Mr Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian career diplomat, assumed duties as the Seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations on January 1, 1996.
After his appointment in November 1996, Mr Annan was in Ghana to spend the Christmas and thanked his compatriots for supporting him to occupy the highest office of the United Nations.
While in Accra, Mr Annan (KA) granted an interview to ALBERT SAM (AS), at the time, The Foreign Editor of Daily Graphic, on his vision, hopes and aspirations for humanity.
Below is the full text of the interview published in the Daily Graphic on Thursday January 2, 1997.
AS: Sir, congratulations on your appointment to the high office of UN Secretary-General.
Would you kindly comment on how you felt during the long process of voting when you continuously had a negative vote from a permanent member of the Security Council?
KA: I was relatively calm. Obviously, there was some uncertainty. I kept my cool but deep inside me I knew I would make it. Throughout the process, I took consolation in the fact that France which continuously vetoed me said nothing against my person. I have dealt with France at the highest level and it was simply wait and see.
AS: What was your reaction when you finally had the breakthrough?
KA: It was great, a tremendous sense of achievement and I regard it not only as historic but indeed unique and a humble achievement to serve the world, the task is challenging and highly formidable.
AS: How do you feel succeeding your boss, Boutros Boutros-Ghali with whom you have worked closely for five years and under the circumstances that the whole process of succession went?
KA: There is no animosity. I've met him since the General Assembly endorsement of the Security Council decision. Relationships are purely cordial and professional and I wish to place on record my appreciation for his good working relationship and co-operation. History will judge him and rightly too.
AS: How do you assess the UN in its present position and what is your dream for the organisation during the next five years?
KA: There is the need to streamline the structures of the UN given the realities of post-Cold War era. This can be grouped into two – organisational and political.
Under organisational reforms, I promise to work closely with member states to define priorities to reflect present realities of world issues.
As a post-World War II institution, we need to streamline the structures in close collaboration with all member-states of the UN to make the world body more responsive and relevant to the realities on the ground. On the political front, I will endeavour to work with governments of member states on preventing crisis worldwide, particularly Africa, to attain political stability, peace, law and order.
AS: You have promised to expand the number of permanent members of the Security Council. Will that be accompanied by a corresponding increase in the veto powers?
KA: This is an issue for member states. The general sense is that the council must be broadened. As pointed out earlier, the current structure resulted from events that immediately followed the end of World War II, most of which are not relevant in modern-day world issues.
AS: Is the veto concept still relevant to the UN and do you subscribe to it?
KA: It is not so much what I subscribe to but what the UN Charter says. The use of veto is not undemocratic. It is part of the UN Charter and until the member states review it, it is democratic.
AS: Skeptics say despite the existence of the UN over the past 50 years, the world is still beset with conflicts and wars and, therefore, the organisation is not worth it. Could you comment?
KA: The UN is absolutely essential and it would be foolhardy to suggest that the continuous resurgence of conflicts in certain areas is indicative of the fact that it has not achieved anything. The records are there to prove its relevance and the leading role it has played and continues to play in uniting the world to ensure lasting peace among nations.
AS: What do you see of the organisation in the next millennium?
KA: Highly difficult to predict. However, I have to say that I will work closely with member states to achieve the lofty ideals spelt out in the UN Charter. The task is daunting but not intimidating. It would mostly depend on how member states would go about the reforms. But personally, as a bureaucrat, I feel strongly that the UN is the world's surest bet for international co-operation, development and lasting peace.
AS: Is rotation of the Head of the UN on regional basis important for its growth?
KA: As a universal organisation, it is only fair that in search of leadership, regional balance is maintained to give equal opportunity to the regional groupings in the organisation.
AS: How do you intend to solve the UN cash problem in the face of increasing demands for money for peacekeeping operations?
KA: The biggest problem facing the organisation is funding. There is the need for member states to pay in full and on time their contributions to the UN. The signs are good and the coming years would see member states changing their attitude given the constraints that have been brought to bear on the organisation. I spoke to US President Bill Clinton shortly after my confirmation by the General Assembly as well as some influential members of the US Senate, notably Republican Senator Jesse Helms, on the huge US indebtedness to the UN and the response so far is positive and re-assuring. Just before I emplaned for Ghana, I received an invitation to meet the US Senate. Also, I plan to meet the US authorities mid-January to discuss the UN's financial crisis and US obligations.
AS: One major problem with your predecessor was that he was assertive and appeared independent. How can you steer the affairs of the UN without bowing to any interest groups?
KA: Throughout my career as a diplomat, one thing I hate is comparison. I have always guarded against that. I know my capabilities. I am independent and indeed a free man. But I cannot work in isolation. I will need the cooperation of all the 185- member states, including of course the five permanent members of the Security Council. Having worked with the UN for 30 solid years, I am more than prepared to stand up to the challenges which are not new. My greatest challenge is the fact that as the first person to emerge from the UN bureaucratic system, my aim is to prove that I am capable of administering the organisation to the best of my ability. Remember, I am not the type of person who SHOUTS TO ACHIEVE AN AIM.
AS: Now going back closer home, what do you think about the democratisation process in Africa?
KA: It is a step in the right direction. It is essential to listen to the people and their voices must be respected in the whole process of governance and what is happening in some parts of the continent needs to be sustained, improved and emulated by all. I am highly enthused and indeed encouraged by the positive development, especially in Ghana. The maturity displayed by the Ghanaian electorate is highly commendable which must be reciprocated.
AS: What message do you have for your compatriots?
KA: As a people and nation, we have a lot to do. Hard work is needed if we are to extricate ourselves from the continuous reliance on aid and grants from foreign countries and organisations. We should in the main rely on our own resources and abilities and if each of us were to make contributions, however small they are, we would collectively take a giant step towards economic emancipation.
AS: Now, Sir, permit me to sound personal. How do you see your appointment in the broader African perspective?
KA: It is indicative of the heights Africans can attain with diligence and hard work. I never dreamt of such heights. It's humbling and a challenge to people who exhibit hard work and tolerance in their chosen fields. I ·owe it first to God, my countrymen, Africa, the world, my family and above all, myself.
AS: What about your personal history as a Ghanaian, which does not reflect in your CV?
KA: I am essentially a son of Ghana of Fante origin from Cape Coast but born in Kumasi. But I followed my father wherever duty took him to in my formative years. I spent all my life country trotting with my father who was a manager and later a director of UAC, now Unilever, at such stations as Kumasi, Bekwai, Nkawkaw, Nsawam, Keta, Accra, and others. My father later became the Ashanti Regional Minister in the Second Republic.
AS: Sir, thanks for the opportunity given me to interact meaningfully with you. I wish you all the best in your most challenging task in life.
KA: It's been a pleasure talking to you, Mr Sam. It's part of me. I apologise most sincerely for the two occasions. that you came and I was engaged else where. God bless you!
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