The death of iconic leader, Kofi Annan on the heels of Aretha Franklin’s passing was almost too much for the world to handle. Born on April 8, 1983 in Kumasi, Ghana, Kofi Atta Annan was inaugurated as UN Secretary General in 1997. His immense contributions to the success of the United Nations and the world at large cannot be over emphasized. He was the seventh secretary general and served for two terms between 1997 and 2006.

Kofi Annan was deeply concerned about the problem of strengthening the United Nations Organization and this became a priority for him. He aimed at the perfection of the United Nations’ actions as an institute, a special establishment, and his program of transformations is often called administrative and budgetary reform of the UN.

During his 10 years as Secretary-General, some of his most notable accomplishments included his work around HIV/Aids, with the proposal to create a Global AIDS and Health Fund. Annan was the 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. He called on the international community to create  partnership with The Global funds in the early 2000s during his time as Secretary-General and made the first financial contribution to the Global Fund. He called the battle against AIDS his “personal priority.” After his tenure, Annan continued to serve as a prominent advocate for the Global Fund, personally engaging in every Global Fund Replenishment.

In 2001, Annan was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his extraordinary contributions toward a more peaceful world, for revitalizing the UN and having given priority to human rights. His leadership in the fight against HIV was visionary. He played a critically important role in the creation of the Global Fund at a time when HIV, tuberculosis and malaria appeared unstoppable. In the years since, programs supported by the Global Fund have saved more than 22 million lives.

Annan was no stranger to controversy before succeeding Egypt’s Boutrous Boutrous-Ghali in 1997. He had headed the UN’s peacekeeping department when the Rwandan genocide of 1994 was the worst of such episode since the Holocaust. But when he visited the country a few years later, he had the guts to remind people that for all the shortcomings of the body he represented, it was Rwandans themselves who had carried out terrible atrocities.

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Annan’s commitment to promoting justice, universal human rights, peace and development to make the world a better place and not to surrender to cynicism cannot be questioned. Idealism, however, was not enough and Annan combined the qualities of an accomplished diplomat and experienced administrator of a notoriously labyrinthine bureaucracy.

Mr Annan retired on December 31, 2006 and before his departure, he gave a farewell speech to world leaders at the UN headquarters in New York. In the speech, he outlined three major problems of “an unjust world economy, world disorder, and widespread contempt for human rights and the rule of law”, which he believes “have not resolved, but sharpened” during his time as Secretary-General.

At a BBC Hard Talk event in April to mark his 80th birthday, Annan defended his role in Rwanda, joked about being mistaken for actor Morgan Freeman after retiring, and decried a lack of strong leaders to help handle crises. “We have had difficulties in the past but in some cases, leadership has made a difference,” he said, and ended saying : “I am a stubborn optimist, I was born an optimist and will remain an optimist. The moment I lose hope all is lost, I encourage you to keep hope as well.”

Kofi Annan’s life was well lived and it is one worth celebrating globally.  “In many ways, Kofi Annan was the United Nations,” current U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “He rose through the ranks to lead the organization into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination.” The UN Migration agency has said arrangement to celebrate Annan’s “remarkable life will be announced later.”



Photo credit: Getty Images

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