NEWSMAKER: KOFI ANNAN
DECEMBER 16, 1996
"The most impossible job in the world," is how the U.N. secretary-general elect describes his future job. After months of rancorous debate among the Security Council members, the U.N. General Assembly has agreed upon Ghana's Kofi Annan as the replacement for out-going Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. After a background report on Annan's record in the U.N., he talks to Charlayne Hunter-Gault about his plans for repositioning the U.N. for the 21st century.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Annan is due to take over as secretary-general on January 1st. His election by the Security Council Friday night awaits confirmation by the General Assembly, probably tomorrow. Mr. Annan, thank you for joining us.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
Online NewsHour links
The NewsHour looks at Kofi Annan's long and successful record in the U.N.
December 3, 1996
The fight over replacing U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
August 1, 1996
Kofi Annan, then Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations at the United Nations, talks about the options for international intervention in Burundi.
June 20, 1996
The Clinton Administration says the U.S. will probably publicly oppose a second term for Boutros-Ghali.
May 20, 1996
Sadako Ogata, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, comes to the NewsHour and discusses U.N. operations in Bosnia.
KOFI ANNAN, U.N. Secretary-General Designate: Thank you very much, Charlayne.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Why did you want this job?
KOFI ANNAN: That is a good question. Someone had to do it, and it turns out to be my lot. And a friend of mine described it as a job from hell.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And how do you describe it?
KOFI ANNAN: I think it's a most impossible job in the world, but, as I said, someone had to do it.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How do you see the job exactly, especially since you're going to be the secretary-general, to take the agency into the 21st century?
KOFI ANNAN: I think, obviously, the Secretary-General does have an administrative responsibility. He also does have a political, diplomatic, and moral role as he leads this organization. Let me say that the reform is important, as we have all discussed, but before we move forward seriously with reform, we and the member states of this organization have to decide what sort of United Nations we want, as we move into the 21st century--simply put, what should be the business of the United Nations in a tight financial situation.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And at this point, you don't know? I mean, there's no idea. Is it going to be peacekeeping, peacekeeping plus peacemaking ?I mean, have you begun to formulate some kind of vision of what kind of organization it should be?
KOFI ANNAN: Yes, I have, but I need to discuss them with the member states, and definitely peacekeeping will be one of them. The establishment of norms and international law will be another. We need to do a lot of work in sustainable development and the environment. And we need to work on intolerance. And there are lots of areas that the U.N. has been involved in, but we need to establish some priorities and reorient the organization toward those objectives.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You mentioned reform a moment ago and how it's on the lips of everybody. Would being, in effect, a creature of the system, as I've seen you describe, help you, or hurt you in approaching reform of the system?
KOFI ANNAN: I think it will help me. And I would also want to say here that those who know me will tell you that I'm one of those who has never accepted the status quo if the status quo needs to be changed. And in each department that I have worked in, I have tried in my own way to bring about some changes. I, quite frankly, do not know why there is a feeling that an outsider who doesn't know anything about the organization is somehow better suited to reform the organization than someone who knows it. But that is a question of judgment.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, in effect, lost his job because the United States was unhappy with what they call the slow pace of reform that he was working on. How hard do you think it's going to be to speed up the pace? I mean, what makes this so difficult to do?
KOFI ANNAN: Let me say right here that Dr. Boutros-Ghali has made a major contribution. He's a very competent and able intellectual. He has energy. He has provided a certain mission and in the area of reform has done quite a lot for the organization. But we have to accept that reform is not an issue for the secretary-general alone. The member states have to be prepared for reform. They have to think through some of the questions I've raised earlier as to what sort of United Nations we all want and need, and what we should be doing. And I think if the secretary-general and the member states work together, a reform and change is possible, and that the member states must see change as an opportunity, not as an enemy.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Do you think it's going to be possible to accelerate the pace to the extent that the United States seems to want it accelerated, or is that too difficult to answer at this point, or is the United States asking for something that's just impossible, given the--as you say, the job from hell, the place as it exists?
KOFI ANNAN: I think we need to remember here that there are 185 member states, and besides you, there are 184 others who also have their own views as to what should be happening here. One of my first tasks will be to harmonize the points of view of the U.S. and others. And I think there's quite a large area of agreement. And it ought to be possible to work with the U.S. and the other member states to agree on a common objective and press ahead. But I have to caution here that any precipitous attempts to move the organization in one direction or the other before there's a broad consensus on the part of the member states could be counterproductive.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But you emerged out of a pretty bruising battle with the United States leading the charge against Boutros-Ghali and the United States supporting your candidacy. Is that going to make it difficult for you to achieve the balance you just described, being perceived as Washington's man?
