File Photo of Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations (UN), speaking during an event. (Photographer: Krister Soerboe/Bloomberg)

Ghana Buries Kofi Annan, Hailed as Exceptional Global Leader 

(Bloomberg) -- Kofi Annan, the soft-spoken diplomat who served as the first United Nations secretary-general from sub-Saharan Africa and died Aug. 18 in Switzerland at the age of 80 after a short illness, was laid to rest in Ghana on Thursday.

Annan was one of Ghana’s prominent public figures and his death triggered an outpouring of grief in the West African nation. More than 6,000 mourners attended his funeral at an auditorium in the capital, Accra, and many more gathered outside the venue where traditional drummers and dancers paid tribute.

The service and his burial mark the end of Annan’s three-day state funeral, with citizens, diplomats and traditional leaders filing past his casket on Tuesday and Wednesday to bid him farewell. Many commuters in the streets of Accra wore black on their way to work as a sign of respect.

“He brought considerable renown to our country by his position and by his conduct and comportment,” President Nana-Akufo Addo told mourners, who included UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and African leaders such as Liberian President George Weah and Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara. “He gave his life to make peace where there was conflict, to defending the voiceless who were powerless, to promote virtue where there was evil.”

Annan devoted almost his entire working life to the UN, steering the organization through multiple wars in the Middle East, the breakup of former Yugoslavia and a raft of other crises over a career that spanned more than five decades.

He was the co-recipient of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, along with the UN, to recognize “work for a better organized and more peaceful world.” His opposition to the Iraq War in 2003 endeared him to anti-war groups and drew sharp criticism from U.S. Conservatives, including John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the UN who became national security adviser to President Donald Trump.

Career’s Beginnings

Annan began his career at the UN as a budget officer in Geneva and rose through the ranks to become head of finance in New York before his appointment as secretary-general in 1996. Four years after stepping down in 2008, he published a memoir in which he wrote that an atmosphere of “stultifying corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency” prompted him in 1974 to resign from a civil servant job in Ghana, which was then under military rule.

Although broadly admired as a bureaucratic reformer and quiet insider, Annan was often described as being ineffective. He was criticized for his handling of UN peacekeeping operations at the time of Rwanda’s genocide in 1994 and the killing of Muslims from the Bosnian town of Srebrenica the following year. His reputation was tainted further by a corruption scandal that touched his family and a failure to help resolve the Syrian crisis in 2012, when it was in its infancy.

Nonetheless, Annan maintained his stature in world diplomacy and in 2016 was appointed to head a UN commission to investigate the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.

“Kofi Annan was both one of a kind and one of us. He was an exceptional global leader,” said Guterres, who said they were good friends. “He opened the doors of the United Nations, bringing the organization closer to the world’s people. Kofi Annan was the United Nations, and the United Nations was him.”

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