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Kofi Annan Interview & Robert Muller's "My Dream 3000"


Introduction: In an exclusive interview for CHOICES, the Secretary-General of the United Nations Mr. Kofi Annan, reflects on the role of the UN in the new millennium, the organization’s achievements over the last 50 years, and the contributions made by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Editor in Chief of CHOICES, Djibril Diallo, conducted the interview.

* Kofi Annan, U.N. Secretary-General

Mr. Secretary General, the first question I have for you is related to a theme you have talked about a lot, which is that there can be no peace without development. What in your view are the crucial factors that can ensure both peace and development?

In the world we live in, most of the countries now in conflict also turn out to be poor. They lack good governance; they do not provide the basic amenities for their people. And here I'm referring to education, good health, and clean water. Having these basic necessities, the right regulatory system—and a government that believes in establishing “an enabling environment”—frees and releases the energies of the people to participate in economic and social activity, and prepare for their future. They will be too busy in these constructive areas to get engaged in the sort of wars or conflicts that we've seen destroying so many of these countries. So I would, in this case, encourage governments to establish the right regulatory systems and to offer education and health services, etc. Of course, the international community still has a responsibility to assist them by providing development assistance and advisory services. More and more humanitarian needs are taking precedence over development needs. For example, developing countries fear that the money raised to rebuild Kosovo will reduce the funding that would have gone to their development projects. What is your opinion on this? A humanitarian operation is, by its nature, an emergency operation, where one is forced to move in to save people; the question of alleviating poverty, working with poor countries, and trying to improve their situation is an ongoing process that must continue. To take money away from development for emergency relief in one part of the world and thus ignore the essential task of development in others would be short-sighted and unfortunate. In my discussions, including during the General Assembly, all the leaders and the donor countries I spoke to assured me that they are not going to do that because they understand the essential task that we are engaged in is to alleviate poverty and foster development. They also realize that it is a sustained effort. If you do not make the necessary investment either in the form of Official Development Assistance (ODA), or grants, or debt-relief or encouraging private investment, you are not going to make the progress you want; in fact, countries may regress. So I hope that donors keep the promises they have made, that they will not reduce assistance to regions like Africa and South Asia.

Looking back over the last 50 years, what do you think have been the most significant achievements of the United Nations?

The UN was born out of conflict and war. And so, at the time of its creation, its founders were very conscious of the need to avoid wars and to protect the individual. This also explains why I've tried to reach out to the public to explain that the ideals and principles of this organization are to protect and defend what belongs to the people. The UN Charter starts with, “We the peoples.” I will always place the individual at the centre of everything we are trying to do. I think one of the UN’s major achievements is in the area of human rights— giving back dignity and respect to the individual. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we had that yardstick, if we had that convention before World War II. It may not have saved everybody, but at least people would have had a basis to say—“Wait a minute. This is not right. You're abusing the rights of these individuals.” It probably would have made a difference. I think protection of human rights is one of our achievements. Another one involves de-colonization. When you look at the number of nations and people that the UN has brought into freedom and given the chance to live their own lives and their own destiny, it's a major achievement. In addition, there is progress in the area of development. When one looks at the results of all the global conferences we have had, it is clear that we have really put the development agenda on the table. We've provided an agenda for the world that, if pursued, would help us improve the lot of the poor. Some countries, like China, analyze the results of each global conference and try to plug the results into their planning, at the federal level, the district level, all the way down to the local level. There are also achievements with respect to the environment. Before the UN-sponsored Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, although people talked about environment, it was not generally given the attention it receives today. The term "sustainable development" is something that the UN put on the table, and the work the organization has done in productive health services and in population control is showing remarkable results. So we have a lot to be proud about, a lot that we have achieved. It's a remarkable record for an organization that has existed for just about 50 years. Obviously we should not rest on our laurels. The challenges are still enormous, and we should continue our efforts.

How critical is UNDP's role in the initiative to eradicate extreme poverty?

UNDP, in a way, is the outreach of the United Nations system. UNDP is on the ground in almost every developing country, working with governments, individuals, and the public. For most people, UN workers in the field, whether they are with UNDP, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) or the UN High Commissioner for Refugees are the human face of the UN. What we do in the field is the UN. UNDP's efforts to develop local capacity, by working with civil society, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector, are absolutely essential. I think it has been proven, through UNDP’s work and studies, that the poor, given a chance, given the right advice, a bit of money, and management training, can do a lot for themselves. We should be able to help the poor stand on their own—teach them to fish rather than give them fish. In addition, there are other areas in which UNDP’s work is absolutely crucial, as, for example, in promoting the education of girls and in working with governments to bridge the technology gap. It is important to help governments to bypass historic patterns and, thus, leapfrog over some of their weaknesses and forge ahead.

In which areas do you think the United Nations needs to be strengthened and what would this involve?

