Kofi Atta Annan (born 8 April 1938) is a Ghanaian diplomat who served as the seventh Secretary-General of the UN from 1 January 1997 to 31 December 2006. Annan and the United Nations were the co-recipients of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize for his founding the Global AIDS and Health Fund to support developing countries in their struggle to care for their people.
Early years and education
Kofi Annan was born in the Kofandros section of Kumasi, Ghana – in what was then the British colony of the Gold Coast. He is a twin, which has a respected status in Ghanaian culture. His twin sister Efua Atta, who died in 1991, shares the middle name Atta, which in Fante and Akan means ‘twin’. Annan and his sister were born into one of the country’s aristocratic families; both their grandfathers and their uncle were tribal chiefs.
In the Akan names tradition, some children are named according to the day of the week on which they were born, and/or in relation to how many children precede them. Kofi in Akan is the name that corresponds with Friday.
Pronunciation: Annan has said his surname rhymes with “cannon” in English.
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 gained independence from Britain.
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 at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, United States, in 1961. Annan then did a DEA degree in International Relations at the Graduate Institute of International 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 of Science (M.S.) degree.
Annan is fluent in English, French, Kru, other dialects of Akan, and other African languages.
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 the late 1980s, Annan returned to work for the UN, where he was appointed as an Assistant Secretary-General 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).
The Rwandan Genocide took place in 1994 while Annan directed UN Peacekeeping Operations. 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.”
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.
Secretary-General of the United Nations
On 13 December 1996, the United Nations Security Council recommended Annan to replace the previous Secretary-General, Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, whose second term faced the veto of the United States. Confirmed four days later by the vote of the General Assembly, he started his first term as Secretary-General on 1 January 1997.
Annan with the President of Russia Vladimir Putin at United Nations Headquarters in New York City on 16 November 2001.
In April 2001, Annan issued a five-point “Call to Action” to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Stating it was a “personal priority”, Annan proposed a Global AIDS and Health Fund to stimulate the increased international spending needed to help developing countries confront the HIV/AIDS crisis. On 10 December 2001, Annan and the United Nations were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, “for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world”.
During the build-up 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, when questioned about the legal authority for the invasion, Annan said he believed it was not in conformity with the UN charter and was illegal.
Annan and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad disagreed sharply on Iran’s nuclear program, on an Iranian exhibition of cartoons mocking the Holocaust, and on the then upcoming International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust, an Iranian Holocaust denial conference in 2006. During a visit to Iran instigated by continued Iranian uranium enrichment, Annan said “I think the tragedy of the Holocaust is an undeniable historical fact and we should really accept that fact and teach people what happened in World War II and ensure it is never repeated.”.
Annan supported sending a UN peacekeeping mission to Darfur, Sudan. He worked with the government of Sudan to accept a transfer of power from the African Union peacekeeping mission to a UN one. Annan also worked with several Arab and Muslim countries on women’s rights and other topics.
Beginning in 1998, Annan convened an annual UN “Security Council Retreat” with the 15 States’ representatives of the Council. It was held at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) Conference Center at the Rockefeller family estate at Pocantico, and was sponsored by both the RBF and the UN.
Lubbers sexual-harassment investigation
In June 2004, Annan was given a copy of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) report on the complaint brought by four women workers against Ruud Lubbers, UN High Commissioner for Refugees for sexual harassment, abuse of authority, and retaliation. The report also reviewed a long-serving staff member’s allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Werner Blatter, Director of UNHCR Personnel. The investigation found Lubbers guilty of sexual harassment; no mention was made publicly of the other charge against a senior official, or two subsequent complaints filed later that year. In the course of the official investigation, Lubbers wrote a letter which some considered was a threat to the female worker who had brought the charges. On 15 July 2004, Annan cleared Lubbers of the accusations, saying they were not substantial enough legally. decision held until November 2004. When the OIOS issued its annual report to the UN General Assembly, it stated that it had found Lubbers guilty of sexual harassment. These events were widely reported and weakened Annan’s influence.
On 17 November 2004, Annan accepted an OIOS report clearing Dileep Nair, UN Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, of political corruption and sexual harassment charges. Some UN staff in New York disagreed with this conclusion, leading to extended debate on 19 November.
The internal UNn-OIOS report on Lubbers was leaked, and sections accompanied by an article by Kate Holt were published in a British newspaper. In February 2005, he resigned as head of the UN refugee agency. Lubbers said he wanted to relieve political pressure on Annan.
