Happy Birthday

Kofi Annan
Associated Press

Happy Birthday, Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Prize Recipient

April 08, 2010
by findingDulcinea Staff
Kofi Annan was the first United Nations secretary-general from a black nation, Ghana. While leading the international organization he concentrated his efforts on the AIDS epidemic in Africa as well as the on the continent’s hidden genocides. Annan’s unwavering dedication to human rights earned him a Nobel Peace Prize, among many other accolades.

Kofi Annan's Early Days

On April 8, 1939, Kofi Annan and his twin sister were born into a family prominent within Ghana’s Akan group. Both of Annan’s grandfathers were tribal chiefs, and after retiring from his position as an export manager for a cocoa company, Annan’s father became governor of Ghana’s Asante province.

In 1958, the 19-year-old began his studies at the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana. After only a year, Annan left his university to study in the United States; he graduated from Macalester College in Minnesota in 1961 with a degree in economics. He then enrolled in graduate school in Geneva to study international affairs, and later earned a Master of Science degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management.

Notable Accomplishments

In 1962, Annan began working as a budget officer for the World Health Organization, a division of the United Nations. Although he left after three years to pursue other endeavors, Annan returned to the United Nations’ New York location in 1976.

As the budget and finance controller in 1990, Annan negotiated the release of thousands of Westerners, including U.N. employees, held hostage in Iraq. Three years later, he was promoted to assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping. In 1996 Annan resolved any doubts about his abilities when he successfully oversaw the transition of peacekeeping responsibilities for Bosnia-Herzegovina.

On Jan. 1, 1997, Annan became the seventh secretary-general for the United Nations, and the first secretary-general to come from the United Nations staff.

Although his term saw its ups and downs, Annan focused his efforts on human rights issues. He helped establish the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council, he brought worldwide attention to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and he helped to earn some $1.5 billion for the Global AIDS and Health Fund. Although he was unable to negotiate with Saddam Hussein, he relentlessly fought for a cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Rest of the Story

During his time as the secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan received several awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 and the John F. Kennedy Library Profile in Courage Award in 2002. In his speech upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Annan expressed his views of the role of the United Nations: "Beneath the surface of states and nations, ideas and languages, lies the fate of the individual human beings in need. Answering their needs will be the mission of the United Nations in the century to come."

Always a well-respected figure in his home country of Ghana, there was even a Web site aimed at trying to encourage Kofi Annan to run for president of Ghana in 2008, although he did not run.

Since the end of his second term as secretary-general in January of 2007, Kofi Annan has stayed close to the United Nations Organization. In October 2007 the United Nations Foundation announced that Annan would be joining the group’s board of directors.

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