Former UN Sec. General Kofi Annan Dies 08/18 12:11
Kofi Annan, one of the world's most celebrated diplomats and a charismatic
symbol of the United Nations who rose through its ranks to become the first
black African secretary-general, has died. He was 80.
GENEVA (AP) -- Kofi Annan, one of the world's most celebrated diplomats and
a charismatic symbol of the United Nations who rose through its ranks to become
the first black African secretary-general, has died. He was 80.
His foundation announced his death in Switzerland's capital, Bern, on
Saturday in a tweet, saying he died after a short unspecified illness. It did
not give details and remembered the Nobel Peace Prize winner as "radiating
genuine kindness, warmth and brilliance in all he did."
The president of Ghana, where Annan was born, said in a tweet that "I am ...
comforted by the information, after speaking to (Annan's wife) Nane Maria, that
he died peacefully in his sleep."
Annan spent virtually his entire career as an administrator in the United
Nations. His aristocratic style, cool-tempered elegance and political savvy
helped guide his ascent to become its seventh secretary-general, and the first
hired from within. He served two terms from Jan. 1, 1997, to Dec. 31, 2006,
capped nearly mid-way when he and the U.N. were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace
Prize in 2001.
During his tenure, Annan presided over some of the worst failures and
scandals at the world body, one of its most turbulent periods since its
founding in 1945. Challenges from the outset forced him to spend much of his
time struggling to restore its tarnished reputation.
His enduring moral prestige remained largely undented, however, both through
charisma and by virtue of having negotiated with most of the powers in the
When he departed from the United Nations, he left behind a global
organization far more aggressively engaged in peacekeeping and fighting
poverty, setting the framework for the U.N.'s 21st-century response to mass
atrocities and its emphasis on human rights and development.
"Kofi Annan was a guiding force for good," current U.N. Secretary-General
Antonio Guterres said. "It is with profound sadness that I learned of his
passing. 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
Even out of office, Annan never completely left the U.N. orbit. He returned
in special roles, including as the U.N.-Arab League's special envoy to Syria in
2012. He remained a powerful advocate for global causes through his eponymous
Annan took on the top U.N. post six years after the collapse of the Soviet
Union and presided during a decade when the world united against terrorism
after the Sept. 11 attacks --- then divided deeply over the U.S.-led war
against Iraq. The U.S. relationship tested him as a world diplomatic leader.
"I think that my darkest moment was the Iraq war, and the fact that we could
not stop it," Annan said in a February 2013 interview with TIME magazine to
mark the publication of his memoir, "Interventions: A Life in War and Peace."
"I worked very hard --- I was working the phone, talking to leaders around
the world. The U.S. did not have the support in the Security Council," Annan
recalled in the videotaped interview posted on The Kofi Annan Foundation's
"So they decided to go without the council. But I think the council was
right in not sanctioning the war," he said. "Could you imagine if the U.N. had
endorsed the war in Iraq, what our reputation would be like? Although at that
point, President (George W.) Bush said the U.N. was headed toward irrelevance,
because we had not supported the war. But now we know better."
Despite his well-honed diplomatic skills, Annan was never afraid to speak
candidly. That didn't always win him fans, particularly in the case of Bush's
administration, with whom Annan's camp spent much time bickering. Much of his
second term was spent at odds with the United States, the U.N.'s biggest
contributor, as he tried to lean on the nation to pay almost $2 billion in
Kofi Atta Annan was born April 8, 1938, into an elite family in Kumasi,
Ghana, the son of a provincial governor and grandson of two tribal chiefs.
He shared his middle name Atta --- "twin" in Ghana's Akan language --- with
a twin sister, Efua. He became fluent in English, French and several African
languages, attending an elite boarding school and the University of Science and
Technology in Kumasi. He finished his undergraduate work in economics at
Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1961. From there he went to
Geneva, where he began his graduate studies in international affairs and
launched his U.N. career.
Annan married Titi Alakija, a Nigerian woman, in 1965, and they had a
daughter, Ama, and a son, Kojo. He returned to the U.S. in 1971 and earned a
master's degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of
Management. The couple separated during the 1970s and, while working in Geneva,
Annan met his second wife, Swedish lawyer Nane Lagergren. They married in 1984.
Annan worked for the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa in Ethiopia, its
Emergency Force in Egypt, and the office of the High Commissioner for Refugees
in Geneva, before taking a series of senior posts at U.N. headquarters in New
York dealing with human resources, budget, finance, and staff security.
He also had special assignments. After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, he
facilitated the repatriation from Iraq of more than 900 international staff and
other non-Iraqi nationals, and the release of western hostages in Iraq. He led
the initial negotiations with Iraq for the sale of oil in exchange for
Just before becoming secretary-general, Annan served as U.N. peacekeeping
chief and as special envoy to the former Yugoslavia, where he oversaw a
transition in Bosnia from U.N. protective forces to NATO-led troops.