In December 2004, reports surfaced that the Secretary-General’s son Kojo Annan received payments from the Swiss company Cotecna Inspection SA, which had won a lucrative contract under the UN Oil-for-Food Program. Kofi Annan called for an investigation to look into the allegations.
Annan appointed the Independent Inquiry Committee, which was led by former US Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, then the director of the United Nations Association of the US. 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 27 October, the committee found insufficient evidence to indict Kofi Annan on any illegal actions, but did find fault with Benan Sevan, a Cypriot national who had worked for the UN for about 40 years. Appointed by Annan to the Oil-For-Food role, Sevan repeatedly asked Iraqis for allocations of oil to the African Middle East Petroleum Company. Sevan’s behavior was “ethically improper”, Volcker said to reporters. Sevan repeatedly denied the charges and argued that he was being made a “scapegoat”. The Volcker report was highly critical of the UN management structure and the Security Council oversight. It strongly recommended a new position be established of Chief Operating Officer (COO), to handle the fiscal and administrative responsibilities than under the Secretary General’s office. The report listed the companies, both Western and Middle Eastern, that benefited illegally from the program.
Relations between the United States and the United Nations
Kofi Annan supported his deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown, who openly criticized the United States in a speech on 6 June 2006: “[T]he prevailing practice of seeking to use the UN 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 UN one way or another. […] [That] the US is constructively engaged with the UN […] is not well known or understood, in part because much of the public discourse that reaches the US heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.” Malloch later said his talk was a “sincere and constructive critique of U.S. policy toward the U.N. by a friend and admirer.”
The talk was unusual because it violated unofficial policy of not having top officials publicly criticize member nations. The interim U.S. ambassador John R. Bolton, appointed by President George W. Bush, 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 UN official that I have seen in that entire time.” Observers from other nations confirmed Malloch’s view, that conservative politicians in the US prevented many citizens from understanding the benefits of US involvement in the UN. After failing to receive Senate confirmation for the UN position, Bolton later worked for Fox News.
UN Resolution 61/225: World Diabetes Day
Kofi Annan witnessed the United Nations General Assembly’s passage of UN Resolution 61/225, to establish World Diabetes Day. The Resolution was the second UN General Assembly Resolution on a health-related issue (the other being HIV/AIDS). Resolution 61/225 is the only Health-related UN Resolution to pass by consensus. Sponsored by the Republic of South Africa and Bangladesh, the Resolution was passed on 20 December 2006.
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.”
Recommendations for UN reform
Soon after taking office in 1997, Annan released two reports on management reform. On 17 March 1997, the report ‘Management and Organisational Measures’ (A/51/829) introduced new management mechanisms through the establishment of a cabinet-style body to assist him and be grouping the UN’s activities in accordance with four core missions. A comprehensive reform agenda was issued on 14 July 1997 entitled ‘Renewing the United Nations: A Programme for Reform’ (A/51/950). Key proposals included the introduction of strategic management to strengthen unity of purpose, the establishment of the position of Deputy Secretary-General, a 10-percent reduction in posts, a reduction in administrative costs, the consolidation of the UN at the country level, and reaching out to civil society and the private sector as partners. Annan also proposed to hold a Millennium Summit in 2000.
After years of research, Annan presented a progress report, In Larger Freedom, to the UN General Assembly, on 21 March 2005. Annan recommended Security Council expansion and a host of other UN reforms.
On 31 January 2006, Kofi Annan outlined his vision for a comprehensive and extensive reform of the UN in a policy speech to the United Nations Association UK. The speech, delivered at Central Hall, Westminster, also marked the 60th Anniversary of the first meetings of the UN General Assembly and UN Security Council.
On 7 March 2006, he presented to the General Assembly his proposals for a fundamental overhaul of the United Nations Secretariat. The reform report is entitled: “Investing in the United Nations, For a Stronger Organization Worldwide”.
On 30 March 2006, he presented to the General Assembly his analysis and recommendations for updating the entire work programme of the United Nations Secretariat over the last 60 years. The report is entitled: “Mandating and Delivering: Analysis and Recommendations to Facilitate the Review of Mandates”.
Upon his return to Ghana, Annan was immediately suggested as a candidate to become the country’s next President.
He has become involved with several organizations with both global and African focuses. In 2007, Annan was named chairman of the prize committee for the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, was chosen to lead the new formation of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), became a member of the Global Elders, was appointed president of the Global Humanitarian Forum in Geneva, and was selected for the MacArthur Foundation Award for International Justice.
