One of the world’s greatest compatriots and former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan was in plain sight when worries about the Cold War were replaced by threats of global terrorism. And his efforts to combat those threats and secure a more peaceful world brought him the Nobel Peace Prize. It ended Saturday when he died after a brief illness in Switzerland. He was 80.

Kofi Atta Annan, a Ghanaian born in 1938, served as the seventh UN Secretary-General from 1997 to 2006. He was the first to rise from within the ranks of the United Nations staff. Throughout his life, Annan portrayed himself as a global statesman. He was a deeply committed internationalist who fought for a fairer, more peaceful world.

Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, Mr. Annan was the first black African to head the United Nations. He did so for two successive five-year terms beginning in 1997 — a decade of turmoil that redefined Annan’s place in a changing world.

Revisiting the life of the man who redefined the UN-Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan receiving his Nobel Peace Prize

In 1998, Mr. Annan traveled to Baghdad to negotiate directly with Saddam Hussein, winning a temporary respite in the long battle of wills with the West. But in doing so, he raised questions about his decision to shake hands — and even smoke cigars — with that dictator.

Following his graduate studies in Geneva in the 1960s, Annan, in 1992, joined the staff of the World Health Organization (WHO), a branch of the United Nations. Annan always assumed that he would return to his native land after college, although he was disturbed by the unrest and numerous changes of government that occurred there during the 1970s.

Kofi Annan and his work with the UN

In 1974, he moved to Cairo, Egypt, as the chief civilian personnel officer in the UN Emergency Force. Annan briefly changed careers in 1974 when he left the United Nations to serve as managing director of the Ghana Tourist Development Company.

Annan returned to international diplomacy and the United Nations in 1976. For the next seven years that followed, he was associated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva. In 1983, he returned to the UN headquarters in New York City as director of the budget in the financial services office.

In the later parts of the 1980s, he filled the post of Assistant Secretary-General in the Office of Human Resources Management and served as security coordinator for the United Nations. By 1990, he became Assistant Secretary-General for the Office of Program Planning, Budget, and Finance at the UN. In fulfilling his duties to the United Nations, Annan spent most of his adult life in the United States, specifically at the UN headquarters in New York City.

By this time, Annan had filled a number of roles at the United Nations, ranging from peacekeeping to managerial. And the 1990s were no different. In 1990, he negotiated the release of hostages in Iraq following the invasion of Kuwait. Five years later, he oversaw the transition of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) to the multinational Implementation Force (IFOR), a UN peacekeeping organization.

In recognition of his abilities, the UN General Assembly appointed Annan as Secretary-General, the top post of the UN in December 1996. He began serving his four-year term of office on January 1, 1997.

Revisiting the life of the man who redefined the UN-Kofi Annan

Moment Kofi Annan was sworn in as UN Secretary-General in 1996

Heading the United Nations

As Secretary-General of the United Nations, Annan’s duty was to prevent, contain, or stop international disputes. Above all, Annan must try to maintain world peace.

In an address to the National Press Club, Annan declared, “If war is the failure of diplomacy, then … diplomacy … is our first line of defense. The world today spends billions preparing for war; shouldn’t we spend a billion or two preparing for peace?”

After heading the United Nations as Secretary-General for 10 years, Kofi Annan stepped down in 2006. He had also been a member, since 2007, of The Elders, a humanitarian group of a dozen leaders and activists of worldwide stature formed by Nelson Mandela. In 2013, Annan became its chairman.

Revisiting the life of the man who redefined the UN-Kofi Annan

The-Elders around table

Questioning his role

Many critics have, however, singled out Annan’s role as head of the United Nations peacekeeping operations from 1993 to 1997. This was a period that saw the killing of 18 American service personnel in Somalia in October 1993 and the deaths of more than 800,000 Rwandans in the genocide of 1994. Despite the United Nations’ presence in 1995, Bosnia remained the site of an ethnic war, in which thousands died.

In Rwanda and Bosnia, rebel forces outgunned troops drawn from across the UN’s member states and showed little resolve. In both cases, troops from Europe quickly abandoned their missions. And in both cases, Annan received criticisms for failing to safeguard those who had looked to the UN for protection.

Revisiting the life of the man who redefined the UN-Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan on a visit to a memorial site in Rwanda after the genocide

Despite the serial setbacks, Kofi Annan commanded the world stage with ease — a feat that made him and his second wife, Nane Lagergren, a global power couple. At the time, he seemed to radiate an aura of probity and authority.

His achievements going down memory lane

The desire to burnish his legacy seemed to motivate Mr. Annan long after Ban Ki-moon replaced him as Secretary-General. He set up a non-profit foundation to promote higher standards of global governance. In 2008, he headed a commission of eminent Africans that persuaded rival factions in Kenya. His mission was to reconcile a year after more than 1,000 people were killed during and after disputed elections.

In February 2012, the United Nations appointed Annan the UN and Arab League joint special envoy to Syria. But six months later, he quit, citing increasing militarization in Syria and “the clear lack of unity” at the UN Security Council.

August 18, 2018, is the day this great and fine statesman bowed out of life’s stage. Afro Hustler celebrates Kofi Annan because his works are evidently those of a true African. We will remember him for the way he drew attention to the plight of those caught up in war, environmental disaster, or simply grinding poverty. The way he quietly but firmly reminded world leaders that they needed to put their duty to their citizens above their political career.

 

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