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No Peace for Kofi

This winter, Annan and Nane stopped hosting what were once regular parties at their home, and have turned down virtually all the invitations they receive. “I’m not in the mood for socializing,” he says.

Tell Annan that friends and colleagues worry that he seems depressed, and he doesn’t deny it. “There hasn’t been too much to laugh about,” he says. “There have been those difficult periods when you wonder, What’s it all about and where are we going? I’ve been under pressure for, how many years now? Almost fifteen years, going back to my background in the Department of Peacekeeping. I can handle the pressure, but certain things touch you.”

Kofi Annan married Titi Alakija, a Nigerian woman from a well-to-do family, in 1965. A few years later they had a daughter, Ama, now 35, followed by a son, Kojo, now 31.

A friend recalls that there was “trouble” relatively early in the marriage, remembering a vacation when the couple opted for separate quarters. Still, Kofi and Titi stayed together for many years, through a number of Annan’s career moves—to a U.N. job in New York, a posting in Ethiopia, a year at MIT for a master’s degree in management, a career detour back to his native Ghana where he managed the state tourism agency, and a return to the U.N. in Geneva, to work at the High Commission on Refugees.

The couple separated in the late seventies, but Annan remained an involved parent. “Kojo lived with his father for a while; Kofi did everything for him,” says Julia Preiswerk, a Geneva psychoanalyst who has known Annan for four decades and remains a close friend. Shashi Tharoor, now the U.N. undersecretary-general for communications, who worked with Annan in Geneva, says, “He had this rule that he’d leave work to pick up the kids at school and bring them home and then come back to the office.” Annan was proud that his young son saw him as a nurturing figure. Tharoor adds, “One story he told was how Kojo said, ‘Dad, I want you to come to this event at school,’ and Kofi said, ‘I can’t, I have an official commitment.’ And Kojo said, ‘But all the other mothers will be there.’”

Annan had been living apart from his wife for several years when in 1981 he fell in love with Nane Lagergren, a beautiful and accomplished lawyer working at the U.N., who was divorced with a young daughter, Nina, from her first marriage. But the couple never entirely blended their families. Around the time Annan learned he was being transferred by the U.N. to New York, the first Mrs. Annan moved from Geneva to London, and the Annan children were sent to boarding school in England. Ama was 12 and Kojo was 9. (Annan married Nane in 1984.)

It’s been an open secret at the U.N. that Annan has been melancholy and unable to hide his distress.

Annan clearly wonders now about the impact of that early separation on his son, but it didn’t seem unduly wrenching at the time. “I got used to taking decisions for myself very early, from when I went to boarding school,” Kofi said. “Kojo went to boarding school early. He came on holidays.”

The family relationships played out mostly over weekly phone calls and summer vacations. It was a jet-setting life—the children also spent time in Nigeria, their mother’s homeland. Still, Kojo seemed like a happy-go-lucky kid. He was outgoing and a star rugby player at his British boarding school; father and son would see rugby games together and watch them on TV. (Kojo did not respond to several requests for an interview, sent via his London lawyer, Clarissa Amato.) As a teenager, Kojo spent a summer living with his father and stepmother on Roosevelt Island, working as an intern for fund-raiser and family friend Toni Goodale. “We loved him around the office,” says Goodale. “He was a delight—terrific personality, outgoing, funny.”

After graduating from Keele University, Kojo wangled a job in September 1995 at Cotecna through a family friend and was stationed in Lagos, Nigeria, as a junior liaison officer. According to the Volcker report, the company hoped to exploit his family connections. Indeed, Kojo ultimately arranged for his father to meet Cotecna chairman Elie Massey. (The report found no evidence that Annan and Massey discussed the oil-for-food contract.) After two years with Cotecna, Kojo resigned as an employee, but signed on as a consultant.

From that point on, Kojo went all out in using the Annan name to make money, according to the Volcker report. He met with an Iraqi ambassador in Lagos to inquire about business opportunities, visited his father in New York during General Assembly meetings, and talked up the virtues of Cotecna to African diplomats.

If Kojo was rebelling against his father, or was angry over the divorce, it wasn’t apparent. “I’ve never seen any problems or tension between Kofi and Kojo,” says Goodale, who has been hosting a family Christmas dinner at her Upper East Side home with the secretary-general and his children for many years. “Kofi would glow when he talked about Kojo and Ama. Kojo made his father laugh.”

Annan, an indulgent father and by nature nonconfrontational, remains baffled about Kojo’s motives. “I’ve always lived quite a straight life,” he says. “I’m not one of those who is in a hurry to get rich. It’s not my way of life or desire.”

In the Annans’ official residence, the large red-brick mansion on Sutton Place, Nane Annan joins me in the second-floor library, a handsome wood-paneled room decorated with an Oriental rug, stacks of art books, and African masks and sculpture. Her blonde hair is pulled back in a bun, emphasizing the worry lines around her eyes, and she speaks in a lilting Scandinavian accent, her voice often drifting off mid-sentence.