When we talk of strengthening the UN, we should be looking at the UN in the broadest sense. From the beginning I have said that alone I could do nothing. The UN needs to work in partnership with civil society, with governments, with the private sector and foundations to have an impact on the crises with which it deals. And so I think we should strengthen our capacity to work in partnership with all these constituencies and stakeholders. I also believe that we should strengthen our own systems, our own institutions, which we are trying to do through the reorganization we have been engaged in over the past several years. We need to become an organization that is cohesive internally, between UNDP, the UN Secretariat, UNICEF, and even to some extent the larger UN system, and that not only has a coherent policy but reacts more responsibly and cohesively to the challenges that it faces. We should also develop our advocacy capacity to reach and engage governments and people with a capacity to give—and to give liberally, when it comes to our fights against poverty, for education, for health, and for all the basic issues with which we deal. I believe we should also be able to advocate and push donor countries to do much more on the development assistance issue. Today, we are talking about debt relief. But debt relief alone will not suffice. If we can get donors to increase ODA, and at the same time, increase our own capacity to assist developing country governments in building basic institutions, then the foundations for future development will be laid. Those countries will be able to attract investors. And we have to understand that the conditions needed to attract foreign investors are the same ones that encourage domestic investors to risk their resources. This sounds like a tall order, but I think we can do it; and in some ways we already are moving in that direction. We should also take head-on the challenge of good governance. And when I talk about the challenge of good governance, I'm not just pointing to developing countries; it's a challenge for all of us. We are governing in an era that has changed. We are governing in an era of globalization, and we need to understand that what we do at the local level may have an impact on the international level—and that what happens at the international level has an impact on what we do locally. And, therefore, when we help governments to develop good governance and a society based on the rule of law, to promote accountability in public administration and to build the right regulatory systems, we are giving them the solid foundation needed to develop on a sustained basis. We've seen what has happened in the last couple of years. When faced with a sudden crisis, some countries that we thought were doing well more or less collapsed, because the basic institutions and foundations and regulatory systems were not there. So I hope that as we move forward and attempt to help governments, we will really focus on the issue of governance and of building a society based on the rule of law.

What do you feel are the most critical issues facing the new millennium? And what role do you see for the United Nations?

One of the major issues that we are going to be dealing with is human security. Human security, in its broadest sense, touches on the respect for the human rights of an individual and his or her personal dignity. Human rights in terms of development means ensuring that the average person— the individual the UN puts at the centre of everything that it does—has the basic necessities that he or she needs to survive. This includes health, education, and the possibility of living life to the fullest. Human security also touches on the question of peace, which is more than the absence of war, and on our ability to end conflicts because, in today's world, it's civilians who suffer from such conflicts. For a long time we've tended to focus on a state’s sovereignty and security. Now we are challenged because there is a growing concern that we should be focusing on the security of the individuals within the state, not on state security per se. How do we make that transformation? What will guide the UN in a world of ethnic wars and intra-state violence? Nothing in the UN Charter precludes a recognition that there are rights beyond borders. Indeed, its very letter and spirit affirm those fundamental human rights. In short, the problem is not the deficiencies of the Charter but our difficulties in applying its principles to a new era; an era when strictly traditional notions of sovereignty can no longer do justice to the aspirations of people everywhere to attain their fundamental freedoms. The sovereign states who drafted the Charter over half a century ago were dedicated to peace, but experienced in war. They knew the terror of conflict, but also that there are times when the use of force may be legitimate in the pursuit of peace. That is why the Charter’s own words declare that “armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest.” But what is that common interest? Who shall define it? Who will defend it? Under whose authority? And with what means of intervention? These are the monumental questions facing us as we enter the new century.

MY DREAM 3000 (Written for the last summer solstice of the second millennium, 21 June 1999)

I dream that we humans, the most advanced miracle of life in the universe will lift our sights, hopes and dreams to the year 3000 and make the third millennium a tremendous, unbelievable cosmic success.

I dream that all governments will join together to manage this beautiful Earth and its precious humanity in Peace, Justice and happiness,

That all religions will believe in a global spirituality,

That all people will become a caring family,

That all scientists will unite in a united, ethical science,

That all corporations will unite in a global cooperative to preserve nature and all humanity.

I believe that once and for ever, we will eliminate all wars, violence and armaments from this miraculous planet.

I dream that the incredible and growing distance between rich and poor, between and inside nations will be eliminated as a blemish to the miracle of life.

I dream that we will stop the destruction of our miraculous, so richly endowed planetary home.

Let us make this third millennium a Jubillennium, a millennium of peace, love, joy, happiness and beauty.

Let us prepare the year 3000 as the most extraordinary celebration of our grandiose, mysterious journey in the star studded heavens.

--Robert Muller, Former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, Chancellor Emeritus United Nations University for Peace

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