Former UN diplomat Kofi Annan gives landmark speech in Hull

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Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was in Hull this week to deliver a landmark speech.

The Ghanaian-born diplomat arrived in the city on Thursday and met with representatives from his home nation in Hull at a reception.

He gave a speech at Hull City Hall as part of the annual Wilberforce Lecture, which was established in honour of Hull-born William Wilberforce, the politician who led the 18th century movement to abolish the slave trade.

Professor John Oldfield, director of the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute, said it was a major event for the city.

“This is a huge deal for Hull. Kofi Annan is one of the big names and a major player in terms of peace keeping efforts, tackling poverty, and all of those things.

“We had Desmond Tutu here in 2007, and I think 10 years on Kofi is the next best thing. There’s huge anticipation for his lecture.”

After arriving, Mr Annan led question and answer sessions with members of the Youth Parliament in Hull.

He also attended part of the city’s Freedom Festival, which was established in 2007 on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade.

Prof Oldfield said he hoped Mr Annan’s presence would help remind festival-goers of the serious message behind the annual event. Mr Annan’s visit comes during Hull’s tenure as the UK’s City of Culture 2017.

Prof Oldfield, who is also a trustee of the Wilberforce Lecture Trust, said: “The festival is about song, music and comedy but it has a serious message too,” he added. Having Kofi here talking about that is great.

“I think this confirms that in this year of capital of culture, Hull is now very much on the map culturally, There are some exciting things going on here and people want to be part of it.”

Previous Wilberforce lectures have been led by Desmond Tutu, former Archbishop of Cantebury Rowan Williams and Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka.

Kofi Annan's speech

In a speech entitled Freedom in the 21st Century, Mr Annan focused on present-day threats to the fundamental human right of freedom. In a powerful address he acknowledged the historical dedication of Hull's William Wilberforce in ending the slave trade, but recognised that the commodifisation of human life still continues in many forms today.

Speaking to the sold-out event, Mr Annan told the audience that an estimated 21million people globally are victims of forced labour, many more are the victims of traffickers, and hundreds of thousands of children suffer the plight of harsh labour or are forced to fight as soldiers.

Mr Annan called for today’s slavery to be tackled as aggressively as in Wilberforce's era two centuries ago, and suggested that inspiration should be taken from the legacy of Wilberforce and the abolitionists, who proved that when individuals decide to take personal responsibility and work together, they can transform the world.

The Wilberforce Lecture celebrates the historic role of Kingston upon Hull in combating the abuse of human rights personified in the work of the abolitionist William Wilberforce.