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Kofi Annan, the soft-spoken diplomat who served as the first United Nations secretary-general from sub-Saharan Africa, will be buried in Ghana on Thursday as one of the West African nation’s most prominent public figures.
Annan died Aug. 18 in Switzerland at the age of 80 after a short illness. His death triggered an outpouring of grief in Ghana, with traditional leaders from his Fante ethnic group and hundreds of other mourners filing past his casket at a conference center in the capital, Accra.
“He brought considerable renown to our country by this position and through his conduct and comportment in the global arena,” President Nana Akufo-Addo said of Annan’s career in the UN. “His was a life well-lived.”
The memorial service will be attended by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, African leaders and lawmakers before a private burial at a military cemetery in the capital.
Annan devoted almost his entire working life to the UN, steering the organization through multiple wars in the Middle East, the breakup of former Yugoslavia and a raft of other crises over a career that spanned more than five decades.
He was the co-recipient of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, along with the UN, to recognize “work for a better organized and more peaceful world.” His opposition to the Iraq War in 2003 endeared him to antiwar groups and drew sharp criticism from U.S. Conservatives, including John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the UN who became national security adviser to President Donald Trump.
Annan began his career at the UN as a budget officer in Geneva and rose through the ranks to become head of finance in New York before his appointment as secretary-general in 1996. Four years after stepping down in 2008, he published a memoir in which he wrote that an atmosphere of “stultifying corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency” prompted him in 1974 to resign from a civil servant job in Ghana, which was then under military rule.
Although broadly admired as a bureaucratic reformer and quiet insider, Annan was often described as being ineffective. He was criticized for his handling of UN peacekeeping operations at the time of the genocide of Rwandan Tutsis in 1994 and the killing of Muslims from the Bosnian town of Srebrenica the following year. His reputation was tainted further by a corruption scandal that touched his family and a failure to help resolve the Syrian crisis in 2012, when it was in its infancy.
Nonetheless, Annan maintained his stature in world diplomacy and in 2016 was appointed to head a UN commission to investigate the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.
Annan was a “global giant,” said Kwame Pianim, a former Ghanaian finance minister and close friend. “He was the conscience of the world and a one-in-a-century individual sent so that we can see that there’s a better world we can aspire to.”