Africa: Remembering Kofi Annan - A Smooth Negotiator

Photo: Wikimedia
Kofi Annan.

Kofi Annan has died at the age of 80. For 10 years, he was at the forefront of world politics. He continued to work as an ambassador for peace even after leaving his post as secretary-general of the United Nations.

Kofi Annan -- a small man with a grey goatee, smiling from behind his desk in New York -- once recalled that his first day as United Nation's secretary-general was like his first day at school.

He was born into a prominent family in 1938 in Kumasi, the second biggest city in Ghana. His father was governor of Ashanti province under British colonial rule. Annan attended top schools in Ghana, Switzerland and later in the US.

Annan joined the UN at the age of 24, first working as an administrator at the World Health Organization and then becoming head of personnel for the UN mission in Cairo, deputy director of the UNHCR in Geneva and eventually deputy UN secretary-general. In 1993, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali nominated him under-secretary-general for peacekeeping, putting him in charge of 75,000 peacekeepers around the world.

As the head of UN peacekeeping troops, Annan experienced the first real dent in his career in 1994 when radical Hutu militias killed over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in what later became known as the Rwandan genocide. Annan was accused of failing to provide adequate support in the east African country despite the prior warnings of a violent escalation by Romeo Dallaire, the head of the UN peacekeepers in Rwanda. His reluctance was partly due to the fact that the US and Europe seemed to have little interest in getting more involved in Rwanda.

Annan expressed regret on behalf of the UN 10 years later: "The international community failed Rwanda, and that must leave us always with a sense of bitter regret and abiding sorrow."

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