Interesting Facts about Kofi Annan
After securing a Master’s Degree in Management, Kofi promptly began work as Budget Officer of the World Health Organization, a renowned arm of the United Nations. From the onset, Kofi had the makings of a world leader in the truest sense of the term. He could have easily perpetrated Ghana politics, having chieftains for ancestors. Ghana then became a free country soon after he completed his Bachelor’s degree; if Kofi wanted to be in politics, he was in the best position in the perfect moment.
But Kofi had other plans, as he spent 12 years working for the World Health Organization. He briefly left to manage the Ghana Tourist Development Company for a couple of years, but decided in 1976 to return to the U.N. He was no longer affiliated with the World Health Organization by 1983, and was sent to the U.N. Headquarters in New York.
It took four more years after his transfer to New York before he was given a “senior position.” In 1987, he was made Assistant Secretary General of the Human Resources Management and Security Coordinator. He held the position for three years until he was appointed Assistant Secretary General of the Planning, Budget and Finance, and Controller Program in 1990. In 1993, he was tasked to help the Secretary General in Peacekeeping Operations.
As Under Secretary General, he was sent to Yugoslavia as the Secretary General's Special Representative for five months. With his mission accomplished, he was voted by the assembly to officially become Secretary General of the United Nations. He was the only Secretary General who earned the position by rising through the U.N.’s ranks.
Backed by 32 years of extensive experience in mediating and tackling global issues, it was about time Kofi was given more say in the organization he had so zealously served.
In retrospect, Kofi Annan spent more time outside Ghana as his duties concerned here-there-and-everywhere issues. It was an extraordinary responsibility that could only be fulfilled by an extraordinary leader. Being Secretary General is a far more daunting task than overseeing a single country; if Kofi chose to join Ghanaian politics and desert global leadership, he simply would have faced lesser problems.
But Kofi is not the type who bails out of challenges. The fact that he is soft-spoken should not be mistaken as a sign of weakness. To avoid judging Kofi by the way he speaks, it would help to look at how he led U.N. at a time when tyranny seemed too great and intimidating for an ordinary leader to handle.
Kofi Annan’s Family Tree
Kofi Atta Annan did not come from a poor family, and he was not forced to grapple with poverty to receive the education he deserved. However, his affluent beginnings had only a minor, if not insignificant, influence on his eventual success.
He came from a family of chieftains. Ghana was under British rule for 113 years; prior to their colonization, the country was ruled predominantly by Akan kingdoms. Kofi’s father was Henry Reginald Annan, a well-educated man who worked as an Export Manager for the Lever Brothers cocoa company.
Born on a Friday
Kofi Atta Annan was born on April 8th, 1938 in Kumasi, Ghana. He had a fraternal twin named Efua Atta, who unfortunately passed away in 1991. In their culture, it is common to name their children in correspondence to the day of the week they were born. “Kofi” meant “Friday” in Twi-Fante, or the Akan language, while “Atta” means “Twin.”
Kofi was aware of his family’s background even at a young age. Having an educated father, he was raised in a modern, yet tradition-sensitive, home. His father was very particular about making his children realize the value of their traditions and their culture as a people.
During Kofi’s teenage years, Ghana, which was then called “Gold Coast” due to its large gold reserve, called for a rebellion against their British colonizers. They formed the “United Gold Coast Convention,” or UGCC, in 1947 to organize their call for an independent government.
Of all the countries in Africa, Ghana was the first to fight for its rights as a nation. But the British government would not tolerate any uprising, lest they lose the rest of the continent. In 1948, when Kofi was 10 years old, a number of UGCC members were arrested, including Kwame Nkrumah. After Kwame Nkrumah was released, he lobbied for freedom by creating his own political party: the “Convention People's Party,” or CPP.
The unrest continued for nine years, and Kwame Nkrumah kept vigilant and stood his ground. When the British government realized he was ready to give his life for his cause, they finally lifted their hold on Gold Coast in 1957.
Kwame Nkrumah became its first Prime Minister, and later President after it was renamed the “Republic of Ghana.” Ghana, translated to English, means “Warrior King,” and Kofi grew up in such chaos as a teenager. Because of the kind of political milieu he witnessed, however, he also developed great respect for peace and freedom.
When asked in an interview what it was like to be a teenager in a time of rebellion, Kofi told JP O’Malley:
"As a teenager, to see this struggle for independence taking place in Ghana was very powerful. I grew up with a sense that fundamental change was possible. For example, to watch the police commissioner – who was an Englishman – become a Ghanaian, or the Prime Minister become a Ghanaian, it gave me optimism and hope. I saw that things can change, and I had a sense that I could help change things, because I had seen it happen at such an early age."
He was so inspired by his people’s fight for equality, and their rights, that he would devote his entire life to public service.
Around the time the British Government granted Ghana its freedom, Kofi completed his studies at the Mfantsipim School in Cape Coast. The Mfantsipim School is well-known in Gold Coast because it was the first secondary school established in the country [in 1876]. “The School,” as fondly referred to by its alumni, became Kofi’s home from 1954 to 1957.
The year after he completed his secondary studies, Kofi enrolled in Kumasi College of Science and Technology to pursue Economics. Four years after Ghana’s liberation, the school’s name was changed to “Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology of Ghana.” But, following the revolution five years later, the school would then be called the “University of Science and Technology.”
Finally, in 1998, the school reverted to the name “Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology of Ghana” in honor of the first Prime Minister of Ghana, who also became its first President when the country shifted to democracy.
In 1958, Kofi was awarded the Ford Foundation scholarship, allowing him to continue his degree at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, in the United States of America. At 20 years old, Kofi left his country to study abroad. After completing his degree, he went to Geneva, Switzerland, to pursue his Master’s in International Relations at the Institut Universitaire des Hautes Etudes Internationales. He stayed in Switzerland for one year.
Staying in Switzerland from 1961 to 1962 made Kofi more aware of the U.N.’s presence. With a degree that suited a career in a non-governmental body, he joined the World Health Organization after acquiring his Master’s degree in 1962. He was given a position in the Administrative Department and also served as the organization’s Budget Officer in Geneva. He was later assigned in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia before moving to New York City.
Becoming a Father of Two Children
In 1965, he married his first wife, Titi Alakija. She was born to a wealthy family in Nigeria, and became the mother of Kojo and Ama Annan. In 1970, however, the couple decided to divorce. Kofi initially planned to return to Ghana, but changed his mind upon hearing of the unresolved political skirmishes plaguing the country.
Kofi Resumes School
Postponing his plans of returning home, he went back to school and earned the Alfred P. Sloan fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (the Sloan Research Fellowships are awarded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation on a yearly basis). After completing his dissertation in 1972, Kofi received his Master of Science degree in Management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He re-joined the United Nations following his Master’s completion and was assigned in New York City. He then became Chief Civilian Personnel Officer in the U.N. Emergency Force in 1974, and flew to Cairo, Egypt, to carry out his duties.
That year, Kofi decided to change careers, and worked for the Ghana Tourist Development Company as its Managing Director. Only two years later, however, he was back to the United Nations.
He spent seven years in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva. Beginning in 1987, Kofi began to handle “senior positions” in the U.N. From 1987 to 1990, Kofi served as Assistant Secretary General in Human Resources, Management, and Security Coordinator. From 1990 to 1992, he served as Assistant Secretary General in Program Planning, Budget and Finance, and Controller. Then, he became Assistant Secretary General in Peacekeeping Operations from 1993 to 1996.
While serving as United Nations Assistant Secretary General in Human Resources, Management, and Security Coordinator, he married Nane Maria Lagergren. Nane was a Swedish lawyer who shared Kofi’s passion for public service. Kofi eventually had his third child with Nane.
It was while he directed Peacekeeping Operations of the United Nations when the horrifying Rwandan Genocide took place in 1994. The Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, Roméo Dallaire, sent Kofi a fax message informing him of the imminent genocide threat faced by the Tutsi people.
Roméo asked Kofi to back his request to be given access to a “weapons depository” in order to prevent the Hutu people from attacking their fellow Africans. Kofi refused, believing that granting Roméo’s request would not be enough to stop the Hutu people from avenging the death of their leader [who was killed by Tutsi rebels]. As a result, 800,000 people perished.
As Assistant Secretary General in Peacekeeping Operations, Kofi was blamed for his weak response to the threat of mass killing. Kofi would later admit that he could have done more to prevent casualties by resorting to “preventive diplomacy.”
But all that was outweighed by his other successful undertakings as Assistant Secretary General. When directing Program Planning, Budget and Finance, and Controller in 1990, Kofi helped facilitate the repatriation of Western nationals when Iraq invaded Kuwait. He also negotiated with Baghdad to fund humanitarian relief using oil sales.
From 1994 to 1995, Kofi served as Under Secretary General. During his term, he was appointed Special Representative of the Secretary General to Yugoslavia, which is now known as the “Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.” He held the position for five months, and later resumed work as Under Secretary General in 1996.
In that same year, Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali was appointed as Secretary General of the United Nations for the second time. However, his appointment was vetoed by the United States. Without a Secretary General, United Nations was in a quandary. Kofi was then recommended by the United Nations Security Council to hold the position, which the General Assembly promptly approved four days later.
Kofi officially became the United Nations Secretary General on January 1st, 1997. After three months in office, he submitted the “Management and Organizational Measures” report in March. “Renewing the United Nations: A Programme for Reform” was issued four months later to provide more substantial information about the new management style Kofi was enforcing.
His first major accomplishment as Secretary General came in 1998, when he convinced Saddam Hussein to grant the United Nations access to eight sites which used to be off-limits. The people were in awe of Kofi’s negotiation prowess, and he was even credited for delaying the war in Iraq. Such was never achieved by any other Secretary General in the history of the United Nations.
The Soft-Spoken Negotiator
It became apparent that Kofi’s “soft-spokenness” worked like magic. Although he was repeatedly criticized for his “weak” approach to pressing issues, he did not resort to raising his voice in anger just so it would be heard. He became particularly well-known for his practice of “preventive diplomacy.”
Another milestone for Kofi, while serving in the top echelon of the United Nations, was his creation of the “Global Aids and Health Fund” in 2001, for which the United Nations received the Nobel Peace Prize under his leadership. The Global Aids and Health Fund stemmed from Kofi’s personal take on how HIV/AIDS should be given due priority. In order to confront the escalating number of people infected with the disease in developing countries, he issued a “Call to Action.”
Kofi was appropriately distinguished for his efforts in HIV/AIDS concern, as well as his stand on peacekeeping. In 2003, he appealed to the United States of America and the United Kingdom not to attack Iraq without the U.N.’s support. When war broke out in Darfur, Sudan, Kofi immediately sent the U.N. Peace Corps.
Kojo Annan and the “Oil for Food Conspiracy”
As all was well in Kofi’s administration, he appointed Paul Volcker to look into the “Oil for Food” issue. News had reached the United Nations of Saddam profiting 8.4 billion dollars in some sort of scheme; what made it worse was the rumor that some U.N. officials, with the aid of private companies, were proponents of the corruption. One of those “companies” was Cotecna, the same corporation where Kofi’s son, Kojo, worked until 1998. After conducting rigorous research, it was proven that Cotecna had hired Kojo to facilitate the kickbacks.
It was a difficult time for Kofi, as he was torn between being a father to Kojo and being the Secretary General of United Nations. No matter how painful it was for him, he did not spare his son and made Kojo clean up his own mess. In spite of the stand he took regarding Kojo’s entanglement in the kickbacks, Kofi was still judged as an incompetent U.N. Secretary General.
Staying Despite Controversy
Some countries and known personalities called for his resignation; only his faith in his sincere governance got him through that shameful period. He made it to 2006, and was able to regain some of his glory when the “World Diabetes Day” was approved.
The year after he left office, he received numerous offers from prestigious organizations which appreciated his efforts in reforming the United Nations and championing humanitarian causes. The “Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership” appointed him to be their Chairman. He then oversaw the creation of the “Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.” He also became a member of “The Elders,” and was eventually named President of the Global Humanitarian Forum.
Writing “Interventions: A Life in War and Peace”
In 2008, he was asked to lead the “Panel of Eminent African Personalities.” Because of his intervention in the Kenya negotiations, Raila Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki agreed to have a coalition government. This was, by far, his most-lauded achievement as a negotiator.
He is now a member of the Club of Madrid and also serves on the United Nation Foundation’s Board of Directors. He currently chairs the “Africa Progress Panel,” which releases the Africa Progress Report – a sort of annual reference for creating policies to address urgent issues across the continent.
Together with Nader Mousavizadeh, Kofi wrote his memoir, titled “Interventions: A Life in War and Peace,” in 2012.
Kofi endured a slighted reputation and managed to go on serving others. Instead of becoming disillusioned with politics and war, Kofi remained strong enough to serve as a guiding light to those who hope for positive change. Now in his seventies, Kofi is still active in environmental and peacekeeping issues. He’s still everywhere.
We can’t help but feel that Kofi will not stop until he sees change. Since he admits not knowing when change is going to take place, Kofi will continue to inspire us with his unfaltering hope for as long as his strength allows.
