Kofi Atta Annan, the first black African to occupy the post of Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), was born as one of a set of twins in Kumasi, Ghana, on 8 April 1938. His twin sister died in 1991. His parents, Henry Reginald and Victoria Annan, lived at the Atlantic coast, but the young Annan spent most of his childhood in the inland town of Bekwai, where his father worked for Unilever. His father was a tribal chief of the Fante people, and was later elected as governor of the Ashanti province.
Between 1954-1957 he attended Mfantsipim School, an elite Methodist institution in central Ghana, and went to the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana, in 1958 where he earned a Ford Foundation grant, which made it possible for him to study at Macalester College in Minnesota, USA. He then studied at the Institute for Advanced International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. Kofi (meaning “born on a Friday”) Annan received a postgraduate certificate in economics from the Institute for Advanced International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. The “international” diplomat speaks several African languages, English, and French.
From 1962 to 1971 he worked for the World Health Organization in Geneva as an administration and budget officer. Being a great student he received a master’s degree in management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1972. For two years (1974 to 1976) he left the UN to work as the Managing Director of the Ghana Tourist Development Company.
Slowly but surely Annan worked his way upwards in the UN. From 1971 onwards he became a lifelong bureaucratic insider, and held numerous influential administrative positions. He became Under-Secretary-General to Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1993, and started his first term as permanent Secretary General (the seventh SG of the UN) on 1 January 1997. His appointment was renewed exactly four years later in 2001. His second term was somewhat of a surprise as the Secretary Generalship normally rotates around the continents, with two terms each. Ghali (from Egypt, Africa), his predecessor, already served from 1993 to 1997.
Annan’s first major initiative was his plan for reform – “Renewing the United Nations” – which was submitted to the member states in July 1997 and has been pursued ever since.
Annan’s first marriage to a Nigerian girl ended in divorce, and in 1984 he married Swedish lawyer and judge Nane Lagergren, the niece of Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, who rescued thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis during World War II. The couple has three children.
He received honorary degrees from universities in Africa, Europe, Asia and the USA North America, as well as other international prizes and awards for his contributions to the aims and principles of the UN. The 2001 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in two equal portions – to the United Nations and to Annan, its Secretary-General, for their work for a better-structured and more peaceful world.