Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan spoke as the guest of the Brilliant Lecture Series. His visit to Houston was his first public appearance in the U.S. since retiring from his position on the first of this year. Much of his nearly two-hour speech focused on his diplomatic background. But he opened with an anecdote from his first winter in college in Minnesota.
"There was one item that I thought was so inelegant that I was never going to wear or use it. It was earmuffs. And I thought that they looked rather odd. In any case, one day I had gone out to get something to eat and I felt I was going to lose my ears. So the next day I went out and bought the best pair, the biggest pair I could find, it didn't matter -- elegant or not. But I learnt an important lesson: that you don't walk into a situation and pretend or behave as if you know better than the natives."
Numerous students from local high schools attended the event and Annan addressed many of his comments to them.
"I hope you are participating in your community. You are -- you can make a difference. We expect all of you to grow up and become responsible global citizens. But global citizenship begins at home."
The former UN leader also referenced the major global crises of the past few decades, including the wars and conflicts in Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Somalia, adding there are less world conflicts now than in recent history.
"During the last decade, when I became secretary general, more civil wars have ended and there are fewer civil wars in the world today and there are fewer wars between nations."
Media were not allowed to record all of Annan's comments. He spoke at length on three topics: economics and poverty, peace and security, and human rights and the rule of law. In particular, he made reference to the conflict in the Middle East. Annan says while he, as secretary general, did not support the U.S. government's decision to declare war against Iraq, he believes it is the responsibility of the global community to bring peace to the region. Annan says the nations of the world have an obligation to work together because escalating problems in the Middle East could have what he terms unimaginable global consequences. Annan closed his remarks by saying he's trying to find a balance between action and reflection and asked his listeners to do the same by not underestimating the power of individual influence. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.