convened by the African Union in the negotiations that followed the disputed December 27, 2007 elections.

The peace accord signed on February 28, 2008 birthed the Grand Coalition Government led by the two leaders.

Details: Kenya peace deal was toughest to broker, Annan says 9 years after 2007 chaos

'HUMANITY'S BEST EXAMPLE'

Annan served two terms as UN Secretary-General in New York from 1997-2006 and retired in Geneva and later lived in a Swiss village in the nearby countryside.

"In many ways, Kofi Annan was the United Nations. He rose through the ranks to lead the organization into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, whom Annan had chosen to head the UN refugee agency, said in a statement.

As UN boss he was linked to peace efforts to reunite the divided island of Cyprus. He submitted a reunification blueprint for Cyprus which was rejected in a referendum by Greek Cypriots in 2004.

"The UN can be improved, it is not perfect but if it didn't exist you would have to create it," he told the BBC's Hard Talk during an interview for his 80th birthday last April, recorded at the Geneva Graduate Institute where he had studied.

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

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, paid tribute to Annan as "humanity’s best example, the epitome, of human decency and grace".

Zeid, who has criticised major powers and other countries during his four-year term that ends later this month, said that whenever he felt "isolated and alone politically", he would go for long walks with Annan in Geneva.

"When I told him once how everyone was grumbling about me, he looked at me — like a father would look at a son — and said sternly: "You’re doing the right thing, let them grumble." Then he grinned! 

Annan's key accomplishments include a five-point Call to Action in April 2001 to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic and his proposal to create a Global AIDS and Health Fund

He and the United Nations were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December of 2001 "for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world".

Annan is also known for his opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and to Iran's nuclear program. He told the BBC in September 2004 that the Iraq war did not conform to the UN charter and was illegal.

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