Press Releases

    7 May 2002

    Secretary-General, in Remarks at "Profile in Courage" Award Dinner, Says "Challenges of the Kennedy-Era Remain Very Much with Us"

    NEW YORK, 6 May (UN Headquarters) -- Following are Secretary-General Kofi Annan's remarks at the dinner held for the "Profile in Courage" award in Boston on 5 May:

    Let me first say that Nane and I are extremely happy to be here this evening and to see how warmly we have all been received -- not just me, but all the other winners and I am really very happy to be one of them tonight.

    I think it was a wonderful surprise for me that one of my staff came to tell me that I was among the winners of this year's Profile in Courage Award and I think I spoke briefly to Caroline in New York about it. It is an honour indeed to know that this recognition is given in the name of John F. Kennedy.

    In 1960, when he was elected President, I was here in the United States as an undergraduate student at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I heard the stirring summons to service in his inaugural address. Like so many other people around the country, I was excited by his own enthusiasm for change.

    What is even more remarkable is that as a young African student travelling around the States that summer -- we called ourselves Ambassadors of Friendship -- we travelled from coast to coast and I was in the Coliseum in Los Angeles when he got the nomination. You did not know this, did you? I was there when he got the nomination. It was my introduction to American democracy. To see how the convention worked, the whole process was fascinating for somebody who came from Africa and I have never forgotten that. I think it was really my first encounter with the American political system, American democracy. To see how it worked at that young age was very moving for me.

    I should also say it that as an African, I also had reason to cheer his election, since even as a Senator he had spoken out very strongly for self-determination of African States and colonized people everywhere. I am sure you have heard that Kennedy's pictures decorated the walls of living rooms in many African countries and definitely that was the case in Ghana, even though Ghana got its independence in 1957. We Africans will never forget that extraordinary year of 1960, when so many countries were liberated from colonialism, and when Kennedy himself was elected president and inspired so many of us to pursue our own new frontiers.

    Because his life was cut so short tragically, it sometimes seems as if the issues that dominated his presidency are those of another day, and as if his concerns, like his youthful image, are frozen in time. In fact, the challenges of the Kennedy era remain very much with us today.

    Those of us who are old enough to remember that tragic day when he died -- I am sure we can all remember where we were and what we were doing when we got the news. I was a young man working in Geneva. That evening -- because of the time difference and that was evening for us -- we had gathered together for a party, somebody came in and gave us the news and that was the end of the

    party. If I went around the room and asked people of my age where they were and what they were doing [when Kennedy died], I am sure everyone would remember.

    But, as I have said, the Kennedy era issues remain very much with us. The East-West rivalry may have ended. But, today we see another perilous divide between rich and poor. Senator Kennedy talked about some of them, about AIDS, the struggle against AIDS. The damage it is doing around the world, with 40 million people affected, 13 million children orphaned, and 5 million people affected every year. We have the means; we have the resources to deal with the disease, what we need is the will. I am very pleased that Senator Kennedy and some other Senators on the Hill are pushing and helping to get money to tackle this disease.

    We also talk about poverty. It was the year 2000 we had the Millennium Summit. The leaders from all over the world, 150 heads of State, governments and princes and all leaders came together at the UN Millennium Summit to demand that we declare war on poverty for the first 15 years of this century. That we fight poverty, that we insisted on education for every child, particularly girls, that we protect this planet so that it will be fit for our children and their children. And that often reminds me of an African proverb: the earth is not ours, it is a treasure we hold for our children. People of my generation and those of us in leadership have got to be aware of that trust. These were some of the issues that President Kennedy was dealing with and they are remaining with us.

    The United States-Russian nuclear threat may have ebbed -- another issue of his time -- but today there remains an acute need to erect better safeguards against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

    The challenge of development, as I said earlier -- which brought forth one of President Kennedy's most inspired creations, the Peace Corps -- is another realm of unfinished business, it is still very much with us. That is why we have to work in partnership: governments, private sectors, non-governmental organizations, foundations, universities, and individuals, to bring in the marginalized, to ensure the poor to have a decent living, to have clean water, they have enough food. This is the challenge the leaders gave themselves when they met in New York in September 2000.

    And I also want to talk about President Kennedy' s commitment to science and the exploration of outer space. That also has its modern counterparts. In his day, the challenge was to establish a hotline between Washington and Moscow. Today our challenge is to connect the entire world, so that all can benefit from the digital revolution. So that we can bring in the marginalized and use information technology for development.

    I am glad to say that he was also a good friend of the United Nations as we heard from Senator Kennedy. As a young man, he attended the San Francisco Conference at which the Organization was founded. And as President, just two months before his death, he spoke eloquently to the General Assembly about the imperative of peaceful cooperation.

    In that speech, and you heard his brother quote it tonight, he said, "The problems of human destiny are not beyond the reach of human beings". That belief is what motivates legions of United Nations staff throughout the world -- in clinics and in classrooms, on ceasefire lines and in conference halls, all over the world. I thank you for having the courage to support that work, and for the recognition to be bestowed tomorrow.

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