Kofi Annan for Commencement

January 31, 2003

Prized speaker: UN secretary-general Annan

 

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan will deliver Duke's 2003 commencement address Sunday, May 11. Annan is well known for his crusading work against poverty and HIV/AIDS, for championing the protection of human rights and the environment, and for reforming the U.N. organization. In 2001, his efforts were recognized when he and the United Nations were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Annan chose Duke from among the many speaking invitations he receives in part because of the university's commitment to HIV/AIDS research.

Annan, now in his second term as leader of the U.N., is the first secretary-general to be elected from the ranks of the organization and the first from sub-Saharan Africa. He was born in Ghana in 1938 and was educated on three continents, first studying at the University of Science and Technology in his hometown of Kumasi and later completing his undergraduate work at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1961. He studied economics at the Institut universitaire de hautes Ètudes internationales in Geneva and received a master of science degree in management as a Sloan Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Annan joined the United Nations system in 1962 and has worked in the organization for four decades, including service with the World Health Organization, the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

He came to international prominence in 1990 after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, when he negotiated the repatriation from Iraq of more than 900 international workers. During the 1990s, Annan oversaw tremendous growth in the U.N.'s peacekeeping operations and was instrumental in dealing with major world crises. He oversaw the transition in Bosnia and Herzegovina following the Dayton Peace Agreement; attempted to gain Iraqi compliance with U.N. resolutions in 1998; and, since 2000, has intensified his efforts to encourage a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

During his tenure, he has affirmed the international community's commitment to Africa, and has had a longstanding interest in education, particularly the education of women and girls in developing nations. In his Millennium Report, issued in April 2000, Annan urged the member states to work to end poverty and inequality, improve education, reduce HIV/AIDS, protect the environment, and protect people from violence and conflict. In 2001, he identified the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a worldwide crisis and issued a five-point "Call to Action" that proposed establishing a global fund to help developing nations fight the epidemic.