Kofi Annan

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Kofi Annan: Former UN Secretary-General dead at 80 - CNN

These are external links and will open in a new window. It was at his elite boarding school in West Africa that Kofi Annan - the man who would later become the world's top diplomat - learnt one of his most important lessons. His humanitarian work would win him a Nobel Peace Prize, but it would also win him a raft of critics.

Annan, the first black African to lead the United Nations, would nonetheless became one of the most enduring and recognised diplomats in modern history.

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The twins' first names meant "born on a Friday" in Akan, while their shared middle name means "twin". He grew up in a wealthy family - his grandfathers were traditional leaders, while his father became a provincial governor - in a country still under British rule.

Former Secretary-General

Then, two days before the future diplomat turned 19, the country finally won its independence, becoming Ghana. After studying at university, first in the newly liberated Ghana, followed by Macalester College in the US, he got his first job with the UN.

The position - a budget officer with the World Health Organization WHO - gave no hint as to the career he was to have over the next four decades, culminating in when he was elected secretary-general. The next year, up to , ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred in days in Rwanda.

Then, in , up to 8, Muslims were executed by Serbian forces in a so-called UN safe area in Bosnia. In both cases, Annan and his department came under fire - especially after it emerged that his department had largely ignored information that had been passed to them, warning that the Rwandan genocide was being planned.

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This painful memory, along with that of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has influenced much of my thinking, and many of my actions, as secretary-general. He set about reforming the institution, cutting 1, jobs out of 6, positions at the New York headquarters, while also trying to convince reluctant member states to take responsibility for the world's many tragedies.

Lessons to be drawn

The citation lauded Annan, the second UN Secretary General to be given the prize, as someone who had brought "new life to the organisation". In , the US - one of Annan's biggest supporters - announced its intention to go to war in Iraq.

This drove a wedge between Annan and the superpower. Speaking about the invasion, he later told the BBC: "From our point of view and from the charter point of view, it was illegal. This new divide between Annan and the US caused him problems after the "oil for food scandal", which emerged in , implicated the secretary-general, both professionally and personally.

The programme, which was started in to sell limited quantities of oil from sanction-hit Iraq in return for humanitarian supplies, had been subverted by some of those involved, including businesses, UN officials, international politicians and diplomats.

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