Kofi Annan gives BP Lecture
The former head of the United Nations, Kofi Annan has called for the world’s nations to have the confidence to embrace diversity in order to harness the full benefits of globalisation
He made the remarks while delivering this year's BP Lecture, at The British Museum in London, a regular event in which distinguished speakers tackle subjects under the banner of World Civilizations. The BP Lecture Series was created a decade ago to celebrate BP's partnership with the museum. Each event is held at the BP Lecture Theatre within the museum - a state-of-the-art resource which hosts debates, films and talks. The inaugural lecture was delivered by former South African president Nelson Mandela in 2000.
Like Mandela, Annan took globalization as his subject matter, highlighting the positive impact it can have on a city such as London. "When the Olympics are staged in two years' time," he said, "competitors from every nation will find fellow countrymen and women living here to cheer them on. This very diversity is what makes London such a dynamic, exciting and successful community."
But, he continued, while the world has grown smaller, globalization "can create divides - the inequalities of wealth, influence and opportunity between genders, races and religions - all the more obvious and painful."
However, he urged nations to work together to overcome resentments and establish relations of trust between communities by promoting 'dialogue, respect, tolerance and understanding'. Education, he said, was the key to building bridges within and between communities and stressed the "utmost importance of eliminating discrimination against girls and women."
He continued: "Globalization will not bring peace or prosperity unless we all share fairly in its benefits." To highlight his point, he spoke of the economic crisis and climate change hitting the poorest countries hardest, while governments raised 'extraordinary' funds to bail out financial institutions.
"To regain legitimacy," he said, "the global economy must be guided by an ethical framework that addresses the gross inequalities in our world and meets the basic needs and aspirations of people everywhere."
Recent events showed, he said, that universal values are more acutely needed than ever before. "Universal values do not mean an end to diversity. Their function is not to eliminate differences but to help us manage them so we all benefit."
Annan called on leaders - political, religious and corporate - to play their role in promoting respect and sensitivity. And, he said, "freedom of expression must be cherished while working with the media to prevent it from being used to spread hatred."
In closing, Annan pointed to the achievements of "the individual who delivered the first BP Lecture" as encouragement to work together.
Released from prison 20 years ago, into a society Annan described as "seemingly irreversibly split by the evil of apartheid", Nelson Mandela's leadership ensured that the "explosion of violence" that many considered inevitable did not happen.
"He is a man who understands the value of dialogue and tolerance, of respecting our differences but celebrating what we hold in common.," said Annan. "If we can find in our hearts the same qualities, we too can bridge the divides in our world."