Kofi Annan served two terms as secretary-general to the United Nations beginning in 1997. He was the first sub-Saharan African to lead the international body. In March he stepped out of retirement to take on what many called “mission impossible” — trying to resolve the conflict in Syria. But his six-point peace plan fell apart and he resigned as special envoy last month. In a new book, Kofi Annan reflects on his successes and failures during 40 years with the U.N. and argues for the U.N.’s continued relevance in the 21st century.


  • Kofi Annan Former secretary-general of the United Nations and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001.

Related Video

Kofi Annan, former United Nations secretary-general and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, talked about how his childhood and family background prepared him for a life of diplomacy. Annan said he realized political change was possible while growing up in Ghana during the country’s independence movement. He described his father as strict and stoic. “[He] stressed character,” Annan said about his father. “That character trumped everything. That you had to know what is right and what is wrong.”

Read An Excerpt

Excerpted from INTERVENTIONS by Kofi Annan with Nader Mousavizadeh. Reprinted by arrangement with The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) Kofi A. Annan, 2012.


  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In 2001, Kofi Annan was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the United Nations. He served the U.N. for 40 years holding a top post for a decade as secretary-general.

  • 11:07:12

    MS. DIANE REHMHe's grappled with some of the most difficult, global conflicts of the past half century. Most recently, he was special envoy to Syria. In his new memoir, Kofi Annan takes us into the backrooms of world diplomacy and urges that all governments be held accountable for their actions.

  • 11:07:34

    MS. DIANE REHMHis new book is titled "Interventions: A Life in War and Peace." Kofi Annan joins me in the studio. I know many of you will want to be part of the program. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, sir, what an honor to have you here.

  • 11:08:04

    MR. KOFI ANNANGood morning, happy to be here.

  • 11:08:05

    REHMThank you. You begin your book in a most intriguing way with an anecdote about a visit from then Secretary of State Colin Powell. Tell us about that visit.

  • 11:08:24

    ANNANYou know, as I describe in the book, the secretary of state and I met and this was over the period when the Iraq War had occupied all of us. And it was over the question of weapons of mass destruction.

  • 11:08:45

    ANNANWe couldn't find the weapons of mass destruction and the U.S. had made the case that there were weapons of mass destruction. And there appeared to have been a find by the U.S. officers searching for the weapons. So Secretary Powell was relieved that what the government claimed was indeed the correct position. That's why he said, they've made an honest man out of me, implying we had found the weapons.

  • 11:09:26

    REHMDid, in fact, what turned out to have been this image of what they were. Were those…

  • 11:09:38

    ANNANNo, those were not. They were not the weapons. The report came in that they had found something, but it turned out not to be the weapons.

  • 11:09:49

    REHMHow did you feel about his statement to you, Kofi? They've made an honest man of me. What was your own reaction?

  • 11:10:00

    ANNANNo. I think it is -- I knew it was a difficult period for him and for all of us and it also implied that he was worried that the claim for weapons of mass destruction that existed in Iraq had not been substantiated. And this was a question on everyone's mind.

  • 11:10:25

    REHMYet he did stand up and make that claim before the United Nations.

  • 11:10:34

    ANNANYes, but that was the position of the administration and he obviously was not in charge of the details or the search. And so once he had been told by the team or all concerned that there were weapons of mass destruction, the British government was also claiming that, that there were weapons of mass destruction, and on that basis, war was declared, only to find that there weren't.

  • 11:11:03

    REHMDid you personally believe that there were weapons of mass destruction?

  • 11:11:11

    ANNANI had my doubts because we had inspectors in there and the U.N. inspectors had been working in Iraq for a long time. The first Chief Inspector (word?) and his team had worked there for over six years after the first Gulf War and destroyed lots of weapons.

  • 11:11:33

    ANNANAnd the inspectors who had been out of Iraq had gone in to pursue their work and had asked for more time to determine whether there were weapons of mass destruction or not. But they were not given more time. The U.S. administration was in a hurry and so their efforts were cut short and the war was declared.

  • 11:11:59

    REHMAnd your reaction to the declaration of war on the basis of that so-called evidence of weapons of mass destruction?

