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Kofi Annan – The International Civil Servant, Nobel Peace Prize Winner
Kofi Annan – The International Civil Servant, Nobel Peace Prize Winner
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By - Isaac Joseph

Posted - 06-02-2020

Kofi Atta Annan was born on 8 April 1938 in the Kofandros section of Kumasi in the Gold Coast (now Ghana). In 1991, his twin sister Efua Atta, who he shared the middle name ‘Atta’, which in the Akan language means ‘twin’ died. They were both born into one of the Ashanti and Fante aristocratic families in the country as his father was governor of the Asante province and also a hereditary paramount chief of the Fante people. According to the Akan tradition, some parents name their children according to the day of the week on which they were born and sometimes in relation to how many children precede them. In Akan, Kofi is the name that corresponds with Friday. Annan once stated that his surname rhymes with “cannon” in English.

The Early Life of Kofi Annan
Annan attended the elite Mfantsipim school from 1954 to 1957; the school which was founded in the 1870s was a Methodist boarding school in Cape Coast. It was in the year Annan graduated from Mfantsipim (1957) that the Gold Coast gained independence from the UK and began using the name “Ghana”. Annan started studying economics at the Kumasi College of Science and Technology, now the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology of Ghana in 1958. He was also privileged to receive a Ford Foundation grant, which enabled him to complete his undergraduate studies in economics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, United States, in 1961. From 1961–62, Annan enrolled for a diplôme d’études approfondies DEA degree in International Relations at The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. Kofi Annan started working as a budget officer for the World Health Organization, an agency of the United Nations (UN) in 1962. He also worked as a manager of the state-owned Ghana Tourist Development Company in Accra from 1974 to 1976. In 1980, he later became the head of personnel for the office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva. He became the director of administrative management services of the UN Secretariat in New York in 1983. Annan was later appointed as an Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management and Security Coordinator for the UN system in 1987. And in 1990, he became Assistant Secretary-General for Program Planning, Budget and Finance, and Control. In 1971 -1972, he proceeded to the MIT Sloan School of Management (1971–72) in the Sloan Fellows program, where he earned a master’s degree in management.

At the United Nations…
In 1992, Secretary-General of the UN, Boutros Boutros-Ghali established the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and appointed Annan to the new department as Deputy to then Under-Secretary-General Marrack Goulding. And in March 1993, Annan was subsequently appointed as Under-Secretary-General of that department. On 29 August 1995, while Boutros-Ghali was unreachable on an airplane, Annan issued an instruction to United Nations officials to “relinquish for a limited period of time their authority to veto air strikes in Bosnia”, a move which allowed NATO forces to conduct Operation Deliberate Force and made him a favourite of the United States. According to Richard Holbrooke, it was this “gutsy performance” that convinced the United States that Annan would be a good replacement for Boutros-Ghali. Later on, Annan was appointed a Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the former Yugoslavia, serving from November 1995 to March 1996.

Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali ran unopposed for a second term in 1996 and won 14 of the 15 votes on the Security Council; but he was vetoed by the United States. Boutros-Ghali later suspended his candidacy after four deadlocked meetings of the Security Council; this made him become the only Secretary-General ever to be denied a second term. Annan became the leading candidate to replace him, beating Amara Essy by one vote in the first round. He was however vetoed by France four times before finally abstaining. On 13 December 1996, the UN Security Council recommended Annan and he was confirmed four days later by the vote of the General Assembly. His first tenure as Secretary-General started on 1 January 1997.

On Annan’s assumption of office, he had the task of repairing relations with the United States and reforming the UN bureaucracy because Boutros Boutros-Ghali, his predecessor as secretary-general, had segregated some member nations such as the United States with his leadership style. Shortly after becoming the secretary-general, he brought in a reform plan that sought to reduce the organization’s budget and streamline its operations, which were moves that were embraced by the United States. He also laid priorities on restoring public confidence in the UN, combating the AIDS virus, most especially in Africa, and putting an end to human rights abuses.

