The death of the world’s former number one diplomat, Kofi Atta Annan, on August 18 2018 came to many as a shock. In his many years of dedicated service to humanity, he recorded many firsts along his career path. He was the first full time United Nations staff to rise through to ranks to get elected as the secretary general of the world body. Annan was also the first diplomat from Sub-Saharan Africa to attain that position. When Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali established the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in 1992, Annan was appointed to the new department as deputy to then Under-Secretary-General Marrack Goulding and was subsequently appointed in March 1993 as Under-Secretary-General of that department. On 29 August, 1995, a situation arose at the UN and Boutros-Ghali was unreachable on an airplane, Annan instructed United Nations officials to “relinquish for a limited period of time their authority to veto air strikes in Bosnia.” This move allowed NATO forces to conduct Operation Deliberate Force and made him a favourite of the United States. This “gutsy performance” raised his international profile as a man who could rise to any occasion. It also endeared him to the United States of America (USA) who saw in him one who could be a good replacement for Boutros-Ghali who, at this time, had fallen out of the favour of most veto power countries especially the USA.
The former UN Secretary General devoted his life to making the world a more peaceful place for which he and the UN were jointly honoured with the Nobel Prize for Peace. As the Secretary-General, Annan reformed the UN bureaucracy; worked to combat HIV, especially in Africa; and launched the UN Global Compact. On retirement after a meritorious service, he established the Kofi Annan Foundation to work on international development. He was appointed as the UN–Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria to help find a resolution to the ongoing conflict there. He was in September 2016 appointed to lead a UN commission to investigate the Rohingya crisis and was later the chairman of The Elders, an international organisation founded by Nelson Mandela.
Born in Kumasi in the Ashanti region of what is today Ghana into aristocratic families on April 8, 1938, Annan, from 1954 to 1957, attended the elite Mfantsipim school, a Methodist boarding school in Cape Coast founded in the 1870s. He said that the school taught him “that suffering anywhere concerns people everywhere”. In 1957, the year Annan graduated from Mfantsipim, the Gold Coast gained independence from the UK and changed its name to Ghana”.
Before joining the UN bureaucracy, Annan started working as a manager of the state-owned Ghana Tourist Development Company in Accra.
He joined the UN in 1962, working for the World Health Organisation’s Geneva office. He served in several capacities at the UN Headquarters including as the head of personnel for the office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva and director of administrative management services of the UN Secretariat in New York. In 1987, he was Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management and Security Coordinator for the UN system and in 1990, he became Assistant Secretary-General for Programme Planning, Budget, Finance and Control.
Annan was appointed a Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the former Yugoslavia, serving from November 1995 to March 1996 and became the Under-Secretary-General for peacekeeping between March 1992 and December 1996.
On December 13, 1996, he was appointed the Secretary-General by the Security Council, which was later confirmed by the General Assembly. He was re-elected for a second term in 2001.
Soon after taking office in 1997, the new Secretary General outlined some of his key proposals which included the introduction of strategic management to strengthen unity of purpose, the establishment of the position of Deputy Secretary-General, a 10-percent reduction in posts, a reduction in administrative costs, the consolidation of the UN at the country level, and reaching out to civil society and the private sector as partners. However, one of the lows of his tenure as UN chief was the oil-for-food scandal in Iraq that involved his son, Kojo.
On September 19, 2006, Annan, in his farewell address to world leaders gathered at the UN headquarters in New York, outlined some major problems confronting humanity to include an unjust world economy, world disorder, widespread contempt for human rights and the rule of law, violence in Africa, and the Arab–Israeli conflict. After his service, he took up residence in Geneva, Switzerland and worked in a leading capacity on various international humanitarian endeavours.
Those who came in contact with him in his lifetime have described him as a great leader and humanitarian who celebrated life full of courage, empathy and remarkable public service. May his soul rest in peace.