  • 11:12:12

    ANNANMy attitude at the time was that any country has a right to defend itself when attacked. But when it comes to issues of broader security, broader issues of safety for all, you can only undertake that sort of attack with a Security Council Resolution.

  • 11:12:36

    ANNANAnd that the Council had warned Saddam Hussein that if you do not perform and cooperate with the inspectors, there would be consequences and so I had expected the inspectors to come back and report to the council that they found or did not find weapons.

  • 11:12:58

    ANNANAnd if Saddam did not cooperate, it was up to that council to determine, one, that there had been a breach and, two, what the consequences should be. But that second resolution was never passed because the war was declared before the council could act and the council did not support the war.

  • 11:13:20

    REHMAnd one last question on this matter, did you speak with or meet with General Powell prior to the time he spoke to the United Nations and to the American people simultaneously declaring that there were weapons of mass destruction?

  • 11:13:49

    ANNANI spoke with Secretary Powell many times and with many foreign ministers around the world because it was a very critical period for the world and we were all trying to see what could be done to avoid war, if possible. And so we met. We talked on the phone, but we did not discuss the details of his presentation to the Security Council. We never discussed that until he made his case in the council.

  • 11:14:22

    REHMAnd you were convinced that there were weapons of mass destruction?

  • 11:14:29

    ANNANNo, I wasn't and he made a powerful presentation, but I wasn't convinced.

  • 11:14:37

    REHMWhat do you think that the war against Iraq has cost the U.S. in its reputation, in its standing with the world and its moral authority?

  • 11:14:53

    ANNANI think the war and the aftermath of the war, the chaos in Iraq, did the U.S. quite a lot of damage and also divided the world. It divided the United Nations at the time. There's been healing and time heals, but it did do quite a lot of damage to the reputation of the U.S. around the world, particularly in the Islamic world.

  • 11:15:23

    REHMAnd how would you characterize that damage?

  • 11:15:27

    ANNANI think damage in the sense that until then, I think nations and people around the world generally tended to accept the word of the U.S. and where there were problems, they gave the U.S. the benefit of the doubt. But that was not happening anymore. They became a bit more skeptical.

  • 11:15:51

    ANNANAnd I think it also did quite a bit of damage to the whole intelligence community, you know, creating the impression that intelligence can be used to manipulate situations and take actions which may not be warranted.

  • 11:16:09

    REHMWhat about the British in all of this? Surely you were speaking with representatives of Great Britain as well about this so-called evidence. Where do they come in?

  • 11:16:26

    ANNANNow, I think, you know, the story of Tony Blair who is -- Prime Minister Blair supported the American position and President Bush very strongly and was a very eloquent advocate for the war. And at the end, seemed convinced that there were weapons of mass destruction.

  • 11:16:53

    ANNANI would always wonder what would have happened if, at the critical juncture, Prime Minister Tony Blair had said to President Bush, George, this is where we part company. You're on your own. I'm not going to go into Iraq with you. What would have happened? It may not have stopped the war, but I think it would have led to greater debate in this country as to the necessity for that war.

  • 11:17:26

    REHMAnd by the same token, do you have any questions in your mind that had Colin Powell said to President Bush, I cannot do this, I cannot go before the United Nations and speak in this manner because I personally am not totally convinced of weapons of mass destruction, might that have avoided war?

  • 11:18:04

    ANNANI don't know and I'm not sure he was in a position to say that or to do that because he didn't. The evidence was being collected by the intelligence community, analyzed by the team and put before the president and his team. And at that point when I'm sure they asked him to go to the U.N., all of them or most of them felt that it was a valid case.

  • 11:18:34

    REHMFormer Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, his new book "Interventions."

  • REHMAnd welcome back. Former Sectary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan is with me in the studio. His new book is titled, "Interventions: A Life in War and Peace." We have one email which says, "Some of the evidence of WMD in Iraq was the falsified of the Yellowcake purchased from Africa. Did anyone ever find out who originally produced this documentation?"

  • 11:20:50

    ANNANNot that I'm aware of, but it very clear very early on that it was falsification. But I do not know who produced the documentation. But the Mohamed ElBaradei who was the head of the Atomic Agency in Vienna made it very clear at the beginning that it was a bogus document and there was no basis.

