A founding member of The Elders, Kofi Annan succeeded Archbishop Desmond Tutu as Chair in May 2013. He played a vital role in leading The Elders’ work, and was a voice of great authority and wisdom in public and private, most recently on visits to South Africa and Zimbabwe in July 2018.
As the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1997 to 2006, he was a constant advocate for human rights, development and the rule of law. The first Secretary-General to reach the post from within an organisation he served for over 40 years, Kofi Annan had a life-long commitment to the cause of peace and was known for his staunch opposition to military aggression, notably the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The great respect for him and his essential work was illustrated when he, together with the United Nations as a whole, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001.
Gro Harlem Brundtland, Deputy Chair of The Elders, said:
“We are devastated at the loss of our dear friend and fellow Elder. Kofi was a strong and inspiring presence to us all, and The Elders would not be where it is today without his leadership. Throughout his life, Kofi worked unceasingly to improve the lives of millions of people around the world. While we mourn his passing today, we resolve as Elders to continue to uphold his values and legacy into the future”.
In retirement, Kofi Annan continued where he had left off at the United Nations, founding and leading the work of the Kofi Annan Foundation, based in Geneva, and maintaining a hectic international schedule. His quiet advice on how best to defuse impending crises was in constant demand from all corners of the globe, in particular from Africa.
All of the Elders and their Advisory Council and staff team members send their heartfelt condolences to Kofi’s family: his wife Nane, his children and grandchildren. They have lost a devoted husband, father and grandfather.
The world has lost an inspiring figure – but one whose achievements will never be forgotten, and whose commitment to peace and justice will endure to inspire future generations.
Leaders, charities and stars around the world have also expressed their sadness at the passing of Kofi Annan.
“I was saddened and heartbroken to learn of the passing of Kofi Annan. Father. Husband. Humanitarian. Elder. He was a lifelong servant of peace,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. "He was particularly concerned about the future – the world our children and their children will inherit. And he led the United Nations during a time when millions emerged out of poverty and he helped shape the future of global development work.
“Most of all, Kofi Annan believed in the project of the United Nations. When once asked why he had failed to advance reforms, he reportedly quipped, ‘the Lord had the wonderful advantage of being able to work alone.’ Yet, through his six decades of international public service, Annan was committed to making sure he was not alone – enlisting us all in the work of building a better world.
“And in the end, Annan’s life reflected his understanding of it – that the fate of each of us determines the fate of all of us. On behalf of everyone at UNICEF, I extend my deepest condolences to his family, his beloved nation of Ghana, and the UN community.”
“I’m deeply saddened by the passing of Kofi Annan, a true global statesman and man of integrity,” added UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie. “Like many others, I will remember him for his kindness, his grace, and his calm strength of purpose. My thoughts are with his wife and family.”
“Like so many, I was proud to call Kofi Annan a good friend and mentor. I was deeply honoured by his trust in selecting me to serve as UN High Commissioner for Refugees under his leadership. He remained someone I could always turn to for counsel and wisdom — and I know I was not alone,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement. “He provided people everywhere with a space for dialogue, a place for problem-solving and a path to a better world. In these turbulent and trying times, he never stopped working to give life to the values of the United Nations Charter. His legacy will remain a true inspiration for all us.”
The UN Foundation Board today released the following statement in response to news of the death of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a UN Foundation Board Member since 2007.
“We are devastated by the loss of Kofi Annan – our fellow Board member, former Secretary-General, and friend. Kofi was a towering figure whose deep humanity, compassion, and courage inspired everyone whose life he touched. We are privileged to have worked with such an honorable man and visionary leader. His achievements will not be forgotten, nor will his impact on history.
“Kofi led the United Nations into the modern era and shaped the best of what it stands for today. He insisted on holding the UN to the highest standards and was relentless when it fell short. We pay tribute to his tireless efforts to fight for peace, justice and human dignity. He believed that anyone could take a stand, make a difference, and help create a better world for all – especially women and young people – and he always took time and effort to listen to those who too often went unheard. In his own story, he showed us all how a life well-lived could be a powerful force for good. There was not a part of the world he left untouched.
“His loss on the eve of World Humanitarian Day, when we remember the service and sacrifice of humanitarians and peacemakers around the world, reminds us only further of his life and leadership. We send our heartfelt condolences to his wife Nane, children and grandchildren and all those who knew and served alongside him. He will be forever remembered.”
Ted Turner, UN Foundation Founder and Chairman, said: “Kofi Annan was a friend and a champion for peace. He opened the doors of the UN to me and millions of others who have been inspired by the UN’s values. He challenged us to help make a difference for the world, and he led with a formidable combination of compassion, fierceness and hope. We will miss him greatly.”
During his tenure as Secretary-General, Kofi Annan led one of the most comprehensive efforts to revitalize the United Nations and make the international system more effective. He strengthened UN peacekeeping, adopted the UN’s first-ever counter-terrorism strategy, and led Member States to adopt the “responsibility to protect” framework that addressed genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. In addition, he helped establish the Global Fund to fight Tuberculosis, AIDS and Malaria, and launched the Global Compact initiative that continues to encourage corporate social responsibility.
In 2001, the UN and Kofi Annan were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee commended Annan for “bringing new life to the organization,” balancing the UN’s traditional role in peace and security with greater emphasis on human rights across the world.
Bill Clinton had this to say: "Kofi Annan was a truly great UN Secretary-General. It was an honor to work with him in his efforts to reform the UN, strengthen global health and peacekeeping, and reduce poverty. He made the fight against AIDS and the responsibility to protect civilians in conflict zones true priorities for the UN.
“After he left office, he continued his leadership on poverty, environmental, and peace issues through his foundation. In every phase of his life, he held fast to his Ghanaian roots and set a powerful example of determined leadership while always treating others with respect and dignity.
“I will always be grateful to have worked with him as President and later as UN Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery. Hillary and I treasured our friendship with him and Nane, and our thoughts and prayers are with her and their family.”