Kofi Annan – from Kumasi to the leading the world


Kofi Annan was born into an aristocratic family in Ghana on April 8, 1938. He attended a number of schools and colleges, studying international relations in the United States and Switzerland, and became an international civil servant working for the United Nations in 1962. He went on to become the U.N. secretary-general and later a special envoy to Syria.

Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Atta Annan was born within minutes of his twin sister, Efua Atta, on April 8, 1938, in Kumasi, Ghana. The grandchild and nephew of three tribal chiefs, Annan was raised in one of Ghana’s aristocratic families. He is married to Nane Annan, of Sweden, a lawyer and painter who has a great interest in understanding the work of the United Nations in the field. Two issues of particular concern to her are HIV/AIDS and education for women. She has also written a book for children about the United Nations. The Annans have three children.

In his mid-teens, Annan attended an elite Methodist boarding school called Mfantsipim, where he learned that “suffering anywhere concerns people everywhere.” Upon Annan’s graduation from the school in 1957, Ghana gained independence from Britain; it was the first British African colony to do so. “It was an exciting period,” Annan once told The New York Times. “People of my generation, having seen the changes that took place in Ghana, grew up thinking all was possible.”

Annan went on to pursue higher education, attending four different colleges: Kumasi College of Science and Technology, now the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology; Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota; Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland; and the MIT Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He earned a number of degrees, including a Master of Science, and studied international relations. Annan, whose native language is Akan, also became fluent in English, French, some Kru languages and other African languages.

He is the first to be elected from the ranks of UN staff. His first five-year term began on 1 January 1997 and, following his subsequent re-appointment by the UN Member States, he will begin a second five-year term on 1 January 2002.

As Secretary-General, Mr. Annan has given priority to revitalizing the UN through a comprehensive programme of reform; strengthening the Organization’s traditional work in the areas of development and the maintenance of international peace and security; advocating human rights, the rule of law and the universal values of equality, tolerance and human dignity; restoring public confidence in the Organization by reaching out to new partners and, in his words, by “bringing the United Nations closer to the people”. The Secretary-General has also taken a leading role in mobilizing the international community in the battle against HIV/AIDS, and more recently against the global terrorist threat.

Mr. Annan joined the UN in 1962, working for the World Health Organization in Geneva, where he later also served with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. At UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Annan held senior positions in a diverse range of areas, including human resources management (1987-1990), budget and finance (1990-1992), and peacekeeping (March 1992-December 1996). He was Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping at a time when nearly 70,000 military and civilian personnel were deployed in UN operations around the world.

Before becoming Secretary-General, Mr. Annan received a number of special assignments. In 1990, he facilitated the repatriation of international staff and citizens of Western countries from Iraq after it invaded Kuwait. He subsequently led initial negotiations with Baghdad on the sale of oil to fund humanitarian relief. From November 1995 to March 1996, Mr. Annan served as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to the former Yugoslavia. As Secretary-General, Mr. Annan has used his good offices in several delicate political situations, including an attempt in 1998 to gain Iraq’s compliance with Security Council resolutions, as well as a mission that year to promote the transition to civilian rule in Nigeria. In 1999, he helped to resolve the stalemate between Libya and the Security Council, and to forge an international response to violence in East Timor. In 2000, he certified Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon. Since the renewed outbreak of violence in the Middle East in September 2000, he has worked to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to resolve their differences through negotiations based on Security Council resolutions and the principle of “land for peace”.

The Secretary-General has strengthened partnerships with civil society, the private sector and others outside of government whose strengths complement those of the UN. He has called for a “Global Compact” to encourage businesses to respect standards relating to the environment, employment laws and human rights. In April, 2000, he issued a report on the UN’s role in the 21st century, outlining actions needed to end poverty and inequality, improve education, cut HIV/AIDS, safeguard the environment and protect peoples from violence. The report formed the basis of the Millennium Declarations adopted by national leaders attending the UN Millennium Summit that September.

Calling the HIV/AIDS epidemic his “personal priority”, the Secretary- General issued a “Call to Action” in April, 2001, proposing the establishment of a Global AIDS and Health Fund, which has since received some $ 1.5 billion in pledges and contributions.

Since the terrorist attacks hit the United States on 11 September 2001, the Secretary-General has played a leading role in galvanizing global action through the General Assembly and the Security Council to combat terrorism. The Secretary-General has received honorary degrees from universities in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, as well as a number of other prizes and awards for his contributions to the aims and purposes of the United Nations.

Annan retired on December 31, 2006. Several months prior, he gave a farewell speech to world leaders at U.N. headquarters in New York, outlining major problems with an unjust world economy and widespread contempt for human rights.

“[W]e are not only all responsible for each other’s security,” Annan said in his speech. “We are also, in some measure, responsible for each other’s welfare. Global solidarity is both necessary and possible. It is necessary because without a measure of solidarity no society can be truly stable, and no one’s prosperity truly secure.”

Following his retirement, Annan returned to Ghana. He became involved with a number of organizations with a global focus. He was chosen to lead the formation of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, became a member of the Global Elders and was appointed president of the Global Humanitarian Forum in Geneva. In 2009, Annan joined a Columbia University program at the university’s School of International and Public Affairs.

In February 2012, Annan was appointed as the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria in an attempt to end the civil war taking place there. He developed a six-point plan for peace. He resigned from the position, citing intransigence of both the Syrian government and the rebels, as well as the Security Council’s failure to create a peaceful resolution.

“As an envoy, I can’t want peace more than the protagonists, more than the Security Council or the international community, for that matter,” Annan said in a resignation speech on August 2, 2012.

“I had expected to go into Ghanaian politics,” Annan once told Sagamagazine, “retire to a farm at 60 and die in my bed at 80. It did not happen so. It’s one of the things God does.”