Two secretaries-general and diplomats from the world that Kofi Annan served for nearly 45 years paid tribute to him at the United Nations Friday, but the most moving words were from his wife and son who urged people everywhere to continue his fight for a fairer and peaceful planet.
The ceremony in the General Assembly hall where the U.N.’s 193 member nations meet began with traditional music and drums from Annan’s native Ghana, and a silent tribute to the world body’s seventh secretary-general who died on Aug. 18 in Bern, Switzerland at age 80.
Annan’s widow, Nane, recalled sitting in the General Assembly hall the day he was elected secretary-general in December 1996.
“The office of secretary-general is based on persuasive powers, and did he ever use his persuasive powers to the fullest,” she said. “His whole being (was) intent on finding solutions to challenges at hand, thinking outside the box, the rebel on the 38th floor” where the U.N. chief’s office is located.
Her voice cracking, Mrs. Annan said: “He died too soon, leaving us heartbroken and bereft, but he lived exactly as he wanted — to the fullest, packing in so many lifetimes in those 80 years of his.”
“I was lucky,” she said of her 35-year marriage. “He had this glowing aura of radiant warmth and joy of life which you literally could see, and left his impact on people near and far.”
Nane said retirement was never for Annan.
“How could there be? There was still so much to do, so many challenges to think of,” she said. “His legacy will live on in his foundation and in all of us.”
Kojo Annan said in an emotional tribute that his father’s death had raised many “existential” questions and he realized that being a global citizen isn’t about stamps on your passport or where you live — it’s “about completely embracing the common humanity of all of the world’s citizens. It’s about seeing potential in anyone, and helping build a world where anything is possible for that someone.”
He recalled that Edmund Burke’s words — “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” — became his father’s “code.”
“It’s why he always felt at home here, surrounded by and working with you — the dedicated men and women of the U.N. and the member states who shared that code,” Kojo Annan said.
“If my father were here he’d implore you to keep fighting the good fight, to beat back the forces of inequality, disease, injustice and strife, and he’d implore me to do the same,” he said. “My father’s passing has made it absolutely clear that I need to follow in his footsteps, not as secretary-general or as a politician, but as a humanitarian, doing my little bit wherever I am and however I can for humanity.”
“We can all do our little bit for a fairer, more peaceful world,” Kojo Annan said. “We all make peace personal in honor of daddy.”
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who was chosen by then secretary-general Annan to be the U.N.’s refugee chief in 2005, recalled that Annan described the United Nations as the “last best hope of humanity.”
“Throughout his tenure Kofi Annan urged us never to be bystanders in life. He summoned us all to act against bias, brutality and bloodshed,” Guterres said. “He was a multilateralist through and through, a true U.N.-blue believer in a rules-based global order. And, I must say, his loss cuts even deeper because we have never needed that faith and inspiration more.”
Former secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, who succeeded Annan in 2007, said “the international community was continually astounded by Kofi Annan’s razor-sharp intellect, moved by his vibrant compassion, and encouraged by his driving idealism.”
Ban said he struggled to put in words how much Annan helped him personally, “and how well he served humanity.”
But he said “I am confident history will show as the years pass that Kofi Annan was a monumental leader.”
Annan’s former chief of staff Iqbal Riza recalled the highs of Annan’s first term as secretary-general culminating with sharing the Nobel Peace Prize with the U.N. — and the lows in his second term including the Iraq war and allegations of corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program which helped Iraqi civilians cope with U.N. sanctions.
Riza, a Pakistani diplomat, said Annan — “the consummate U.N. insider” — was his first friend when he joined the organization in 1978.
“I sensed his special qualities — exceptional intelligence and acumen, an inner courteousness, a quiet self-assurance and slightly impish sense of humor,” he said. “Later, other attributes emerged — a deep commitment to the goals of the U.N., a strikingly wide circle of friends outside the U.N., a dazzling memory and natural charisma.”