Ghanaians bid farewell to former United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Kofi Annan Thursday in a state funeral attended by African leaders and international statesmen who hailed his record as an advocate for humanity and world peace.
Annan, a Ghanaian national and Nobel laureate, died on August 18 in a Swiss hospital at 80.
Born in Kamasi, Ghana, on April 8, 1938, Annan took the baton as the seventh Secretary-General of the UN from Egyptian diplomat Boutrous Boutrous-Ghali in December 1996. He served for two consecutive five-year terms, from January 1997 to December 2006.
His body was flown to Accra on Monday for burial in his homeland, where he is seen as a national hero.
Around 6,000 mourners filled the auditorium for Thursday’s service – the climax of a multi-day funeral ceremony, which has seen his coffin, draped in the Ghanaian national colours, displayed for public viewing.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was among the dignitaries in attendance. They include former Ghanaian presidents, the leaders of Ivory Coast, Liberia, Namibia and Niger and the Crown Prince of Norway.
In an address, Guterres hailed Annan, who served between 1997 and 2006 as the seventh UN Secretary-General, as an exceptional global leader with a deep faith in the role of the UN as a force for good.
Guterres said: “As we face the headwinds of our troubled and turbulent times, let us always be inspired by the legacy of Kofi Annan. Our world needs it now more than ever.”
The ceremony was projected onto big screens outside the auditorium for the crowds of mourners that could not find space inside the hall.
Many commuters in the capital wore black as a sign of respect.
On Wednesday, Annan’s family and Ghanaian dignitaries were among hundreds to file past his casket amid traditional rites by local chiefs and clan leaders.
Annan, a Ghanaian of Ashanti lineage, was granted a royal title by the Ashanti king in 2002.
The elders said the rites, including presenting him with clothing and water, were necessary to clear the path for a peaceful “travel” for their royal.
Some mourners, like New York-based community mayor Delois Blakely, had flown long distances to pay their respects.
Blakely, who served as an Ambassador of Goodwill to Africa at the UN, told Reuters: “I had known and worked with Kofi for close to 10 years. He spent his life trying hard to fix our broken society.”
As former UN chief, the late Annan was linked to peace efforts to reunite the divided island of Cyprus, submitting a reunification blueprint which was rejected in a referendum by Greek Cypriots in 2004.
He staunchly opposed the United States (U.S.)-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and later served as the first UN envoy at the start of Syria’s war, but quit after world powers failed to fulfill their commitments, saying: “I lost my troops on the way to Damascus.”
The United States (UN) paid final respects to the former Secretary-General Kofi Annan as the late Ghanaian diplomat was laid to rest yesterday in Ghana.
The UN General Assembly will tomorrow hold a commemorative meeting to pay tribute to the former Secretary-General.
Statements, a minute of silence and traditional African cultural performance, are expected to be made in honour of the former UN scribe.
In his tribute, Guterres said: “Kofi Annan was both one-of-a-kind and one of us. He was an exceptional global leader.
“He was also someone virtually anyone in the world could see themselves in: those on the far reaching of poverty or by, conflict and despair who found in him an ally; the junior UN staffers following in his footsteps; the young person to whom he said until his dying breath ‘always remember, you are never too young to lead – and we are never too old to learn.
“Like few in our time, Kofi Annan would bring people together, put them at ease, and unite them towards a common goal for our common humanity.
“There is an old joke: The art of diplomacy is to say nothing … especially when you are speaking! Kofi Annan could say everything, sometimes without uttering a word.
“It came from the dignity and the moral conviction and the humanity that was so deep in him. He had that gentle voice that lilt, that made people smile and think of music. But his words were tough and wise.
“And sometimes the graver a situation, the lower that voice would get.We would lean in to listen. And the world would lean in. And we were rewarded by his wisdom.”
The UN chief described the late Annan as courageous, speaking truth to power while subjecting himself to intense self-scrutiny.
Pointing to his time at the helm of the UN, Guterres said Annan had an almost mystical sense of the role of the UN as a force for good in a world of ills.
The UN scribe said: “He pioneered new ideas and initiatives, including the Millennium Development Goals and the landmark reforms in his report titled: ‘In Larger Freedom’.
“He opened the doors of the UN, bringing the Organisation close to the world’s people and engaging new partners in protecting the environment, defending human rights and combating HIV and AIDS and other killer diseases. Kofi Annan was the UN and the UN was him,” he said.
Guterres said now that he occupied the office the late Annan once held, he is continually inspired by his integrity, dynamism and dedication.
He said: “To him, indifference was the world’s worst poison. Even after finishing his term as Secretary-General, he never stopped battling on the front-lines of diplomacy.
“He helped to case post-election tensions in Kenya, gave his all to find a political solution to the brutal war in Syria and set out a path for ensuring justice and rights for the Rohingya people of Myanmar.
“Kofi straddled many worlds – North and South, East and West. But he found his surest anchor in his African roots and identity.
“The great Nelson Mandela, accustomed to being called Madiba, had his own nickname for Kofi, and called him ‘my leader’. This was no jest. Kofi was our leader, too,” Guterres stressed.
The UN chief said Annan is gone now and he would be missed immensely but that his words and wise counsel remain.
“’Please carry on, I hear him saying. ‘You know what to do: Take care of each other. Take care of our planet. Recognise the humanity in all people.
“’And support the UN Nations – the place where we can all come together to solve problems and build a better future for all”‘.
Guterres concluded: “As we face the headwinds of our troubled and turbulent times, let us always be inspired by the legacy of Kofi Annan – and guided by the knowledge that he will continue speaking to us, urging us on towards the goals to which he dedicated his life and truly moved our world”.