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21 juillet 2007

The power of twelve

Global elders

Elder statesmen: (from left) Peter Gabriel, Muhammad Yunus, Mary Robinson, Kofi Annan, Graca Machel, Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Li Zhaoxing, Desmond Tutu and Richard Branson

In tribal villages it is the elders to whom the people turn in times of crisis. Could a group of universally respected figures bring those same qualities of leadership and wisdom to bear on the global village? Just such an initiative has been launched by Nelson Mandela. In an exclusive report, Mick Brown charts the development of the Global Elders

On a cool South African autumn day in May, an extraordinary group of people assembled around a table in the great room at Ulusaba, the private game reserve owned by Sir Richard Branson. Among them were Nelson Mandela and his wife Graca Machel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the former American president Jimmy Carter, and the former president of Ireland and chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Mary Robinson.

This was the first gathering of the Global Elders – the initiative created by Mandela, and formally announced by him in Johannesburg this week.

Ulusaba is one of the most luxurious private game reserves in Africa. Set in 13,500 hectares on the edge of the Kruger National Park, it was opened by Branson in 1989. Guests normally pay up to £1,000 a night to stay there, but for five days the lodge was closed to business as the gathering deliberated on what the Elders might achieve, and how they should present themselves to the world. Around the table, the core group and a circle of advisers including the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, the English parliamentarian Tony Benn and CS Kiang, founder of the College of Environmental Studies at Beijing University, listened to briefings from analysts and experts on a range of topics from Darfur to nuclear proliferation.

On one evening, as the gathering dined outside on the terrace, bandaged against the autumnal chill in borrowed fleeces and ponchos, they were addressed on the ­situation in Gaza by Yasser Abd Rabbo, a member of the PLO’s executive committee, widely recognised as a Palestinian 'dove’, and the Israeli peace activist and former justice minister Yossi Beilin, both instrumental in the Geneva Peace Accord. On another, they were entertained by a spontaneous performance by the musician Peter Gabriel, singing his composition, Biko, about the ANC activist Steve Biko, whose murder in police custody in 1977 made him a martyr of the anti-apartheid movement.

As well as those gathered around the table in May, the group that Nelson Mandela announced this week will also comprise the former Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan; Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi economist and so-called 'banker to the poor’, who devised the idea of microcredit – the extension of small loans to people too poor to qualify for bank loans; Li Zhaoxing, the former Foreign Minister of China; Ela Bhatt, the Indian women’s activist and founder of SEWA, the Self Employed Women’s Association; and Gro Harlen Bruntland, the former prime minister of Norway and director of the World Health Organisation. Five of the group are Nobel Peace laureates.

Two more names will be added in the coming months to bring the total to 12. And an invitation has also been extended to Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratically elected leader of Burma, who has spent much of the past 18 years detained under house arrest by the military junta that governs the country; a chair will be kept empty at all Elders meetings until such time as she is able to occupy it.

So what exactly are the Global Elders? A self-elected 'dream team’ for putative world government? An alternative to an increasingly divisive and moribund United Nations? The mission statement that accompanied this week’s announcement couches their objectives in deliberately moderate language. 'The Elders,’ it states, 'are coming together to contribute wisdom, independent leadership and moral courage to tackle some of the world’s most serious problems.’ It is said that they will seek to use their influence and experience to 'persuade and facilitate’ action on a broad range of issues, making themselves available to act as 'honest brokers’ in conflict resolution, serving as a 'megaphone’ to amplify the volume on crisis situations such as diminishing natural resources, Aids and malaria, and act as an independent voice of reason and wisdom on the shoulder of governments and other organisations.

What they will not do is execute on-the-ground ­programmes, or duplicate work being performed by the UN and other organisations. They will have no legislative or political power, no armies at their disposal, and no ­billion-dollar budgets. In short, they will be a test of how effective the weapons of wisdom, independence and moral authority can be to leverage global change.

For Branson and Gabriel, the gathering at Ulusuba held a particular sweetness – the culmination of a dream they have been nurturing for the past eight years. The pair have been good friends for many years, but it was in 1999 when they first began to talk in theoretical terms about how the tradition in indigenous cultures of tribal elders serving as the repository of wisdom, judgement and long-term thinking might be applied in the global village. The premise that Branson and Gabriel thrashed out was deceptively simple – there are any number of organisations and institutions, from the UN down, dedicated to solving the world’s ­myriad problems, but there is no single group that is totally independent, deriving its authority not from political, economic, military or religious power but from ­wisdom and experience. What might such a group achieve?

Each saw the possibilities in a different way. Branson envisaged a group of globally respected individuals who could use their influence to mobilise resources to combat the pandemics of Aids or malaria, and to prevent and resolve global conflicts. 'A group of Elders might be able to look at situations slightly differently than the United Nations does, or individual governments with their own vested interests do,’ he says. 'I know as a businessman that sometimes if you think you’re slightly ahead of the game, you become wedded to your position, and you may need someone to come in and help you save face in a climb-down position. There are occasions where both sides have got themselves into an impossible situation and it requires a completely disinterested party to see how they can extricate themselves from that.’

Gabriel saw it rather differently. A long-time supporter of human rights causes, he founded Witness, a grassroots organisation that puts cameras and video equipment into the hands of ordinary people to record human rights abuses around the world – a 'YouTube for human rights’, as he puts it. He envisaged a globally elected council of the wise, using the internet and mobile-phone technology to respond to grassroots problems in a way governments are unable to do. Both agreed only one man could ever bring such a project to fruition: Nelson Mandela.

'To me, and I think most others, there is nobody who epitomises a universally acclaimed moral authority more than Nelson Mandela,’ Branson says. 'Here was somebody who by rights ought to have been consumed by ­bitterness after years in prison, but he forgave his captors and welcomed them into government; he prevented a whole nation going down the precipice into conflagration. He’s a wonderful example to everyone.’ Through his ­philanthropic interests in South Africa, Branson had come to know Mandela well.

In autumn 2001, he was entertaining Mandela at his Holland Park home. Gabriel joined them, and over lunch he and Branson gently floated their idea of the Elders. Mandela’s response was guarded: the UN, he said, might look askance at a self-elected group presuming to step on their territory. But he could see the value of the idea. He remembered how in his mediations between the Tutsis and the Hutus both sides had said it was as if they were talking to a father advising them, rather than to someone with an agenda of his own. 'I think the success of that made Mandela see how 12 figures such as himself could be 12 times as powerful in certain situations,’ Branson says. Mandela told them he would give the idea serious thought.

Branson says he has never been interested in running for political or public office, but nor has he been shy of using his influence and resources in the service of causes he believes in. In 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait leading to the first Gulf War, at the request of his friend the late King Hussein of Jordan, Branson used Virgin aircraft to airlift supplies to refugees fleeing into Jordan and later mounted a mercy flight to bring home British citizens held hostage by Saddam Hussein.

In recent years, his growing friendships with Mandela, Bill Clinton and Al Gore have encouraged him to deepen his interest in the possibilities of what he describes as socially responsible entrepreneurialism. Last year he pledged to commit all the profits from his transportation businesses over the next 10 years – estimated at $3 billion – to Clinton’s global initiative to develop clean fuels. He has also offered a prize of $25 million of his own money to anyone who can devise a way of taking damaging carbon emissions from the atmosphere.

