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Friday, 30 November, 2001, 18:23 GMT
Kofi Annan: The challenge ahead
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
In a new BBC documentary the BBC's World Affairs Correspondent Alan Little examines the challenges facing UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

When Kofi Annan became the first black African UN secretary-general almost five years ago, he took over an organisation in crisis and near collapse.

Now he is set to accept the Nobel Peace Prize for the UN and himself.

Annan was born in Ghana, then the Gold Coast and a British colony, in 1938. His family were wealthy and influential; his father was a businessman and a Fante tribal chief.

Kofi, which means "born on a Friday", had a twin sister and in Ghanaian culture twins are adored and receive special treatment from their families.

Future diplomat

Kofi attended Mfantisipim School near the city of Cape Coast, a prestigious Methodist school whose motto was "think before you act", appropriate for the future diplomat.

Annan as a young man
Annan as a young man
After university the young Annan went to Macalaster University in Minnesota to study economics, before continuing his studies in Geneva.

He joined the United Nations in 1962 and, apart from two years with the Ghanaian Tourist Board in the 1970s, has worked there ever since.

Annan is a private man and takes care not to endow the post of secretary-general with the cult of personality.

Mr Annan worked in many posts until his appointment as under secretary-general and head of peacekeeping in 1993 - when Boutros Boutros-Ghali was secretary-general.

Annan's first experience was the Somalia conflict, where UN peacekeepers became involved in the fighting and killing.


This was quickly followed in 1994 by Rwanda where up to 800,000 Tutsis were massacred in 100 days.

Annan and wife Nane in Rwanda
Annan and wife Nane in Rwanda
Information that genocide had been planned had been passed to Kofi Annan and his team well before the murders but it was largely ignored.

And later, a so-called safe area in Bosnia saw one of the Balkans most notorious war crimes.

In what became known as the Srebrenica Massacre up to 8,000 Muslims were executed by Serbian forces.

Annan and his department knew that the area was in fact not safe at all but did not admit to this information at the time.

America's favoured candidate

Despite the setbacks Annan's reputation grew and he was America's favoured candidate for the top job when they decided to oust Boutros-Ghali in December 1996.

The mark of Annan's tenure so far is his attempt to persuade member states of the UN to take responsibility for the world's tragedies, rather than expecting the United Nations to do all the work.

Critics say he should have resigned after Srebrenica, but supporters say that his difficult experiences make him the perfect leader for an organisation dedicated to peace.

However, Mr Annan is now in the middle of a world crisis and the UN is set to play a key role in rebuilding Afghanistan once the fighting is over.

The world is now waiting to see how the UN meets this challenge.

Profile: Kofi Annan will be broadcast on BBC Knowledge on Friday 30 November at 2100GMT
See also:

12 Oct 01 | Europe
UN wins Nobel Peace Prize
12 Oct 01 | Europe
The UN's proudest hour
11 Oct 99 | Americas
Kofi Annan apologises for Srebrenica
28 Feb 98 | From Our Own Correspondent
Kofi Annan's Diplomatic Style
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