News & Stories

SIPA Remembers Kofi Annan

Posted Aug 19 2018

Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General and a longtime friend to the SIPA community, died at the age of 80 on August 18.

Annan, the first black African to lead the United Nations and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, visited SIPA on multiple occasions and was the 2011 graduation speaker.

In that speech, Annan reminded SIPA graduates to remember that their “decisions will impact on people on the other side of the world. So, always think globally, even if you have to act locally. The way you respond to these challenges will decide the health and happiness of billions of people across the globe.”

Several members of the SIPA faculty worked directly with Annan during his tenure at the UN, including Professors Jagdish Bhagwati, Michael Doyle, Jeffrey Sachs, Elisabeth Lindenmayer, Edward Luck, and José Antonio Ocampo.

Sachs, University Professor and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at the Earth Institute, remembered Annan in a CNN op-ed published August 20.

“Kofi Annan inspired and protected us — all too often from our own worst instincts and flawed judgments,” Sachs wrote. “He taught us the inestimable value of diplomacy, the art of finding common ground by listening to and respecting others. There was no finer practitioner of such exalted decency in our time.”

On social media, SIPA alumni remembered Annan, who had a reputation as a gracious man, always generous with his time when interacting with students.

Arsla Jawaid MIA ’16 called Annan “always impressive, polite and unbelievably humble.”

Really sad to hear the news about #KofiAnnan. Met him twice when working with the UN and then at @ColumbiaSIPA Always impressive, polite and unbelievably humble: leading the UN through a time of great difficulty. #RIPKofiAnnan

— Arsla Jawaid (@arslajawaid) August 18, 2018

Victoria Gaytan MIA ’17 said that through SIPA she had the opportunity to meet Annan, who was “among many leaders that modeled my pursuit of a life in public service.”

@ColumbiaSIPA gave me the great opportunity to come close to the people I long admired and for that I’ll be forever grateful. One of them was @KofiAnnan I grew up looking up to him among many leaders that modeled my pursuit of a life in public service. May he rest in peace.

— Victoria GO (@VickyGO) August 18, 2018

In a November 2015 lecture to students in SIPA’s UN Studies specialization, Annan reiterated his commitment to collaboration and the importance of the UN as an institution. He maintained a positive outlook despite the grim topics he discussed.

“I am a stubborn optimist,” Annan said. “The world is made up of optimists and pessimists. Let me assure you the optimists die happier.”

Watch: Kofi Annan: “Interventions: A Life in War and Peace”

Watch: Kofi Annan's 2011 SIPA Graduation Speech