Kofi Annan’s first speech to the UN General Assembly

BY: Daily Graphic
Mr Kofi Annan
Mr Kofi Annan

Mr Annan made his first speech after his election as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, at the 51st Session, 88th plenary meeting of the General Assembly on December 17, 1996, at 3 p.m. in New York. His speech is reproduced below.

 “Mr President, respected Secretary-General — or rather, respected Secretaries-General, as I see my old boss, Secretary-General Pérez de Cuéllar is here today — welcome home, Sir — distinguished Ambassadors:

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Thank you all for your kind words. I am deeply moved by the good wishes of so accomplished a group of speakers.

Mr President, I have long admired the imagination and determination you have brought to the difficult challenges of multilateral diplomacy, and I should like to express my appreciation for the leadership you have demonstrated in taking the General Assembly through its demanding schedule to an efficient and productive conclusion.

The assembly has done me a great honour and at the same time bestowed on me as a great responsibility in electing me as the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations. As a son of Africa and a lifetime international civil servant, I pledge that I will do everything within my power to be worthy of members’ trust.


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I wish to pay tribute here to the vision, farsightedness and energy of Mr Boutros Boutros-Ghali, an exceptional statesman who was called upon to lead the United Nations during the turbulent period of transition from the cold war to the new era opening up before us. We are all aware of the importance of his contribution, the great value of which will go down in history.

 Crossroads

In a period of great change, the organisation is at a crossroads. For 45 years, the rivalry between the super powers pervaded its very existence and to a large extent determined its mission. The cold war having come to an end, member states, while redefining relations between themselves, must now agree on what the United Nations should become in order for them to continue to lend their support.

The time to choose is now, for this organisation, along with the rest of the world, must change. Let every member state welcome this change, not resist it. Let us make change our ally, not our enemy; seize it as an opportunity, not a threat; recognise it as a necessity, not an imposition. All of us in this hall together, with the participation of all nations, large and small, east and west, north and south, can make this organisation leaner, more efficient and more effective, more responsive to the wishes and needs of its members and more realistic in its goals and commitments. Then and only then will we be serving both this organisation’s high purpose and the planet’s best interests.

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There is no lack of blueprints for a new, post-cold-war United Nations. There is no lack of ideas or debate. What we need is consensus and commitment. Our task now is to find common ground to shape together the changes that will move this organisation forward.

All the problems, particularly the old ones — peace and security among nations and social justice for their peoples — still confront us. But the old approaches to these problems must be broadened. A new understanding of peace and security must emerge. The world is beginning to recognise the many roots of conflict, the economic base of stability and the grim truth that intolerance, injustice and oppression and their consequences respect no national frontiers.

Similarly, we now know more than ever that sustainable economic development is not merely a matter of projects and statistics. It is above all a matter of people, real people, with basic needs: food, clothing, shelter and medical care. Let us ensure that the resources and facilities of the United Nations system are effectively channelled towards those who need them most, those whom globalisation has left behind.

 UN’s voice

Let us ensure that the voice of the United Nations in economic matters is heard by those member states with the greatest capacity to give. These and other challenges are not the Secretary-General’s alone, not the Security Council’s alone, not the Economic and Social Council’s alone. The role of the General Assembly will become still more important as we seek to perfect the triangle of development, freedom and peace.

In this common effort, I shall neither overstep nor minimise my role as head of one of the six principal organs of this organisation. I intend to present my independent views to member states for their consideration. I intend to offer my services and good offices as mediator and intermediary wherever and whenever I feel it can be helpful.

I intend to lead an international civil service that will be honest, efficient, independent and proud of its honourable contribution to the improvement of life on this planet. Finally, I intend to stress not only our legal obligations, not only our fiscal limitations, not only our political and diplomatic considerations, but above all the moral dimension of our work in this organisation.

In that spirit, let us embark on a time of healing: a healing of fractures and frictions between member states and this organisation, which cannot function without their political and material support, and a healing of wounded morale and ideals within the secretariat, whose dedicated staff deserve our thanks and encouragement.

To the nations and peoples of the world whose representatives are gathered here today, I say simply this: The United Nations is your instrument for peace and justice.

Use it; respect it; defend it. It can be no wiser, no more competent and no more efficient than those member states that now comprise and guide it. But those of us who serve you here pledge our every effort and all our energy to the causes set forth in the charter. No nation needs to face or fight alone the threats which this organisation was established to defuse.

But we cannot succeed without your political, moral, financial and material support and participation. Applaud us when we prevail; correct us when we fail; but, above all, do not let this indispensable, irreplaceable institution wither, languish or perish as a result of member states’ indifference, inattention or financial starvation.

I accept the high post entrusted to me, humbled by the formidable challenges that lie ahead, but filled with confidence in the nobility of our goals, in the determination of our common spirit and in the success of our common effort. Alone, I can do nothing. Together, we can irreversibly advance the frontiers of peace, dignity and justice for all mankind.”