Tribute to President Félix Houphouët-Boigny
Mr Federico Mayor
Director-General of UNESCO
"Félix Houphouët-Boigny left us a message in the form of a demand: peace. He made the search for peace the source of inspiration of his thoughts and the goal of his action, thus embracing the same vision as the founding fathers of UNESCO who expressed their conviction that “It is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”. He indeed admitted that throughout his life he was “guided by but one ideal, the ideal of universal fraternity”. He used both the authority, which he gained as a result of his combat at the national and continental levels, and his aura of sage on the international stage, to further this ideal.
Continuing the African tradition of conciliation and interchange, he was able to restore to the concept of negotiation its dignity and primary function of being a method for settling conflicts which is in all cases preferable to confrontation and violence. This was the resolute choice of someone who had come to understand that true courage lay in listening, understanding and tolerance. “There is no problem in the world, however difficult and knotty; that cannot be solved through negotiation”, he used to say, even in the midst of crises.
It should therefore come as no surprise that it was the inspiration of his message that led, here in Yamoussoukro in 1989, to the idea of “Peace Culture” – which has just been made a priority; by acclamation, by the General Conference of UNESCO.
It was to this very place in the heart of Africa that I came, just after my election, to seek the inspiration, vision, rigour and serenity which the intellectual institution of the United Nations system requires to be able to sow the seeds of peace, construct peace, and give each woman and man the means with which to gain control over their lives. I was able to find this inspiration and vision. President Félix Houphouët-Boigny let me share African wisdom with him, the wisdom of which the rich countries stand so urgently in need today. He shared the traditions of his people and their customs with me. He made me one of his people.
Nelson Mandela, joint first winner of the Prize with Frederik De Klerk, declared in Paris on the day when the Prize was awarded: “Your authority and wisdom are essential guides for us all”. And it is with gratitude that we today pay a heartfelt tribute to former President Houphouët-Boigny, the Sage of Africa. We would like to renew our commitment to his spirit which is our guide to remain dutifully faithful to his memory and to the untiring daily combat for peace".
Mr Henri Konan Bédié
President of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire
"I am deeply moved as I address our illustrious guests today in the Foundation which President Félix Houphouët-Boigny bequeathed to the international community with a view to promoting peace, and which is named after him. He wanted it to be a repository of his message, akin to a jewel-casket to preserve the purest diamond, and, under UNESCO's supervision, to disseminate its content and significance to the four corners of the earth.
Sages may pass away, but their teachings live on.
The good seeds which he sowed throughout his life, by preaching love, friendship and fraternity with the assured gentleness of good Apostles, have sprouted.
His peaceful fight for peace among men and women will be continued by all Ivorians, steadfastly true to the memory of the person who was for us, at one and the same time, the first President of our Republic, the father of our independence, the builder of our State, and the symbol and bond of our national unity.
He sowed the seeds of peace, braving all the dangers. Deep in his heart, he cherished the constant hope to see the harvests gathered in, so that men and women might come to persevere with the solidarity required of them, like so many ears of corn reaped in fields of harmony.
From this building which was erected to ensure that his message will live on, we vow to him that his work shall continue, that the flame of his memory shall be kept alive and that his message of hope will be passed on to future generations, so that his ideal of justice, fraternity, peace and love may triumph".
Mr Abdou Diouf
President of the Republic of Senegal
"Much could be said about the builder, the States- man, the great African, and the sage that was President Félix Houphouët-Boigny. But one can still define the essence of the man simply by saying that in the autumn of a life which teaches us how much peace should be ranked above all else, President Félix Houphouët-Boigny gave his name to a prize awarded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization so that, even after his death, the work which he accomplished to such an outstanding degree, that of an untiring advocate of fraternity, could be continued.
He was universally acclaimed as such, during his lifetime. He thus counts among those who have given its fullest meaning to the term "dialogue": despite all our differences, to be able to come together, by virtue of our common humanity, and walk together on the road to peace".
Mr Boutros Boutros-Ghali
Secretary-General of the United Nations
"Today, in Yamoussoukro, we can clearly feel the spiritual strength of the one we have gathered here to honour. His memory is what draws us here and gives us strength. His immanent presence surrounds us and sustains us. His moral authority continues to dictate the path we should take towards peace and development.
At various crucial times in my life as a diplomat, I often found President Houphouët-Boigny by my side. It is about that support that I should like to speak to you for a moment.
When I was Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in Egypt, specifically when President Sadat took the initiative to go to Jerusalem, I found President Houphouët-Boigny tremendously understanding. He spared no effort to assist us and to make public his support and convince some reluctant African heads of State of the importance of that historic initiative.
It was during that same period, in 1979, that I ran into him again, on the occasion of the preparations for the Non-Aligned Summit, which was to be held in Havana. We were both concerned that communism would change the nature of the Non-Aligned Movement.
The following year, on the occasion of the special session of the Organization of African Unity in Lagos, I was greatly impressed, as were all the participants, by President Houphouët-Boigny's strong convictions concerning the economic development of Africa and by the persistence with which he sought to persuade the other African heads of State to share his vision of Africa, of an Africa based on the values of dignity and progress.
In the years that followed I met the President several times, at various events and summits of the French-speaking community. He used to like to speak about how he first became interested in politics and about the powerful yet complex ties which he always maintained with France.
Finally, I should like to recall that, on the occasion of the Paris summit, in 1991, he again promised me that he would vote in the United Nations for his friend Boutros.
He considered that, through my election to the position of Secretary-General, the United Nations would at last give the African Continent an opportunity to contribute to the progress of the whole international community.
I subsequently had many conversations with Félix Houphouët-Boigny. On several occasions, I asked him to use his influence in order to pacify inter-African conflicts.
I kept him informed of the crises which shook our continent, and which he followed to the end with the closest attention. His broad culture, his knowledge of history and his political intuition guaranteed the accuracy of his analyses and the appositeness of his counsel.
Then it was that I was able to measure the true greatness of Félix Houphouët-Boigny's personality: he was so profoundly African that he had attained a universal status.
This is the personal testimony that I wanted to express again today, before you here in Yamoussoukro, as a tribute to our great departed friend".
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