KOFI ANNAN: No, I don't think so for the simple reason that the other member states know that I work equally well with them. I work well with the French, with the Russians, with the British, and with the Chinese, and with all the members of the Council. That's where--the 185 or 170 other member states. So I think the essence is not just to get on with the U.S. but with all the others, and they know my track record and my ability to work with them.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: When the United States supported you for the job, did you discuss with them the $1.4 billion in back dues the United States owes, and did they make any promises about paying those dues?
KOFI ANNAN: There were no specific discussions, nor specific promises. But I hope that I'll be able to work with the administration and through them the Congress to get the U.S. to pay its arrears and to pay its dues, because without a stable financial base, it is extremely difficult to carry on reform.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How hard are you going to work at that? I mean, will you come, for example, to Washington and speak with members of Congress, many of whom feel that the United Nations has outlived its usefulness since the Cold War ended? Are you coming down here?
KOFI ANNAN: I will not hesitate to do that if that is necessary.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Do you think it will be necessary?
KOFI ANNAN: I think it will be necessary, and I am prepared to do so.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You were the first secretary-general-designate to come from black Africa, most whose countries were still colonies when the United Nations was created. Do you have a special sense of history about this? Is there a history lesson here?
KOFI ANNAN: Yeah, I think there is, and I also believe that this is an honor not just for me of my own country, Ghana, but for Africa as a whole, and it is amazing how the other candidates, Amara, the foreign minister of Ivory Coast, Dr. Hamid Algabid of Niger, and Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, have been very enthusiastic and have welcomed me warmly, and, in fact, two of them are going to be here tomorrow for the swearing in. And they are very, very happy for Africa, and they congratulate me as Africans, not as Anglophones or Francophones. And this is a point that I think is important for all those who see Africa only in terms of Francophones and Anglophones.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Is there going to be a special line you're going to have to walk? I mean, has the U.N. changed much from the days when the countries of the developing world, Africa, other third world countries, just routinely squared off against the industrialized countries, the United States and others, over issues? I mean, is that still something you're going to have to balance as you approach the job in the coming years?
KOFI ANNAN: I think I have to balance interests of nations and regions as we move ahead and, in fact, make sure that they are all effectively consulted as we tackle the issues ahead of us, but I would hope that this would not mean interminable consultation and no action.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How do you see yourself performing in this job? I mean, how do you see yourself different from Boutros-Ghali, and how will your approach be? What stamp do you want to see yourself leaving on the organization?
KOFI ANNAN: First of all, let me say that I am a man of results, and I also work well with teams and build teams. My first task will be to put together an effective team that will help me carry on my responsibilities.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: A team from within the--
KOFI ANNAN: A team from within the security--but I would also reach out to eminent people and experts outside the organization to seek their views. We don't play monopoly of all ideas in this building.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Eminent people like--you may not want to name names, but what kinds of people?
KOFI ANNAN: Eminent people like Brian Eckert. It could be people outside the United States. I would want to reach out to-- former President Gerari, amongst others, to discuss issues with them.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All of whom--all the people--we can't go person by person but they were all statesmen and people who were intimately involved in the U.N. or in their own country.
KOFI ANNAN: Exactly. And have lots of experience and ideas to offer, and I will listen to their views, but, of course, at the end of the day, the decisions will have to be mine. And I have to take responsibility.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You've been at the U.N. a long time, as we said earlier, 30 some years, and had an opportunity to look at the stamp that many secretary-generals have placed on the organization. During that period of time and now, have you thought about the stamp that you, Kofi Annan, would like to put on the organization and have attached to your name?
KOFI ANNAN: Not in specific terms, but what I can say is that I'm going to be the last secretary-general of this century, and I, therefore, have a special responsibility to work with the member states and all the peoples of the world to reposition the U.N. for the 21st century and make sure that it is as relevant as the founders wanted it to be in 1945, as we move into the 21st century.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And how optimistic are you that you can do this?
KOFI ANNAN: I think it can be done as long as I'm able to obtain the cooperation and the support of the member states. If the unanimous recommendation of my candidacy by the council is any indication, I hope it is possible, and I intend to harness that harmony into a constructive idealogue with the member states at large.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Well, Kofi Annan, thank you very much, and our congratulations.
KOFI ANNAN: Thank you very much, Charlayne.