Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General, will be visiting Stanford next Thursday. MemAud doors open at 11:15 AM for people with tickets, and stand-bys will be admitted at 11:45 AM. The organizers expect to let in a significant number of stand-bys, but students are encouraged to arrive early to ensure themselves a place at the talk.
Akin to the Dalai Lama’s visit last fall, I think it’s helpful to have background on our VIP speakers before they arrive. Here’s a crash course on Kofi Annan so you can make the most of his visit and various talks next week.
What’s in a name?
The post of “Secretary General” was established in 1946 with the selection of Trygve Lie of Norway. FDR initially hoped that the Secretary-General could serve as a “world moderator,” though the UN Charter less excitingly specified the post as the organization’s “chief administrative officer.” Since that date, the position has been afforded varying levels of authority and controversy. Secretaries General tend to be diplomats with “little prior fame,” selected from relatively neutral nations around the world. Perhaps the most effective and famous Secretary General was Dag Hammarskjöld, a Swedish diplomat whose policy of “quiet diplomacy” resolved crises amid the height of the Cold War during his tenure from 1953 to 1961. Including Ban Ki-Moon, there have been 8 Secretaries General to date.
Kofi Annan (Annan rhymes with “cannon” in English) was born in Ghana in 1938, the grandson of a tribal chief of his region. His secondary education spanned locations as diverse as Ghana, Minnesota, Switzerland, and Cambridge, where he studied at the prestigious Sloan School of Management at MIT. Annan is fluent in English and French, as well as a variety of African languages and dialects.
Prior to his role as Secretary General, Annan began his international career as a budget officer for the World Health Organization. He began work for the UN in the 1980s, serving in various roles until his appointment to the Secretariat in 1996. He directed UN Peacekeeping Operations from 1993 through 1996. In this role, Annan has been accused of a failure to prevent and react appropriately to the 1994 Rwandan genocide which resulted in the death of an estimated 800,000 people. Annan has since admitted that he “could have and should have done more to sound the alarm and rally support.”
According to his own Facebook page, “Kofi Annan seeks to provide inspirational and catalytic leadership on critical global issues, particularly preserving and building peace and facilitating more equitable sharing of the benefits of globalisation, by promoting poverty alleviation, good governance, human rights and the rule of law.”