Kofi Annan as I knew him.

Author:Assfaw, Berihun
Position:Reflections - Essay

Berihun Assfaw, who was a contemporary of the late Kofi Annan, takes a trip down memory lane back to the early days, when they were both young men making their way in the world. In his reflections, Assfaw recalls the major political issues of the time, including the coup that deposed Kwame Nkrumah.

I first met Kofi Annan in 1965, when he was a junior officer at the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland. I was a young Secretary at the Ethiopian Permanent Mission to the UN in the same city.

We met during one of the WHOs receptions through our mutual African-American friends, Noel and Juanita Torres, who were living in the same building as me at Peter Saxony.

Noel had been an employee of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and his wife was working for one of the private companies in Geneva. The elderly Noel, who was like a father to us, had been a cook for American Forces during the Second World War in Europe, and after the War he graduated from France's famous Sorbonne University. In 1965 he was already retired from the ILO.

At Kofi's wedding partv in 1965, I was one of about 25 guests. The future UN Secretary General married his first wife Titi Alakija, a young Nigerian lady who is the mother of his two children, in his small apartment somewhere near the University of Geneva. She was from a wealthy Nigerian family. They were divorced in 1983 in New York, and she is now living as a business woman in her country.

His wedding party was like a political meeting, with more arguments than music and dance. The arguments between the English, Americans and us African guests, centred around the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by Ian Smith's Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, in 1965.

While we Africans argued that the Harold Wilson government in Britain should send the army in and arrest those responsible for the illegal declaration of independence by Rhodesia, the British and their American cousins were against it.

It was a hot argument followed by glasses of whiskies and gins. I remember I had given Kofi one dozen bottles of whisky and one dozen of gin for his wedding. At that time the Permanent Missions and Embassy staff were able to purchase duty-free drinks of different kinds so cheaply they were almost free. I recall seeing Kofi driving his small grey Mercedes sports car through the apartment building's underground parking garage when he took possession of The drinks.

When we met in 1965, there was a small difference in status between myself, who was in small way representing a country, and Kofi Annan, who was simply an employee of an international organisation.

I was attending the 18 Nations Disarmament Conference with Ambassador Amha Aberra (a graduate of Oxford University) and Ato Afework Zelleke, the first Secretary of the Ethiopian Mission.

I also attended, sometimes alone, and sometimes with delegates from Ethiopia, the Narcotic, Labour...

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