Kofi Atta Annan was a Ghanaian diplomat who served as the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations from January 1997 to December 2006. Annan and the UN were the co-recipients of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize. He was the founder and chairman of the Kofi Annan Foundation, as well as chairman of The Elders, an international organization founded by Nelson Mandela. As the Secretary-General, Annan reformed the UN bureaucracy; worked to combat HIV, especially in Africa; and launched the UN Global Compact. He has been criticized for not expanding the Security Council and faced calls for resignation after an investigation into the Oil-for-Food Programme. After leaving the UN, he founded the Kofi Annan Foundation in 2007 to work on international development. In 2012, Annan was the UN–Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria, to help find a resolution to the ongoing conflict there. Annan quit after becoming frustrated with the UN’s lack of progress with regard to conflict resolution. In September 2016, Annan was appointed to lead a UN commission to investigate the Rohingya crisis
Born in Kumasi on 8 April 1938, Kofi Annan was born in the Kofandros section of Kumasi in Ghana. His twin sister Efua Atta, who died in 1991, shared the middle name Atta, which in the Akan means ‘twin’. Annan and his sister were born into one of the country’s Ashanti and Fante aristocratic families; both of their grandfathers and their uncle were tribal chiefs.
From 1954 to 1957, Annan attended the elite Mfantsipim school, a Methodist boarding school in Cape Coast founded in the 1870s. Annan has said that the school taught him “that suffering anywhere concerns people everywhere”. In 1957, the year Annan graduated from Mfantsipim, the Gold Coast gained independence from the UK and began using the name “Ghana”.
In 1958, Annan began studying economics at the Kumasi College of Science and Technology, now the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology of Ghana. He received a Ford Foundation grant, enabling him to complete his undergraduate studies in economics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, United States, in 1961. Annan then completed a diplôme d’études approfondies DEA degree in International Relations at The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, from 1961–62. After some years of work experience, he studied at the MIT Sloan School of Management (1971–72) in the Sloan Fellows program and earned a master’s degree in management.
In 1962, Kofi Annan started working as a Budget Officer for the World Health Organization, an agency of the United Nations (UN). From 1974 to 1976, he worked as the Director of Tourism in Ghana. In 1980 he became the head of personnel for the office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva. In 1983 he became the director of administrative management services of the UN Secretariat in New York. In the late 1980s, Annan was appointed as an Assistant Secretary-General of the UN in three consecutive positions: Human Resources, Management and Security Coordinator (1987–1990); Program Planning, Budget and Finance, and Controller (1990–1992); and Peacekeeping Operations (March 1993 – December 1996).
When Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali established the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in 1992, Annan was appointed to the new department as Deputy to then Under Secretary-General Marrick Goulding. Annan was subsequently appointed to succeed Goulding and assumed the office of USG DPKO in March 1993. He was therefore Head of peacekeeping during the battle of Somalia and the resulting collapse of the UNOSOM II peacekeeping mission, and during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. On 29 August 1995, while Boutros-Ghali was unreachable on an airplane, Annan instructed United Nations officials to “relinquish for a limited period of time their authority to veto air strikes in Bosnia.” This move allowed NATO forces to conduct Operation Deliberate Force and made him a favorite of the United States. According to Richard Holbrooke, Annan’s “gutsy performance” convinced the United States that he would be a good replacement for Boutros-Ghali.
In 2003 Canadian ex-General Roméo Dallaire, who was force commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, claimed that Annan was overly passive in his response to the imminent genocide. In his book Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda (2003), General Dallaire asserted that Annan held back UN troops from intervening to settle the conflict, and from providing more logistical and material support. Dallaire claimed that Annan failed to provide responses to his repeated faxes asking for access to a weapons depository; such weapons could have helped Dallaire defend the endangered Tutsis. In 2004, ten years after the genocide in which an estimated 800,000 people were killed, Annan said, “I could and should have done more to sound the alarm and rally support.”
In his book Interventions: A Life in War and Peace, Annan again argued that DPKO could have made better use of the media to raise awareness of the violence in Rwanda and put pressure on governments to provide the troops necessary for an intervention. Annan explained that the events in Somalia and the collapse of the UNOSOM II mission fostered a hesitation amongst UN Member states to approve robust peacekeeping operations. As a result, when the UNAMIR mission was approved just days after the battle, the resulting force lacked the troop levels, resources and mandate to operate effectively.
Annan served as Under-Secretary-General from March 1994 to October 1995. He was appointed a Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the former Yugoslavia, serving for five months before returning to his duties as Under-Secretary-General in April 1996
In 1996, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali ran unopposed for a second term. Although he won 14 of the 15 votes on the Security Council, he was vetoed by the United States. After four deadlocked meetings of the Security Council, Boutros-Ghali suspended his candidacy, becoming the only Secretary-General ever to be denied a second term. Annan was the leading candidate to replace him, beating Amara Essy by one vote in the first round. However, France vetoed Annan four times before finally abstaining. The UN Security Council recommended Annan on 13 December 1996. Confirmed four days later by the vote of the General Assembly, he started his first term as Secretary-General on 1 January 1997. The Security Council recommended Annan for a second term on 27 June 2001, and the General Assembly approved his reappointment on 29 June 2001.
Annan was fluent in English, French, Akan, some Kru languages and other African languages. He was instrumental to the establishment of the Global Fund, Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations Technology Service (UNITeS) and the United Nations Global Pact. He was a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and leaves behind an enduring legacy. He died 18 August 2018.
His death is likened to the utter destruction of an international library.