The Nobel Peace Prize
In its centennial year, 2001; the Nobel Committee made a decision that the Peace Prize was to be shared between the UN and Annan. They were awarded the Peace Prize “for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world,” having effected a change at the UN and for giving priority to human rights. His dedication to the struggle to combating the spread of HIV in Africa and his declared opposition to international terrorism was also recognised by the Nobel Committee also recognized.

Second Tenure at the United Nations…
Annan was appointed to a second term in 2001. And later that year, the September 11 attacks occurred in the United States, which made global security and terrorism contending issues for Annan. The United States launched a war against Iraq without receiving approval from the UN Security Council in 2003. Annan criticism of this act caused a strained relation with the United States. In 2003, Annan set up a panel to explore the UN’s response to global threats and many of its recommendations were included in a major reform package presented to the UN General Assembly in 2005. From this package, a number of measures were later adopted; however, the proposal to expand the membership of the Security Council from 15 to 24 was among those rejected.

Annan was involved in a controversy following an investigation into the oil-for-food program in 2005, which had allowed Iraq under UN supervision to sell a set amount of oil in order to purchase food, medicine and other basic needs. There were reports of corruption within the program and it was revealed that Annan’s son was part of a Swiss business that had won an oil-for-food contract. Annan was however cleared of wrongdoing but he was heavily criticized for his inability to effectively oversee the program. Annan’s term ended in 2006 and Ban Ki-Moon succeeded him.

Annan delivered a farewell address to world leaders gathered at the UN headquarters in New York on 19 September 2006, in preparation for his retirement on 31 December. He highlighted, in his speech, three major problems of “an unjust world economy, world disorder, and widespread contempt for human rights and the rule of law”, which he believed “have not resolved, but sharpened” during his time as Secretary-General. He mentioned violence in Africa and the Arab–Israeli conflict as two major issues that needed to be addressed.

In his final speech as Secretary-General on 11 December 2006 delivered at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, Annan spoke on Truman’s leadership in the establishment of the United Nations. He beckoned on the United States to return to President Truman’s multi-lateralist foreign policies and to adhere to Truman’s credo that “the responsibility of the great states is to serve and not dominate the peoples of the world”. He also pointed out that the United States must maintain its commitment to human rights, “including in the struggle against terrorism.”

Legacies of Kofi Annan


Annan stayed in Geneva and worked in a leading capacity on various international humanitarian endeavors after his service as UN Secretary-General. And in 2007, he founded the Kofi Annan Foundation, which was an independent, not-for-profit organization that works to promote better global governance and strengthen the capacities of people and countries to achieve a fairer, more peaceful world. The organisation was established on the principles that fair and peaceful societies rest on three pillars: Peace and Security, Sustainable Development, and Human Rights and the Rule of Law. They made it their mission to mobilise the leadership and the political resolve needed to combat threats to these three pillars which ranges from violent conflict to flawed elections and climate change, with the sole aim of achieving a fairer, more peaceful world. Annan co-authored a number of works and they include: The memoir Interventions: A Life in War and Peace (co-written with Nader Mousavizadeh), which was published in 2012.

Death and Burial
On 18 August 2018, Annan died in Bern, Switzerland at the age of 80 after a short illness. António Guterres, the current UN Secretary-General, stated that “Kofi Annan was a champion for peace and a guiding force for good.” On 10 September 2018, the remains of Kofi Annan was returned to his native Ghana from Geneva in a brief and solemn ceremony at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra. His coffin was draped in the blue UN flag and accompanied by his widow Nane Annan, his children and senior diplomats from the international organisation.

Later on 13 September 2018, a state funeral was held for Annan in Ghana at the Accra International Conference Centre. The ceremony was graced by several political leaders across Africa as well as royal dignitaries from the international community. His body, however, lay in state in the foyer of the same venue, from 11–12 September 2018 prior to the funeral service. The funeral service was followed by a private burial at the new Military Cemetery at Burma Camp, with full military recognition.

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