REMEMBERING KOFI ANNAN: Africa’s Greatest Diplomat

REMEMBERING KOFI ANNAN: Africa's Greatest Diplomat

Kofi 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 United Nations  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.

Kofi Annan studied economics at Macalester College, international relations at the Graduate Institute Geneva, and management at MIT. He joined the UN in 1962, working for the World Health Organization‘s Geneva office. He went on to work in several capacities at the UN Headquarters including serving as the Under-Secretary General for peacekeeping between March 1992 and December 1996.

Kofi Annan was appointed the Secretary-General on 13 December 1996 by the Security Council, and later confirmed by the General Assembly, making him the first office holder to be elected from the UN staff itself. He was re-elected for a second term in 2001, and was succeeded as Secretary-General by Ban Ki-Moon on 1 January 2007.

As the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan reformed the UN bureaucracy; worked to combat HIV/AIDS, especially in Africa; and launched the UN Global Compact. He was criticized for not expanding the Security Council and faced calls for his resignation after an investigation into the Oil-for-Food-Programme, but was largely exonerated of personal corruption.

After the end of his term as UN Secretary-General, he founded the Kofi Annan Foundation in 2007 to work on international development. In 2012, Kofi Annan was the UN–Arab league Joint Special Representative, to help find a resolution to the conflict there. Annan quit after becoming frustrated with the UN’s lack of progress with regards to conflict resolution.

In September 2016, Annan was appointed to lead a UN commission to investigate the Rohingya crisis. He died in 2018 and was given a state funeral.

KOFI ANNAN: BACKGROUND

Kofi Annan was born in Kumasi in the Gold Coast, which is now Ghana, on 8 April 1938. His twin sister Efua Atta, who died in 1991, shared the middle name Atta, which in the Akan language means ‘twin’. Annan and his sister were born into one of the country’s Fante aristocratic families; both of their grandfathers and their uncle were Fante paramount chiefs.

In the Akan names tradition, some children are named according to the day of the week on which they were born, sometimes in relation to how many children precede them. Kofi in Akan is the name that corresponds with Friday, the day of which Annan was born. Annan said that his surname rhymes with “cannon” in English. The last name “Annan” in Fante means fourth born child.

From 1954 to 1957, Kofi Annan attended the elite Mfantsipim, an all-boys Methodist boarding school in Cape Coast founded in the 1870s. Annan 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, later renamed 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.

Kofi 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 to 1962. After some years of work experience, he studied at the MIT Sloan School of Management between 1971 and 1972 in the Sloan Fellows program and earned a master’s degree in management.

Kofi Annan was fluent in English, French, Akan,  as well as other African languages.

DIPLOMATIC CAREER

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 a manager of the state-owned Ghana Tourist Development Company in Accra. In 1980 he became the head of personnel for the office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva.

Between 1981 and 1983 he was a member of the Governing Board of the international School of Geneva. In 1983 he became the director of administrative management services of the UN Secretariat in New York. In 1987, Annan was appointed as an Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management and Security Coordinator for the UN system. In 1990, he became Assistant Secretary-General for Program Planning, Budget and Finance, and Control.

When Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali established the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in 1992, Kofi Annan was appointed to the new department as Deputy to then Under-Secretary-General Marrack Goulding. He was subsequently appointed in March 1993 as Under-Secretary General of that department. 

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.

He was appointed a Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the former Yugoslavia, serving from November 1995 to March 1996.

In 2003, retired Canadian 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), 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, Kofi Annan again argued that the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations 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.

Kofi Annan explained that the events in Somalia and the collapse of the UNOSOM II Misiion fostered a hesitation among 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.

By Oluwamayowa Akinyemi

Oluwamayowa Akinyemi

Oluwamayowa Akinyemi is a digital and web content developer with experience in web content development and management as well as research and writing. He is an avid reader of random subject matters and a sucker for movies and video games. He is also passionate about youth empowerment and is a global affairs analyst and enthusiast.

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