Dignity, confidence, courage, compassion and faith -- the Five Virtues of his tribe.

Ghanaian administrator, b. Kumasi, Ghana (when it was still the British colony of the Gold Coast) 1938-04-08; seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Annan is the son of a provincial governor during Britain's colonial rule of Ghana who was also a chief of the Fanti tribe, an Oxford graduate and a highly respected man in Ghana. Not much is made public about Kofi's not so humble descent and early years or his personal life. He undertook his early studies in his hometown and continued to complete his degree in economics in St. Paul, Minnesota and Geneva. After joining the UN in 1962 he went on to gain an MIT degree in management. A rare anecdote about the man is how, during his time at Macalester College in Minnesota, he gained a valuable lesson in adaptation after originally having vowed never to wear "unelegant" earmuffs, a lesson which he applies to his current job. His wife, Nane Lagergren, with whom he has three children (none of which are in the public eye for delinquency) is a Swedish lawyer and the author of a chidrens book about the United Nations as well as being the niece of Raoul Wallenberg. A virtually lifelong expatriate, Annan has worked in his native Ghana for only two years, when he headed local efforts to develop tourism in the 1970s.

Annan is neither a politician nor a career diplomat like his predecessors but a direct product of the UN bureaucracy itself. He seems, by all accounts, to view the UN as his home and vocation rather than an assignment or post representing his national government. His first post was with the WHO in Geneva and he's had few assignments outside the Geneva or New York UN headquarters... in fact, the only ones I found on record were in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Cairo and Ismailia, Egypt. He had been working out of New York since 1987 before being appointed Secretary-General in December 1996. As an Assistant Secretary-General, he worked in Human Resources and as Security Coordinator, in Finance and headed UN peacekeeping operations during their most rapid growth in the mid-1990s. He was personally involved in setting up operations in the former Yugoslavia as his predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali's, envoy. He was also directly involved in the evacuation of foreign nationals from Iraq and led the UN negotiating team in working out Iraq's food for oil programme. Annan's tenure was renewed with no objections in 2001. He was succeeded by Korean diplomat Ban Ki-Moon at the beginning of 2007.

Despite the fact that he's a "UN man," he does pay more attention to the current problems plaguing his native sub-Saharan Africa. The massive foreign debt of African countries and the AIDS epidemic figure prominently in his agenda as matters of urgent concern. Next in line are peacekeeping operations which he strongly supports and is intimately familiar with. Not being a politician but rather a frustrated administrator of an organization which is given a lot of lip service and not much in terms of resources, he tries to efficiently and quietly deal with issues that arise but does sometimes end up ignoring decorum and making his point with commentaries and statements telling the world he's being ignored. Within the UN, he has tried to make the organization more transparent, financially efficient, flexible and capable of responding to emergencies in a much more timely manner that before, as was the case in East Timor. Conciliatory but not soft, flexible but not yielding on matters of principle and honest as only a lifelong bureaucrat can be, Annan will probably enter the history books as one of the less glamorous and more productive world leaders of the 1990s... one who not only walks with kings but also makes them listen.

Annan and the organisation he heads shared the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize. This was the reasoning behind the Norwegian Nobel Committee's decision to award half the prize to the man himself and not all of it to the UN:

"Kofi Annan has devoted almost his entire working life to the U.N. As Secretary-General, he has been pre-eminent in bringing new life to the organization. While clearly underlining the U.N.'s traditional responsibility for peace and security, he has also emphasized its obligations with regard to human rights. He has risen to such new challenges as HIV/AIDS and international terrorism, and brought about more efficient utilization of the U.N.'s modest resources. In an organization that can hardly become more than its members permit, he has made clear that sovereignty can not be a shield behind which member states conceal their violations."

Annan thus became the second UN Secretary-General to receive the Peace Prize but the first to receive it during his lifetime since the previous award to Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961 was posthumous.

"Of course it was a wonderful way to wake up, given the sort of business we are in - usually when you get a call that early in the morning, it's something disastrous."

Factual sources:
United Nations
ABC News
Time Magazine
Nobel e-museum

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