World bids farewell to Kofi Annan

Hero’s funeral held in native Ghana for popular and ‘extraordinary’ former UN leader

Kofi Annan’s widow, Nane Maria, prays in front her husband’s coffin at his state funeral in Accra, Ghana
Kofi Annan’s widow, Nane Maria, prays in front her husband’s coffin at his state funeral in Accra, Ghana
Image: Reuters

World dignitaries laid former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan to rest in his native Ghana on Thursday, with calls to keep alive the legacy of a “stubborn optimist” to create a better, more peaceful world.

His 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 told his funeral in the capital, Accra.

His son, Kojo, said his father had dedicated his life to the ideals of unity, equality, love, peace and respect.

“The greatest tribute we could ever pay is to follow his example,” he said to conclude a three-hour ceremony of tributes, prayer and song.

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

He died on August 18 aged 80 at his home in Switzerland, after a short illness. Thousands of ordinary Ghanaians paid their final respects this week as his coffin lay in state during three days of national mourning.

Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo called him “one of the truly iconic figures of modern times”.

Many ordinary Ghanaians described him as a source of national pride, while his brother, Kobina, told the congregation that he was not just a leader and statesman.

“We lost a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather and an uncle, a man of deep conviction who was as committed to instilling the values of fairness, integrity, kindness and service in each of us as he was to advocating for peace and human rights around the world.

“Stubborn optimist that he was, he would want us all to look forward with hope and keep striving to create a freer, fairer and more peaceful world,” Kobina said.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres praised his close friend as an “exceptional global leader” and a man of “integrity, dynamism and dedication”.

Annan devoted four decades of his working life to the UN, and was known for bringing quiet charisma to the role.

He was widely credited for raising the world body’s profile in global politics during his two terms in office, facing challenges including wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Annan was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the UN in 2001, as the world was reeling from the September 11 terror attacks in the US.

Annan, a proud African, whom Nelson Mandela called “my leader”, left the post as one of the most popular – and recognisable – UN chiefs in history and was considered a “diplomatic rock star” in international circles.

Akufo-Addo said: “The outpouring of tributes from the world over is an accurate measure of the man, a man who gave his life to making peace where there was conflict, to defending the voiceless who were powerless, to promoting virtue where there was evil.”

The funeral was attended by representatives of the African Union, the West African bloc Ecowas, and presidents from across Africa and beyond.

Royalty included Princess Beatrix, former queen of the Netherlands, and her daughterin-law Princess Mabel.