The U.N. peacekeeping operation faced two of its greatest failures during
his tenure: the Rwanda genocide in 1994, and the massacre in the Bosnian town
of Srebrenica in July 1995.
In both cases, the U.N. had deployed troops under Annan's command, but they
failed to save the lives of the civilians they were mandated to protect. Annan
offered apologies, but ignored calls to resign by U.S. Republican lawmakers.
After became secretary-general, he called for U.N. reports on those two
debacles --- and they were highly critical of his management.
As secretary-general, Annan forged his experiences into a doctrine called
the "Responsibility to Protect," that countries accepted --- at least in
principle --- to head off genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing
and war crimes.
Annan sought to strengthen the U.N.'s management, coherence and
accountability, efforts that required huge investments in training and
technology, a new whistleblower policy and financial disclosure requirements.
In 1998, he helped ease a transition to civilian rule in Nigeria and visited
Iraq to try to resolve its impasse with the Security Council over compliance
with weapons inspections and other matters. The effort helped avoid an outbreak
of hostilities that seemed imminent at the time.
In 1999, he was deeply involved in the process by which East Timor gained
independence from Indonesia, and started the "Global Compact" initiative that
has grown into the world's largest effort to promote corporate social
Annan was chief architect of what became known as the Millennium Development
Goals, and played a central role in creating the Global Fund to Fight AIDS,
Tuberculosis and Malaria and the U.N.'s first counter-terrorism strategy.
Annan's uncontested election to a second term was unprecedented, reflecting
the overwhelming support he enjoyed from both rich and poor countries. Timothy
Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation, which disburses Ted Turner's
$1 billion pledge to U.N. causes, hailed "a saint-like sense about him."
In 2005, Annan succeeded in establishing the Peacebuilding Commission and
the Human Rights Council. But that year, the U.N. was facing almost daily
attacks over allegations about corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program in
Iraq, bribery by U.N. purchasing officials and widespread sex abuse by U.N.
peacekeepers --- an issue that would only balloon in importance after he left
It emerged that Annan's son, Kojo, had not disclosed payments he received
from his employer, which had a $10 million-a-year contract to monitor
humanitarian aid under the oil-for-food program. The company paid at least
$300,000 to Kojo so he would not work for competitors after he left.
An independent report criticized the secretary-general for being too
complacent, saying he should have done more to investigate matters even if he
was not involved with the awarding of the contract.
World leaders agreed to create an internal U.N. ethics office, but a major
overhaul of the U.N.'s outdated management practices and operating procedures
was left to Annan's successor, Ban Ki-moon.
Before leaving office, Annan helped secure a truce between Israel and
Hezbollah in 2006, and mediated a settlement of a dispute between Cameroon and
Nigeria over the Bakassi peninsula.
At a farewell news conference, Annan listed as top achievements the
promotion of human rights, the fighting to close the gap between extreme
poverty and immense wealth, and the U.N. campaign to fight infectious diseases
He never took disappointments and setbacks personally. And he kept his view
that diplomacy should take place in private and not in the public forum.
In his memoir, Annan recognized the costs of taking on the world's top
diplomatic job, joking that "SG," for secretary-general, also signified
"scapegoat" around U.N. headquarters.
Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke called Annan
"an international rock star of diplomacy."
After leaving his high-profile U.N. perch, Annan didn't let up. In 2007, his
Geneva-based foundation was created. That year he helped broker peace in Kenya,
where election violence had killed over 1,000 people.
He also joined The Elders, an elite group of former leaders founded by
Nelson Mandela, eventually succeeding Desmond Tutu as its chairman after a
failed interlude trying to resolve Syria's rising civil war.
Annan "represented our continent and the world with enormous graciousness,
integrity and distinction," Tutu said Saturday in a statement, adding that "we
give great thanks to god" for him.
As special envoy to Syria in 2012, Annan won international backing for a
six-point plan for peace. The U.N. deployed a 300-member observer force to
monitor a cease-fire, but peace never took hold and Annan was unable to
surmount the bitter stalemate among Security Council powers. He resigned in
frustration seven months into the job, as the civil war raged on.
Annan continued to crisscross the globe. In 2017, his foundation's biggest
projects included promotion of fair, peaceful elections; work with Myanmar's
government to improve life in troubled Rakhine state; and battling violent
extremism by enlisting young people to help.
He also remained a vocal commentator on troubles like the refugee crisis;
promoted good governance, anti-corruption measures and sustainable agriculture
in Africa; and pushed efforts in the fight against illegal drug trafficking.
Annan retained connections to many international organizations. He was
chancellor of the University of Ghana, a fellow at New York's Columbia
University, and professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in
His homeland of Ghana was shaken by his death. "One of our greatest
compatriots," President Nana Akufo-Addo said, calling for a week with flags at
half-mast. "Rest in perfect peace, Kofi. You have earned it."
Annan is survived by his wife and three children. Funeral arrangements
weren't immediately announced.