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Learning the Ropes

After his brief stint promoting tourism in Ghana, Annan rejoined the UN. Between 1976 and 1990, Annan would spend his time between New York and Geneva, advancing steadily in his career with jobs in human resources and finance. In 1990, after Iraq had invaded Kuwait, Annan, then UN budget and finance controller, had his first taste of the international spotlight after successfully negotiating the release of 900 UN staff and thousands of Westerners held hostage in Iraq.

In 1993, after serving a year as Assistant Secretary-General, Annan was promoted by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to the top post for peacekeeping. His appointment came as a surprise to many within the UN. The soft-spoken Annan was largely seen as an administrator and an economist, not as a tough-talk mediator.

Annan's tenure coincided with the upsurge in UN peacekeeping operations. By 1995 Annan had under his authority 70,000 military and civilian personnel from 77 countriesworking in 17 peacekeeping operations worldwide.

His first major peacekeeping job lasted just four months, but would win him some critical allies. From November 1995 to March 1996, Annan was assigned as Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the former Yugoslavia. Officials in Washington saw the UN's operations in Yugoslavia as a failure. Rumors circulated at the UN that Boutros-Ghali, who saw Annan as a rival, hoped the assignment would tarnish his reputation. Instead, Annan gained the respect of many U.S officials after he skillfully oversaw the smooth transition of peacekeeping in Bosnia-Herzegovina from the UN to NATO.

But the lack of decisive UN actions in Somalia and Rwanda almost led to Annan's downfall. Somalia, without a formal government since 1991, was in the midst of a civil war and drought. The UN went into Somalia in 1993 to take over the U.S.-led force that was to restore peace and stability to the country. But after U.S. soldiers were killed, the U.S. withdrew its troops and support. In 1995, after several other violent incidents, UN troops left Somalia without achieving their mission. More than 140 peacekeepers died during the operation.

UN troops also withdrew from Rwanda before establishing stability in the region. The UN operations had difficulties from the outset -- it took months before member states would even contribute enough troops to reach the authorized numbers. Annan was accused of failing to act on a fax from Romeo Dallaire, commander of the UN troops, warning of planned massacres. A 1999 independent inquiry of the events in Rwanda revealed that because of the international community's lack of political will, the UN failed to prevent genocide in Rwanda. Annan accepted the conclusions of the report and expressed his remorse.


Did You Know?

While working for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, Annan met Nane Lagergren, a Swedish attorney who was also working for UNHCR. Nane is the niece of Raoul Wallenberg, who rescued tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from deportation to Nazi death camps. They would later marry in 1984 at the UN chapel in New York. The couple has three children from previous marriages. Kofi Annan has two children -- a daughter named Ama and a son named Kojo, from his first marriage to Titi Alakija, a Nigerian.

In their free time, Kofi and Nane Annan like to go for long, brisk walks. The couple also likes to dance and are often the last to leave the dance floor.


Key Events

1976
Returned to the UN System as Deputy Chief of Staff Services.

1980
Assigned his first high-level post -- head of personnel at UNHCR.

1984
Married Nane Lagergren.

1990
Negotiated release of UN staff members held hostage in Iraq.

1993
Named UN Assistant Secretary-General for peacekeeping. Peacekeeping forces are deployed to Somalia and Rwanda.

1995
Successfully transferred Bosnia peacekeeping operation to NATO.




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