Kofi Annan - Center of the Storm

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By early 1996, Kofi Annan's name was whispered in the halls of the UN as a potential candidate for Secretary-General. Boutros Boutros-Ghali's term was ending and since the U.S. was against his re-election, a search for a new Secretary-General had begun.

Annan accepts the Nobel Prize.
Kofi Annan and Han Seung-soo, President of the U.N. General Assembly, accept the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize.

When asked in 1996 by journalist William Shawcross whether he wanted to be Secretary-General, Annan was unsure. It would mean less privacy and personal freedom for both his wife and him. Annan did not campaign for the position and was nonchalant about his chances for election: "If it's to come to me, it will; if not, it won't."

Critics charged Annan was not tough enough and too conflict-averse to take on the heavy leadership role of Secretary-General. Others, such as The New York Times, praised him for "his efficiency, his exquisite tact and his slightly mysterious powers of persuasion."

After several vetoes from the French -- who championed Boutros-Ghali -- the Security Council finally came to a consensus and nominated Annan. A few days later, the General Assembly elected Annan as the UN's seventh Secretary-General.

His first headline-grabbing crisis? Attempting to negotiate face-to-face with Saddam Hussein in 1998 to ensure compliance with Security Council resolutions. "I had to really draw on all my resources -- creativity and stamina and almost a spiritual courage -- to really engage him in this," Annan recalled to Shawcross. The long-term results of Annan's mediation were not successful -- the UN arms inspectors pulled out, not to return until 2002. But Annan had gained the respect of the Iraqi leader, who told him, "I know you're a courageous man." (Hussein would later even invite Annan back to Iraq for a vacation).

Annan has described his job as "a race against time." During his tenure, he has brought international action to stop the violence in East Timor and sought a ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians. He's also focused on reforming the UN, ending poverty, and bringing peace and prosperity to Africa (see Hot Issues for details.) He's won praise from developing and powerful nations alike. Former US Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke has described Annan as "the best Secretary-General in the history of the UN." Critics, sensing Annan's personal popularity, have mostly focused instead on that familiar bugbear of UN existence -- reform.

On December 10, 2001, Kofi Annan shared a Nobel Peace Prize with the UN for his efforts in revitalizing the worldwide security organization. What would be a career pinnacle for most diplomats, for Annan was a moment for perspective. "We have entered the third millennium through a gate of fire. If today, after the horror of September 11, we see better and we see further, we will realize that humanity is indivisible." With that message as his mission, the Secretary-General faces the future.

Did You Know? Kofi and Nane Annan

As a young man, Kofi Annan never expected to be Secretary-General. "I figured that after my schooling I would make some money in the business world, then I would -- at, say 45 -- enter politics in Ghana and help develop the country," Annan recalled to journalist William Shawcross. "At 60 I would retire and become a farmer." Kofi and Nane Annan have discussed

settling in Ghana upon Annan's retirement according to New York Magazine. If he doesn't decided to open a tomato processing plant instead -- which, reportedly, he is contemplating -- maybe then the Secretary-General will fulfill his dream to become a farmer.

Key Events

Elected Secretary-General on December 16, 1996.

Attempted to gain Iraq's compliance with Security Council resolutions.

Unanimously re-elected for a second term.

Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Handed over authority of East Timor to the president of the newly independent island.

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Job at a Glance

Photos: UN Photo/Sergey Bermeniev, Private Collection of Kofi and Nane Annan

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