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Kofi Annan was born in the Kafandors Section of Kumasi, in Central Ghana, Africa, in what was then the British colony of the Gold Coast, on April 8, 1938. He is a twin, which has a respected state in Ghanaian culture. His full name is Kofi Atta Annan, while 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 grandfather and their uncle were tribal chiefs.1 and became accustomed to both traditional and modern ways of life. He has described himself as being “atribal in a tribal world”.
In Akan tradition, some children are named according to the day of the week on when they were born; and in relation to how many children precede them. Kofi in Akan is the name that corresponds with Friday.2
In 1965, Kofi Annan married Titi Alakija, a Nigerian woman from a well to do family. Several years later, they had a daughter, Ana and later a son Kojo. The couple separated in the late seventies that is when Kojo was six years old and got a divorce two years later. In 1984, Annan remarried to Nane Legergran a Swedish lawyer at the United Nations (UN).3
Between 1954 and 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 every where.4 In 1957, the year Annan graduated from Mfantsipim, Ghana gained independence from Britain.
At the age of twenty, he won a Ford Foundation Scholarship for undergraduate studies at Macalester College, St. Paul. 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, Annam then did a DEA degree in International Relations at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. After some years of work experience, Annan became the Alfred P. Sloan Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He studied at the MIT Sloan School of Management.5 Even then, he was showing signs of becoming a diplomat, or someone skilled in International Relations. At the end of his fellowship program, he was awarded a Master of Science (M.Sc.) degree in Management.
In 1962, Kofi Annan started working as a Budget Officer for the World Health Organization, an agency of the United Nations (UN). In 1972, he moved to Cairo, Egypt, as Chief Civilian Personnel Officer in the UN emergency force. Annan briefly changed career in 1974 when he left the United Nations to serve as Managing Director of the Ghana Tourist Development Company where he worked as the Director of Tourism in Ghana. Annan returned to International Diplomacy at the United Nations in 1976. For the next seven years, he was associated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva. He returned to the UN Headquarters in New York City in 1983 as Director of the Budget in the Financial Services Office. 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), he became Assistant Security-General for another department at the United Nations, the office of Program Planning, Budget and Finance, and Controller (1990 – 1992) and Peace Keeping Operations (March 1993 – December 1996).
In fulfilling his duties to the United Nations, Annan has spent most of his adult life in the United States, specifically at the UN headquarters in New York City. Annan has by this time filled a number of roles at the United Nations, ranging from peace keeping to managerial and 1990s were no different. In 1990, he negotiated the release of hostages in Iraq following the invasion of Kuwait. Five years later, he oversaw the transition of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) to the Multi-national Implementation Force (IFOR) a UN peace Keeping organization. In this transfer of responsibility, operations in the former Yugoslavia were turned over to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The Rwandan Genocide took place in 1994 while Annan directed UN peacekeeping operations. In 2003, Canadian ex-General Romeo 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 really support”.6 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. In recognition of his abilities, Annan was appointed Secretary-General, the top post of the United Nations by the UN General Assembly in December 1996. He began serving his four-year term of office on January 1, 1997. Joining him was his second wife, former lawyer+- Nane Lagergren of Sweden. She is the niece of the diplomat Raoul Wallenberg (1912 – 1947), who saved thousands of European Jews from the German Nazis during World War II (1937 – 45), when American-led forces fought against Germany, Italy and Japan. Annan and Lagergren were married in 1985. The couple had one child.
- “Kofi Annan, “The Man to Save the World”, Saga Magazine, November, 2002.
- Akan Dictionary entry for Kofi at dictionary. Kasaborow.com.
- Kofi Anan – Center of the Storm life map. A chief’s son PBS.
- “The MIT ISO: 15a “Ideas, inventions, and innovators, that helped shape our world”. The Boston Globe, May 15, 2011.“UN Chief’s Rwanda genocide regret”. BBC News 26 March, 2004. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3573229.stm.
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