  • 11:21:18

    REHMYou have most recently served as special envoy to Syria. How has that process and the frustration you experienced shaped your thinking about the ability of a man even in as high a place as yourself or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a woman, any person to make a difference in a really tough situation?

  • 11:22:00

    ANNANI think the -- in all these situations, we have to start with a protagonist. We have to start with the government of Syria and the opposition. And we did put lots of pressure on the government of Syria to curb these excesses and stop shelling its own people and encourage the opposition also to work with us in arranging cessation of violence, because in the first place you need to try to stop the killing and the brutality to be able to move on to the political settlement.

  • 11:22:37

    ANNANWhere the protagonists are determined to fight on, it is extremely difficult to make progress. And the Syrian issue is a very complex one. Apart from the recalcitrance of the government and the determination of the parties to fight it out, we have divisions in the regions, amongst the governments and the countries. And we have divisions at the international level. The Security Council was divided and I was sent as a special envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League.

  • 11:23:16

    ANNANSo those who sent you in -- and I insisted on united support are divided, it was almost like losing your team on the road to Damascus and there wasn't much that can be done. We had some useful things. We came up with a six-point plan with the Security Council endorsed. We also had a most interesting meeting in Geneva, the end of June, 30th of June, where all the foreign ministers of the prominent members of the Security Council attended.

  • 11:23:50

    ANNANAnd we agreed on framework and principles for political transition that we were going to use to work with the Syrian parties to move the process forward. This was end of June and they were expected to come to New York and endorse it in the council. Up to today, it has not been endorsed. When they met on the 19th of July, it was another acrimonious accusation and this doesn't help the people of Syria, the conflict or the world, and yet we all know this is the most volatile region in the world.

  • 11:24:29

    REHMWould you describe what's happening in Syria today as civil war?

  • 11:24:36

    ANNANYes. It is civil war. And my fear is that if it continues like this, we are going to see a sectarian war, which could also spread beyond the borders of Syria. And that is why I took on the job. I knew it was almost impossible but you couldn't watch the brutality, the disaster, the traumas that Syrians were going through and refuse to help when you're asked to help.

  • 11:25:10

    REHMI'm sure you met many times with President Bashar al-Assad. Did you receive from him any indication that he was willing to work with you?

  • 11:25:28

    ANNANThat wasn't the problem. In fact, he accepted the six-point plan and event wrote me a letter indicating his government is committed to the six-point plan. And the six-point plan required him to stop using heavy weapons against populated centers, pull back the weapons and the troops. He was to release the thousands of people who were in prisons, to allow peaceful demonstration, to allow unimpeded access of humanitarian goods to those in need, to allow journalists to do their work because he felt that what we're seeing on television was a virtual reality.

  • 11:26:09

    ANNANAnd I said, but if you open up and journalists can come and tell the truth, we will all know what is happening.

  • 11:26:15

    REHMAnd he agreed.

  • 11:26:17

    ANNANYeah, agreed, but did not deliver. He didn't deliver and people -- and this is also another disappointing fact because everybody said we agree and support the six-point plan. Passive support is not enough. Each country should have gone in and put pressure on the parties they had influence on to do what was required.

  • 11:26:44

    REHMYou know, it's so interesting when he came to power. People expected that because he had been educated here in the United States, he and his wife shared Western values, were you -- well, I won't put words in your mouth. What were your feelings when you came up against this kind of duplicity?

  • 11:27:15

    ANNANYeah. I had met him before I took on this assignment. We had worked on several challenges. One was a withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon and Syria have lots of influence in Lebanon and I wanted to make sure that the withdrawal went smoothly. When Prime Minister Barak decided to withdraw the troops and the Security Council asked me to work with them and certify had withdrawn, which we did and certified the Israeli withdrawal.

  • 11:27:55

    ANNANPresident Assad in Syria were involved in the sense that I wanted to make sure that there would be no disturbances or any problems with that procedure. The next time I worked with him was when the Security Council ordered that the thousands of Syrian troops in Lebanon and their security offices must leave Lebanon. And so, we worked with them to withdraw those troops and certify to the council that they had done that.

