A genocide begins with the killing of one man -- not for what he has done, but because of who he is. A campaign of 'ethnic cleansing' begins with one neighbour turning on another. Poverty begins when even one child is denied his or her fundamental right to education.

On the 10th of December, 2001, Kofi Annan and the United Nations received the Nobel Peace Prize. Like all winners of the prize, he held a Nobel lecture in the town hall of Oslo upon receiving it.

This is a brand of speech different from most others. It is not a string of beads filled with promises meant to be broken; it is not brutal rhetoric to prove that you are right and everyone else is wrong. The Nobel Lecture is a speech that might reach a lot of people all over the world. It can be used as a vehicle for causes that get neglected in these other, much more prevalent brands of speech.

Kofi Annan did this. It was the first Nobel Lecture I heard, and perhaps this is why it moved me so much. In a gleaming contrast to the angry, vengeful words from the world's mightiest, he spoke about those least fortunate among us who never get a chance to speak. He brought to life the vision of a girl child born in Afghanistan, a boy child born in Sierra Leone, innocent children who might not grow up to become anything more than that.

[T]o be born a girl in today's Afghanistan is to begin life centuries away from the prosperity that one small part of humanity has achieved. [...] No one today is unaware of this divide between the world's rich and poor. No one today can claim ignorance of the cost that this divide imposes on the poor and dispossessed who are no less deserving of human dignity, fundamental freedoms, security, food and education than any of us.

The general secretary painted with his words how today the world is one, how a crisis or discontent in one place spills over into another, much like the butterfly effect. As a most efficient leader of a world organisation often accused of inefficiency, he pointed to UN's efforts in the past and hopefully in the future to resolve the conflicts through world solidarity.

A forum was created - the United Nations -- where all nations could join forces to affirm the dignity and worth of every person, and to secure peace and development for all peoples. Here States could unite to strengthen the rule of law, recognize and address the needs of the poor, restrain man's brutality and greed, conserve the resources and beauty of nature, sustain the equal rights of men and women, and provide for the safety of future generations.

With his slightly African-accented voice that is both strong and soft at the same time, Kofi Annan actually made me believe in his hope for a better future. Of course the words of one man won't be able to end war, poverty and intolerance in one go. However, one man's hope that the world can become better should give food for hope.

The prize was not given to Kofi Annan alone. In his speech, he also remembered those members of the United Nations who had given their lives for peace; from the first general secretary, Dag Hammarskjöld, to the organisation's field workers.


I originally posted the full speech on this site. I later learned that this was wrong and horrible since The Nobel Foundation only allows electronic publication on their website. You can read it there, at http://www.nobel.se/peace/laureates/2001/annan-lecture.html

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