Former UN Chief Kofi Annan Dies at Age 80

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate was the first black African to assume role of United Nations Secretary-General ■ Namesake foundation says Annan died from brief, unspecified illness

Former UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan in his office at the United Nations Offices in Geneva, July 20, 2012
AFP

Former United Nations Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Kofi Annan has died, the Kofi Annan Foundation said on Saturday. 

Annan, of Ghanaian nationality, died in hospital in Bern, Switzerland, in the early hours of Saturday, two close associates of Annan said. His foundation posted a notice on theit Twitter account, saying Annan had died from brief, unspecified illness.

"Kofi Annan was a guiding force for good," current U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Saturday. "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 and determination."

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate was the first black African to assume role of United Nations Secretary-General in 1996.

During his tenure, Annan sought to battle HIV, partituclarly in Africa. He left the UN in 2006, and formed the Kofi Annan Foundation in 2007, a nonprofit focused on global development.

As head of UN peacekeeping operations, Annan was criticised for the world body's failure to halt the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s. 

Syria's President Bashar Assad meets UN Syria peace envoy Kofi Annan in Damascus July 9, 2012
\ Sana Sana/ REUTERS

"The UN can be improved, it is not perfect but if it didn't exist you would have to create it," he told the BBC's Hard Talk during an interview for his 80th birthday last April, recorded at the Geneva Graduate Institute where he had studied 

"I am a stubborn optimist, I was born an optimist and will remain an optimist," Annan added. 

In 2012, Annan was the UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria, tasked with helping to resolve the Syrian civil war. Annan was appointed to lead a commission by the UN to investigate the Rohingya crisis.

Kofi Annan with former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem, March 27, 2006
Lior Mizrahi

Annan took on the top UN post six years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and presided during a decade when the world united against terrorism after the September 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 website.

Former Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat walks with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's after they concluded talks in Gaza, October 10, 2000
\ Ahmed Jadallah/ REUTERS

"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 UN had endorsed the war in Iraq, what our reputation would be like? Although at that point, President (George W.) Bush said the UN was headed toward irrelevance, because we had not supported the war. But now we know better."