  • 11:28:32

    ANNANAnd, of course, when I first met him, which was 40 days after the death of his father, the press, as usual, very keen to get my impression, as you are trying to get today. And I recall making the comment that he was the son of his father, but a modern man. A son of his father because his delivery and approach to political discourse reminded me very much of his father, a modern man for the reason you have mentioned who had done -- studied in London.

  • 11:29:06

    ANNANThe wife studied in London and they were very modern. And I had hoped that he was going to be an agent for change and turn Syria towards modern governance. But that didn't happen. And some of the things which has happened and what has happened is a bit of a surprise in the sense that one would not have expected somebody of that background, of that training, of that exposure to be doing what he's doing.

  • 11:29:40

    REHMDo you intend to write a book about your experiences in Syria?

  • 11:29:47

    ANNANI haven't given that a thought yet. This has taken so much time already. So let me focus on the first one and get it out first.

  • 11:29:56

    REHMTo what extent do you blame Russia and China for the failure of that six-point plan?

  • 11:30:05

    ANNANLet me say that I'm very hesitant to enter the blame game. There's been lots of finger pointing and name calling. Divisions amongst human beings in any endeavor is natural. What is needed is leadership to bridge the divisions and move forward. So far, we have not seen that leadership. The Russians and the Chinese feel that the Security Council on Libya was trashed, was trashed in the sense that it move very quickly from protecting the people to regime change.

  • 11:30:48

    ANNANAnd they are very anxious and determined not to be caught in the same situation in Syria. This is part of the problem we have today with them.

  • 11:30:58

    REHMAnd do you regard the United States as perhaps not doing everything it could have done earlier to try to forestall the kind of disaster that's taking place now?

  • 11:31:19

    ANNANThese conflicts are very complex and it's not always possible to nip it in the butt to stop it when it starts. But once it has started, it will seem to me that the major powers have to recognize that they all have common interest in the region and in Syria and that it was better for them to work together, find a way of working together to stop the violence and get the parties to the table and settle politically than allow this violence to continue which could inflame the whole region and everybody will pay the price. The heaviest of course would be paid by the poor Syrian people. But he could terribly out of hand for all of us.

  • 11:32:09

    REHMWell, clearly, your efforts, the efforts of all countries involved have not been able to stop the violence against the Syrian people. And now, of course, you got Jordan involved, you've got Turkey involved where hundreds of thousands of refugees are going. What step is left -- you have left? The United States is simply saying, we won't do anything, we will not put boots on the ground. They may be providing money for ammunition for rebels. But what more can be done?

  • 11:32:59

    ANNANYeah. I think that I am one of those who have -- against further militarization of the conflict. I think it will make the situation much worse. I don't think it's a kind of situation that one can intervene easily. And we need to make sure that when we decide to use force, it would improve the situations rather than make it worse.

  • 11:33:25

    REHMYou didn't say if, you said when.

  • 11:33:29

    ANNANIf and when. It could make matters worse. So own view is that one should press for a political settlement down the line. And this is what we tried to do, as I said, in Geneva by coming up with guidelines and framework, basically telling the Syrians, this is the alternative. It will be a political settlement with an interim government with full executive powers that will listen to the voice of the people and ensure that Syrians determine their own political future and everybody's interest will be looked after. And so, stop fighting and move to the table.

  • 11:34:14

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Hasn't that been done again and again? And now we have heard from Bashar al-Assad if perceives an external threat, he will use chemical weapons to defend his own regime. So where does that leave us?

  • 11:34:46

    ANNANI think -- let me say that on the political issues, there's more to be done. We haven't done what I think we should get -- we are not where I think we should be to get everybody to the table. But the Syrian and President Assad are pushing very hard. It's interesting when you sit and talk to him. We outside are concern and worried about what's going on inside. He's worried about what's happening outside.

  • 11:35:18

    ANNANAnd the outside is wanting to interfere in his country. And it is -- sometimes it's as if you are not talking to each other, you're talking past each other, but you need to try and get him to look at the facts. On the issue of the chemical weapons, many governments, including the U.S. and the Russians and others are very concerned about it and they've sent very strong messages to the Syrians not to even thing of using the chemical weapons.

