Kofi Atta Annan


Kofi Atta Annan (born April 8, 1938) is a diplomat of Ghanaian ancestry who served as the seventh secretary-general of the United Nations from January 1, 1997 to December 31, 2006. In his role as secretary-general, Annan was a constant voice in support of human rights and the rule of law.

Annan was instrumental in introducing specific development targets in 2000 known as the Millennium Development Goals. All member states of the UN committed to fulfillment of the goals by the year 2015. In addition, Annan worked hard to strengthen the bond between the UN system and the many international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that are affiliated with the UN. He recognized that these organizations and civil society in general were affecting positive change in the lives of people in developing nations. He also recognized that these NGOs are the eyes and ears of the UN in the field.

On January 1, 2007, Annan was succeeded as UN secretary-general by South Korean diplomat Ban Ki-moon.

Early years and family

Annan was born to Victoria and Henry Reginald Annan in the Kofandros section of Kumasi, Ghana. He is a twin, an occurrence that is regarded as special in Ghanaian culture. His twin sister, Efua Atta, died in 1991. She shares his middle name, Atta, which in Fante means “twin.” As with most Akan names, his first name indicates the day of the week he was born. The name Kofi denotes a boy born on a Friday. The name Annan can indicate that a child was the fourth in the family. But in Kofi’s family it became a family name at some time in the past. Kofi inherited the name from his parents. Annan’s surname is frequently mispronounced as /ə nonˈ/ or /a nonˈ/. Annan was asked how to pronounce his name during an interview on National Public Radio shortly after taking office as secretary-general. He explained that the correct pronunciation rhymes with “cannon”; thus, /ænən/.

Annan’s family was part of Ghana’s elite. Both of his grandfathers and his uncle were tribal chiefs. His father was half Asante and half Fante. His mother was Fante. Annan’s father worked for a long period as an export manager for the Lever Brothers cocoa company.

Annan is married to Nane Maria Annan, a Swedish lawyer and artist who is the half-niece of Raoul Wallenberg. He has two children, Kojo and Ama, from his previous marriage to a Nigerian woman, Titi Alakija. Annan and Titi were divorced in the late 1970s. Nane Annan also has one child, Nina Cronstedt de Groot, from a previous marriage.


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, Ghana became the first British colony in Sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence.

In 1958, Annan began studying for a degree in 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 at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States, in 1961. Annan then studied at the Graduate Institute of International Studies (Institut universitaire des hautes études internationales IUHEI) in Geneva, Switzerland, from 1961–1962. Later he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management (1971–1972) Sloan Fellows program and received a master of science degree.

Annan is fluent in English, French, Kru, other dialects of Akan languages, and other African languages.

Early career

In 1962, Annan started working as a budget officer for the World Health Organization, an agency of the United Nations. From 1974 to 1976, he worked as the director of tourism in Ghana. Later posts included service with the Economic Commission for Africa, UN Emergency Force and the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees. Annan then worked as UN assistant secretary general in three consecutive positions: human resources management and security coordinator, from 1987 to 1990; programme planning, budget and finance, and controller, from 1990 to 1992; and peacekeeping operations, from March 1993 to February 1994.

Annan served as undersecretary-general until October 1995, when he was made a special representative of the secretary-general to the former Yugoslavia, serving for five months in that capacity before returning to his duties as undersecretary-general in April 1996.

Secretary General of the United Nations

On December 13, 1996, Annan was recommended by the United Nations Security Council to be secretary-general and was confirmed four days later by vote of the General Assembly. Annan took the oath of office without delay. He started his first term as secretary-general on January 1, 1997. Annan replaced outgoing secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt. He was the first person from a black African nation to serve as UN secretary-general.

Annan came to the job at a time of unprecedented humanitarian crisis and challenge in the world. The budget at the UN was extremely tight. The U.S., the major source of funds to the UN, was seriously behind in paying dues. The mild-mannered Annan set about to tighten the purse strings and renew and tighten the focus of the UN on the vision put forth in its original charter. He also worked to improve the relationship between the UN and the U.S. government.

