Kofi Annan, the gentle global statesman who died on Saturday, led the world body for two terms during which brought focus to development as the foundation of peace and security.
During his tenure from January 1997 to December 2006 as Secretary General, he steered the UN in making development a top priority, even as he guided it through through several crises, among them the heightened post 9/11 terrorist threats, the Afghan and Iraq wars, the Balkan conflicts which saw the worst bloodshed in Europe since World War II, and the liberation of East Timor.
In 2001, he and the UN received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Current Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his tribute called “Kofi Annan a guiding force for good”.
“He provided people everywhere with a space for dialogue, a place for problem-solving and a path to a better world,” he added.
Annan was outspoken at times, but always maintained dignity and upheld the best traditions of diplomacy, leaving the way open for consensus.
The Ghanian diplomat was 80 when he died, surrounded by his Swedish wife Nane, and his children — Ama, Kojo and Nina — the Kofi Annan Foundation said.
The Millenial Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by world leaders at their 2000 Summit under his leadership continue to inspire the UN as it works with renewed efforts like the current Agenda 2030 for sustainable development.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “Kofi Annan’s significant contribution to the MDGs will always be remembered.”
During his 2005 visit to India, Annan said in New Delhi: “Development is the subject of the first and longest chapter in the report, which maps out a detailed and practical strategy for reaching the MDGs by 2015.”
Annan also advocated Security Council reform, a goal dear to India. He said during the visit that while the reform should be reached by consensus, the lack of consensus should not become an excuse for postponing action.
Among his other accomplishments as the UN head, were starting reforms of the UN bureaucracy and structure, setting up of the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council.
His worst days as Secretary General, he later recounted, was the powerlessness to do anything about the US-led Iraq War in 2003 that sparked a catastrophe in the Middle East that the region was yet to recover from.
More recently Annan led an effort to resolve the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, heading a commission at the invitation of the government there to propose an internationally accepted framework for the return of refugees, and a Syrian peace effort at the request of the Arab League.
He served as the chairman of the group of statespeople founded by South African leader Nelson Mandela, which was known as “The Elders”, and sought to play an international role in promoting peace and democracy through moral authority and persuasion.
Annan is the only one of the seven secretaries-general from Sub-Saharan Africa, a continent that has become central to the UN’s missions of peacekeeping and development.
He made two official visits to India in 2001 and 2005, when he met the spectrum of political leaders in the government and in opposition, as well as development experts.
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New Delhi set up the a supercomputing and technology development faciity in Ghana in 2003 and named it in his honour as the Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in Information Communications Technology. It was inaugurated by the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Annan began his international civil servant career as a budget officer for the World Health Organisation in 1962. Along the way, he worked for the UN High Commission for Refugees and as a UN Assistant Secretary-General holding key portfolios of security and administration.
He rose to become the head of UN peacekeeping operations in 1993 and a under Secretary-General in 1994.