Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Words of Wisdom from Kofi Annan

What I've Learned

By Kofi A. Annan
Monday, December 11, 2006

Nearly 50 years ago, when I arrived in Minnesota as a student fresh from Africa, I had much to learn -- starting with the fact that there is nothing wimpish about wearing earmuffs when it is 15 degrees below zero. All my life since has been a learning experience. Now I want to pass on five lessons I have learned during 10 years as secretary general of the United Nations that I believe the community of nations needs to learn as it confronts the challenges of the 21st century.

First, in today's world we are all responsible for each other's security. Against such threats as nuclear proliferation, climate change, global pandemics or terrorists operating from safe havens in failed states, no nation can make itself secure by seeking supremacy over all others. Only by working to make each other secure can we hope to achieve lasting security for ourselves. This responsibility includes our shared responsibility to protect people from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. That was accepted by all nations at last year's U.N. summit. But when we look at the murder, rape and starvation still being inflicted on the people of Darfur, we realize that such doctrines remain pure rhetoric unless those with the power to intervene effectively -- by exerting political, economic or, in the last resort, military muscle -- are prepared to take the lead. It also includes a responsibility to future generations to preserve resources that belong to them as well as to us. Every day that we do nothing, or too little, to prevent climate change imposes higher costs on our children.

Second, we are also responsible for each other's welfare. Without a measure of solidarity, no society can be truly stable. It is not realistic to think that some people can go on deriving great benefits from globalization while billions of others are left in, or thrown into, abject poverty. We have to give all our fellow human beings at least a chance to share in our prosperity.

Third, both security and prosperity depend on respect for human rights and the rule of law. Throughout history human life has been enriched by diversity, and different communities have learned from each other. But if our communities are to live in peace we must stress also what unites us: our common humanity and the need for our human dignity and rights to be protected by law.

That is vital for development, too. Both foreigners and a country's own citizens are more likely to invest when their basic rights are protected and they know they will be fairly treated under the law. Policies that genuinely favor development are more likely to be adopted if the people most in need of development can make their voice heard. States need to play by the rules toward each other, as well. No community suffers from too much rule of law; many suffer from too little -- and the international community is among them.

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Brother Spotless said...

How powerful of a statement is the fact that an African, most specifically a black African, was the Leader of the United Nations? A continent disrespected for centuries bore an individual who led the World. Much respect to a man who had to fight stereotypes while being a diplomatic polititian far exceeding our simple Democrat and Republican ideologies.

Brother Smartness said...

My sentiments exactly. I can't tell you how much of an inspiration it is to see a black African running the United Nations. For all the criticism he gets, the man has the type of poise and presence that is admirable in any leader. Unfortunately, the UN is an organization that is often inundated by it's ties to superpower nations. I admire his leadership with this burden in mind.