Kofi Annan

in People


Annan, Kofi (1938- ), secretary general of the United Nations (UN), born in Ghana and educated in the United States. The first UN secretary general from sub-Saharan Africa, Annan began serving his first five-year term in 1997. In 2001 the UN General Assembly unanimously elected him to a second term, beginning in 2002. Annan shared the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his accomplishments as UN secretary general.

Annan was born in Kumasi, Ghana. In 1961 he received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

After ten years of service with the UN, he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received a master’s degree in management in 1972.

Annan joined the UN in 1962 as a budget officer with the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO). He later managed budgetary and personnel operations for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Office of Financial Services. Between 1987 and 1992, Annan served as an assistant secretary general in a variety of posts, including the Office of Human Resources Management and Security Coordination and the Office of Program Planning, Budget, and Finance. From 1992 until his election as UN secretary general, Annan served as assistant secretary general and under secretary general for UN peacekeeping operations.


Annan assumed responsibility for UN peacekeeping operations in a period when localized conflicts, fueled by nationalism and tension between ethnic groups, had flared up in many parts of the world. During the early and mid-1990s, the UN organized an increasing number of peacekeeping operations in nations such as Cambodia, Haiti, and Bosnia. The major challenge Annan faced was to secure funding for these operations in a period of diminished international financial and political support for the activities of the UN, particularly from the United States.

Between 1990 and 1996, the United States held back more than a billion dollars in dues owed to the UN to emphasize the need for bureaucratic and financial reform within the organization. In 1996 the United States blocked the reelection of former secretary general Boutros Boutros-Ghali, whom many U.S. government officials believed was hostile to reform of the UN. With more than three decades of service to the UN, Annan became the first career UN official to be elected secretary general.

As secretary general, Annan reorganized the management of the UN in order to increase efficiency and reduce costs, and he improved the organization’s relationship with the United States. He has rededicated the UN to its traditional goals of economic development, social justice, and international peace. He has placed particular importance on combating the epidemic of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and improving human rights worldwide.