World News

Kofi Annan, Former U.N. Chief, Is Honored in State Funeral

Posted September 13, 2018 3:18 p.m. EDT

ACCRA, Ghana — Kofi Annan’s fellow Ghanaians finally got their moment to bid farewell to the Nobel laureate on Thursday, in an elaborate state funeral for the first black African to ever lead the United Nations.

Nearly four weeks after Annan died suddenly at age 80, thousands gathered in the capital, Accra, a mix of chiefs in traditional dress gathered under ceremonial umbrellas alongside clerics, diplomats politicians and family members.

“My love, you are now back home where you started your long journey,” Nane Annan, Annan’s widow, told the crowd. She said her husband had “challenged us all to work for a better world right where we are.”

Over three days of national mourning that ended with his funeral on Thursday, Annan was remembered for his diplomatic legacy and decades of humanitarian advocacy.

Speakers at the funeral included the current secretary-general of the United Nations, António Guterres, who lauded the work of his predecessor.

“To him, indifference was the world’s worst poison,” Guterres said.

Later, Guterres bowed his head at the foot of Annan’s coffin, which was draped with the red, green and yellow of the Ghanaian flag.

Annan led the United Nations from 1997 until 2006, capping a long history of diplomatic work there. His two consecutive terms as secretary-general were punctuated by turmoil in the world.

He presided through the beginning of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for “having revitalized the U.N. and for having given priority to human rights,” according to the Nobel Committee.

He began working at a U.N. agency in 1962, at the World Health Organization in Geneva. But his decades of work at the United Nations were not without controversy.

As the head of the U.N. peacekeeping operations from 1993 to 1997 — a period that included the deaths of more than 800,000 Rwandans in the genocide of 1994, and the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995 — Annan faced criticism for inaction. He later acknowledged the shortcomings of the U.N. response.

He continued humanitarian work in the years after heading the United Nations, leading postelection mediations in Kenya and working for a political solution to the Syrian war. Most recently, he had worked on an advisory commission in Myanmar on the crisis in the country’s restive Rakhine state.

Annan was born in Kumasi in southern Ghana in 1938 to an aristocratic family; he studied economics in Ghana and continued his education in Geneva and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Members of the public who filed past Annan’s coffin remembered him as a local hero with global impact.

“He lived a very remarkable life, a great one,” said one mourner, Prince Sawah. “I must say and I am proud to be a Ghanaian because of people like him.”

Another mourner, Yaa Boatemaa, said, “This great man taught me to be humble always.”