Lives remembered: Kofi Annan, 1938 – 2018

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The birth of this new country would alter the aspiring diplomat’s outlook irrevocably.

“I walked away as a young man totally convinced that change is possible, even radical revolutionary change,” he would recall.

The idea that change is possible was at the forefront of Annan’s leadership as the United Nations’ seventh Secretary-General and he committed his life to humanitarianism and global peace.

His tenure is regarded by many as an era of change, in which he transformed an organisation on the brink of bankruptcy into a force for good which prioritised “human rights”, an effort that was recognised by the joint award of the Nobel Peace Prize to him and the UN in 2001.

But his record was not entirely unblemished as Annan presided over one of the most tumultuous periods in the UN’s history and he was criticised for failings in the Rwandan and Serbian genocides of the 1990s. Born in the city of Kumasi, Annan was the son of a provincial governor and grandson of two tribal chiefs.

He attended an elite boarding school becoming fluent in English, French and also several African languages. After studying in Kumasi, in 1961 Annan transferred to Macalester College in Minnesota before enrolling at The Graduate Institute, Geneva.

In 1962 he joined the UN’s Geneva office working in an entry-level position as a budget officer with the World Heath Organisation.

Three years later he married his first wife, Titi Alakija. Together they had two children, Ama and Kojo, but the marriage broke down after eight years, and they divorced in 1973.

After rising to under secretarygeneral and head of peacekeeping by 1992, Annan became embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of his career, one that risked bringing it to an abrupt end. In 1994 a civil war in Rwanda escalated into one of the most clinical genocides since the Holocaust, claiming more than 800,000 lives in 100 days.

A year later, 8,000 Muslims were executed by Serbian forces in what was supposed to be a UN safe haven in Bosnia. With Annan at the helm, the organisation was condemned for ignoring key information and being passive in its responses.

He would Lives remembered later acknowledge his shortcomings saying, “There was more that I could, and should, have done”.

Despite these failures, in 1997 Annan was elected UN SecretaryGeneral, becoming the first black African to hold the office.

During his tenure he achieved a number of humanitarian successes including working to combat HIV, dealing with crises in the Middle East and making significant steps towards tackling poverty.

And it was his efforts to reform the UN’s bureaucracy in favour of human rights that led to the Nobel award.

He was lauded as someone who had brought “life to the organisation”.

The same year he was unanimously re-elected for a second term, however this period was again not without controversy.

Annan found himself at the heart of yet another scandal, this time concerning UN dealings with the sanction-hit Iraq. He stepped down from the role in 2006, aged 69.

Less than a year into retirement he set about creating the Kofi Annan Foundation which promotes global security, peace and sustainable development.

One of his most memorable acts came in 2008 when Annan brokered a peace deal in Kenya to avoid the country erupting into bloodshed. Annan died after a short illness.

He is survived by his second wife, Swedish lawyer Nane Lagergren and his two children, Ama and Kojo.

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