Kofi Annan's funeral: World leaders bid farewell to ex-UN chief

World leaders and royalty have paid their respects to one of Africa's most famous diplomats, Kofi Annan, at his funeral in his home country of Ghana.

Background

Kofi Annan was a Ghanaian diplomat who served as the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, from January 1997 to December 2006. Annan and the UN were the co-recipients of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize.

As the Secretary-General, Annan reformed the UN bureaucracy; worked to combat HIV, especially in Africa; and launched the UN Global Compact. He was criticized for not expanding the Security Council and faced calls for resignation after an investigation into the Oil-for-Food Programme, but was largely exonerated of personal corruption.

He died on August 18 aged 80 at his home in Switzerland after a short illness.

Analysis

Kofi Annan has been laid to rest in his native Ghana as world leaders paid tributes to the former UN secretary-general with calls to keep alive the legacy of a "stubborn optimist" to create a better, more peaceful world.

At the funeral on Thursday, Annan's widow, Nane Maria, led hundreds of mourners, including world leaders past and present, traditional rulers and global royalty and called her husband an "extraordinary" person who had a "joy of life”.

"My love, you are now back home where you started your long journey. But may your wisdom and compassion continue to guide us, wherever we are," she said at the state funeral in the capital, Accra.

Annan led the UN from 1997 to 2006, becoming the first person from sub-Saharan Africa to do so.

Thousands of people have filed past his coffin this week during three days of national mourning for Annan who was called "one of the truly iconic figures of modern times" by Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo.

Many ordinary Ghanaians described him as a father figure and a source of national pride, while his brother, Kobina, told the congregation that he was more than a leader and statesman.

The current UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, praised his close friend as an "exceptional global leader" who was dignified, courageous and a man of "integrity, dynamism and dedication".

"Kofi Annan was the United Nations and the United Nations was him," he added.

Mourners in traditional black and red attire filled the main hall of the Accra Conference Centre, which sits about 4,000 people. More are watching proceedings on a giant screen in an auditorium just outside the hall.

There have been hymns and a performance by soprano and human rights campaigner Barbara Hendricks.

Annan's nephew Kojo Amoo-Gottfried read a eulogy, describing how he had led a hunger strike in his secondary school to protest against the quality of food in the dining hall.

President Nana Akufo-Addo described Annan as "one of the truly iconic figures of modern times”. The former queen of the Netherlands, Princess Beatrix, and her daughter-in-law Princess Mabel, who were close friends of Annan, were among the mourners. The king of Ghana's Asante people, Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II, awarded Annan the title Busumuru in 2012 to honour his role as an international diplomat. Busumuru is one of the swords attached to the monarch's Golden Stool, or throne.

There were also a moving tribute by his wife, Swedish lawyer and artist Nane Maria Annan. She described how her husband was always excited to return home, and thanked Ghana for giving the world such an extraordinary man. She said her husband had an irresistible aura of radiant warmth.

"His legacy would live on through his foundation and through all of us," she concluded.

Assessment

Our assessment is that Kofi Annan was an upright, capable diplomat who served a variety of important position during his term as an international Civil service. We believe that the best way to honour his legacy would be to learn from his leadership during the Iraq invasion of 2003 and subsequent handling of the oil-for-food scam. We feel that despite his relatively small scale failings, Mr. Annan represents a model for international civil servants to emulate.