© 2018 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Kofi Annan: Africa’s proud son who married a Nigerian
KOFI Atta Annan, a twin and schoolboy from Ghana, who rose to the world’s stage to become the seventh secretary-general of the United Nations (UN) and won Nobel Peace Prize, died at the age of 80 on Saturday in Bern, Switzerland. He was a man of peace who redefined and strengthened the UN towards the protection of the world’s most vulnerable people.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. Annan was the first black African to lead the UN and did so with two tenures from 1997 to 2006. He was also the first to rise from within the ranks of the UN staff to the apex position.
Annan joined the UN system at fairly young age in 1962. He first worked with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva. He later went back to Ghana to work briefly in tourism. He also worked in Ethiopia with the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa before returning to WHO in Geneva. From there, he worked in various human resource and budgetary departments of UN system in New York.
In Kofi Annan, A Man of Peace in a World of War, Stanley Meisler wrote that that Annan spent much of his time pushing folders around a desk or poring over budget figures as a personnel and budget specialist in the UN bureaucracy until in the early 1990s. His first significant diplomatic assignment was in 1991 when he was asked to persuade Iraq to let go of nine hundred UN workers and dependents that were taken hostage during the Iraq-Kuwait war. Boutros Boutros Ghali, then Secretary General of UN from Egypt, appointed Annan as deputy and later as head of peacekeeping operations. But it was this position that mostly tainted his record even though he was credited with revitalising the UN peace keeping interventions.
As the head of the UN peacekeeping operations from 1993 to 1997, Annan witnessed the massacred of more than 800,000 people in the 1994 Rwanda genocide. The genocide was followed with the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serb forces at Srebrenica in 1995. He was accused of failing to stop these killings even when the victims had looked up to the UN for protection, of which he apologised. “All of us must bitterly regret that we did not do more to prevent it. On behalf of the United Nations, I acknowledge this failure and express my deep remorse,” he said in 1999, as quoted by the New York Times.
Kofi Annan was a guiding force for good. I join the world in mourning his loss. In these turbulent and trying times, his legacy as a global champion for peace will remain a true inspiration for us all. https://t.co/psJ9viPIeu pic.twitter.com/SKfBk5zaY2
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) August 18, 2018
Upon becoming the secretary general in 1997, Annan promised to reform the UN keeping operations following the failures in Rwanda and Bosnia. His candidacy was championed by the United States which was determined to deny Boutros Boutros-Ghali a second five-year term. Boutros-Ghali had fallen out of favour with the US.
The Washington Post wrote that “the personal enmity between the secretary general and Madeleine Albright, then serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, had grown so bitter that she vetoed Boutros-Ghali’s bid for a second term in 1996 even though he had the support of all 14 other members of the Security Council.” Annan being a black African was easily endorsed by African countries while US used its influence to persuade other countries for Annan to replace Boutros-Ghali. However, Annan also incurred the anger of US following his opposition to the American invasion of Iraq in the early 2000s.
Annan supported the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and criticised Israel over deaths of Palestinians during escalations of violence. In 2002, he called on the international community to intervene after Israel sent troops to the West Bank
Despite the unfortunate events during his tenure, one of his most important achievements was his rejection of the long-standing notion that the UN could not interfere in the internal affairs of a member country. The soft-spoken and eloquent Annan worked very hard to reform the UN. He mobilised the international community towards stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS. He was instrumental to the establishment of UN AIDS and Global Fund. It was during his time that the global body set an ambitious Millennium Development Goals in 2000, a measurable strategy for advancing development across the world.
When he completed his tenure, he set up a non-profit foundation to promote higher standards of global governance. Most of his working life was spent in the corridors and conference rooms of the UN but, he told the author Philip Gourevitch in 2003, “I feel profoundly African, my roots are deeply African, and the things I was taught as a child are very important to me,” The New Times wrote.
He was born on April 8, 1938 in Kumasi, Ghana, which was then known as Gold Coast under the British Colonisation. He had two older sisters and twin sister in an aristocratic family. His father was a trader of cocoa for the Anglo Dutch Corporation Unilever. He was named in the Ghanaian Akan language. Kofi means “born on Friday” and Atta means “twin.”
Annan attended schools in Ghana and won a Ford Foundation scholarship to Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. He received a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1961 and got the job with the WHO in 1962 as a junior administrative and budget officer. He bagged his master’s degree in management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1972.
Anna married Titilola Alakija, a Nigerian, in 1965. They had two children, a daughter, Ama, and a son, Kojo. The marriage broke in the late 1970s. He later married Nane Lagergren, a Swedish lawyer working at the UN in 1984. She was also divorced at the time and had a daughter, Nina, from her first marriage. Annan is survived by Lagergren and two children from his first marriage and a stepdaughter. He lived in Switzerland.