Kofi Annan was born to Victoria and Henry Reginald Annan in the Kofandros section of Kumasi, Ghana. He is a twin, a respected status in Ghanaian culture. His twin sister Efua Atta, who died in 1991, shares the middle name 'Atta', which in Fante and Akan means 'twin'.
Annan's family was part of the country's elite; both of his grandfathers and his uncle were tribal chiefs. His father was Asante and Fante; his mother was Fante. Annan's father worked for a long period as an export manager for the Lever Brothers cocoa company.
Annan is married to Nane Maria Annan, a Swedish lawyer and artist who is the half-niece of Raoul Wallenberg. He has two children, Kojo and Ama, from his previous marriage to a Nigerian woman, Titi Alakija, whom he divorced in the late 1970s. Annan also has one stepchild, Nina Cronstedt de Groot, Nane's daughter from a previous marriage.
In his earlier years at the UN, Annan's last name had widely been mispronounced as rhyming with "anon"; Annan has let it be known that he pronounces his name to rhyme with "cannon" (/ˈænən/).
In 1958, Annan began studying for a degree in economics at the Kumasi College of Science and Technology, now the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology of Ghana. He received a Ford Foundation grant, enabling him to complete his undergraduate studies at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, United States, in 1961. Annan then did a DEA degree in International Relations at the Graduate Institute of International Studies (Institut universitaire des hautes études internationales IUHEI) in Geneva, Switzerland, from 1961–62, later attending the MIT Sloan School of Management (1971–72) Sloan Fellows program and receiving a Master of Science (M.S.) degree from the MIT Sloan School of Management.
The chain of events which lead up to the 1994 Rwandan Genocide unfolded while Annan was heading up Peacekeeping Operations. In his book Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Canadian ex-General Roméo Dallaire, who was force commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, claims that Annan was overly passive in his response to the incipient genocide. Gen. Dallaire explicitly asserts that Annan held back U. N. troops from intervening to settle the conflict, and from providing more logistical and material support. In particular, Dallaire claims that Annan failed to provide any responses to his repeated faxes asking him for access to a weapons depository, something that could have helped defend the endangered Tutsis. Dallaire concedes, however, that Annan was a man whom he found extremely "committed" to the founding principles of the United Nations.
Annan served as Under-Secretary-General until October 1995, when he was made a Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the former Yugoslavia, serving for five months in that capacity before returning to his duties as Under-Secretary-General in April 1996.
In April 2001, he issued a five-point "Call to Action" to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic. As Secretary-General, Annan saw this pandemic as a "personal priority" and proposed the establishment of a Global AIDS and Health Fund in an attempt to stimulate the increased spending needed to help developing countries confront the HIV/AIDS crisis.
On 10 December 2001, Annan and the United Nations were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, "for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world".
During the buildup to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Annan called on the United States and the United Kingdom not to invade without the support of the United Nations. In a September 2004 interview on the BBC, Annan was asked about the legal authority for the invasion, and responded, "from our point of view, from the charter point of view it was illegal.
Annan supported sending a UN peacekeeping mission to Darfur, Sudan, and worked with the government of Sudan to accept a transfer of power from the African Union peacekeeping mission to a UN one. Annan also worked with several Arab and Muslim countries on women's rights and other topics.
Beginning in 1998 Annan convened an annual UN Security Council Retreat with 15 States representatives of the Council at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) Conference Center at the Rockefeller family estate at Pocantico, which was sponsored by both the RBF and the UN. He and his wife also attended the Playhouse at the family estate on the occasion of Brooke Astor's 100th birthday celebration. He is a strong supporter and guest of the family's Asia Society in New York.
On 17 November 2004, Annan accepted a report clearing UN Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services Dileep Nair of political corruption and sexual harassment charges — charges which some viewed as retaliation against Nair for supporting the complainant in the Lubbers affair. However, clearance was not viewed favorably by some UN staff in New York, leading to extensive debate on 19 November. In February 2005, Lubbers resigned as head of the UN refugee agency.