In 1998 Annan appointed the first deputy secretary-general, Louise Frechette of Canada, serving the role of chief of operations. Annan’s appointment of Frechette was the beginning of his push for more gender parity and advancement of women within the UN system (Mark Malloch Brown succeeded Louise Frechette as Annan’s deputy secretary-general in April 2006).

In 1999 Annan introduced the “Global Compact” with the aim of campaigning globally to promote corporate social responsibility.

As the new millennium approached, Annan called a Millennium Summit of the General Assembly in 2000. In preparation for this summit, he wrote a report entitled “We the Peoples, The United Nations Role in the 21st Century.” The report included points for consideration by the summit. Among these points were specific development goals and timetable targets for completion that if accomplished would make major headway in ending abject poverty and its accompanying human suffering. These goals came to be known as the “Millennium Development Goals.” All member states at the Millennium Summit signed on in commitment to fulfill these goals. Since that time, the UN system and the hundreds of nongovernmental organizations affiliated with the United Nations have made it their work to accomplish these goals.

Under Annan’s watch, the UN began to shift its understanding and definition of security. In the past, security had implied state security. Now that many problems and crises went across national boundaries such as HIV/AIDS and other diseases, terrorism, human trafficking and sometimes states themselves became the threat to the security of their citizens, security came to mean human security. Annan was a key advocate for member states to accept their responsibility to protect people for genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

In April 2001, Annan issued a five-point “Call to Action” to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Annan saw this pandemic as his “personal priority” as secretary-general and in life in general. He proposed the establishment of a Global AIDS and Health Fund to stimulate increased spending needed to help developing countries confront the HIV/AIDS crisis.

On December 10, 2001, Annan and the United Nations were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, “for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world.”

Annan’s tenure as secretary-general was renewed on January 1, 2002, in an unusual deviation from formal policy. The office usually rotates among the continents, with two terms each. Since Annan’s predecessor Boutros-Ghali was also an African, Annan normally would have served only one term. Annan’s reappointment indicated his unusual popularity.

During the buildup to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Annan called on the United States and the United Kingdom not to invade without the support of the United Nations. In a September 2004 interview on the BBC, Annan was asked about the legal authority for the invasion, and responded, “from our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal.”

Annan supported sending a UN peacekeeping mission to Darfur, Sudan, and at the conclusion of his term, had been working with the government of Sudan to accept a transfer of power from the African Union peacekeeping mission to a UN one. Annan was also working with several Arab and Muslim countries on women’s rights and other topics.

Since 1998, Annan convened an annual UN Security Council Retreat with 15 states’ representatives of the council at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund Conference Center at the Rockefeller family estate at Pocantico, which is sponsored by both the RBF and the UN.

Annan and his wife were socially active within New York. Annan enjoyed a friendship with New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg even before he was elected mayor. Annan was known to be punctual and not prone to trying to steal the spotlight. He showed an earnest appreciation for meeting and befriending a wide variety of people. This ability helped ease tensions between the city of New York and the UN, as well as give Annan an audience for his initiatives in the world of business and civil society.

UN controversies during Annan’s tenure

Lubbers sexual harassment investigation

In June 2004, Annan was given a copy of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) report on the complaint of sexual harassment, abuse of authority, and retaliation against Ruud Lubbers, UN high commissioner for refugees. The report also discussed allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Werner Blatter, director of UNHCR personnel by a long time staff member. The investigation report found Lubbers guilty of sexual harassment. No public mention was made of the other charge against a senior official or the two subsequent complaints filed later that year. In the course of the official investigation, Lubbers wrote a letter that some speculate was a threat to the female worker who had brought the charges of misconduct. On July 15, 2004, after seeking legal advice, Kofi Annan chose not to take action against Lubbers due to the extreme difficulty of trying to prove the allegations. He issued a stern warning to Lubbers about the allegations of misconduct. OIOS issued its annual report to the UN General Assembly in November that year, noting it had found Lubbers guilty. These events and the subsequent media attention may have served to weaken Annan’s position.

On November 17, 2004, Annan accepted a report clearing UN undersecretary-general for Internal Oversight Services, Dileep Nair of graft and sexual harassment charges. Some viewed the charges as retaliation against Nair for supporting the complainant in the Lubbers affair. However, clearance was not viewed favorably by some UN staff in New York, leading to extensive debate on November 19.

