By James Wright, Special to the AFRO,

The late Kofi Annan, the first person of African descent to preside over the United Nations, received praise as a superb diplomat and a compassionate world leader following his death last week.

Annan, a native of Ghana, died August 18 in Benn, Switzerland at the age of 80. Former President Barack Obama spoke highly of the former late Secretary-General of the UN.

Kofi Annan became the first Black Secretary-General of the UN in 1997. (Courtesy Photo)

“Kofi Annan was a diplomat and humanitarian who embodied the mission of the United Nations like few others,” Obama said in a statement August 18. “His integrity, persistence, optimism and sense of our common humanity always informed his outreach to the community of nations. Long after he had broken barriers, Kofi never stopped his pursuit of a better world, and made time to motivate and inspire the next generation of leaders.

“Michelle and I offer our condolences to his family and many loved ones.”

Annan was born on April 8, 1938 in Kumasi, Ghana and studied economics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota and was educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a master’s degree in management and at the Graduate Institute of Geneva with a focus on international relations. In 1962, he joined the UN and worked his way up the ladder to become Secretary-General, by appointment of the Security Council, in January 1997.

During his tenure as secretary-general, Annan reformed the UN’s bureaucracy to make the organization more fiscally-sound, supported initiatives to combat HIV-AIDS and fought for human rights. He founded the Kofi Annan Foundation in 2007 after leaving the UN to support international development, particularly in Africa, Asia, Central and Latin America.

In later years, he was an UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative for the Syrian conflict and served on a UN commission to investigate the Rohingya crisis, which had nearly 700,000 people fleeing Burma for Bangladesh in 2016.

Annan was leading the UN while Bill Clinton was president and he praised the diplomat.

“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 dignity and respect,” he said in statement.

U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) is the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa. She said that Annan’s leadership was exceptional.

“Few will ever lead with dignity and grace that Kofi Annan led with, or accomplish more for the world than Kofi Annan accomplished,” Bass said in a statement. “Mr. Annan’s dignified statesmanship was revealed as the legendary humanitarian’s greatest strength as he transformed relationships and improved lives, not just during his term as UN Secretary-General, but throughout his decorated career and life. Especially today, in a country of ever-deteriorating diplomacy, we will miss Kofi Annan-a visionary and pillar of not only African diplomacy and opportunity but worldwide prosperity and peace.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a former Democratic candidate for president and a human rights leader, said Annan “was a beloved son of Africa who is now at peace.”

“He was one of the best UN secretaries the world has known,” Jackson said in a statement. “He had the capacity and the vision to reconcile opposites. Kofi Annan was a gift to the human race.”

Funeral plans weren’t finalized at AFRO press time but the event will take place in Ghana.