Kofi Annan, GHF President 

Kofi Annan

“Today’s real borders are not between nations, but between powerful and powerless, free and fettered, privileged and humiliated. Today, no walls can separate humanitarian or human rights crises in one part of the world from national security crises in another.”

These words were spoken in Oslo by Kofi Annan in his address accepting the Nobel Prize for himself and for the United Nations. In making the award, the Nobel Prize Committee declared: “The only negotiable road to global peace and cooperation goes by way of the United Nations. Kofi Annan has been pre-eminent in bringing new life to the organization.”

In his 40-odd year career in the UN Mr Annan began in Geneva at the lowest possible professional grade of P-1 and rose through the ranks to the highest level of Secretary-General, the only Secretary-General to have come from within the UN Secretariat.

During Kofi Annan’s 10-year tenure at the head of the UN, the organization established the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and prioritized other humanitarian issues such as the fight against HIV/AIDS, the promotion of human rights and the rule of law. In brief, his focus was humanitarian.
Annan worked for the World Health Organization, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Secretariat in New York, where he occupied positions involving Human Resources Management and Security, Programme Planning, Budget and Financing. He also served as Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations and worked for the Economic Commission for Africa in Ethiopia, living there for six years.

Born in Ghana into one of the country’s foremost families 70 years ago, Kofi Annan attended the old Methodist boarding school, Mfantsipim. The year he graduated, 1957, Ghana became the first British colony in Sub-Saharan Africa to win its independence.

Annan went on to study economics at the Kumasi College of Science and Technology, now the Kwame Nkrumah University of Ghana. A promising student, young Kofi received a Ford Foundation grant that enabled him to complete his undergraduate studies at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. The next academic step was to do graduate studies at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva. A decade later he acquired a Master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management.

During these years he devoted himself to learning about administration, economics and management. Annan is fluent in English, French, Fante, and a number of other African languages.

Annan had prepared himself exceedingly well for his many years at the United Nations.

He set out to reform the UN. This involved reducing the headquarters staff from 6,000 to 5,000. Such cuts are obviously not popular with staff. The reform also included revitalizing the UN by reinforcing its traditional activities in the areas of development and the maintenance of international peace and security. “We must bring the United Nations closer to the people,” he said.

Annan urged the US and the United Kingdom not to invade Iraq without the endorsement of the UN. When the BBC asked him about the legal authority for the invasion, he replied: “From our point of view, from the Charter point of view it was illegal.”

So, it was doubly appropriate that Kofi Annan’s principal post-UN activity would be the creation of an organization called the Global Humanitarian Forum in the city of Geneva where he began his professional life and met his Swedish wife, Nane.

“I am a Genevan,” he once said, paraphrasing John Kennedy. If Annan loves Geneva, the Swiss appear to reciprocate. As the then President of Switzerland, Moritz Leuenberger, put it, “many Swiss voted in a national referendum to join the United Nations, because the organization had the face of Kofi Annan.” (P.Ress)


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