The formidable Kofi Atta Annan, former UN Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Prize winner, led a career filled with trials and tribulations. The Ghana native, with a string of educational accolades behind him, was not only a smooth negotiator but also a natural leader who oozed charisma. His career spanned 56 incredible years, which saw him work most of it for the United Nations. It also included a brief stint as a managing director for a Ghanaian tourist development company and founded the Kofi Annan Foundation to promote global sustainable development, peace, and security. There seemed to be no end to what he was determined to accomplish.
Here are 10 things about Kofi Anna you probably didn’t know:
- He was a twin – 'Atta' means twin in the Ghanaian native language Akan, His twin sister Efua Atta passed in 1991 from an unknown disease. In Ghanaian culture, twins are considered unique and adored.
- He was somewhat royal – Kofi was born into a prominent family. His father was elected governor for the Ashanti province under British colonial rule, and his mother's family was involved in the gold trade between the Asante and the British. In addition, both Kofi's grandfathers were tribal chiefs.
- He spoke several languages – Kofi's native language was Akan. Still, he also became fluent in English, French, Kru languages, a branch of the Niger-Congo language family, and African languages.
- He studied in Ghana, the United States, and Switzerland – Kofi studied at the University of Science and Technology in his native Kumasi, Ghana, and finished his undergraduate education in the United States. He studied economics first at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, before tackling international relations at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva and management at MIT.
- He set captives free – In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, and then-secretary general Javier Perez de Cueller called on Kofi's negotiating skills to rally the release of hostages and international staff in Iraq. Kofi then later went on to lead the negotiations with Iraq on the sale of oil to aid humanitarian funding. Further negotiatory triumphs include serving as the UN-Arab League Envoy for Syria in 2012.
- He was married twice – Kofi married Titi Alakija in 1965. She was a Nigerian woman from an aristocratic family. Together they had a daughter, Ama, and a son, Kojo. They divorced in 1983, and in 1984, Kofi married Nane Lagergren, a Swedish lawyer at the UN and half-niece of diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. He was a step-father to Nane's daughter, Nina, from a previous marriage.
- He has a stamp – nine months after his passing, the United Nations Postal Administration released a new stamp on Kofi Annan's memory. Kofi also had three buildings named after him. The Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, which provides training and research in peacekeeping and peace operations, and the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT, an advanced information technology institute established as part of a partnership between the governments of Ghana and India. The building also houses West Africa's first supercomputer. Kofi also has the Kofi Annan University of Guinea named after him.
- He faced trials – even as an untiring peace negotiator, Kofi experienced a significant dent in his career in 1994, when radical Hutu militias killed over 800 000 Tutsis and Hutus in the Rwandan genocide. He was accused of failing to provide adequate support considering the escalating threats of violence and warnings from the East African country's head of UN peacekeeping, Romeo Dallaire. Kofi was quoted as saying that the experience left the UN with bitter feelings of regret and sorrow at the international community's reluctance to get more involved with Rwanda.
- He was a champion for food security and nutrition – Kofi advocated for creating resilient food systems to provide access to high-quality nutrition. He said that nutrition was not only having enough food but also the correct type of food. Agriculture must be climate and nutrition-smart to combat the shifting of environments and community needs.
- He wanted women to be heard – the Kofi Annan Foundation, built on the wishes of the Annan family to honor and continue Kofi's legacy and values, released an article in June stating that it is the inclusion of women is essential to building an equitable and peaceful world. In signing the Young Women B+25 Manifesto by the Nala Feminist Collective, the Kofi Annan Foundation has adopted an intersectional approach that acknowledges multiple roles of both men and women as contributors to conflict and peacekeeping and humanitarian responders.
Kofi Annan was once quoted as saying: “Every new idea and initiative meets with resistance. We have to find the courage to take risks, even to fail, if the goal is worthwhile.” Well, said sir. You lived it well and you will be missed.