Branson has never been afraid to think big, or been deflected by obstacles others might regard as insurmountable. But nothing rivals in audacity his attempt unilaterally to avert the Gulf War in 2003. As America was preparing to invade Iraq, Branson, through intermediaries, explored the possibility of Saddam Hussein being assured of safe haven in Libya. He then approached Mandela asking if he would be prepared to fly to Iraq to persuade Saddam to step down. Mandela said he would if Kofi Annan, then Secretary General of the United Nations, and South Africa’s President Tabo Mbeki agreed to the plan. Branson sought, and was given, both their blessings. But before Mandela could board a private plane to fly from Johannesburg to Baghdad, America invaded. 'It may have come to nothing anyway,’ Branson says, 'but it was an example of a universally respected, individual elder, working outside the conventional political process, who might have made a difference.’

A few months later, in November 2003, Branson and Gabriel were both in South Africa for an all-star concert to launch Mandela’s 46664 Aids charity [46664 was Mandela’s prisoner number on Robben Island] which they had organised with the musician Dave Stewart. Afterwards, at Mandela’s home, they again broached the idea of a council of global Elders, asking whether Mandela and his wife Graca Machel would lead such a project and become the founding Elders. Warming to the idea, Mandela asked Branson to research the logistical feasibilities.

Branson now set up a team, led by Jean Oelwang, the chief executive of Virgin Unite, the independent charitable arm of the Virgin Group, with the objective of defining what a council of Elders would look like, what it might do and, as Oelwang says, 'bringing together the collective wisdom of some of the world’s most remarkable leaders with no other agenda but that of humanity.’

The first question was the most difficult: who should the Elders be? The number of figures who command not only universal recognition but universal respect can be counted on the fingers of one hand. How do you arrive at a group of 12 – the number had been decided by an unspoken consensus – that would equitably represent gender, ethnicity and cultural pluralism?

Mandela had already outlined a handful of names that he would like to join him; to research further candidates, Oelwang recruited Scilla Elworthy. She is the founder of the Oxford Research Group, which she established in 1982 to study ­global security issues and develop dialogue between nuclear-weapons policy makers and their critics. She is also the founder of Peace Direct, a grassroots organisation devoted to developing conflict resolution skills, and has herself been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Over the next 18 months, Elworthy consulted government figures, diplomats, civic leaders and Nobel Peace Prize winners throughout the world, assembling a long-list of individuals for consideration as possible Elders. At this point it was felt expedient to reveal as little of the project as ­possible. In her canvassing of names, Elworthy referred to the project simply as an initiative to influence decision-making on global issues.

'We felt we shouldn’t use Nelson Mandela’s name – we didn’t want it to get into the press in the wrong way. We simply said this was going to be something at the highest level, led by absolutely impeccable names with global moral authority. And it wasn’t going to be just a talking shop; it was going to be about direct action.’ 0

Through a process of discussion and elimination, a set of criteria began to emerge for prospective Elders. The first, and most important, was that they should not be currently involved in politics; they should have no personal agenda, vested interest or bias. They should have earned international trust, demonstrated outstanding integrity and built a reputation for non-coercive leadership.

'It was important to find people who had displayed moral courage,’ Elworthy says. 'In other words, they had been in some situation that had demanded them to stand up against oppressive forces, dictatorship or whatever.’ Aung San Suu Kyi is an outstanding example, she says.

'Secondly, they should have made a real difference to very large numbers of people in some way that had dramatically changed their lives.’ Muhammad Yunus was a good example. 'Here is somebody who has devised a replicable and massively important technique for lifting people out of poverty, surmounted all the difficulties and actually made it work,’ Elworthy says.

'Another criterion is the demonstration that they can move beyond their own fear in a significant way. Nelson Mandela would be the obvious example there, having put up with 27 years of incarceration and facing fear daily in the early days. Then there’s the ability to listen, which everybody involved in this considers terribly important. And the last thing was the realisation that all the truly great people have a sense of humour. Archbishop Tutu absolutely epitomises that. It wasn’t a criterion, but it emerged as a common characteristic.’

By the end of the process, Elworthy had drawn up a biographical databank of more than 300 ­people – human rights activists, scientists, economists, philosophers, spiritual and tribal leaders, social visionaries, specialists in health care, education and environmental issues – drawn from almost every corner and culture of the world. In time, this would be filtered down yet further to just 30 names, including a clutch of former presidents and prime ministers, an internationally acclaimed author and four renowned religious and spiritual leaders. Six of the 30 were Nobel Peace Prize winners.

In August 2006 a remarkable assortment of individuals gathered on Necker Island, Richard Branson’s private retreat in the Virgin Isles, to brainstorm the Elders concept. They included leading figures from the world of internet technology – Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia; Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google; Steve Case, the chairman of AOL – representatives of global think tanks and philanthropic trusts. Also present were Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whom Mandela had already indicated he would like to see as chairman of the Elders, and ex-president Jimmy Carter – a key name on Mandela’s list.

Over the course of several days, in meetings conducted around the dining-table in Branson’s home, and more informally on blankets and chairs on the beach, the participants roamed far and wide over what the Elders should be doing and, more importantly, what they could realistically achieve that other organisations – notably the UN – could not. Should they be seeking to make personal interventions in crisis management and conflict resolution? Should they function as a sophisticated global intelligence resource, a repository of expertise and intelligence for tackling global pandemics?

Should they be seeking to make personal interventions in crisis management and conflict resolution? Should they function as a sophisticated global intelligence resource, a repository of expertise and intelligence for tackling global pandemics?

An advocacy group drawing attention to problems overlooked by the world’s governments and media, with an unrivalled capacity to focus global attention on a problem and project whatever message they chose? Archbishop Tutu stressed that he would see one of the fundamental roles of the group to act as a living example of the truth that 'human beings are made for goodness’. It is not the militarily powerful or even the economically prosperous that are held in univerally high regard, he said, but the peacemakers and the humanitarians, 'the ones who make people feel good about being human’.

'In South Africa we speak of Ubuntu, meaning we are not in isolation: I need you in order to be me… we exist in a delicate network of interdependence. And a part of what the Elders ought to be seeking to do is reminding people that you are ­fundamentally good, and that the aberrations are the bad. Why we are appalled by what is happening in Darfur, in Burma, or Zimbabwe is precisely because we are saying, “That’s not the norm.” One of the hopes for the world is precisely the fact that people are outraged by such ghastliness.’

Jimmy Carter had agreed to come to Necker purely in an exploratory capacity, reluctant to commit himself to the idea of the Elders. Addressing the group on the first day, he expressed his reservations, talking of the disparity between 'a dream of peace, love and sharing and caring’ and an organisation that could deliver the practical solutions to problems – 'the mundane thing of building a latrine, or putting a tablet in someone’s mouth, or putting up a [mosquito] screen. Bridging that wide chasm between dreams and practicalities, 'takes money and organisation,’ Carter pointed out.

But as the discussions went on, so his enthusiasm began to grow. If the Elders could evolve into a stature of global acceptance and respect, he said, it would be very difficult for others to reject their influence; their independence, lack of any agenda, and their global reputations as honest brokers would give them entree with individuals that might be denied to other organisations, and even governments, enabling them to exert influence in a way that even the UN could not do. What leader could resist an invitation to meet such a group?

'Even in the most controversial issues, the Elders could make themselves felt. Even though people on both sides may say they don’t want interference.’ The Elders, Carter suggested, might function as a first court of appeal in conflict resolution, 'a place where people can say as a first response, why don’t I go to the Elders to help prevent this war?’