  • 11:35:50

    ANNANAnd I really -- and if they do that, it's going to be a disaster. They did -- they have given indications that they will not use the chemical weapons. But of course the international committee has to be vigilant, has to be vigilant and continue to monitor to ensure that is not done.

  • 11:36:12

    REHMLet me ask you about another area of concern and that is Iran and the accusations that Iran is developing weapons of nuclear destruction, the ongoing threats coming from Israel to attack Iran. Number one, do you believe that Iran is in the process of developing weapons of mass destruction? And number two, do you believe an attack by Israel, perhaps in coordination with the United States, would be the right way to go?

  • 11:37:01

    ANNANIran denies that it's working on a nuclear bomb and that what they are doing is scientific research for useful purposes. It is difficult to say whether they are aiming for nuclear bomb or for peaceful uses of nuclear technology. The process is the same once you master the enrichment process and really it's a short jump from that to the nuclear weapon. And they are telling us that they have no intention. They even go as far as saying this is against our religion.

  • 11:37:45

    REHMKofi Annan. Short break. Right back.

  • 11:40:05

    REHMAnd it's time to go to the phones. If you've just joined us, Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, is here in the studio with me. Our conversation is being videotaped. You'll be able to see clips of it at our website probably after about one o'clock or so. You can go to drshow.org and see clips of our conversation. Let's go first to Orlando, Fla. Good morning, Mark, you're on the air.

  • 11:40:47

    MARKGood morning, Diane.

  • 11:40:48


  • 11:40:49

    MARKOne thing Mr. Annan said earlier about the Iraq War resonated with me. I'm an Iraq veteran. I went there twice. And he talked about how it really weakened the U.S.'s standing, kind of, in the world. And I definitely saw that even in Iraq. When I went back the second time in 2010 people wouldn't believe me when I would speak to Iraqis. When I would just make the most basic promises that I would there tomorrow, you know.

  • 11:41:18

    MARKI mean, Iraqi soldiers would laugh at us when we would say we would do things and joke about how, oh, you said you were going to find weapons of mass destruction here, too. And it was -- it's sort of like -- I have to agree. I think it really weakened how people look at the U.S. just in general. And I think it's really affected how much the U.S. can affect the entire Arab Spring, specifically Syria, because like Mr. Annan said no one really -- no one trusts us anymore.

  • 11:41:50

    REHMMark, thank you for your service. And thank you for your call. Secretary General?

  • 11:41:58

    ANNANNo, I can understand what he's saying. And this is basically the point I made to you. And, over time, this will dissipate and -- but the reality is that it do lots of harm to the U.S. interest.

  • 11:42:18

    REHMHere's an email. How does the U.N.'s apparent impotence regarding the Iraq War and now in Syria affect the reputation and effectiveness of the United Nations itself?

  • 11:42:35

    ANNANI think when this question is raised, I'm tempted to ask, what is the U.N.? Who is the U.N.? The U.N. is an organization of governments. The U.N. is member states, your country and mine. And the organization can be as powerful as the member states want it to be. On the question of Iraq and Syria, you talk of -- you raise a question of U.N. impotence. U.N. impotence in the sense that it had not been able to implement its earlier resolutions or it had not gone in with an army until the U.S. moved.

  • 11:43:21

    ANNANI think the U.N. was seized of the Iraq War for many, many -- or the Iraqi situation for many years. And debated the issue of what should be done in Iraq very carefully. And at the time of the war we had inspectors in Iraq that we had to withdraw. Some accuse the U.N. of weakness because they did not support the war. In my judgment the Security Council acted properly by not supporting the war now that we know the consequences of it.

  • 11:43:58

    ANNANOn Syria is a problem the governments or the U.N. that is the secretariat. When we talk of the U.N. are we talking of the governments or are we talking of the building in New York where the secretary general and the staff who implement the decision of the governments and rely on the resources that they are given.

  • 11:44:26

    REHMBut the perception here is that because the United States is the greatest donor to the U.N. that the United Nations is basically run by the United States. And that the U.N. made up of all those countries follows what the United States says it must do.

