The Nobel Peace Prize-winning diplomat reshaped the organization as a champion of human rights

Mr. Annan before a meeting at his office at the United Nations offices in Geneva.

Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the first black African to lead the U.N., died Saturday at age 80.

Alongside Liberian politician Ellen Johnson, left, and Algeria’s Lakhdar Brahimi, Mr. Annan attends the Elders walk in Johannesburg to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 100th Anniversary on July 18.

Mr. Annan, who was a Nobel Peace Prize-winning diplomat, speaks at the White House after meeting President Bill Clinton in January 1997.

Mr. Annan with Former French President Jacques Chirac in Paris in 2008.

Mr. Annan consoles family members of victims of a massacre by pro-Indonesia militia in Liquica, East Timor, in 2000.

Mr. Annan with rock star and "Make Poverty History" organizer Bob Geldof, center, and U2 lead singer Bono for a session of the G-8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005.

Mr. Annan as U.N.-Arab League mediator listening to a reporter's question during a news conference in Geneva in August 2012.

Mr. Annan, inspects an army base south of Stockholm with Swedish Defense Minister Bjoern von Sydow in 1997.

In 1997, Opera great Luciano Pavarotti pays a courtesy visit to Mr. Annan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Mr. Annan and other members of the Elders group at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow in 2015.
Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the first black African to lead the U.N., died Saturday at age 80.
1 of 11

Kofi Annan, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning diplomat who rose through the ranks of the United Nations to become its first black African secretary-general and reshape the organization as a proponent of human rights, died Saturday at the age of 80.

Mr. Annan’s family confirmed his death from a short, unspecified illness, in a statement from his foundation.

Known for his cool manner, noble posture and charismatic personality, Mr. Annan served as the U.N.’s leader for two five-year terms, from January 1997 to December 2006. He campaigned to protect people everywhere from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, though his tenure was also clouded by allegations of corruption and bribery within the organization.

Kofi Annan


It is with immense sadness that the Annan family and the Kofi Annan Foundation announce that Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Laureate, passed away peacefully on Saturday 18th August after a short illness…

From 1993 to 1997, Mr. Annan served as the head of the U.N.’s peacekeeping operations, a period that saw the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, during which about 800,000 people were killed, and the massacre of around 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serbs in Srebrenica in 1995. Mr. Annan later said he should, and could, have done more to raise the alarm and galvanize support from member nations. That regret led him to focus acutely on the plight of marginalized people around the world.

He had a keen influence on many of the crises of recent decades, from the HIV/AIDS pandemic to the Iraq War and had a strong hand in making the world’s tragedies the responsibility of the organization.

Mr. Annan overhauled and revitalized the U.N., creating an organization much more deeply involved in peacekeeping efforts and alleviating poverty around the globe. An ardent human rights advocate, he championed development in the developing world and especially his home continent of Africa. Mr. Annan established the U.N.’s Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council.

“Kofi Annan was a global statesman and a deeply committed internationalist who fought throughout his life for a fairer and more peaceful world,” the Kofi Annan Foundation said in a statement.

“It is with profound sadness that I learned of his passing,” said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a statement. “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.”

Kofi Atta Annan was born along with his twin sister Efua Atta, in Kumasi, a city in southern Ghana, on April 8, 1938.

He earned a degree in economics from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., in 1961, joining the U.N. the following year as an administrative and budget officer at World Health Organization in Geneva. A decade later, he graduated with a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management.

In 1965, Mr. Annan married Titi Alakija, with whom he had two children. They divorced in 1983, and a year later he remarried, to Swedish lawyer Nane Marie Lagergren, who had a daughter from a previous marriage.

He served as the Economic Commissioner for Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, and various roles in New York before being appointed as the U.N.’s seventh secretary-general in 1997.

In 1998, Mr. Annan negotiated directly with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad over U.N. weapons inspections. Though the diplomatic mission was successful, he faced backlash for shaking hands and smoking cigars with Mr. Hussein.

Mr. Annan again became embroiled in scandal in 2004, when his son, Kojo Annan, was implicated in a scandal surrounding a U.N. humanitarian program in Iraq, known as “oil for food.” The program, which allowed Iraq to sell oil on the world market in exchange for food, medicine, and other humanitarian items, was exploited by Mr. Hussein, due to lax oversight at the U.N. headquarters.

A commission eventually exonerated Mr. Annan, but found that he hadn’t done enough to investigate once he was made aware of the situation.

Mr. Annan and the U.N. were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for revitalizing the organization and prioritizing human rights.

He is survived by a wife and three children.

Write to Alexandra Wexler at



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s