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Kofi Annan, former UN secretary-general, has died at 80

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate was one of the world’s most celebrated diplomats.

Former secretary general of the United Nations Kofi Annan attends a dinner in honor of Former German President Horst Koehler during the latter’s 75th birthday at Bellevue Palace on March 8, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. 
Former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, who died on Saturday at 80, attends a dinner in honor of Former German President Horst Koehler during the latter’s 75th birthday at Bellevue Palace on March 8, 2018, in Berlin, Germany. 
Adam Berry/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Kofi Annan, former United Nations secretary-general and Nobel Peace Prize-winner, has died at the age of 80.

His foundation announced in a tweet on Saturday that Annan “passed away peacefully” after a short illness on Saturday in the Swiss city of Bern. It did not provide details but remembered him as a figure who radiated “genuine kindness, warmth, and brilliance in all he did.”

Annan, who was born in Ghana in 1938 and was one of the world’s most celebrated diplomats, was the seventh United Nations secretary-general and the first black African to hold the post. He served from 1997 to 2006. He rose through the ranks for years at the UN before becoming secretary-general — he was first appointed to a UN agency in 1962 at the World Health Organization. Just before becoming secretary-general, Annan served as UN peacekeeping chief and a special envoy to then-Yugoslavia.

During his time at the UN, Annan oversaw both triumph and tragedy. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for helping to revitalize the UN and, as the New York Times writes, crafted a new “norm of humanitarian intervention” for the organization. While he was UN peacekeeping chief, the body saw two of its greatest failures during the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995.

Annan was also UN secretary-general during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC, and when the US subsequently invaded Iraq. He called the Iraq invasion illegal.

After leaving the UN, Annan created his own foundation, based in Geneva, in 2007. That year, he helped broker peace in Kenya, according to the Associated Press. He joined an elite group of former leaders founded by Nelson Mandela, called the Elders, and in 2012 was appointed as a joint envoy of the Arab League and the UN to try to help broker a settlement in Syria.

Annan is survived by his wife, Nane Lagergren, and three children, Ama, Kojo, and Nina.

The world reacts to Annan’s death

Current UN Secretary-General António Guterres mourned Annan’s death in a statement, saying the world had lost a “guiding force for good.”

“In these turbulent and trying times, his legacy as a global champion for peace will remain a true inspiration for us all,” he said.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, deputy chair of the Elders, said the group was “devastated” by Annan’s death but would uphold his values and legacy. Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo said that the country’s flag would fly at half-staff for a week starting on Monday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Annan had “inspired me and many others with his ideas, his firm convictions and, not least, his charisma.” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a tweet that “we will never forget his calm and resolute look, nor his strength in battles.” British Prime Minister Theresa May said he “made a huge contribution to making the world he has left a better place than the one he was born into.”

Nigeria’s Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the UN, in a tweet called Annan “my friend, my hero, my inspiration.”