The passing of the former UN secretary-general and Nobel peace prize laureate is an urgent reminder of humanity’s struggles towards attaining peace and sustainability.
by Nikhil Sreekandan
On August 18, at a hospital in Bern, Switzerland after a short illness, Kofi Annan died at the age of 80. Annan, who became the first and only black African secretary general of the United Nations, served two terms from January 1, 1997 to December 31, 2006. He was awarded the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, along with the UN, “for their work for a better organised and more peaceful world”.
One of the world’s most celebrated diplomats, Kofi Annan leaves behind him a legacy of peace and possibility that will live on for generations.
Kofi Atta Annan was born on April 8, 1938 in Kumasi, Ghana to Henry Reginald Annan and Victoria Annan, where he led “a tribal life in a tribal society.” Both of his grandfathers were tribal chiefs.
Sent to boarding school in the Gold Coast, he went on to study at the College of Science and Technology in Kumasi. And, after Ghana gained independence in 1957, a year later, Annan received a scholarship from the Ford Foundation to study in the US, at Macalester College in Minnesota.
The Ghanian went on to do his graduate studies in economics at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Internationales in Geneva, where he joined the WHO (World Health Organization) as an administrative officer. Later on, after joining the UN, he took time off from 1971-72 to gain a master’s degree in management at MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
After a two-term tenure at the UN which spanned 10 years, the Ghanian left the organisation more committed and invested in combating poverty, fighting for human rights and promoting equality.
The former UN secretary-general strongly believed that there is no tool more effective for development than the empowerment of women.
Back in 2000, Annan launched the U.N. Millennium Development Goals which – for the first time – set global targets on issues such as poverty and child mortality. And, one of its primary goals was to promote equality for women.
When the entire world believed that the current generation lacks the drive, the passion and the “get-up-and-go” attitude of prior ones, Annan believed that they are the best educated, most connected and most informed generation.
He founded the Kofi Annan Foundation which fosters dialogue and leadership among young people by offering them a platform where they can express their ideas and propose solutions to major public issues.
A life devoted towards making this world a more peaceful place, Kofi Annan’s passing on August 18 saw an outpouring of love and respect from the international community.
The official handle of the Europen commission tweeted, “The world mourns a great leader and humanitarian but celebrates a life full of courage, empathy, and remarkable public service.”
Shashi Tharoor, his compatriot, and once-to-be-successor at the UN said on Twitter: “Kofi Annan was a proud son of Africa, a great admirer of India, a voice of the developing world, a paragon of internationalism & an exemplar of humanity. The UN was fortunate to have been led by him at a pivotal moment in world history. He remains one of its greatest SecGens.”
Kofi Annan was an eternal optimist. In an interview with the BBC’s HardTalk to mark his 80th birthday in April, he said: “I am a stubborn optimist, I was born an optimist and will remain an optimist.”
The world is surely a lesser place for his loss. But, what we can do is continue the valiant efforts of this paragon of humanity, to make this world a better place.
As Labour MP Emily Thornberry said on twitter: “Not many will leave as great a legacy of achievements as #KofiAnnan, but we must now add to it by enacting his 2017 plan to bring lasting peace, justice and prosperity to the Rohingya people. That would be a more fitting tribute to his memory than any mere words of praise today.”
Rest high, dear Kofi Atta Annan.