The Independent Inquiry Committee into The United Nations Oil-for-Food Program was appointed by Annan and led by former US Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker; Volcker has strong ideological ties to the UN as director of the United Nations Association of the United States of America. In his first interview with the Inquiry Committee, Annan denied having had a meeting with Cotecna. Later in the inquiry he recalled that he had met with Cotecna's chief executive Elie-Georges Massey twice. In a final report issued on 27 October, the committee found insufficient evidence to indict Kofi Annan on any illegal actions, but did find fault with Mr. Benan Sevan, a Cypriot national who had worked for the UN for about 40 years. Appointed to his Oil-For-Food role by Kofi Annan, Mr. Sevan repeatedly asked Iraqis for allocations of oil to the African Middle East Petroleum Company. Sevan's behavior was "ethically improper", Volcker said to reporters. Sevan for his part, has repeatedly denied the charges and argues that he is being made a "scapegoat". The Volcker report was also highly critical of the UN management structure and the Security Council oversight and strongly recommended a new position of Chief Operating Officer to handle the fiscal and administrative responsibilities which currently fall to the Secretary General's office. The report listed the companies, both Western and Middle Eastern, who illegally benefited from the program.
On 11 December 2006, in his final speech as Secretary-General, delivered at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, Annan recalled Truman's leadership in the founding of the United Nations. He called for the United States to return to President Truman's multilateralist foreign policies, and to follow Truman's credo that "the responsibility of the great states is to serve and not dominate the peoples of the world". He also said that the United States must maintain its commitment to human rights, "including in the struggle against terrorism.
On 31 January 2006, Kofi Annan outlined his vision for a comprehensive and extensive reform of the UN in a policy speech to the United Nations Association UK. The speech, delivered at Central Hall, Westminster, also marked the 60th Anniversary of the first meetings of the UN General Assembly and UN Security Council.
On 7 March 2006, he presented to the General Assembly his proposals for a fundamental overhaul of the United Nations Secretariat. The reform report is entitled: "Investing in the United Nations, For a Stronger Organization Worldwide".
On 30 March 2006, he presented to the General Assembly his analysis and recommendations for updating the entire work programme of the United Nations Secretariat over the last 60 years. The report is entitled: "Mandating and Delivering: Analysis and Recommendations to Facilitate the Review of Mandates".
Upon his return to Ghana, Annan was immediately suggested as a candidate to become the country's next head of state.
He has become involved with several organizations with both global and African focuses. In 2007, Annan was named chairman of the prize committee for the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, was chosen to lead the new formation of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), became a member of the Global Elders, was appointed president of the Global Humanitarian Forum in Geneva, and was selected for the MacArthur Foundation Award for International Justice.
In the beginning of 2008, as head of the Panel of Eminent African Personalities, Annan participated in the negotiations to end the civil unrest in Kenya. He threatened to leave the negotions as mediatior if a quick decision was not made.
On 26 February 2008 he suspended talks to end Kenya's violent post-election crisis.On 28 February, Annan managed to have President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga sign a coalition government agreement and was widely lauded by many Kenyans for this landmark achievement. That was the best deal achieved then under the mediation efforts.
Annan currently serves on the board of directors of the United Nations Foundation, a public charity created in 1998 with entrepreneur and philanthropist Ted Turner’s historic $1 billion gift to support UN causes. The UN Foundation builds and implements public-private partnerships to address the world’s most pressing problems, and broadens support for the UN.
Annan is a member of the Africa Progress Panel (APP), an independent authority on Africa launched in April 2007 to focus world leaders’ attention on delivering their commitments to the continent. The Panel launched a major report in London on Monday 16 June 2008 entitled Africa's Development: Promises and Prospects.
Kofi Annan was appointed the Chancellor of the University of Ghana in 2008.