‘Great peacemaker’ Annan dies at 80

Former UN chief was first black African to lead world body

The Associated Press

ACCRA, Ghana — Kofi Annan, a charismatic global diplomat and the first black African to become United Nations secretary-general who led the world body through one of its most turbulent periods, died early Saturday at age 80.

Tributes flowed in from around the world after his foundation announced his death in the Swiss capital, Bern, after a short and unspecified illness. The statement remembered the Nobel Peace Prize winner as “radiating genuine kindness, warmth and brilliance in all he did.”

He died “peacefully in his sleep,” the president of Ghana, where Annan was born, said after speaking to his wife.

At U.N. headquarters in New York, the U.N. flag flew at half-staff and a bouquet of flowers was placed under Annan’s portrait. Reflecting the widespread regard that won him a groundbreaking uncontested election to a second term, leaders from Russia, India, Israel, France and elsewhere expressed condolences for a man Bill Gates called “one of the great peacemakers of our time.”

Annan spent virtually his entire career as an administrator in the United Nations. His aristocratic style, cool-tempered elegance and political savvy helped guide his ascent to become its seventh secretary-general, and the first hired from within.

His two terms were from Jan. 1, 1997, to Dec. 31, 2006, capped nearly midway when he and the U.N. were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001.

During his tenure, Annan presided over some of the worst failures and scandals at the world body. Challenges from the outset forced him to spend much of his time struggling to restore its tarnished reputation.

His enduring moral prestige remained largely un­dented, however, both through charm and by virtue of having negotiated with most of the powers in the world.

When he departed from the United Nations, he left be­hind a global organization far more aggressively en­gaged in peacekeeping and fighting poverty, setting the framework for its 21st-century response to mass atrocities and its emphasis on hu­man rights and development.

“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.”

Even out of office, Annan never completely left the U.N. orbit. He returned in special roles, including as the U.N.-Arab League’s special envoy to Syria in 2012.

“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.”