  • 11:44:53

    ANNANAnd I think we have seen time and time again that that is not correct. We are seeing it in the Syrian case that it is not correct. U.S. cannot force what should be done. The permanent members have veto powers, but veto is a negative power. You can use veto to block, but you cannot use veto to get things done.

  • 11:45:19

    ANNANAnd I think -- so I wanted to get that point clear that when we say the U.N. has not done this in Syria. What we are talking about -- we are talking about the governments -- the governments and the ability to come together and the ability to show leadership and get things done. When we talk about the U.N. as they, as it, we give the government a, sort of, an alibi. We give them a free pass, you know. And everybody says the U.N. has failed, but not your government or mine. When, in fact, they are the ones with the power and the authority and the means to act or make the U.N. act.

  • 11:46:00

    REHMTo Nashville, Tenn. good morning, Joseph.

  • 11:46:04

    JOSEPHGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 11:46:07

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:46:08

    JOSEPHI have a question for Kofi, but I first want to say to him that we attended the University of Geneva many years ago when he was in the school of international studies with my wife, Rachel. And I was in medical school. In fact, I attended his first wedding in Geneva on Rue du Mont-Blanc. But my question is this. Does he have a chapter or does he mention anything about the crisis in Liberia? I'm originally from Liberia during the Charles Taylor regime. Is there any mention? I'm going to go out and buy the book.

  • 11:46:51

    REHMAll right, sir, thank for calling.

  • 11:46:54

    ANNANThank you. I wasn't able to go through all the crises I dealt with. I mentioned some of the African crises and the challenges we faced. But I had to try and do a book of a reasonable size. And, therefore, did not go into all the details. But I do mention some of the African issues, but I do not go into the Liberian crisis in detail. And, as you know, I was quite involved in that. Thank you.

  • 11:47:23

    REHMAnd to Houston, Texas, Hamed, you're on the air.

  • 11:47:29

    HAMEDGood morning, Diane.

  • 11:47:30


  • 11:47:31

    HAMEDHow are you this morning?

  • 11:47:32

    REHMFine, thank you. Go right ahead, sir.

  • 11:47:36

    HAMEDMy question to Mr. Kofi Annan is since we are in the last stage of our social revolution, which is the unity of mankind, which it started from the cave and then we made a unity of family, tribe, city, nation. And now we are in the last stage of our social revolution, which is unity of our mankind. In order for the United Nations to be more effective, should we get rid of the veto power of certain countries?

  • 11:48:11

    ANNANI think the question of Security Council reform and what you do with the veto has been on the table for a long time. But it is not going to be easy to do that. As secretary general, I, myself, put forth proposals that I thought would have made the Security Council more democratic and more representative by providing permanency for Latin America, for India, for Africa and the area -- the countries -- I mean, the regions which are not represented on the council with permanent seats. But that proposal did not go through.

  • 11:48:52

    ANNANAnd it's not going -- it's not easy to withdrawal the vetoes. The charter was written in such a way that the veto wielding countries also looked after themselves. You cannot withdraw it without their consent. And I don't think you're going to get the five permanent members to agree to give up the veto. For some it's so important. And, in fact, their standing in the world is also determined, to some extent, by their permanent membership in the council. And so it is a difficult one.

  • 11:49:25

    ANNANBut having said that, let me assure you that I'm one of those who agrees that reform of the council has to come. And we are in the 21st Century. We have arrangements which were based on geopolitical realities of 1945. The world has changed. And the council has to change. And in that sense you are right. Thank you.

  • 11:49:48

    REHMTell me what exists in your own background, your own life, your own childhood, even, that has prepared your for this life of 40 plus years in the United Nations, secretary general, negotiator so many countries in strife?

  • 11:50:19

    ANNANI don't know where to start. But let me say that I grew up in Ghana. And growing up as a teenager in Ghana my country was going through the struggle for independence. And it was exciting and an exhilarating period. Wherever you turned people were discussing politics, independence, freedom and what we do in the future -- what happens. So I was part of all this. I was young. But it had an impact.

