Former UN Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Prize winner Kofi Annan has died at age 80, his foundation confirmed Saturday.
Annan, who was born in Ghana in 1938, served as the seventh UN Secretary-General, from 1997 to 2006, and was the first to rise from within the ranks of the United Nations staff.
He had been a member of The Elders, a humanitarian group of a dozen leaders and activists of worldwide stature formed by Nelson Mandela, since it was founded in 2007. In 2013, Annan became its chairman.
The Kofi Annan Foundation confirmed his death with “immense sadness” in a statement posted on Twitter.
Annan passed away peacefully Saturday morning after a short illness, with his wife Nane and their three children by his side during his final days, it said.
It paid tribute to Annan as a “global statesman and a deeply committed internationalist who fought throughout his life for a fairer, 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.”
Annan was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the United Nations in 2001 “for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world.”
Tributes pour in
As news of Annan’s death spread, numerous tributes were paid to a man who became globally known as head of the United Nations.
Current UN Secretary-General António Guterres paid tribute to Annan as “a guiding force for good” who “rose through the ranks to lead the organization into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination.”
The UN Migration Agency tweeted: “Today we mourn the loss of a great man, a leader, and a visionary.”
The director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, praised Annan as a “great leader.”
Kenya National Assembly Speaker J. B. Muturi recalled that he was “the first African to become the UN boss,” adding: “Annan’s dedication and commitment to peace efforts across the globe has been unwavering and will be solely missed by all.”
Annan was descended from tribal chiefs on both sides of his family. After studying in Ghana and Macalester College in St. Paul, in the U.S. state of Minnesota, he joined the United Nations in 1962 as a low-ranking officer with the World Health Organization in Geneva.
He thought he would stay only a few years but ended up spending almost his entire working life with the organization.
What shaped his global thinking?
Annan avoided potentially career-ending moments while serving in the department of peacekeeping.
In 1994, the UN Security Council and others including Annan were accused by the UN field commander in Rwanda of ignoring his warnings. An estimated 800,000 people died as the world was reluctant to send troops in.
Speaking in 2004, Annan said: “I believed at the that time that I was doing my best, but I realized after the genocide that was more that I could have and should have done.”
The next year, thousands of Muslims were massacred in Srebrenica as Bosnian Serbs overran a UN “safe zone.”
Annan would later say Rwanda and Srebrenica would shape his global thinking. The Secretary-General at the time, Boutros Boutros Ghali, took the heat for UN failings.
He championed human rights
On taking the helm as Secretary-General in 1997, Annan became a high-profile figure who championed human rights and urged the United Nations to protect civilians if their own governments turned on them.
His first term was highly rated but his second term, which coincided with the US invasion of Iraq, was less smooth.
In February 2012, the United Nations appointed Annan the UN and Arab League joint special envoy to Syria. Only six months later, he quit, citing increasing militarization in Syria and “the clear lack of unity” at the UN Security Council.
Guterres described Annan as both a personal friend and mentor and an inspiration to all.
“He provided people everywhere with a space for dialogue, a place for problem-solving and a path to a better world. In these turbulent and trying times, he never stopped working to give life to the values of the United Nations Charter. His legacy will remain a true inspiration for all of us.”