Credit: HENNY RAY ABRAMS/AFP/Getty Images

When Kofi Annan became Secretary-General of the United Nations in 1997, he had already been within the UN system for almost 35 years – starting as a budget officer for the World Health Organization and rising through the ranks to become head of personnel for the office of the UN High Commission for Refugees; Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management and Security Coordinator, as well as for the Program Planning, Budget and Finance, and Control; Deputy of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations then Under-Secretary to that same department; and finally, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the former Yugoslavia.

The Ghanaian diplomat was the first Black African to hold the Secretary-General position and during his tenure, he ushered in an era of worldwide reform to the UN system in a time of rapid globalization. He advocated for the organization’s mandate to include the promotion of human rights, establishing the Human Rights Council and its Universal Periodic Review. During his 10-year term, he presided over major efforts to tackle issues across the UN bureaucracy. The UN Peacekeeper’s Zero-Tolerance Policy, the UN Global Compact, and the Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide as well as the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, were all established during his term. Quiet and calm in personality, yet steadfast in his resolve – he brought recognition to the Responsibility to Protect as an international norm, worked to combat HIV, and issued the report that paved the way for the Millennium Development Goals.

His term was not without criticism and scandal, particularly concerning the Rwandan genocide. However, the Nobel Peace Laureate’s life was a relentless pursuit of peace, justice and equality. After his time as Secretary-General, he founded the Kofi Annan Foundation, became the UN–Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria, and led a UN investigation into the Rohingya crisis. His work has shaped the direction of international development for years to come. Kofi Annan has inspired a whole generation of people – in a world with an invariable set of interrelated challenges before them – to see and seek his vision of the world, as reflected in his life and work.

Further Reading:

Kofi Annan obituary

In memoriam of a man who sacrificed his life fixing what he did not break

Kofi Annan Harbored Plans for Reform, But Encountered Backlash

Mary Robinson: Kofi Annan will inspire generations

Kofi Annan: In Memoriam





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