  • 11:50:54

    ANNANAnd then when independence came and you saw all the changes, positions which were held by the British suddenly being taken over by the Ghanaians. The Ghanaian becoming leader of government business, a prime minister, and you suddenly realize that change is possible. Even fundamental and revolutionary change is possible. And so you go through life with an attitude of the possibility of change and so having an impact on your environment.

  • 11:51:33

    ANNANAnd when people say this can be done. So why didn't we test it. Let's try it.

  • 11:51:40

    REHMBut what about your parents and how they entered in?

  • 11:51:46

    ANNANYeah, and now my father was very much involved in the -- he was working in business, but also involved in politics during the pre-independence days. And after the independence, he became regional minister or sort of a governor of one of the major regions. And so he was a very, rather strict and historic man and then also a disciplinarian who stressed character, that character trumps everything, you know. And that you have to have character and know what is right and what is wrong.

  • 11:52:22

    REHMAnd your mother?

  • 11:52:24

    ANNANMy mother was very gentle and not as tough as my father. And, in fact, I shared last night a story that I lived with my father, you know, I went to visit him in his office. He didn't smoke, although he liked his whiskey. And he called one of his subordinates who rushed in with a cigarette in his hand -- between his fingers. And I was sitting next to my father. And the fellow walked in and suddenly realized that he had a cigarette and he tried to snuff it out and put it in his pocket.

  • 11:53:05

    ANNANAnd I could see him shift and sit next to my father, who went on with the business talking to him. So when the fellow left, I asked him, why did you do that to him? Why did you make him do that? He said, I did not make him do that. He did that to himself. And then he says, son, he had options. He could have continued to hold the cigarette. He could have excused himself and gone out and got rid of it. I have an ash tray here for my peers which he could have used. But he chose to do what he did. And today, you've seen something that you should never do. Don't crawl, son.

  • 11:53:42

    REHMThat's quite a lesson.

  • 11:53:43


  • 11:53:44

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." A question, are you concerned that China is exploiting Africa?

  • 11:54:00

    ANNANChina is a major investor on the continent and has made some positive inputs. The Africans are aware that they need to protect themselves. Yes, there are governments that have told me we like doing business with the Chinese because unlike the others they come and discuss business. You sign the contract and that's it. They don't give you lecture on human rights.

  • 11:54:29

    REHMAnd they deliver.

  • 11:54:30

    ANNANYeah, and they deliver. They don't give you a lecture on human rights and on governance and all that. But I think the Chinese are getting -- also understand that for the relationship to be sustainable it has to be mutually beneficial. Because if it is not, they are going to face challenges that other countries that went to Africa before had faced. And the Chinese investments are needed, but it has to be properly structured. And the benefits has to go to the people.

  • 11:55:04

    ANNANAnd here the governments have a responsibility to ensure that the revenues being generated from mining, from oil, and others is put to development that helps the livelihoods of the people. Let me sum up by saying that I think by and large the Chinese say an engagement in Africa has been positive. But it has to be mutually beneficial for it to be sustainable.

  • 11:55:37

    REHMAnd the question is considering the extent to which America took advantage in some ways of all those resources in Africa. What is to prevent the Chinese from doing the same? Do you believe that the African nations are now better equipped to protect themselves and to glean that fairness which you're yearning for?

  • 11:56:08

    ANNANI think there are a couple of developments. The African governance is improving in Africa. There's pressure for transparency from civil society and the young people. Then internationally, also, there is pressure for transparency that, one, the governments and companies should indicate the amounts that have been paid.

  • 11:56:30

    ANNANCompanies should indicate how much money they are paying to this country. The governments should also indicate how much money they have received. For the people to be able to ask questions. What did you do with that money? What is happening to this and that? And so I think we are going to see a much improved leadership and governance in Africa.

  • 11:56:55

    REHMI hope so. And thank you so much for joining me this morning, a great pleasure and honor.

  • 11:57:04

    ANNANThank you very much. The pleasure is mine.

  • 11:57:06

    REHMKofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, author of the new book titled, "Interventions: A Life in War and Peace." Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.

Related Links

Topics + Tags

Most Recent Shows