Pressure for good governance in Africa is now coming from both the people and the leaders of different African countries, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said last night to an overflow crowd at the Kennedy School of Government’s ARCO forum.
Focusing on the plight of people in Africa, the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner cited statistics to portray the severity of Africa’s troubles—he said that while half of all Africans have never made or received a telephone call, less than one percent of Africans have ever logged onto the Internet.
Annan went on to propose solutions to Africa’s problems. He said that for democracy to succeed in Africa, elections needed to be “genuinely free”—with an independent judiciary, a free press, viable political parties and freedom of speech without fear of retribution.
“Africa’s future will be determined by Africans enabled and empowered to build a future of democracy and prosperity based on the rule of law and good governance,” Annan said. “Africa will need to summon all the wisdom, political will and creativity it can muster.”
Recognizing Harvard’s role in deepening appreciation of Africa’s history and understanding of its future prospects, Annan asked for the support of developed nations in aiding Africa.
Despite the weighty nature of the subject matter, Annan and University President Lawrence H. Summers—who called the U.N. “the last hope for mankind” in his introduction of Annan—kept their senses of humor.
In acknowledging the role of Kennedy School Professor John G. Ruggie, who was assistant Secretary-General of the U.N. under Annan, in bringing Annan to speak at Harvard, Summers took a playful jab at Annan.
“I am a lot happier with Professor Ruggie for bringing you here, than I am with you, for bringing Jeff Sachs to the U.N.,” Summers said to Annan.
Stone Professor of International Trade Jeffrey D. Sachs ’76 will leave Harvard this summer to accept a teaching appointment at Columbia University, a position which he has said will allow him to better coordinate his activities as special advisor to the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals.
Annan, too, did not lose his humor.
When asked by a graduate student of Ghanaian origin about his future plans for Ghana—Annan’s home country—after completing his U.N. term, Annan didn’t skip a beat: “I want to go back and be a farmer,” he quipped.
While Annan concentrated on issues of globalization and governance in Africa, many audience members were anxious to ask the U.N. Secretary General about his stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Hours before Annan’s speech began, dozens of student members of Jews for Conservative Politics and the Institute of Politics protested what they called the U.N.’s “anti-Israel” bias, holding placards that read, “Kofi: Stop forcing national suicide on Israel” and “If Zionism equals racism, what’s the equivalent of terrorism?”
When answering questions after his speech, Annan said the U.N. recognizes the aspirations of the people of Israel and Palestine to have two separate states, while cautioning against the use of “excessive violence.”
“The use of force will not solve any problem. The U.N. always condemns suicide bombings and any attack of terror,” Annan said. “Israel has a right to defend itself but should never use more force than what is needed to defend itself.”
—Staff writer Ravi P. Agrawal can be reached at email@example.com.