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Kofi Annan: Biographical Note By Phyllis Bennis

On January 1, 1997, Kofi Annan became the seventh Secretary General of the United Nations. His election followed a bitterly-contested United States veto of a second term for his predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt. The Security Council recognized it was still Africa's "turn" in the UN's highest office, and eventually selected the U.S.- and French-backed Annan, a soft-spoken Ghanaian then heading the UN's Peacekeeping Department. 

Annan proved an innovative and surprisingly independent Secretary General - far less in thrall to the US than many had anticipated. Though his choices are severely limited by the UN's financial crisis and by unrelenting pressure from the US and other major powers, Annan has won widespread support and learned to maximize his options. He moved quickly to reassert UN centrality in emergencies across the globe.

UN staffers have been largely delighted with their new chief, and morale within the organization soared. Annan, the first black African Secretary General and the first to rise to the top position from within the ranks of the UN staff, is appreciated not only for his political acumen, but for his respect for and willingness to work collaboratively with his colleagues.

Born in Ghana in 1938, Annan studied economics in Kumasi and earned a bachelor's degree at Macalester College in Minnesota in 1961. He did graduate work in Geneva and later earned a master's degree in management from MIT in 1972.

Annan joined the United Nations system in 1962, working in financial and management posts with the World Health Organization, the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, the UN Economic Commission for Africa, and at UN headquarters in New York. He headed the UN's Peacekeeping Department from 1993-1995, and again in 1996, during a period of unprecedented growth in the size and scope of United Nations peacekeeping operations. At its peak in 1995, the UN was fielding almost 70,000 military and civilian "Blue Helmets" from 77 countries.

During Annan's tenure as head of UN peacekeeping, many problems and tragedies arose, as international crises like Bosnia and Rwanda overwhelmed the UN's capacity and demonstrated the insufficiency of support from major member states. While Annan shared some responsibility, and characteristically apologized for his judgement errors, the main crises resulted not from Secretariat or secretary-general failures, but from the refusal of the major Security Council members to adequately respond and back the UN efforts.

When Annan came into office in 1997, he faced formidable challenges. The organization was near bankruptcy and it faced serious criticism and hostility in Washington. In his first weeks in office, Annan traveled to Washington to build support in the conservative Congress. He promised to shrink the UN's operating budget, asking in return that the U.S. pay its $1.6 billion in back dues.

Annan continued his predecessor's cuts in UN staff and budget. At the same time he introduced many management reforms - a new post of Deputy Secretary General, a new office of financial oversight to keep watch for waste and corruption, and a more efficient cabinet-style management. Still, the United States refused to pay its debts, prolonging the financial crisis and keeping Annan's UN very short of resources.

Faced with insufficient funds, Annan sought closer relations between the United Nations and the private sector. Amid some controversy, he joined the annual gatherings of corporate chief executives in Davos, Switzerland, and called for a strategic partnership between the UN and business. In 1999 he proposed "The Global Compact," nine principles on human rights, labor standards and the environment that corporations should adopt. At the same time, the UN muted its criticism of globalization and gave stronger support to corporate-friendly open markets. He thus also set the stage for broader alliances between the UN and its agencies and multinational corporations. Many critics have noted the tarnished environmental, labor and human rights records of some of these partner corporations. Critics are likewise skeptical about the threat to UN decision-making inherent in UN reliance on funds from private foundations, corporations or individuals like Ted Turner of CNN. But Annan and his team have been strongly committed to this course.

Annan has not hesitated to tackle other controversial issues. Opening the 1999 General Assembly, he spoke in favor of "humanitarian intervention," stating explicitly that national sovereignty could no longer shield governments that massively violate human rights of their citizens. Many developing countries, fearing that only weaker states would face such response, reacted negatively, but Annan has persisted in raising this issue, acknowledging the UN Charter's contradictions between sovereignty and human rights. In another controversial field, Annan increasingly spoke out about how economic sanctions against Iraq were causing the UN to be blamed for the humanitarian crisis facing the Iraqi population.

Under Annan, the UN has greatly increased its use of modern communications and he has pushed the organization to be more open and accountable. In 1999 the UN released major reports on disasters in Rwanda and Srebrenica, assessments that were painfully self-critical and set a new standard for UN evaluation and transparency. Annan is credited with promotion of women to higher posts in the organization. And he will likely be remembered for his effective management and personal diplomacy, and his warmth and charm in even the most difficult international crises.

