Kofi Annan, a soft-spoken and patrician diplomat from Ghana, who became the seventh secretary general of the United Nations, projecting himself and his organization as the world’s conscience and moral arbiter despite bloody debacles that left indelible stains on his record as a peacekeeper, died on Saturday. He was 80.
His death, after a short illness, was confirmed by his family in a statement from the Kofi Annan Foundation, which is based in Switzerland.
Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, he was the first black African to head the United Nations, and led the organization for two successive five-year terms beginning in 1997 — a decade of turmoil that challenged the sprawling body and redefined its place in a changing world.
On his watch as what the Nobel committee called Africa’s foremost diplomat, Al Qaeda struck New York and Washington, the United States invaded Iraq, and Western policymakers turned their sights from the Cold War to globalization and the struggle with Islamic militancy.
An emblem as much of the body’s most ingrained flaws as of its grandest aspirations, Mr. Annan was the first secretary general to be chosen from the international civil servants who make up the United Nations’ bureaucracy.
He was credited with revitalizing its institutions, crafting what he called a new “norm of humanitarian intervention,” particularly in places where there was no peace for traditional peacekeepers to keep, and, not least, in persuading Washington to unblock arrears withheld because of the profound misgivings about the body voiced by American conservatives.
His tenure was rarely free of debate, and he was likened in stature to Dag Hammarskjold, the second secretary general, who died in a mysterious plane crash in Africa in 1961.
In 1998, Mr. Annan traveled to Baghdad to negotiate directly with Saddam Hussein over the status of United Nations weapons inspections, winning a temporary respite in the long battle of wills with the West but raising questions about his decision to shake hands — and even smoke cigars — with the dictator.
In fact, Mr. Annan called the 2003 invasion of Iraq illegal and suffered an acute personal loss when a trusted and close associate, the Brazilian official Sérgio Vieira de Mello, his representative in Baghdad, died in a suicide truck bombing in August 2003 that struck the United Nations office there, killing many civilians.
Iraq also brought embarrassment closer to home when reports began to surface in 2004 that Mr. Annan’s son, Kojo Annan, worked for Cotecna Inspection Services, a Geneva-based company that had won a lucrative contract in a vast humanitarian program supervised by the United Nations in Iraq and known as oil for food.
A commission led by Paul A. Volcker concluded that the secretary general had not influenced the awarding of the contract, but had not investigated aggressively once questions were raised.
The secretary general said he took the commission’s findings as exoneration, but his reputation suffered, particularly in the eyes of adversaries in Washington.
In assessing his broader record, moreover, many critics singled out Mr. Annan’s personal role as head of the United Nations peacekeeping operations from 1993 to 1997 — a period that saw the killing of 18 American service personnel in Somalia in October 1993, the deaths of more than 800,000 Rwandans in the genocide of 1994, and the bloody massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serb forces at Srebrenica in 1995. Source Link: