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20 août 2007

Mandela and the Global Elders

Daily Champion (Lagos) 6 August 2007

They may no longer have executive powers, nor are they in control of troops or in command of huge financial resources. But members of a new group, Global Elders, led by Nobel laureate and internationally-acclaimed statesman, Nelson Mandela, have earned, over the years, the moral authority to pontificate on issues of world concern and be listened to.

Inaugurated last month as part of the 89th birthday celebration of Mandela, the group of world renowned elder statesmen and women is made up of such personalities as former American president, Jimmy Carter; Archbishop Desmund Tutu of South Africa; former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, and ex-Irish President, Mary Robinson.

Also among this select group are the immediate past foreign minister of China, Li Zhaoxing; the Indian activist, Ela Bhatt; former Prime Minister of Norway and Director of the World Health Organisation, Gro Harlem Bruntland; the "banker to the poor," Muhammad Yunus and Burmese opposition politician, Aung San Suu Kyi, the prisoner of conscience, for whom an empty seat was provided on stage at the inauguration, as a message to the dictators in Burma that they should let her go.

This array of distinguished elders have been brought together courtesy of this novel initiative which is the brainchild of international businessman, Richard Branson, and musician Peter Gabriel, with the support of the United Nations Foundation and a couple of other private sponsors.

It is easy to wonder what use such a group of elder statesmen and women would be in a world that is being ravaged by diseases and is increasingly drifting towards a reign of terror, the use of might, increasing militarization, even in outer space; towards wars and other forms of conflicts as well as towards perpetuation of bad governance and dictatorship, especially in Africa.

Any doubt about the efficacy of the Global Elders Forum could be informed by the wrong impression that once a person is out of office or is old, the person becomes irrelevant or powerless to influence the course of events. This perception may be without basis, especially as it relates to the eminent personalities that constitute the Global Elders.

The power and influence of this group derive from the fact that while in office, they performed so creditably that they left indelible footprints, or lasting legacies of positive contributions to the well-being of their citizens and peoples of the world. This group of Elders represents an assemblage of men and women, world-wide, that currently are a positive force for good in the world. Operating from this new pedestal, it is expected that they would contribute, even to a more significant degree, to the resolution of the many questions begging for answers around the world.

For instance, the battle against HIV/Aids and malaria, two diseases that are raging, especially in the third world, would receive a major boost if these Elders group steps forward to mobilize the world to contribute the funds needed to stamp them out or at least control them significantly. The exploits of Jimmy Carter in the area of guinea worm control, has been very salutary and when these men and women team up, the effect of their efforts would be even better felt.

Corruption and bad governance have been the bane of many developing countries. These leaders who largely left exemplary legacies while in government can speak up against governments and leaders seen to be plundering their countries or to be engaged in other forms of bad governance or dictatorship. Indeed, the elders group can become the apostles of democracy, rule of law, free speech and multi-partism around the world, but especially in Africa.

They can and should speak up wherever elections are flawed or where basic freedoms are denied the people and for victims of genocide as in Darfur, Sudan; those at the mercy of famine or other forms of natural disaster. Whenever the world's powers begin to derail and run rough-shod over the rest of the world, especially in this era of increasing unipolarism, there can be no better check on such unilateralism or show of raw might than the measured words of wisdom and even chastisement from the Global Elders.

Admitted that their pronouncements would be largely advisory, such, nonetheless, should have the force of law and be binding on countries, regional groups or such continental bodies as the UN and its agencies, essentially because these personalities would not be speaking out of partisan or selfish considerations, having, as a consequence of their international stature, outgrown borders, ideologies and pecuniary considerations.

As though to allay the fears of potential critics of the initiative, Mandela, at the group's inauguration, outlined some of the objectives of the group. He said, that "the Elders can become a fiercely independent and robust force for good, tackling conflicts and intractable issues, especially those that are not popular."

He stressed that they will "speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind the scenes, wherever our help is needed" and that they derived their "strength not from military, political or economic power, but from the independence and integrity" of the members.

The objectives are expectedly noble and highly commendable, and belonging to such a group should be the dream of every elder in the world. Apparently, however, the criteria for membership must be very high, so high that none of those from Nigeria who would ordinarily consider themselves qualified for membership have been invited to join.

The challenge, therefore, is for everyone, both elders and those hoping to become elders, to strive to live their lives and render public service in such a way that they would be found fit to belong to the Global Elders forum or to such other select groups that may be formed in future with the aim of making the world a better place to live in.

The Global Elders deserve the respect and support of all and sundry to enable them make a mark. They have made up their minds to continue to serve humanity in spite of their ages. This means that at this stage in their lives they would not make any pronouncements or take any steps that would cause their integrity and wisdom to be questioned.

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