All leaders cany with them their formative influences, molded by family, culture, and the historical context of their time, but they also use those lessons to shape their own personal worldview. Kofi Annan is a perfect example of that merger. Building on his roots in Ghana and integrating them into his observations of the human condition, he gradually formulated his own perspective. He did not seek leadership to gain power, but saw an opportunity as UN Secretary-General to use this position of moral authority to promote a vision of the world that reflected his passion to have the UN serve "the Peoples." I had the opportunity to work with Kofi Annan to organize and publish his papers, (1) and was struck by qualities in his personality that seemed to shape the manner in which he made decisions. To broaden my understanding of the origins of his leadership, I went to Ghana to meet with his family members and learn about Ghanaian traditional culture.
Kofi's mother, Ruth, and father, Henry, both descendants of tribal chiefs, were Christian, yet they gave their children African names. In describing his father, Kofi stated, "To him, there was no contradiction in being African in identity and European in outlook." (2) And Kofi learned to balance these identities, as well.
Henry Annan was certainly a leader. As a top executive in the United African Company, he moved the family around Ghana as he became district manager in different parts of the country. Kofi explained, "It was very interesting for me to grow up dealing with and getting to know so many different groups in Ghana. It gave you a sense of being able to relate to everybody and different groups at a young age." (3) When the family moved to Accra, the household became a hub for political debate as "local notables were forever dropping into the Annan household to ask advice or, increasingly, to talk politics." (4) Kofi's father became a leading voice in one of the parties supporting independence, the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC).
Our house in these days became a gathering point for senior members of the UGCC--to the point where Nkrumah activists would hold rallies in the park across the street. As a young man, I was deeply influenced by discussions going on at home with my father and his friends. At the same time, I was emotionally drawn to the passion and urgency of Nkrumah's calls for "independence now." (5) While Kofi's father was not a tribal chief, per se, it appears as though he...