Kofi Annan gave a dignified air to the role of Secretary-General of the United Nations, leading the way for humanitarian efforts and global development during his tenure. He made history as the first African-born Black person to lead the U.N..
Annan was born April 8, 1938 in the Gold Coast, now Ghana, to a well-known aristocratic family and was the grandson of tribal chiefs. After boarding school, the future leader attended Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn,, then earned a diplôme d’études approfondies (DEA) degree in International Relations at The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, and master’s in Management from the MIT Sloan School of Management.
His career began at the U.N. in 1962 as a budget officer for the World Health Organization, a division of the U.N. In the ’80’s, Annan began the first of many high-profile management roles within in the U.N. before his appointment in 1997.
His time as secretary-general faced some hurdles as Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the 6th U.N. chief, was initially attempting a second consecutive term which was vetoed by the United States. After some resistance and back deals, Annan was given the support of the United States after stepping in for Boutrous-Ghali in 1995 during a potential war situation in Bosnia when the Egyptian leader was unreachable.
Annan’s legacy was somewhat tarnished by his handling of the Rwandan Genocide and in his writings, Annan has addressed the failure of the U.N. to help prevent the massacre. Annan was also heavily criticized for his response to the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim civilians in Srebrenica, Bosnia and the fact U.N. peacekeeping forces did nothing and NATO did not intervene. Despite these failings, Annan gained praise as one of the few in the U.N. to openly criticize Israel and its many violations of human rights.
In his 2012 memoir, Interventions: A Life in War and Peace, Annan addressed his critics as best he could. But what cannot be overshadowed is his push for human rights and global development, which helpd him and the U.N. win the Nobel Peace Prize jointly in 2001. After leaving the U.N. in 2006, Annan continued to focus on humanitarian and global development efforts, erecting a foundation in his name that has provided visibility to the environmental and business concerns of Africa.
Annan was married twice, first to Titi Alakija of Nigeria in 1965, divorcing in 1983. The couple have two children, daughter Ama and son Kojo. In 1984, Annan married Nane Annan of Switzerland, and was stepfather to her daughter from a previous marriage.
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