ACCRA, Ghana — If Kofi Annan’s compatriots have their way, his retirement from the United Nations will have less to do with golf and grandchildren and more to do with presidential politics.
Ghana’s most celebrated statesman sounded every bit like a candidate this week as he gave his first public address since stepping down as U.N. secretary-general last month.
Mr. Annan spoke of the promise of Africa, the spirit of change and prosperity enveloping the continent and the continued challenges that hamper its development.
“It is an exciting but challenging time to be African,” he said. “I am joining hands with my fellow citizens to help lift Ghana to the bright future that can and must be ours.”
The only thing he didn’t say would be the words many Ghanaians long to hear — that he will run in next year’s presidential elections.
Mr. Annan, who led the United Nations for a decade, has explicitly and repeatedly denied having any interest in turning to politics. He has said previously that he will split his time between his West African homeland and Sweden, the birthplace of his wife, Nane Maria.
With a hero’s welcome and a reception far warmer than any visiting head of state, Mr. Annan has been getting not-so-subtle pressure from all quarters of his birth country.
“Retirement is overrated,” joked Daniel Adzei-Bekoe, the chairman of the council of state, as he invited Mr. Annan to deliver a speech as part of Ghana’s Golden Jubilee, a yearlong celebration marking the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s independence from Britain.
An anonymous group has even started a Web site urging Mr. Annan to take up the leadership challenge. The online petition at www.draftkofiannan2008.com is meant to encourage Mr. Annan to put his U.N. experience endorsing peace, development and good governance to use as Ghana’s next head of state.
The field already is crowded with candidates, as President John A. Kufuor prepares to step down next year. Many political analysts predict winning would be a shoo-in for Mr. Annan, especially with the opposition party split in two.
Mr. Annan is the kind of candidate who would send even seasoned campaign managers into a swoon. As a Nobel Peace Prize winner and two-term U.N. secretary-general, he has unprecedented name recognition. And as Ghana’s most beloved son, he has enormous approval ratings.
Born as a twin in Kumasi in 1938 to a Fanti chief who became a regional politician and a mother who sold bread, Mr. Annan left Ghana in pursuit of his undergraduate degree, leaving the tropical climate of equatorial Africa for the challenging cold of a Minnesota winter.
More than 10 years ago, as Mr. Annan was working his way up the U.N. hierarchy, tribal elders approached him to take over as paramount chief, but he declined.
In a 2003 interview with the Smithsonian magazine, Mr. Annan was quoted as saying he might have stayed in Ghana if the country’s economy had been stronger when he was leaving college and might have considered entering politics in his later years.
In his speech Thursday night, Mr. Annan said he is cautiously optimistic about Africa’s future, noting that the number of conflicts has dropped and more countries are proving successful at paying off debt and managing inflation.