April 8, 1938 – August 18, 2018
Kofi Atta Annan was born into an aristocratic family in Kumasi, Ghana (Gold Coast). Of his parents’ four children, he was the only boy with a twin sister who was born after him. His father was the governor of the Asante province and chief of the Fante people as were his grandfathers and an uncle.
Coming from a privileged background contributed to Annan being able to attend various schools. Annan attended the prestigious Methodist Mfantsipim boarding school for secondary school before enrolling at the University of Science and Technology. To further his education, Annan left Ghana for America in the late 1950s where he completed a bachelor’s degree in economics at Macalester College. He then moved once again, this time to Geneva, Switzerland, where he took graduate courses from 1961 to 1962 at the Institute for Advanced International Studies.
The end of his studies at the Institute occurred around the beginning of his employment at the United Nations (UN). Annan began his career at the UN’s World Health Organization as an administrative and budget officer. A few years later, he married a Nigerian woman, Titi Alakija, with whom he had a son and a daughter.
In 1971, Annan returned to America as a Sloan Fellow at MIT and completed a master’s degree in management. For two years in the mid-1970s, he left the UN to work as Ghana’s Director of Tourism. The late 1970s saw Annan return to work at the UN. First for a position in Ethiopia at the Economic Commission for Africa and later at the UN Emergency Force (UNEF II). Unfortunately, his marriage had ended by the end of the decade.
Annan eventually moved back to Geneva to work at the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. He continued to work his way up in the organization and eventually relocated to UN Headquarters in New York City in the 1980s. Over the next 12 years, Annan worked in senior positions across human resources and finance. On the personal front, Annan found love again and married Swedish-born, Nane Maria Lagergren in 1984.
The 1990s would see Annan become increasingly involved with international peacekeeping. Annan was named deputy of peacekeeping operations in 1992 by Boutros Boutros-Ghali and in March of 1993, he officially became the peacekeeping Under-Secretary-General. He received special assignments in 1990 during the Gulf War and the mid-90s civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But Annan and the UN would face criticism for what was deemed overly conservative responses to the conflicts in Bosnia and Rwanda.
As his profile grew, Annan became a contender for UN Secretary-General after he gave NATO the go-ahead for bombing Serbia. Annan made the decision while acting on the behalf of Ghali who was unreachable while aboard a flight. This combined with Ghali being out of favor with the United States and other candidates being disliked by other powers resulted in Annan emerging as the most viable candidate. On January 1, 1997, Kofi Annan officially became Secretary-General of the United Nations.
A major focus of Annan’s administration was the internal and external revitalization of the UN as an organization. Internally, Annan implemented new measures to decrease the budget and increase the efficiency of its structure. Externally, the UN partnered more closely with governments, companies, organizations, etc. with which it shared common interests. Working with these various entities provided much-needed support for global initiatives such as fighting HIV/AIDS, reducing poverty, improving and increasing access to education, and ending human rights abuses.
Under Annan’s leadership, the UN’s relationship with the United States was mostly repaired following a period of strain under Ghali. Annan and the UN were awarded a shared Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. But, his second term was also plagued by the 9/11 attacks and America’s invasion of Iraq without clearance from the UN Security Council. There would be further controversy in Iraq when an oil-for-food program was investigated and evidence of corruption was discovered. This was especially problematic as Annan’s son was found to be working for a business that won a contract for the program.
After completing two terms as Secretary-General, Annan left the UN in 2006. During his post-UN career, Annan served as chancellor of the University of Ghana and chairperson of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Informally, he continued to play a diplomatic role in international conflicts. And all of that activity was in addition to penning a memoir and other books as well as establishing the Kofi Annan Foundation and co-founding The Elders. The foundation was a non-profit focused on many of the same goals of Annan’s time as Secretary-General at the UN.
Kofi Annan died on August 18, 2018, at 80 and was survived by his second wife and children.
- “Biography Kofi Annan.” 2018. Kofi Annan Foundation. August 30, 2018. https://www.kofiannanfoundation.org/kofi-annan/biography/.
- Cowell, Alan. 2018. “Kofi Annan, Who Redefined the U.N., Dies at 80.” The New York Times. The New York Times. August 18, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/18/obituaries/kofi-annan-dead.html#:~:text=He%20was%2080.,Peace%20Prize%20in%202001%2C%20Mr.
- “Kofi Annan Biographical.” n.d. NobelPrize.org. Accessed October 1, 2022. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2001/annan/biographical/.
- “Kofi Annan United Nations Secretary-General.” n.d. United Nations. United Nations. Accessed October 1, 2022. https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/kofi-annan.
- “Kofi Annan.” 2022. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. August 14, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Kofi-Annan.
- “Kofi Annan.” n.d. The Elders. Accessed October 1, 2022. https://theelders.org/profile/kofi-annan.
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