Their unique position, he went on, would also mean they would be free to speak with 'pariahs' – the 'unsavoury leaders' who may be the real cause of the problem but are never included in the discussion of the solution. 'This group would have the collective stature to overcome the stigma of dealing with people whom the world may be condemning.'

But the potential for the group, he said, was ­limitless. 'We’re talking about alleviating suffering in the third world, women’s rights, the protection of human rights, dealing with diseases, the environment. I think the last thing this group wants to do is put any kind of limit on what they might address.’ After three days of meetings, Carter’s scepticism had given way to commitment. He left Necker indicating that if he were invited to become an Elder he would accept. The Elders, he said, could be 'the conscience to the world’.

For Peter Gabriel, one of the most exciting things about the Elders initiative is the opportunity ­presented by new technology for what he describes as 'user-generated politics’ to bypass the obstacles that exist in conventional political processes.

'All of the Elders individually have said that one of the main roles they would like to take is to listen,’ Gabriel says. 'And if we can provide a bridge between people at the bottom and those, if you like, in the clouds at the top that have the influence to do something, then the potential is enormous. If the right is open to everybody, whether they’re in Darfur or Iran or wherever, to have their stories told in an environment where they can be drawn to the attention of the Elders, then you have the possibility to tickle existing political systems in ways that could only help encourage change. It’s crazy to get too ambitious about what the Elders might achieve; but I think a phone call from that group would be very hard to ignore if you’re a world leader.’

The Elders will not be in the business of executing on-the-ground programmes; but in time, Gabriel says, the Elders’ website will create a global community, providing a platform for humanitarian projects, highlighting technological innovation and fostering on-line skills mentoring. 'We have this amazing resource of the retired community – our own elders – which is so untapped; we push them into homes or off to the seaside, and they have a lifetime of experience to use. In sub-Saharan Africa alone there are 12 million children without parents because of Aids who could connect with mentors one-on-one through the internet. This kind of ­revolution could all be harvested under the Elders’ auspices, and that is so exciting.’

It is anticipated that the Elders will meet at least twice a year at various locations throughout the world, while remaining in regular contact through video conferencing. 'We want this to be perceived very much as a global body, not linked to one ­continent’, Jean Oelwang says. They will receive no remuneration, but an extensive support structure is being put in place to facilitate their work, including an 'intelligence network’ of advisers who will be available to provide expert counsel and feedback on whatever issues the Elders choose to tackle, as and when required. A chief executive will be appointed in the next few months.

The initiative is being funded by a group of founders. As well as Branson and Gabriel, who are committing their own money to the project, these include the UN Foundation, which was created in 1998 by Ted Turner with a $1 billion bequest to support UN causes and activities; Humanity United, a philanthropic organisation started by the eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam; and the American businessman and philanthropist Raymond Chambers, the founder of Malaria No More and Millennium Promise. Oelwang estimates that funding over the next three years will be in the region of $20 million.

For Kathy Calvin, the executive vice-president and chief operating officer of the UN Foundation, the attraction of the Elders project as a funder lies in its potential to tackle intractable problems, especially where major global institutions can’t do so alone. 'It’s become increasingly clear over the last few years that multilateral institutions are essential but often limited by their multiple constituencies,’ she says.

'I think people really feel that politics is blocking our ability to solve big problems. So it’s a time when a different approach and methodology could come into play. In a way it’s kind of old-fashioned. It’s relying on relationships and moral standing and one-to-one quiet negotiation – it’s everything that is increasingly difficult to achieve on the world stage. Here are people who have no other agenda than to point out what is the right thing to do. Now it’s a big question whether that can be effective, but why wouldn’t you at least want to try? I also think that in this world of YouTube and the internet, the idea of a group of wise people and leaders who are listeners as well as talkers, and who would give voice to people who are never ­otherwise heard, is also very powerful.’

What is most compelling of all, Calvin says, is that the initiative is led by Nelson Mandela 'The notion that he has one last gift to the world, and that he would pull together the people he has in this way, is very inspiring. He has demonstrated a kind of leadership that is based on listening and consensus which can engage the next generation as well.’

Mandela is now 89 and in fragile health, yet he carries with him an air of palpable magnetism and authority – that rare and deeply affecting combination of greatness and humility. At the Ulusaba gathering he was last to take his place at the table. Word had spread of his coming. A crowd of local villagers, and every member of staff of the lodge, had gathered at the gate to greet him, his arrival heralded by the sound of ululations and praise-songs. As he made his way slowly into the room, leaning on Branson’s arm for support, the gathering rose as one in a round of spontaneous and prolonged applause – his newly found entourage of cooks, maids and drivers, joyfully ignoring privacy or protocol, crowding in behind him to hear him speak: the father of the nation with his children.

Talking of the major problems the world faces – violent conflict, climate change, disease – Mandela spoke of how the institutions of government are often tied down by political, economic or geographical constraints, and how the efforts of a small, dedicated group of leaders 'working objectively and without any vested personal interest in the outcome’ could help to solve what often seem like intractable problems.

The Elders, he went on, had the opportunity to be 'a real role model’ for the world, leading, guiding, creating their own initiatives and supporting others, speaking 'freely and boldly’, and working both publicly and behind the scenes on whatever actions needed to be taken.

Muhammad Yunus had been unable to join the group in South Africa, but that afternoon he pledged his commitment via satellite link in Bangladesh. Kofi Annan had also been unable to attend personally, but on the second day he addressed the gathering via satellite from Sweden. He had not yet formally committed himself to the project, but over the next 30 minutes as he Graca Machel, Archbishop Tutu and Carter engaged in a conversation about African politics that made one vividly aware of just how potent the Elders’ armoury of experience and personal connections could be, Annan’s enthusiasm was palpably evident.

At the end of the conversation, Archbishop Tutu addressed him. 'So, Kofi, can I take it you are with us?’ Annan answered him with a broad smile: 'I am with you,’ and the room rose in a round of thunderous applause.

Elders will serve a three-year term, with the potential to extend. They will also be overseeing the setting up of supporting groups of 'grassroots' Elders around the world – to be drawn from the existing databank of 300 names and from recommendations from the public through the internet. 'Mandela and Graca have said they want to have an open global debate about who else should join the Elders,' Branson says. 'The final choice will be theirs, and will have credibility for that reason. And Mandela will also be getting Nobel Peace laureates to vet his list. The important thing is not to rush and choose the wrong people.' A small number of prominent figures will also be invited to become 'Ambassadors' to the Elders, championing their work. Oprah Winfrey has agreed to become the first of these.

In mapping out a strategy at Ulusaba, it was agreed that the Elders would begin by ­concentrating on just one or two initiatives – at least one in the area of conflict resolution. But they are likely to be undertaken without fanfare or announcement. Indeed, Branson says, he expects much of the Elders’ work to be done behind the scenes. 'Some­times they will have to go public, but generally the feeling is that it would be much better, and more effective, to do things quietly. There will always be that threat that if people don’t sort things out then the Elders can go public. But once you lose that threat then you’ve lost your ammunition.’

Another item high on the agenda was the criticism that the initiative will almost inevitably receive. 'People will ask, who are these self-appointed ­"saviours",' Mandela cautioned the group. But the Elders, he said, should 'reach out to those detractors, convert them to this way of thinking'.

Branson is aware that one of the more likely targets for media scepticism will be his own involvemen. As much as he is admired by the public (in a BBC poll in 2005 to find the person most people would like to lead a global government, Branson came ninth – Mandela topped the list) there have always been sections of the media quick to accuse him of publicity-seeking.

'But there’s a simple answer to that sort of criticism’, Scilla Elworthy says. 'Does anybody honestly think people like Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Tutu and Jimmy Carter would get involved in this if they thought it was a businessman’s ego trip? There have been various global leadership initiatives in the past, but the big difference with this is that you have the combination of wisdom and resources to make it more than just a talking-shop. It has a real dynamism because it has Richard’s entrepreneurial muscle behind it. It won’t stop at wise declarations; it will actually put them into action.’

'There is cynicism about anything that happens in life,’ Branson says, 'but I’ve never thought that should stop you doing things. I see myself as a catalyst, and it’s very important that it’s no more than that. The job of Peter and myself is simply to help Nelson Mandela put this in place, make sure there is a fantastic team to back up the Elders, and then to step back.

'Mandela and Graca are both the most special people, and for them to be engaged in something like this is equally special. Even if the Elders do only one positive thing, that would justify their existence, but I’m sure that in the years and decades to come they’ll be able to do many good things. The world is crying out for more Nelson Mandelas and it would be wonderful if the Elders could become part of his legacy and live on through future generations.’

'We must give people the sense that solutions to the world’s problems are possible; that things might look intractable but it is our duty to believe that goodness and right will prevail,’ Archbishop Tutu says. 'But at the same time everyone is aware of the dangers of raising expectations too high.’

Buried in the briefing documents outlining the putative objectives of the Elders and their possible strategies, lies a cautionary note about what the Elders will not do, '… solve all the world’s problems…’ It is intended in a light-hearted way. Who after all would realistically expect them to? But it does raise the question – if they can’t, who can?

Information appearing on

Rings around the world

The Seeds of Thomas Brooman's passion for music may come from briefly living as a child in South America. There he experienced tango in Buenos Aires and samba at Brazil's Rio Carnival, when he was only ten. But his co-founding of WOMAD, the World of Music and Dance Festival which celebrates its 25th anniversary this summer, came after receiving a phone call from Peter Gabriel.

It was the early 1980s and Brooman was a drummer in a Bristol punk band. He'd bumped into Gabriel in a Bath recording studio, and as editor of the Bristol Recorder felt duty bound to interview him. The Recorder itself was proof of his entrepreneurship; a local record magazine funded from the advertising space on the gate sleeve which housed each issue's free LP. Soon afterwards, Gabriel rang him "to see if we can promote some African music", Brooman recalls. "We were so eager that we got involved immediately in everything from letter-writing to the heavy organisational side." The outcome was the first WOMAD festival in Shepton Mallet in 1982. It flopped miserably.

Why? Rain, a bad location, poor publicity and a host of other problems faced by the ingénu collective. "We owed an awful lot of money - so, prompted by Peter, Genesis had their first and only reunion concert with Peter playing," says Brooman. "It was 2 October at the Milton Keynes Bowl and 30,000 came and proverbially saved our bacon. Ironically that rock'n'roll event made solvent our very un-rock'n'roll festival."

It took another ten years for that un-rock and roll event to break even, but today the UK festival alone has a budget of £2 million. There are also WOMAD festivals in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore Spain, Canary Islands and Sicily.

Regularly attracting 20,000 people, WOMAD's appeal lies not simply in the diversity of its programme - 100 artists from five continents - nor in its 450 toilets and 100 shower heads, but, as Brooman says, in its very special public. In contrast to the male-dominated audiences of most rock festivals, 60 per cent of WOMAD regulars are women with children, and older people. Each adult ticket gets two children under 13 in free, and for many it's their annual holiday. Children can spend their days in free art and music workshops working towards a massive procession on Sunday afternoon. Teenagers can club it all night to world DJs. Last year, to my eyes, there were more buggies than ever, pushed by twenty and thirtysomethings, with babies and toddlers laid out on blankets on the grass, or inside the covered Siam Tent day and night. WOMAD's special community spirit has effectively marketed its own future.

Add to the music and family scene the home-made food, from everywhere from Mexico to Japan, and you understand why the festival is a fixture in so many diaries. You can sit on a bale of hay and eat Thai green curry while listening, this year, to Toots and The Maytals, Calexico, Maritza, Kronos Quartet, Baaba Maal, Cesaria Evora and 94 other groups.

"We cover all tastes, so that if someone can only manage 20 minutes listening, say, to the Musicians of Nile they can walk to something else," says Brooman.

WOMAD helped establish the careers of Drummers of Burundi, was the first to invite Salif Keita and Ali Farka Touré to the UK, and has been blessed for years with the genius of the late Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. "It's all about the magic and mystery of music in performance. When an artist is great neither language or genre is important. It's always been like landing trump cards into a game bridge."

WOMAD has its politics too, with the presence of NGOs, such as Oxfam, Christian Aid and Amnesty International, as well as fringe groups. A few years back, Vanessa Redgrave came to talk about the Iraq War. Yet, as Brooman stresses, "Our politics are non-aligned and deliberately implicit. Redgrave was invited by one of the local Reading campaigning groups, so we were happy about that. If we as an organisation proselytised about anything, something essential would go. At our heart is respect for our musicians who come from all over the world."

WOMAD's 25th year sees it move from its Reading location to the 280-acre site of Charlton Park. Right by the abbey town of Malmesbury in Wiltshire, it's an aristocratic pile complete with arboretum, wooded copse and meadows. It offers 50 per cent more space, allowing for seven stages as well as incidental events, such as the new "Taste the World" sessions with artists cooking their favourite dishes, and "In Conversation" sessions with artists like Trilok Gurtu, Lila Downs, Billy Bragg, and BiIly Cobham. Plus there are new innovations, including a "Don't Get Me Started" Speaker's Corner, and an Art Bar where people can print photos and exhibit their own work.

"It's been both terrifying and exciting, but we've now sold more weekend tickets than ever, so it feels as if people were ready," says Brooman. "WOMAD is all about relationship with place as well as with the music. That is what makes people come back."

Gabriel, who last played at the festival in 1993, headlines on Friday night, when he will duet with daughter Melanie. As Brooman says, "WOMAD is a hybrid born of the Woodstock era but it has always had its feet in music impossible to categorise in conventional terms. And that paradoxically is the source of our success."

• WOMAD 2007, Charlton Park, Wiltshire, 27-29 July. Weekend tickets £120. For more details visit the website,


Peter Gabriel's Make Up.

Peter Gabriel © Clément Kachelhoffer

Un concert sur mesure, sans demi-mesure...

Il existe dans le paysage musical mondial certaines voix reconnaissables entre toutes. C’est le cas de celle de Peter Gabriel.

Cependant cette caracté- ristique ne suffit pas à le définir en tant qu’artiste. Ce que l’on pourrait encore y ajouter, c’est ce formidable sens de la production, des chansons soignées et animées. Bref, toutes les composante qui expliquent sa notoriété. Sinon pourquoi serait-il non seulement connu pour sa carrière solo mais aussi pour son expérience d’ex-leader de Genesis ?

Un rendez-vous immanquable donc. Et plutôt concluant... Peter est arrivé clef en main avec tous les ingrédients nécessaires à la hauteur des attentes du public. Entouré de musiciens de talent (avec entre autre sa fille Mélanie, déjà présente lors de ses tournées « Growing Up » en 2002 et « Warm Up » en 2007), mais aussi et surtout enrichi d’une programmation faite par ses propres fans !

