Celebrated diplomat Kofi Annan died on Saturday at the age of 80 in Switzerland.

Annan was a champion for human rights during the 44 years which he spent working for the United Nations. Annan spent nine years as the UN’s secretary general.

He devoted his life to eradicating extreme poverty.

Kofi Atta Annan was born in British-ruled Kumasi, Ghana on April 8, 1938. He was 1 of 4 children, and he had a twin.

In 1958, a year after Ghana became an independent nation, Annan won a Ford Foundation scholarship to study in the United States.

Annan went to study at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Following his graduation, he studied economics at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Internationales in Geneva.

From there, he joined the World Health Organization (WHO) as an administrative officer in 1962 at the age of 24.

Annan then went on to attain another graduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Annan soon began to steadily work his way through the ranks at the UN.

He served as head of personnel for the UN’s mission in Cairo, the deputy director of the UNHCR in Geneva, and the UN’s Economic Commissioner for Africa in Addis Ababa.

In 1997, Annan became the first person from Sub-Saharan Africa to be elected secretary-general of the UN.

The secretary-general of the United Nations is the “chief administrative officer” of the organization. The secretary-general acts as a spokesperson for the interests of the world’s various peoples, particularly the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations.

Annan’s is remembered as a visionary and influential secretary-general.

He accomplished great things throughout his life, such as winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. 

However, he did have some regrets.

Regarding the 2003 genocide in Darfur, Annan said:

“Sadly, once again, the biggest challenge comes from Africa – from Darfur where the continuous spectacle of men and women and children driven from their homes by murder, rape and burning of their villages makes a mockery of our claim as an international community to shield people from the worst abusers.”

Annan is a shining example of someone who always tried to do what was right. When he was wrong, he showed humility and admitted his mistakes.

The diplomat faced a great deal of criticism while serving as head of the UN’s peacekeeping troops in 1994 when radical Hutu militias slaughtered nearly a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in an event that is now known as the Rwandan genocide.

Accused of neglecting Rwanda and the Tutsi people, Annan confessed his regrets:

“The international community failed Rwanda, and that must leave us always with a sense of bitter regret and abiding sorrow.”

The beloved diplomat prioritized international peace and security throughout his career. Peace, according to Annan, can only be achieved by making the interest of people the basis of every UN action.

During a 2010 interview with Farm Africa, Annan revealed that he was most proud of the UN when the organization prioritized individuals over political conflicts.

The UN was able to create the Millennium Development Goals as well as a global fund to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

Annan stepped down as the UN’s secretary-general in 2006, but he continued to serve as an international diplomat. 

When Annan retired from the UN, he stated:

“I depart convinced that today’s United Nations has done more than ever before. It does it better than ever before. Yet, our work is far from complete. Indeed, it will never be.”

Kofi Annan is survived by his wife, Nane, his stepdaughter, Nina, his son, Kojo, and his daughter, Ama.


Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons