Kofi Atta Annan was born on 8th April, 1938, in Kumasi in the Gold Coast, modern-day Ghana. His middle name “Atta” meaning twins in the Akan language is due to his twin sister, Efua Ataa Annan. He was born into an aristocrat family, where both his grandfathers and uncle were part of the Fante chieftain and his father a governer of the Asante Province.
Annan in 1954 enrolled at Mfantsipim School, an all-male boarding school in Cape Coast of Gold Coast. He graduated from Mfantsipim in 1957, the year of Ghana’s independence. A year later, he began studying economics at Kumasi College of Science and Technology, now the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi. In 1961, he received a grant from Edsel and Henry Ford’s, Ford Foundation aiding him to complete his undergraduate degree in Economics at Macalester College in St. Paul Minnesota in the United States in 1961. He completed a two year diplome d’etudes approfondies degree in international relations at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Switzerland from 1961 to 1962.
Kofi Annan in 1962 began working as a budget officer for the World Health Organization of the United Nations. In 1965, Kofi Annan married Titi Alakija, they divorced 18years later. They had a daughter, Ama, and later a son, Kojo.
Whilst playing his role at the WHO, he earned a master’s degree in management at the MIT Sloan School of Management from 1971-1972 in the Sloan fellows program. In 1980, he became the Head of Personnel for the office of the United Nation High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, where he also served as a board member of the Governing Board of the International School of Geneva between 1981-1983. In 1984, Annan married Nane Annan, a Swedish lawyer at the UN.
In 1983, he became the Director of Administrative Management Services of the UN secretariat in New York. Annan was appointed as an Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resource Management and Security Coordination for the UN system. In 1990, he became Assistant secretary-General for Program Planning, Budget and Finance Control.
Annan was appointed as Deputy Secretary-General under Marrack Goulding for the newly established Department of Peacekeeping Operation by the then Chief Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. He also served as a special representative of the Secretary-General to Yugoslavia from November 1995 to March 1996.
After Boutros-Ghali’s becoming the first ever to be denied a second term as Chief Secretary-General in 1996, Annan was the leading candidate to succeed him after beating Amara Essy by a vote in the first round. France vetoed him four times before abstaining. The UN Security Council recommended him on December 13, 1996 and he was confirmed by the General Assembly on December 17, 1996. He began his term as Chief Secretary-General on New Year’s Day in 1997.
A second term for Annan meant Africa having three consecutive terms the office of Chief Secretary-General which was quite unprecedented. The Group of Asia and the Pacific Small Island Developing States supported Annan’s bid for a second term in return for the African Group’s support for an Asian candidacy in the 2006 Chief Secretary-General selection in 2006.
Annan as Chief Secretary-General recommended a managerial reform of the United Nations, led the implementation of the Millenium Development Goals in 2001. He also led the launching of the United Nations Global Compact on July 26 2000 and the creation of the Global Fund to combat HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases in 2002. Annan supported East Timor to secure independence from Indonesia in 1998, a year prior he played an active role in Nigeria’s transition from military to civilian rule. In 2000, he was responsible for certifying Israel’s withdraw from Lebanon in 2006. He also led the resolving of disputes between Cameroon and Nigeria over the Bakassi Peninsula.
Annan gave a farewell address to the world leaders gathering at the UN headquarters on September 19 2006 in anticipation of his retirement on December 31. He spoke on the major issues he view as threatening to the world “an unjust world economy, world disorder and widespread contempt for the rule of law and human rights” which he accepted was unresolved but reduced “during his time as secretary-General”. On December 11 2006, Annan made his final speech as Secretary-General at the Harry Truman Presidential Library in Independence in Missouri. He called on the United States to revitalize Truman’s multilateralist foreign policies and entreated the United States to maintain its commitment to human rights and fight against terrorism of all nature.
After the lengthy career with the UN, Annan established the Kofi Annan Foundation, an independent organization that works to promote better global governance to achieve a fairer and peaceful world in 2007. He headed a panel which convinced President Mwai Kibaki of the Party of National Unity and Raila Odinga of Orange Democratic Movement to participate in the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation Process after the outbreak of electoral-related violence in 2007. He led the UN-Arab envoy to Syria in an attempt to quell the civil war in 2012. He also served as the chair of the global Commission on Elections, democracy and security which comprised of twelve distinguished individuals in the world such as Martti Ahitsaari, Amartya Sen, Madeleine Albright and Ernesto Zedillo. In 2016, he led the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State in Myanmar.
Annan also served many non-institutions in various capacity after his UN days. He was the chairman of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa in 2007, the chancellor of the University of Ghana in 2008, member of the board of directors of Global Center for Pluralism in 2010, member of the board of directors of the United Nations Foundation in 2008. He also served as the chair of The Elders a group of independent global leaders who targeted peace and human right issues. This group included former US President; Jimmy Carter, and former Mozambican and South African first lady Graca Machel. He served these institutions and many others till his demise.
Annan passed away on August 18 2018 in Bern, Switzerland at age 80 after a short illness. His mortal remains was returned to Ghana with his coffin draped in the blue UN flag on September 10 2018. A state burial was held at the Accra International Conference Centre. The funeral was attended by many world dignitaries; political leaders from Africa, Ghanaian traditional leaders, European royalty and dignitaries from the international community including the current Chief Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. He was buried at the Military Cemetery at Burma camp with full military honors and a 17-gun salute.
Fun fact: Annan spent most of his career working for the United Nations Organization and only had a brief stint when he was the manager of the state owned Tourism Development Company in Ghana from 1974 to 1976.