En effet, Peter Gabriel a demandé à son public de choisir, via un site Internet, parmi ses anciens morceaux les moins joués ces dernières années, les titres qu’ils souhaitaient entendre ce 20 juillet. Histoire de « les dépoussiérer... », dixit l'artiste.

C’est ainsi que l’on a pu entendre « In Your Eyes », « Solsbury Hill », « Signal To Noise » ou encore « Sledgehammer ». Belle façon de proposer une approche intelligente de ce que l’on peut appeler vraiment, pour le coup, un spectacle vivant.

Au final, Peter Gabriel nous a prouvé encore une fois qu’il était digne de figurer parmi les plus grands et les plus inventifs des artistes actuels. Toujours soucieux de trouver les solutions qui plairont au public qui se retrouve ainsi à chaque fois conquis.

Quentin Laurent

Lennox fuels mega-diva recording invasion

Annie Lennox isn't taking any chances on her upcoming fourth solo album, the whimsically titled "Songs of Mass Destruction." Apparently convinced that having guest stars -- the more the better -- is a good way to boost your appeal (rather than, say, to dilute your music), she has assembled a cast of accompanists that features almost every female pop vocal star in the known world, including Madonna, Pink, Shakira, Faith Hill, Mary J. Blige, Kelis and, um, Celine Dion.

They are each featured as part of the all-female chorus that backs Lennox on a song that will either be titled "Sing" or "Sing My Sister" and was inspired by South African leader Nelson Mandela's continuing campaign to combat AIDS in Africa. Joining Lennox, Madonna, et al, are Joss Stone, Sarah McLachlan, Bonnie Raitt, Dido, Gladys Knight, Fergie, KT Tunstall, k.d. lang, Anastasia and Angelique Kidjo. A total of 23 women artists will be featured on the song, although Britney was apparently unavailable, unwanted or both. The album, Lennox's first in four years, is due out in the fall.

Conspicuously absent from "Sing/Sing My Sister" are the recently reunited Spice Girls, who would add nothing vocally or otherwise, but were inexplicably hailed by Mandela in 1997 as his "heroes." Mandela recently invited the Spice Girls to perform at his 89th birthday party on July 29, at which Lennox is already set to appear with Peter Gabriel.

However, the advanced pregnancy of Emma "Baby Spice" Bunton is believed to make a Spice Girls' performance unlikely. We, if not Lennox, should consider the impending birth of Bunton's child a musical blessing.

les photos des vieilles Charrues Ouest France

Vieilles charrues : Peter Gabriel, l'ange joue sans frontières...

Ironie du sort, un magnifique arc-en-ciel s'est dessiné pendant le concert de Peter Gabriel. Au soleil couchant, l'artiste a « dépoussiéré » des chansons choisies par ses fans. Revigorant.

>> Découvrez les photos de la soirée de vendredi

>> Notre dossier spécial

Après Higelin, alors que le soleil décline tout doucement, Kerouac renvoie la balle sur Glenmor, où quelque 50 000 festivaliers piaffent d'impatience en attendant l'arrivée du très mythique Peter Gabriel. L'une des « stars » de ces seizièmes Charrues. Le fondateur de Genesis, artiste multi-médias, ardent défenseur d'une planète qui étouffe, des peuples oppressés est arrivé dans un bain de lumière solaire qui inonde et réchauffe le coeur de Kerampuilh. Depuis quand n'a t'on pas vu l'auteur de Biko, de Solsbury Hill, So, Games without frontiers, Big time, Shock the Monkey ou Sledgehammer, (tubes interplanétaires), venir redonner le ton et le tempo de ce côté-ci de la planète ? Un sacré bail... Une éternité diront certains fans. Elle n'a pas suffi à désarçonner le public breton qui continue à suivre de près le fondateur du concept même de « world music » et du si fameux label Real world, du festival Womad (liste non exhaustive).
Décidé à dépoussiérer

« Ce sont mes propres fans via mon site internet qui ont déterminé le choix des chansons de ce soir... Et nous sommes bien décidés à les dépoussiérer ». Du pur Peter Gabriel, altruiste jusqu'au bout des doigts qui caressent le clavier numérique. Percus battantes sur fond de nappes synthétiques vrombissantes, ultrapuissantes. La machine Gabriel sait s'emballer au bon endroit. Elle cisèle un son plus pop pour Blood in Evil que Gabriel traduit par « le sang du paradis » (proche de la genèse de l'artiste). Elle revient à l'orée des années 1980 quand il revisite le très halluciné I'm the intruder et puis No self control reconfiguré à la mode 2007 (l'électro est passée par là). Très vite, l'artiste au regard bleu acier déploie ses ailes sur Kerampuilh, pose sa patte et entre dans la place et dans le coeur de ses ouailles. Pas près d'oublier ce formidable retour en terre bretonne. C'était à Nantes à la Beaujoire, du temps de Genesis, il y a 30 ans. Au bas mot. L'horloge tourne. Pas pour Peter.

Peter Gabriel pour le bonheur de ses fans

Fidèle à sa réputation, Peter Gabriel, l'une des têtes d'affiche des Vieilles Charrues, a fait le bonheur vendredi soir du public de Carhaix. Il est vrai que son répertoire est riche de titres qui ont fait le tour de la planète.

Ils n'ont pas vieilli depuis des années. La preuve, ce concert qui restera comme l'un des moments intenses des Vieilles Charrues 2007.

Vieilles charrues. Ça pète sec !

Sec ? Oui, sec ! Après une ouverture dégoulinante et forcément gadoueuse (quelle idée, franchement, ces chaussures bateau, pour quatre jours de festival !) dans les prairies de Kerampuil, la « vraie » première journée des Vieilles Charrues a été épargnée par les intempéries, comme on pouvait l’espérer. Du coup, le moral des derniers grincheux, plus du tout indécrottables pour le coup, est remonté en flèche. D’autant que les copeaux de bois éparpillés sur le site se sont montrés efficaces dans l’aspiration du trop-plein d’humidité. Place à la fête, donc, et aux artistes du jour, qui, de Peter Gabriel à Ayo, en passant par Higelin, Kaolin ou (tard dans la soirée) Arcade Fire, ont envoyé le gros son. Qui s’en plaindra ?

De plain-pied dans le sillon de ces 16 e s Charrues, qui, depuis hier, retour d’un temps clément aidant, ont trouvé leur rythme de croisière ! D’impressionnantes cohortes de festivaliers ont continué à affluer jusque tard dans l’après-midi aux entrées du site. Les nouveaux, bluffés par l’immensité des lieux, et les habitués retrouvant, eux, immédiatement leurs marques et leurs points de ralliement. « Rendez-vous à 20 h 45, à 200 m, tout à gauche de la grande scène », pour les fans de Peter Gabriel. « On se retrouve au bar 8. Tu me reconnaîtras : j’ai un parka bleu et un pantalon marron (sic) », pour les premiers assoiffés...

Peter Gabriel. Les bras au ciel

Et l’Ange Gabriel leva les bras au ciel, semblant implorer les cieux, entraînant tout le public dans une communion de près d’une heure et demie, hier soir. Après quelques secondes toutes en douceur, le concert du grand Peter, la cinquantaine affûtée, la barbichette taillée de près, pouvait réellement démarrer, autour de la sainte trinité basse-batterie-synthés, si chère au divin chauve.

Mission accomplie

Et déjà, tiens, les premiers accords de « On the air » s’envolent, un tube parmi tant d’autres. Le début d’une longue liste : pour concevoir sa tournée 2007, Peter Gabriel, n’ayant pas de nouvel album à défendre, a consulté ses fans à travers son site Internet. À eux de définir une quinzaine de titres devenus rares au fil du temps et qu’ils souhaitaient à nouveau entendre interpréter par leur héraut. Du coup, les classiques, comme « Mercy Street », « Solsbury Hill » ou « Sledgehammer » (l’arc-en-ciel apparaissant en cours de morceau...), sont ressortis, hier, dans des versions un poil plus musclées : « Certaines chansons n’ont pas été jouées depuis longtemps... Nous sommes déterminés à les dépoussiérer », lança l’artiste en cours de concert. Pour ce travail, il avait convié quelques fidèles autour de lui, comme le bassiste Tony Levin. Mission accomplie : si une bonne partie des spectateurs des Charrues n’a pas connu la bande FM et les clips des années 80, elle est entrée à pieds joints dans son univers. S’il fait mariner ses anciens collègues de Genesis pour reformer la bande (peut-être en 2008), Peter Gabriel préfère parler à son public, avec sa musique et parfois ses mots, dans un français lu. Avec l’élégance en fil conducteur...

« Peter Gabriel ? Un grand monsieur ».

Richard : « Peter Gabriel. Je ne suis pas fan. Mais j’aime bien. Surtout, l’époque Genesis. Un titre qu’il a chanté ? Bon... En fait... je ne connais pas tant que ça. En vérité, si je suis venu aux Vieilles Charrues, c’était surtout pour voir les Rita. Mais je suis sûr que ça va être génial. Peter Gabriel, c’est Peter Gabriel, un grand "Monsieur"de la musique ».

20 juillet 2007

Nelson Mandela launches Elders to save world

Global Elders [from left]: Peter Gabriel, Muhammad Yunus, Mary Robinson, Kofi Annan, Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Sir Richard Branson

Greeted by a 30-strong choir and hailed by a line-up of fellow elder statesmen eager to embrace him, Nelson Mandela celebrated his 89th birthday yesterday with a new initiative demonstrating the moral authority he still carries deep into his retirement.

The former South African president will be the leading figure in the "Global Elders", a group of "12 wise men and women" who will address global problems by offering expertise and guidance.

A frail yet still magnetic figure, Mr Mandela was greeted in Johannesburg at South Africa's Constitutional Court - where he was once held prisoner - by a choir that sang his praises before he outlined the Elders' objectives.

"The Elders can become a fiercely independent and robust force for good, tackling conflicts and intractable issues, especially those that are not popular," said Mr Mandela.

The group will "speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind the scenes, working wherever our help is needed".

He added: "This group derives its strength not from military, political or economic power, but from the independence and integrity of those who are here."

The club's members will comprise former presidents, elder statesmen, leaders and activists and probably five Nobel laureates.

There will eventually be 12 Global Elders - but the exact make-up of the group was in flux right up until yesterday's announcement.

As well as Mr Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel, the group comprises Desmond Tutu, the Anglican Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town; Jimmy Carter, the former American president; Mary Robinson, the former Irish president; Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations; and Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel laureate economist and founder of the Green Bank in Bangladesh, where he is known as "banker to the poor". All were at the launch in Johannesburg yesterday.

Li Zhaoxing, until two months ago the foreign minister of China, has also been invited to join, along with Ela Bhatt, the Indian activist and founder of a women's association. Gro Harlen Bruntland, formerly prime minister of Norway and director of the World Health Organisation, may also become a member.

An empty chair was set on stage yesterday and will be reserved at all Elders meetings for the Burmese opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now the prisoner of the military junta despite her victory in a democratic election in 1990.

The initiative was the brainchild of Sir Richard Branson and the musician Peter Gabriel. As long ago as 2001, they approached Mr Mandela to ask if he and his wife would lead the project.

Sir Richard, Gabriel, the United Nations Foundation and a number of private benefactors are funding the initiative. The Elders should meet twice a year and maintain regular contact via video conferencing.

Archbishop Tutu emphasised that much of their work is likely to take place behind closed doors. "There may be things we can accomplish because people have been able to use their persuasive abilities in confidence. One of the ways to be effective is that no one gets to know precisely what we have done," he said.

But if their work is in private, it will be hard to gauge the Elders' success or failure.

Sceptics ask whether a group of 12 ageing and largely retired figures can possibly exert real influence over the world's most intractable conflicts. Mr Mandela himself rarely leaves Johannesburg and has ceased giving regular speeches.

Instead, much will rest on his moral authority, as well as his ability to generate enthusiasm for tackling injustice and hardship.

"Together we will work to support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict and inspire hope where there is despair," he said.

Mr Mandela also emphasised that he is now "trying to take my retirement seriously", and his role is likely to be symbolic and inspirational rather than practical.

Certainly there was little doubt yesterday just how inspiring a figure he remains. His colleagues among the Global Elders paid a series of warm, if sentimental, tributes to him.

Muhammad Yunus spoke of how being on the same platform as Mr Mandela was "the proudest day of my life", while Li Zhaoxing demonstrated a surprisingly poetic sensibility by turning to Mr Mandela and reciting the first verse of Shakespeare's 18th sonnet: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day..."

But the last word went to Archbishop Tutu who, visibly moved as the frail figure of Mr Mandela was helped offstage, murmured rapturously into the microphone: "Isn't goodness beautiful?"

Peter Gabriel, l'envie d'être sur toutes les scènes

Les Vieilles Charrues Retour / Le festival / Paru dans l' édition du vendredi 20 juillet 2007

Le concert de Peter Gabriel devrait être, ce soir, un des temps forts du festival de Carhaix.

Vieilles Charrues. Personnage dans l'univers musical depuis 1970, Peter Gabriel, musicien et homme de paix, se produit ce soir à Carhaix.

Authentique, infatigable et indépendant : à 57 ans, Peter Gabriel a encore envie. L'envie de la scène, d'être sur tous les fronts, de faire ce que bon lui semble. Contacté en novembre dernier pour reconstituer Genesis, Peter a dit non. Puis, peut-être. Et finalement... plus tard.

En 1967, encore à l'école, il fonde, avec Tony Banks, Anthony Phillips, Mike Rutherford et le batteur Chris Stewart, ce qui va devenir un groupe de renommée mondiale. Grâce notamment à ses propres prestations scéniques, à ses costumes étranges et aux histoires qu'il raconte entre chaque chanson. Mais, peu à peu, sa personnalité envahissante crée des tensions. Et lui, se sent à l'étroit. Il décide de quitter Genesis, en 1975, après une ultime tournée. Phil Collins devient le nouveau leader.

Amoureux de Soul music, Gabriel développe son style sous l'influence de Nina Simone, Procol Harum et Cat Stevens. Même s'il a connu des succès commerciaux et auprès de la critique, avec des chansons comme Games Without Frontiers (3e album) et Shock the Monkey (4e album), l'un de ses hits reste l'incontournable Sledgehammer. Ce titre marque aussi l'arrivée de Peter Gabriel dans l'ère du clip vidéo sur MTV, dont il remporte neuf des récompenses en 1987.

Suivront deux albums studio, mais aussi des musiques de films, des projets multimédias, une participation au spectacle du millénaire à Londres, et surtout des collaborations avec des artistes de tous horizons. Peter Gabriel est aussi le créateur du label Realworld, du festival WOMAD et le promoteur du terme « world musique ». Il est également à ses heures perdues écrivain, réalisateur... Il se consacre aux grandes causes, des droits de l'homme (il est le premier artiste à s'être engagé contre l'apartheid), à l'environnement. Cela lui a valu, en novembre, d'être nommé « Homme de la paix 2006 » par une assemblée de prix Nobel.

Pour les programmateurs des Vieilles Charrues, Jean-Jacques Toux et Jean Philippe Quignon, la présence de l'artiste à Carhaix, « c'est un espoir de paix, une certitude de talent, l'âme de Genesis, le monde en musique... un homme d'exception, en toute simplicité. »


Aux Vieilles Charrues, ce soir sur la scène Glenmor. À l'affiche également ce vendredi, Arcade Fire, Jacques Higelin, Ayo... et bien d'autres. Ouverture des portes dés 15 h.

Peter Gabriel aux Vieilles Charrues

Peter Gabriel, artiste majeur et engagé, sera, à 20 h 50, sur la scène Glenmor. (Photo DR)

Peter Gabriel. Un ange passe

Chanteur du Genesis de la période « pattes d’eph » et précurseur de l’ouverture du rock aux musiques du monde, Peter Gabriel est aussi un showman hors du commun. Preuve sur scène, ce soir, à Kérampuil.

Attention : artiste majeur ! Rares sont les personnalités du rock qui suscitent un respect aussi profond que Peter Gabriel. Rares aussi sont les stars de ce calibre apparues aux Charrues. Leader flamboyant aux costumes, maquillages et coiffures extravagantes du Genesis « prog » des années baba, l’archange Gabriel le quitte en 1975, avant la transformation du groupe, sous l’impulsion de Phil Collins, en usine à hits calibrés FM.

Le chanteur, adepte des expérimentations sonores, se lance alors dans une carrière solo aventureuse et couronnée de succès (les tubes « Solsbury hill », « Shock the monkey », « Sledgehammer », « Don’t give up »...), crée l’hymne « Biko », devenu emblématique de la lutte anti-apartheid, fonde, en Angleterre, le festival Womad, porte d’entrée en Occident de la fine fleur de la musique africaine et orientale. En 1986, Peter Gabriel devient une superstar avec l’album « So » et investit ses royalties dans le lancement du label Real World qui permettra à des artistes de tous les Continents (Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn, Youssou N’Dour...) d’enregistrer dans les mêmes conditions que les stars occidentales.

« Homme de la paix 2006 »

Les années 90 et 2000 sont marquées par l’album « Us » et « Up » et de nouvelles tournées qui assoient encore la réputation de showman de Gabriel. Consécration, l’an passé : ce militant du combat pour les droits de l’Homme est désigné « homme de la paix 2006 » lors d’un sommet de lauréats des Prix Nobel.

19 juillet 2007

Current of joy powers The Elders' peace gathering

...Introducing him and Mr. Gabriel, the archbishop remarked that he should ask Mr. Gabriel to sing Biko - his iconic hymn about the murder of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko 30 years ago. Sir Richard's head snapped up at that, and he shouldered his way back to the microphone, saying, "If you won't ask him, I will!" Moments later an abashed-looking Mr. Gabriel found himself in front of the crowd, clearing his throat.

It was a fitting place to sing this song: the gathering was held on the grounds of South Africa's Constitutional Court, which was once an apartheid prison. As the archbishop said, "This was a place of tears, of suffering, of humiliation. People were detained without trial here, people were tortured here. But they didn't buckle."

So Mr. Gabriel squared his shoulders and sang Biko, every haunting word, and the audience - journalists and dignitaries and a row of South Africa's Constitutional Court justices - joined him with a low and rhythmic hum.

Tumultuous applause erupted as he finished, but then just as quickly died away, as people noticed the archbishop: He was hunched over, hands clutched in fists, weeping inconsolably.

"We stand on the shoulders of incredible people," he choked out, taking off his glasses and wiping the tears. "We owe our freedom to incredible people."

Mr. Mandela said, with what sounded like a note of genuine regret, that "I am trying to take my retirement seriously" and so would not participate in the hands-on work of his group of Elders. But he will, as Mr. Branson said, pick up the phone when he needs to, using his unique level of moral suasion to get others involved.

In the end, Mr. Mandela left the gathering to celebrate his birthday with his children and grandchildren, and the other Elders went to work. Archbishop Tutu, dancing a little jig, sent everyone into the world with a final observation: "We have been through incredible times and God has helped us to see that the evil doesn't have the last word. It's ultimately goodness and laughter and joy," he said. "Those are what are going to prevail in the end."



Sir Richard Branson

British adventurer, promoter, humanitarian and head of the Virgin brand of more than 350 companies

"You are a thousand years of collected wisdom."

Peter Gabriel

British musician and humanitarian

"Many people around the world are losing faith - our dream was that there might still be a group of people we could trust. ... Whose strength was based [only] on the faith they themselves had earned through their remarkable lives."....

Mandela unveils 'council of elders'

Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was invited to join the group but is under house arrest in her homeland

Reporters on the Job

Momentarily Starstruck: Correspondent Danna Harman was in South Africa in 1994, during the first free elections after the end of apartheid. She recalls Nelson Mandela dancing at a rally.

On Wednesday, she found herself a few feet away from Mr. Mandela at a press conference announcing the establishment of a global council of elders . "He's one of my heros and hasn't been seen in public recently. So, yes, I was a little starstruck. I smiled and gave him the thumbs up."

That was followed by another emotional moment, when British entrepreneur Richard Branson asked rock star Peter Gabriel to sing "Biko" – a song about Steve Biko, the South African antiapartheid activist who died in police custody. "Gabriel's band wasn't there, so he asked the crowd to hum along in key. Branson started crying. Biship Desmond Tutu was bawling, and I teared up," says Danna.

Later, Mr. Branson, he asked Danna what she thought of the event. By then, her reporter's hat was back in place. "The elders are admirable, even great people," she replied. "But I don't understand the meat of the initiative. What are they going to do?"

Mandela celebrates with panel of peace

From left, Singer Peter Gabriel, Bangladesh 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus, former Irish President Mary Robinson, former United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan, Graca Machel, wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, Nelson Mandela, former United States President Jimmy Carter, former Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, South African Archbishop Emeritus esmond Tutu and entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson pose for a group photograph following the official launch of a new group, The Elders, on the occasion of Mandela's 89th birthday in Johannesburg yesterday.

Meet the Elders': Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Muhammad Yunus and Many More

They Assembled in Johannesburg, South Africa, to Tackle Some of the World's Most Pressing Problems

Former South African President Nelson Mandela, flanked from left, by his wife Graca Machel, British singer Peter Gabriel, British entrepreneur Richard Branson and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, listens to South Africa's Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu address the audience in Johannesburg Wednesday July 18, 2007. Mandela celebrates his 89th birthday Wednesday with a star-studded soccer match and the launch of a humanitarian campaign, joined by "elders" of the global village. (Jerome Delay/AP Photo)

The Elders, a new alliance made up of an elite group of senior statesmen dedicated to solving thorny global problems, unveiled itself today in Johannesburg. The rollout coincided with founding member Nelson Mandela's 89th birthday. After a grand entrance, Mandela, the former South African president, announced the rest of the Elders.

The members include Desmond Tutu, South African archbishop emeritus of Capetown; former U.S. President Jimmy Carter; former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan; Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and Mohammed Yunus, the Nobel laureate and founder of the Green Bank in Bangladesh. The group plans to get involved in some of the world's most pressing problems -- climate change, pandemics like AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, violent conflicts.

It was an extraordinary gathering; a who's who of famous international leaders, with enough emotion to move some of them to tears. Under a large white futuristic dome, British billionaire Richard Branson and rock star Peter Gabriel, who conceived the idea for the Elders, gathered enough star power to change the world, or at least that's the hope.

"The structures we have to deal with these problems are often tied down by political, economic and geographic constraints," Mandela said. The Elders, he argued, will face no such constraints. Seven years ago, Branson and Gabriel approached Mandela about the Elders idea, and he agreed to help them recruit others. "This group of elders will bring hope and wisdom back into the world," Branson said. "They'll play a role in bringing us together. Using their collective experience, their moral courage and their ability to rise above the parochial concerns of nations ? they can help make our planet a more peaceful, healthy and equitable place to live, " Branson said. " Let us call them 'global elders,' not because of their age but because of individual and collective wisdom."

Calling it "the most extraordinary day" of his life, Gabriel said, "The dream was there might still be a body of people in whom the world could place their trust." Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who moderated the event and will serve as its leader, was moved to tears after Gabriel sang an impromptu accapella version of his hit song "Biko," written about a famous South African political prisoner.

Branson and Gabriel have raised enough money -- some $18 million -- to fund this group for three years. Also onboard are names less well known in the United States, including Indian microfinance leader Ela Bhatt; former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland; former Chinese ambassador to the United States Li Zhaoxing.

The group left an empty seat onstage -- symbolically -- for an elder who was invited, but could not attend because she is under house arrest in Burma, Nobel laureate and human rights advocate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mandela and Carter emphasized the group's ability to talk to anyone without risk."We will be able to risk failure in worthy causes, and we will not need to claim credit for any successes that might be achieved," said Carter.

Carter said the group does not want to step on or interfere with other positive work that nations or organizations are doing but wants to supplement that work. Several members acknowledged that the actual activities and actions of the group remain to be determined. There are no titles, no ranking of the members. And it is not clear if they will travel as a group, deploy individual members to global hot spots, or simply sit in a room together to develop strategies or assist those who are suffering find help. But they certainly have high hopes.

"I didn't like the title "elders," because I didn't feel like an elder," said Yunus to laughter, "but I like the idea." Yunus said the world is without direction and he hopes the Elders can provide some direction. Speaking of the Elders, almost in the way one would describe a cartoon about superheroes, Mandela said, "The Elders can become a fiercely independent and positive force for good."

Annan added that the group does not "intend to go and take on Darfur or Somalia and resolve it singlehandedly. We don't have a magic wand," he said. But he argued that the group could intervene and perhaps force parties to honor agreements. "There are certain crimes that shame us all," said Annan. "We all have a responsibility, and I hope the Elders will take the lead in asking the question: What can we do to move the situation forward?"Sometimes by saying 'this is enough we can't take this anymore it must stop,' we are making a difference," Annan continued

Mandela and Branson both celebrated birthdays today. At 89, Mandela looked frail. He walked with a cane and Carter helped him to the podium. But once Mandela got there, he stood tall and easily delivered some 10 minutes of remarks. "He, as you know, walks sedately," Tutu joked.

By KATE SNOW, ABC News Internet Ventures

Global leaders, soccer legends celebrate Nelson Mandela's 89th birthday

Nelson Mandela celebrated his 89th birthday Wednesday with a star-studded soccer match and the launch of a humanitarian campaign, joined by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other elders of the global village.

The elders event kicked off with about 250 people taking to their feet to sing «Happy Birthday» as Mandela beamed with delight before being helped to the stage by his wife and Carter.
«How God must love South Africa to have given us such a priceless gift,» Desmond Tutu, South Africa's former Anglican archbishop and chairman of the elders group, told Mandela. «You bowled us all over by your graciousness, magnanimity and generosity of spirit.

Mandela was imprisoned for nearly three decades for his fight against apartheid. Released in 1990, he led negotiations to end decades of white rule. In 1994, in South Africa's first fully democratic elections, he was elected president. He left office in 1999 but has continued to work to reduce poverty, illiteracy and AIDS in Africa.

The Elders stems from an idea of British entrepreneur Richard Branson, who shares a birthday with Mandela, and musician Peter Gabriel, who were present at Wednesday's launch.

The Elders, who include several Nobel peace laureates _ among them Mandela _ are dedicated to finding new ways to foster peace and resolve global crises, and to supporting the next generation of leaders.

The Elders are Annan; Ela Bhatt, a women's rights campaigner from India; former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland; Carter; Li Zhaoxing, a former Chinese envoy to the U.N. who started his diplomatic career in Africa; Mandela's wife Graca Machel, a longtime campaigner for children's rights; Mandela; former Irish President Mary Robinson; Tutu; and Muhammad Yunus, founder of the pioneering micro-credit institution known as Grameen Bank.

«I am confident that The Elders can become real role models. They will support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict and inspire hope where there is despair,» Mandela said. «This initiative cannot have come at a more appropriate time. It brings together an extraordinary collection of people with skills and diversity to undertake what we know is an enormous task.

Mandela, who walked with difficulty Wednesday and was not expected to take an active role in the new group, joked about his attempts to stay in retirement. While still maintaining his ramrod straight posture and calm deportment, Mandela is struggling to walk, his ankles badly swollen. He appears thinner but less frail than he has at other recent appearances.

The atmosphere swung from tears to laughter Wednesday. At one point, Gabriel sang his «Biko» unaccompanied, leaving Tutu weeping. Black leader Steve Biko died at the hands of the apartheid security forces 30 years ago.

The Elders have received US$18 million in funding over three years from Branson and others. The members were to decide their priorities over the next few months, and would work with established groups. Questioned about how effective the group could be, Carter said: «My prayer is that the great potential of The Elders might be realized though sound judgment and through dedication and courage.

The Elders event was part of a week of birthday festivities featuring visits by Mandela's many friends, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Messages of support rolled in all day from all corners of the world. «The country and the world are privileged to celebrate the life of such an outstanding leader of our people,» said President Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela in 1999.

Later Wednesday, retired Brazilian soccer star Pele and three-time African player of the year Samuel Eto'o, of Cameroon, were to be among more than 50 past and present stars of the game taking part in «90 Minutes for Mandela» match later on Wednesday. Mandela, who is not expected to attend the game, smiled Tuesday as he received an official match jersey with the number 89 _ his age _ emblazoned on it. The match, to be played in Cape Town, will pit Africa against the rest of the world. Before the match, Jack Warner, vice president of FIFA, the world soccer organization, conferred honorary membership on the Makana Football Association, the soccer league formed by prisoners on Robben Island, where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison. Separated from his comrades, Mandela watched the games from his cell window until authorities built a wall to isolate him further. «During the dark years of our incarceration, the association drew together all the prisoners on the island around the beautiful game of soccer,» Mandela said. «In this way it helped uphold the values of tolerance, of inclusiveness and reconciliation, and of non-racialism and peace that are still dear to all of us today.

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