Kofi Atta Annan, a diplomat from the West African country of Ghana was the first to emerge from the ranks of United Nations (UN) staff to serve as the Secretary-General of the UN. He served as the seventh UN Secretary-General from 1997 to 2006.
The UN and Annan were jointly awarded the The Nobel Peace Prize 2001 “for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world”. While he was the Secretary-General, he prioritized the establishment of a comprehensive reforms programme aimed at revitalizing the UN. UN had traditionally been working in the areas of development and he worked for further strengthening this work.
A passionate advocate of human rights, and a strong believer in the universal values of equality, tolerance and human dignity, Annan wanted to bring the UN closer to the people by reaching out to new partners, and thereby restore public confidence in the organization. He had a major part to play in the establishment of two new intergovernmental bodies: the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council in 2005.
He also played a pivotal role in the creation of the Global Funds to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. He strongly opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Iran’s nuclear programme. After his retirement from the UN in 2006, he returned to Ghana where he is involved with a number of African as well as global organizations.
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.
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 then undertook graduate studies in economics at the Institut universitaire des hautes études internationales in Geneva, Switzerland from 1961 to 1962.
In 1965 Kofi Annan married Titi Alakija, a Nigerian woman from a well-to-do family. Several years later they had a daughter, Ama, and later a son, Kojo. The couple separated in the late 1970s. In 1984, Annan married Nane Lagergren, a Swedish lawyer at the U.N. and the niece of Raoul Wallenberg.
CAREER AND AWARDS
Annan’s career with the United Nations began in 1962, when he got a job working as a budget officer for the World Health Organization, a U.N. agency. Annan has been an international civil servant ever since, with the exception of a short break from 1974 to 1976, when he worked as the director of tourism in Ghana.
In the 1980s, Annan returned to work for the UN as an Assistant Secretary-General in three consecutive positions: Human resources management and security coordinator (1987-1990); programme planning, budget and finance, and controller (1990-1992); and peacekeeping operations (1993-1996).
For a nine-year period from 1987 to 1996, Annan was appointed to serve as an assistant secretary-general in three consecutive positions: Human Resources, Management and Security Coordinator; Program Planning, Budget and Finance, and Controller; and Peacekeeping Operations. While he served in that last capacity, the Rwandan genocide took place. Canadian ex-General Roméo Dallaire, who has been the force commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, accused Annan of being overly passive in his responses to the 1994 genocide. Some 10 years after the genocide, in which more than 800,000 people were killed, Annan admitted that he “could and should have done more to sound the alarm and rally support,” according to a March 2004 BBC article.
His first five-year term as the UN Secretary-General began on 1 January 1997 when he replaced outgoing secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt. In 1998, he appointed a lady, Louise Frechette of Canada, as the first deputy secretary-general in an attempt to bring about more gender equality within the UN system
2000: Kora All Africa Music Awards in the category of Lifetime Achievement
2001: Nobel Foundation, The Nobel Peace Prize, jointly presented to Kofi Annan and the United Nations
2002: winner of the “Profiles in Courage Award”, given by the JFK Memorial Museum
2002: The American Whig-Cliosophic Society James Madison Award for Distinguished Public Service.
2003: Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
2003: Freedom Prize of the Max Schmidheiny Foundation at the University of St. Gallen
2004: Freedom medal
2006: International World Order of Culture, Science and Education, Award of the European Academy of Informatization, Belgium
2006: Inter Press Service, International Achievement Award for Annan’s lasting contributions to peace, security, and development
2006: Olof Palme Prize
2007: Wooden Crossbow, special award from the Swiss World Economic Forum
2007: People in Europe Award of Verlagsgruppe Passau
2007: MacArthur Foundation, MacArthur Award for International Justice
2007: North-South Prize of the Council of Europe
2008: Peace of Westphalia Prize
2008: Harvard University Honors Prize
2008: Gottlieb Duttweiler Prize
2008: Peace of Westphalia Prize – Münster (Westfalen)
2008: Open Society Award – CEU Business School Budapest
2011: Gothenburg Award
2012: Confucius Peace Prize
On 19 September 2006, Annan gave a farewell address to world leaders gathered at the UN headquarters in New York, in anticipation of his retirement on 31 December. In the speech he outlined three major problems of “an unjust world economy, world disorder, and widespread contempt for human rights and the rule of law”, which he believes “have not resolved, but sharpened” during his time as Secretary-General. He also pointed to violence in Africa, and the Arab-Israeli conflict as two major issues warranting attention.
On 11 December 2006, in his final speech as Secretary-General, delivered at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, Annan recalled Truman’s leadership in the founding of the United Nations. He called for the United States to return to President Truman’s multilateralist foreign policies, and to follow Truman’s credo that “the responsibility of the great states is to serve and not dominate the peoples of the world”. He also said that the United States must maintain its commitment to human rights, “including in the struggle against terrorism
HIS MAJOR WORK
As the Secretary-General of the UN, he launched the “Global Compact” campaign in 1999, which is the world’s biggest initiative for promoting corporate social responsibility. Among Annan’s most well-known accomplishments were his issuance of a five-point Call to Action in April 2001 to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic and his proposal to create a Global AIDS and Health Fund. He and the United Nations were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December of 2001 “for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world.”
Annan is also known for his opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and to Iran’s nuclear program. He told the BBC in September 2004 that the Iraq war did not conform to the U.N. charter and was illegal.
In 2005, he presented a progress report, ‘In Larger Freedom’, to the UN General Assembly in which he recommended a host of reforms to renew and strengthen the UN organization.
LIFE AFTER 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 Saga magazine, “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.”