Saturday, it was confirmed that Kofi Annan, the first Black African to lead the United Nations, died at the age of 80.
Tributes immediately flowed in from around the world after his foundation announced his death in the Swiss capital, Bern, which followed a short and unspecified illness. The statement remembered the Nobel Peace Prize winner as “radiating genuine kindness, warmth and brilliance in all he did.”
It was also stated that the man who spent his whole life dedicated to peace, also died “peacefully in his sleep.” This weekend, the U.N. headquarters in New York showed their respect by flying the U.N. flag at half-staff and placing a bouquet of flowers under Annan’s portrait.
Below are five things you may not have known about one of the most celebrated diplomats in history.
1. He always saw himself as a global citizen
Annan was born in 1938 to a prominent family in Kumasi, Ghana’s second-largest city. As the son of the governor of the Ashanti province under British colonial rule, Annan was able to attend top schools in Ghana, Switzerland and the United States.
Those experiences all over the world, at such a young age, made him particularly well suited to be an international diplomat, who ultimately ended up devoting decades of his life to advocacy for peace and reform.
“I think that what was remarkable about Kofi Annan was that he hereditarily — and for centuries I guess, because that’s the way African tribal life is — was really a king and a prince in his own culture,” said former Candadian governor general Adrienne Clarkson while remembering her friend. “He brought all of the best qualities of that to his international work in the modern world for the UN.”
Clarkson also stressed that Annan was always “a man of enormous compassion” and “intense human vulnerability.”
A sentiment that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shares.
“He believed deeply in the power and potential of young people,” Trudeau said in a statement. “He recognized their innate sense of a world that has never been more interconnected or interdependent, and knew that young people, in many ways, had more to teach us than we had to teach them.”
Kofi Annan didn’t just talk about building a more just and peaceful world, he dedicated his life to doing it – and the world is a better place because of him. It’s now up to all of us to carry his work forward.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) August 18, 2018
2. His influence extended beyond the United Nations
In 1962 Annan joined the UN system as an administrative and budget officer with the World Health Organization in Geneva. Although he was only 24 at the time, he quickly worked his way up the ranks, serving as head of personnel for the U.N. mission in Cairo, deputy director of the UNHCR in Geneva, and deputy U.N. secretary-general and under-secretary-general for peacekeeping.
In 1997 he was elected secretary-general, making him the first person from Sub-Saharan Africa to hold the position. But even after he stepped down from his post in 2006 he continued to play an influential role in international diplomacy.
When post-election violence broke out in Kenya in 20017 between the government and the opposition, it was Annan who was called in to serve as negotiator. In 2012 he served as a special representative in the Syrian Civil War for six months. And in 2017, he also headed an expert commission to determine a solution to violence against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar in 2017.
With an impressive resume like that, not surprisingly, he became chair of the Elders, a group founded by Nelson Mandela, which consists of retired world diplomats who meet regularly and plan discreet interventions in world conflicts.
“Long after he had broken barriers, Kofi never stopped his pursuit of a better world, and made time to motivate and inspire the next generation of leaders,” former president Barack Obama wrote in a tribute on Facebook. “Michelle and I offer our condolences to his family and many loved ones.”
— Naomi Campbell (@NaomiCampbell) August 19, 2018
3. He had deep regrets about the Rwandan genocide
Even though the work that Annan did was often applauded, a notable low point in his career occurred while serving as head of U.N. peacekeeping troops in 1994.
He faced scathing criticism after radical Hutu militias killed over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in a bloodbath later referred to as the Rwandan genocide.
He agreed with those who accused him of failing to provide adequate support, and later admitted his remorse stating: “The international community failed Rwanda, and that must leave us always with a sense of bitter regret and abiding sorrow.”
“The UN over the past 70 years has done a lot for the world, for the people. It is not perfect, we have made mistakes but when you look at what we have done since its inception, the organisation has offered a lot to the world” – Kofi Annan interviewed @UNGeneva, September 2015 pic.twitter.com/hmxgSvhh6R
— UN Geneva (@UNGeneva) August 20, 2018
4. He was a founding member of AGRA
Annan is the founding Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which works for a food secure and prosperous Africa by promoting rapid, sustainable agricultural growth based on smallholder farmers.
When news broke of his death, the organization issued an official statement about his passing and the impact he had on the lives of many.
“It is with great sadness that all of us in the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa receive the news of the passing of His Excellency, Kofi Annan,” the statement began.
“Mr. Annan was a tremendous leader of progress in the world, improving the lives of millions of individuals in Africa and beyond through his work. It is his call for a uniquely African green revolution to ensure that Africa can feed itself that led to AGRA’s creation in 2006 to improve the incomes and livelihoods of Africa’s smallholder farmers. Mr. Annan was the Founding Chair of AGRA and continued offering leadership and guidance to the institution right up until this year as our Board Chair Emeritus.
‘I am saddened by the death of Kofi Annan, my elder brother and friend. Africa has lost one if its gallant soldiers,’ said Mr. Strive Masiyiwa, AGRA Board Chair. ‘We express our heartfelt condolences to his wife Nane, his children, and the entire family. Mr. Annan has left a lasting legacy in the quest for a food self-sufficient continent. We will keep his dream and vision alive.’”
5. He was notoriously modest despite his great achievements
In 2001, Annan and the United Nations were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. He was praised for being “pre-eminent in bringing new life to the organization,” but in his acceptance speech was quick to share the credit.
“This award belongs not just to me,” Annan explained. “I do not stand here alone. On behalf of my colleagues in every part of the United Nations, in every corner of the globe, who have devoted their lives – and in many instances risked or given their lives in the cause of peace – I thank the Members of the Nobel Prize Committee for this high honor.”
To those who knew him well he will be remembered as soft-spoken yet incredibly commanding presence; a slender man in tailored suits whose diplomacy moved mountains.
Annan is survived by Nane Lagergren, his second wife, and two children from his first marriage.
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Source: Entertainment – The Grio