In February 2005, Lubbers resigned as head of the UN refugee agency.

Administration of the Oil-for-Food Programme

In December 2004, reports surfaced that the Annan’s son Kojo received payments from the Swiss company, Cotecna Inspection SA, which won a lucrative contract under the UN Oil-for-Food Programme. Kofi Annan called for an investigation into this matter.

The Independent Inquiry Committee into The United Nations Oil-for-Food Programme was appointed by Annan and led by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker; Volcker has strong ideological ties to the UN as director of the United Nations Association of the United States of America.

In his first interview with the inquiry committee, Annan denied having had a meeting with Cotecna. Later in the inquiry he recalled that he had met with Cotecna’s chief executive Elie-Georges Massey twice. In a final report issued on October 27, the committee exonerated Annan of any illegal actions, but found fault with the UN management structure and the Security Council oversight. It strongly recommended a new position of chief operating officer to handle the fiscal and administrative responsibilities which currently fall to the secretary-general’s office. The report listed the companies, both Western and Middle Eastern, who illegally benefited from the program. Some believe the committee and its outcome to have been politically motivated.

Conflict between the United States and the United Nations

Kofi Annan supported his deputy secretary-general Mark Malloch Brown, who openly criticized segments of the United States media in a speech on June 6, 2006: “The prevailing practice of seeking to use the U.N. almost by stealth as a diplomatic tool while failing to stand up for it against its domestic critics is simply not sustainable…You will lose the U.N. one way or another.” Then U.S. ambassador John R. Bolton was reported to have told Annan on the phone: “I’ve known you since 1989 and I’m telling you this is the worst mistake by a senior U.N. official that I have seen in that entire time.”

Annan’s recommendations for UN reform

On March 21, 2005, Annan presented a progress report, In Larger Freedom, to the UN General Assembly. Annan recommended Security Council expansion and a host of other UN reforms.This report focused on reforms to renew and streamline the organization of the United Nations, face chronic problems and strengthen systems to expedite fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals.

The Human Rights Commission was replaced by a new Human Rights Council as recommended by Annan in his report, “In Larger Freedom.” The new Human Rights Council had standards that the member states would have to meet, regarding their human rights record, in order to be allowed to participate. In addition, a Peacebuilding Commission was established with the purpose of coordinating efforts to support nations coming out of civil strife and armed conflict.

In June 2005, an unprecedented first-ever meeting between the General Assembly and representatives of the community of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) affiliated with the UN occurred. This was an opportunity for NGO representatives to share their expertise on achieving the Millennium Development Goals with the General Assembly. The General Assembly was taking input in preparation for the September 2005 Millennium +5 Summit. Annan’s long held belief in the importance of strengthening ties between the UN and civil society was evident in this event. This important step toward reform may be a part of Annan’s lasting legacy to the UN.

On March 7, 2006, Annan presented his proposals for a fundamental overhaul of the United Nations secretariat, to the General Assembly. The reform report is entitled: “Investing in the United Nations, For a Stronger Organization Worldwide.”

Farewell addresses

On September 19, 2006, Annan gave a farewell address to world leaders gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York, in anticipation of his retirement on December 31. In the speech he outlined three major problems: “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 December 11, 2006, in his final speech as secretary-general, delivered at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri, Annan recalled Truman’s leadership in the founding of the United Nations. He called for the United States to return to 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.” This statement was viewed by some as an apparent rebuke of the largely unilateralist policies of the George W. Bush administration. Annan also said that the United States must maintain its commitment to human rights, “including in the struggle against terrorism.”

A statement in Annan’s Nobel Peace Prize speech summed up his outlook and an important truth very well. He said, “In this new century, we must start from the understanding that peace belongs not only to states or peoples, but to each and every member of those communities. The sovereignty of States must no longer be used as a shield for gross violations of human rights. Peace must be made real and tangible in the daily existence of every individual in need. Peace must be sought, above all, because it is the condition for every member of the human family to live a life of dignity and security.”


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