Organizations and Campaigns Supported
- United Nations
- Global Elders
- Prize for Conflict Prevention
- Foundation Chirac
- Kofi Annan Foundation
- Club of Madrid
- United Nations Foundation
- Global Center for Pluralism
- Africa Progress Panel
- School of International and Public Affairs
- National University of Singapore
- One Young World
- Achievement in African Leadership
- Global AIDS and Health Fund
- Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa
- Global Humanitarian Forum
- UN–Arab League
- Implementation Force
- Panel of Eminent African Personalities
- 1962: Joined the World Health Organization
- 1990: Facilitated repatriation of Western staff from Iraq
- 1995-1996: Served as the Secretary General's Special Representative to the former Yugoslavia
- 1997-2006: Served as Secretary General
- 1999: Key personality who helped resolve skirmish between Libya and the Security Council
- 1999: Helped in forging an international response to violence in East Timor
- 2000: Certified Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon
- 2000: Received “Companion of the Order of the Star of Ghana,” the “Grand Cross Order of Merit” of the Republic of Poland” and a “Kora All Africa Music Award” in the category of Lifetime Achievement
- 2001: Received the Nobel Peace Prize for founding the “Global AIDS and Health Fund,” the “Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of the Star of Romania” and the “Liberty Medal” from the Liberty Medal International Selection Commission
- 2002: Awarded the “Profiles in Courage Award” by the JFK Memorial Museum and received the “American Whig-Cliosophic Society James Madison Award for Distinguished Public Service”
- 2003: Became Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
- 2003: Won “Freedom Prize of the Max Schmidheiny Foundation” at the University of St. Gallen
- 2005: Received “Grand Collar of the Order of Liberty” from the Government of Portugal
- 2006: Awarded the “Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Netherlands Lion”
- 2006: Awarded the “Olof Palme Prize,” the “International Achievement Award” from Inter Press Service,” the “Crystal Tiger Award” from Princeton University and the “International World Order of Culture, Science and Education Award” from the European Academy of Informatization
- 2007: Awarded the “Grand Decoration of Honour in Gold with Sash for Services to the Republic of Austria,” the “Wooden Crossbow,” the “People in Europe Award” from Verlagsgruppe Passau,” the “MacArthur Award for International Justice,” the “North-South Prize of the Council of Europe,” the “Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership” and the “MacArthur Foundation Award for International Justice”
- 2007: Awarded the “Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George” by Queen Elizabeth II
- 2007: Chosen as leader of the new formation of “Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa,” became a member of “Global Elders” and became “Global Humanitarian Forum President”
- 2008: Received “Grand Cross 1st Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany,” helped end civil unrest in Kenya, had President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga sign a coalition government agreement and was appointed Chancellor of the University of Ghana
- 2008: Received the “Harvard University Honors Prize,” the “Gottlieb Duttweiler Prize,” the “Peace of Westphalia Prize” and the “Open Society Award” from CEU Business School Budapest
- 2009: Became the first Li Ka Shing Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy of the National University of Singapore
- 2010: Joined the Global Center for Pluralism as one of its Board Members
- 2011: Received the “Gothenburg Award”
- 2012: Served as the U.N. Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria
- 2012: Published his memoir, “Interventions: A Life in War and Peace,” written with Nader Mousavizadeh
- 1998: Honorary Doctor of Science, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology
- 1999: Honorary President, United Nations Mandated University for Peace
- 1999: Honorary Doctor of Law, Lund University
- 1999: Doctor of Law, National University of Ireland
- 1999: Doctor honoris causa, Technische Universität Dresden
- 1999: Honorary doctorate of humane letters, Howard University
- 1999: Doctor honoris causa, Comenius University in Bratislava
- 2000: Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, University of Notre Dame
- 2001: Honorary Doctorate, Seton Hall University, John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations
- 2001: Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, Brown University
- 2001: Doctor honoris causa, Free University of Berlin
- 2002: Honorary Doctorate, Tilburg University
- 2002: Doctor honoris causa, University of Alcalá
- 2002: Doctor of Laws, Northwestern University
- 2002: Honorary Doctor of Public and International Affairs degree, University of Pittsburgh
- 2003: Doctor honoris causa, Ghent University
- 2004: Legum Doctor, honoris causa, Carleton University
- 2004: Doctor of the University Degree, University of Ottawa
- 2005: Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, University of Pennsylvania
- 2005: Doctor honoris causa, Universidade Nova de Lisboa
- 2006: Doctor of Public Service, The George Washington University
- 2006: Honorary Doctorate, University of Tokyo
- 2006: Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, Georgetown University
- 2008: Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, King's College London
- 2008: Honorary Doctorate, University of Neuchâtel
- 2011: Doctor of Laws, Glasgow Caledonian University