Kofi Annan of Ghana, Secretary General of the United Nations, has the world's most difficult job. Elected for a five-year term that began in January 1997, and re-elected for a second five-year term that began in January 2002, he is the second candidate elected from Africa, following Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt. He heads an organization in perpetual financial crisis and with a very small budget, that nonetheless is expected to address (and solve) most of the world's problems. He must accommodate the most powerful countries, while still acting in a way that appears evenhanded, and he must struggle for peace in a world where violence and warfare are still the norm. This section considers some major events and aspects of the job that shed light on the global policy process.

 
Nelson Mandela - A Brief Biography

Mandela's words, "The struggle is my life," are not to be taken lightly.

Nelson Mandela personifies struggle. He is still leading the fight against apartheid with extraordinary vigour and resilience after spending nearly three decades of his life behind bars. He has sacrificed his private life and his youth for his people, and remains South Africa's best known and loved hero.

Mandela has held numerous positions in the ANC: ANCYL secretary (1948); ANCYL president (1950); ANC Transvaal president (1952); deputy national president (1952) and ANC president (1991).

He was born at Qunu, near Umtata on 18 July 1918.

His father, Henry Mgadla Mandela, was chief councillor to Thembuland's acting paramount chief David Dalindyebo. When his father died, Mandela became the chief's ward and was groomed for the chieftainship.

Mandela matriculated at Healdtown Methodist Boarding School and then started a BA degree at Fort Hare. As an SRC member he participated in a student strike and was expelled, along with the late Oliver Tambo, in 1940. He completed his degree by correspondence from Johannesburg, did articles of clerkship and enrolled for an LLB at the University of the Witwatersrand.

In 1944 he helped found the ANC Youth League, whose Programme of Action was adopted by the ANC in 1949.

Mandela was elected national volunteer-in-chief of the 1952 Defiance Campaign. He travelled the country organising resistance to discriminatory legislation.

He was given a suspended sentence for his part in the campaign. Shortly afterwards a banning order confined him to Johannesburg for six months. During this period he formulated the "M Plan", in terms of which ANC branches were broken down into underground cells.

By 1952 Mandela and Tambo had opened the first black legal firm in the country, and Mandela was both Transvaal president of the ANC and deputy national president.

A petition by the Transvaal Law Society to strike Mandela off the roll of attorneys was refused by the Supreme Court.

In the 'fifties, after being forced through constant bannings to resign officially from the ANC, Mandela analysed the Bantustan policy as a political swindle. He predicted mass removals, political persecutions and police terror.

For the second half of the 'fifties, he was one of the accused in the Treason Trial. With Duma Nokwe, he conducted the defence.

When the ANC was banned after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, he was detained until 1961 when he went underground to lead a campaign for a new national convention.

Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the ANC, was born the same year. Under his leadership it launched a campaign of sabotage against government and economic installations.

In 1962 Mandela left the country for military training in Algeria and to arrange training for other MK members.

On his return he was arrested for leaving the country illegally and for incitement to strike. He conducted his own defence. He was convicted and jailed for five years in November 1962. While serving his sentence, he was charged, in the Rivonia trial, with sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment.

A decade before being imprisoned, Mandela had spoken out against the introduction of Bantu Education, recommending that community activists "make every home, every shack or rickety structure a centre of learning".

Robben Island, where he was imprisoned, became a centre for learning, and Mandela was a central figure in the organised political education classes.

In prison Mandela never compromised his political principles and was always a source of strength for the other prisoners.

During the 'seventies he refused the offer of a remission of sentence if he recognised Transkei and settled there.

In the 'eighties he again rejected PW Botha's offer of freedom if he renounced violence.

It is significant that shortly after his release on Sunday 11 February 1990, Mandela and his delegation agreed to the suspension of armed struggle.

Mandela has honorary degrees from more than 50 international universities and is chancellor of the University of the North.

He was inaugurated as the first democratically elected State President of South Africa on 10 May 1994 - June 1999

Nelson Mandela retired from Public life in June 1999. He currently resides in his birth place - Qunu, Transkei.

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