In the beginning of 2008, as head of the Panel of Eminent African Personalities, Annan participated in the negotiations to end the civil unrest in Kenya. He threatened to leave the negotiations as mediator if a quick decision was not made. On 26 February 2008 he suspended talks to end Kenya’s violent post-election crisis. On 28 February, Annan managed to have President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga sign a coalition government agreement and was widely lauded by many Kenyans for this landmark achievement. That was the best deal achieved then under the mediation efforts.
Annan is a member of the Club of Madrid. Annan currently serves on the board of directors of the United Nations Foundation, a public charity created in 1998 with entrepreneur and philanthropist Ted Turner’s historic $1 billion USD gift to support UN causes. The UN Foundation builds and implements public-private partnerships to address the world’s most pressing problems, and broadens support for the UN.
Annan is a member of the Africa Progress Panel (APP), an independent authority on Africa launched in April 2007 to focus world leaders’ attention on delivering their commitments to the continent. The Panel launched a major report in London on Monday 16 June 2008 entitled Africa’s Development: Promises and Prospects.
Kofi Annan was appointed the Chancellor of the University of Ghana in 2008.
Annan has signed up to be one of the Counsellors at One Young World a non-profit organisation which hopes to bring together 1500 young global leaders of tomorrow from every country in the world.
In May 2009 Columbia University announced that Annan will join a new program being launched by Dean John Coatsworth at the School of International and Public Affairs as one of the first group of Global Fellows.The Global Fellows program will bring students together with global practitioners to share firsthand knowledge of experiences in the life of an international or public figure. He is also a fellow of The Committee on Global Thought appointed by the University.
On 2 September 2009, Annan was unveiled as the first Li Ka Shing Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy of the National University of Singapore (NUS). The announcement was made during the school’s 5th anniversary celebrations.
On 7 October 2010, Annan was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Global Center for Pluralism, Canada’s new international research and education center dedicated to the study and practice of pluralism worldwide. The Global Center for Pluralism is an initiative of His Highness the Aga Khan in partnership with the Government of Canada. The Center is located at 330 Sussex Drive in Ottawa, Canada. Dedicated to the creation of successful societies, the Center is founded on the premise that tolerance, openness and understanding towards the cultures, social structures, values and faiths of other peoples are essential to the very survival of an interdependent world. Pluralism is no longer simply an asset or a prerequisite for progress and development.
Honours and awards
2000: Companion of the Order of the Star of Ghana
2001: Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of the Star of Romania
2005: Grand Collar of the Order of Liberty (Portugal)
2006: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Netherlands Lion
2007: Grand Decoration of Honour in Gold with Sash for Services to the Republic of Austria
2007: Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) from Queen Elizabeth II (UK)
2008: Grand Cross 1st class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
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
2003: Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
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
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
Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, (Kumasi), Honorary Doctor of Science, 24 August 1998
United Nations Mandated University for Peace, Honorary President, 1999
Lund University, Honorary Doctor of Law, 1999
National University of Ireland, Doctor of Law, 22 January 1999
Technische Universität Dresden, doctor honoris causa, 27 April 1999
Howard University, honorary doctorate of humane letters, 8 May 1999
University of Notre Dame, Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, 21 May 2000
Seton Hall University, John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Honorary Doctorate, February 2001
Brown University, Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, 28 May 2001
Liberty Medal International Selection Commission, Liberty Medal, 4 July 2001
Free University of Berlin, doctor honoris causa, 13 July 2001
Tilburg University, Honorary Doctorate, 2002
University of Alcalá, Doctor Honoris Causa, 9 April 2002
Northwestern University, Doctor of Laws, 21 June 2002
University of Pittsburgh, honorary Doctor of Public and International Affairs degree 21 October 2003
Ghent University (Belgium), doctor honoris causa 21 March 2003
Carleton University, Legum Doctor, honoris causa, 9 March 2004
University of Ottawa, Doctor of the University Degree, 9 March 2004
University of Pennsylvania, Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, 16 May 2005
Universidade Nova de Lisboa, doctor honoris causa, 12 October 2005
The George Washington University, Doctor of Public Service, 5 May 2006
University of Tokyo, Honorary Doctorate, 18 May 2006
Georgetown University, Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, 30 October 2006
University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, Max Schmidheiny Foundation Freedom Prize (originally awarded 2003, but postponed due to Annan’s illness), 18 November 2006
Princeton University, Crystal Tiger Award, 28 November 2006
King’s College London, Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, 28 May 2008