If there is anyone qualified to give advice to the young generation on the value of making worthwhile choices, then I know who the cap fits perfectly. He is one that has had to make great choices that have changed not just his life but a large part of the world. An epitome of true leadership, loyalty and dedication, Mr Anaan once said; “To live is to choose; but to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there”.
Kofi Atta Annan; a name that has been inscribed in the hearts of Africans and members of the United Nations at large is a man to be reckoned with for obvious reasons. Mr Annan became the seventh Secretary General of the United Nations in 1997 and was the first to be elected from the rank of the UN staff. He was subsequently re-appointed by the UN member states for a second, five year term beginning from 2002.
Born in Kumasi, Ghana, on 8th April 1938, Mr Annan studied at the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi and completed his undergraduate work in economics at Macalester College in the United States in 1961. From 1961 to 1962, he undertook graduate studies in economics at the Institut Universitaire Des Hautes Études Internationales in Geneva. As a 1971- 1972 Sloan Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Mr Annan received a Master of Science degree in Management.
As Secretary-General, Mr Annan put first in his “To-do” list, the need to revitalize the UN through a comprehensive programme of reform; strengthening the Organization’s traditional work in the areas of development and the maintenance of international peace and security. A staunch believer of globalization, Mr Anaan once stated, “It has been said that arguing against globalization is like arguing against the laws of gravity.”
This great veteran was and remains a first class advocate for human rights, the Millennium development goals, the rule of law, universal values of gender equality, tolerance, human dignity and Africa. He took a leading role in mobilizing the international community in the battle against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in Africa. He also considered education a subject that should never be treated with levity and carelessness; Mr Anaan believed that every child is entitled to good quality education and development. In his words, “Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.”
How did this all begin? Mr. Annan became a part of the UN system in 1962; he worked as an Administrative and Budget Officer with the World Health Organization in Geneva. He later served with the Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa; Ethiopia, the UN Emergency force (UNEF II) in Ismailia, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva; he also handled several senior offices at the UN Headquarters in New York, including human resources management (1987-1990), budget and finance (1990-1992), peacekeeping (March 1992-December 1996) and even staff security.
Mr Anaan was Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping at a time when nearly 70,000 military and civilian personnel were deployed in UN operations around the world. He was a special representative of the Secretary-General to the former Yugoslavia from 1995 to 1996 and thereby facilitated the repatriation from Iraq of more than 900 international staff and other non-Iraqi nationals in 1990. Not one to rest on his oars, in 1998, Mr Anaan assisted in easing the transition to civilian rule in Nigeria. In the same year, he helped to resolve a controversy between Iraq and the Security Council. In 2000, he certified Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon, and in 2006 he helped secure a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah and also acted as a mediator in the dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria over the Bakassi Peninsula by implementing the judgement of the International Court of Justice. Mr Anaan captured his years in the UN in an autobiography entitled, ‘Interventions; A life in War and Peace’ written with Nader Mousavizadeh.
The great diplomat and peace maker has received various national and international awards and honours, including the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, profile in courage award, and the J. William Fulbright prize for international understanding. He is still actively involved in guiding the polity of nations, and is a member of Nelson Mandela’s Elders Forum on which Graca Machel and other past leaders sit.
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