NewsKofi Annan was the United Nations

Kofi Annan was the United Nations


I was shocked by the news of the death of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and have been reflecting ever since on what made him so special. In my opinion it’s very simple: Kofi Annan was unique and, at the same time, one of us.

He was an exceptional world leader and, at the same time, someone almost anyone in the world could identify with: those living in poverty, conflict and despair found an ally in him, United Nations officials starting their careers followed in his footsteps, the young people to whom he said until the last moment “always remember that you are never too young to lead or too old to learn”. Few people in our time have had Kofi Annan’s ability to unite people, make them feel comfortable and join their efforts to pursue a shared goal for the sake of our common humanity.

They say the art of diplomacy is to say nothing, especially when you’re talking. Kofi Annan said it all, even without saying a word. That ability came from the dignity, moral conviction, and humanity that was so ingrained in him. He had a soft voice, that intonation that made you smile and think of music. However, his words were harsh and wise. And sometimes, the more serious the situation, the more serious that voice became. We had to get closer to listen. The whole world was paying attention. And as a reward we received his wisdom. Kofi Annan was brave, he spoke the truth to the powerful and at the same time submitted to strict self-scrutiny. Like his predecessor as Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold, he had an almost mystical understanding of the role of the United Nations as a force for good in a world plagued with evil. Through it all he amassed a brilliant record of achievement. He promoted new ideas and initiatives, such as the Millennium Development Goals and the landmark reforms contained in his report “In Larger Freedom.” He opened the doors of the United Nations to bring the Organization closer to the peoples of the world and involve new allies in the protection of the environment, the defense of human rights and the fight against HIV / AIDS and other deadly diseases. Kofi Annan was the United Nations and the United Nations was Kofi Annan.

He was also a good friend of mine. In many ways we went through life together. When the people of Timor-Leste were trying to achieve self-determination, we worked together – he at the United Nations and I as Prime Minister of Portugal – to help resolve the plight of the Timorese peacefully. When the United Nations Office for Refugees needed a new manager, Kofi honored me with his trust by asking me to fill the role and I could always count on his unwavering support to protect and shelter the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. Now that I occupy the position previously held by Kofi, I find in his integrity, dynamism and delivery a source of continuous inspiration. For him, the worst poison in the world was indifference. Even after his term as Secretary General ended, he never stopped fighting on the front lines of diplomacy.

He helped defuse post-election tensions in Kenya, did all he could to find a political solution to Syria’s brutal war, and paved the way to assert the rights of Myanmar’s Rohingya people and seek justice. Kofi built bridges between various worlds, North and South, East and West. But it was his identity and his African roots that gave her the strongest reference to him. The great Nelson Mandela, accustomed to being called Madiba, used a nickname for Kofi: “my leader”. It was no joke, Kofi was also our leader. I will remember him as he looked the last time I saw him at the United Nations, not long ago: calm but resolute, ready to laugh but always charged with the gravity of our work. He is long gone and will be greatly missed. But I am convinced that if we continue to pay attention, we will hear the words and wise advice of Kofi Annan. “Keep going,” he says. “You know what to do: take care of each other. Take care of our planet.

Acknowledge the humanity of all people. And support the United Nations, the meeting point where, together, we can solve problems and build a better future for all”. Let us continue to pay attention to that voice of good will and reason, that voice of morality and solidarity. The world needs to hear it now more than ever. As we face the challenges facing us in these troubled and turbulent times, let us as always look to the legacy of Kofi Annan for inspiration and let us not forget that he will continue to speak to us, urging us to work for the goals to which he dedicated his life and which truly They move our world.


António Guterres is the Secretary General of the United Nations. Remarks delivered at Kofi Annan’s funeral in Accra, Ghana on September 13, 2018.

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