African Postman: The Elders’ Kofi Annan

Yesterday, I watched former Secretary General of the United Nations and member of The Elders Kofi Annan give an address that resonated with me. Mr. Annan touched on issues of governance, rule of law  and social justice that seemed to me of great relevance to Jamaica also. Through the wonders of broadband Internet, the speech was live streaming into our living room in Kingston, Jamaica from the University of Western Cape in South Africa, where Mr. Annan was delivering the Third Annual Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture on the Archbishop’s 82nd birthday.

Kofi Annan delivers the Third Annual   (Photo: Kofi Annan Foundation Facebook page)
Kofi Annan delivers the Third Annual Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture in South Africa (Photo: Kofi Annan Foundation Facebook page)

The “Arch” (as the moderator called him) was there too, of course; he is also a member of The Elders, a non-governmental organization of visionary elder statesmen/women committed to peace and human rights. We were treated to his delightful humor and infectious giggle before the start of the speech, by the way. But on a serious note, Desmond Tutu observed sadly: “Can you imagine what it must be like to be God? I mean, I really feel sorry for God – looking down and saying, ‘You know those are my children…’ You know what, God is crying.”

Here is a press release from the Annan Foundation issued before the speech that highlights key points made – which is not very long and can be watched in full here: http://www.theelders.org/article/africas-bright-future (The first ten minutes is an introduction by a young SABC reporter). Take a little time to listen. I hope that you will find it inspiring, as I did.

The rapt audience at the University of Western Cape
The rapt audience at the University of Western Cape  (Photo: Kofi Annan Foundation Facebook page)

“In the lecture, which will mark the birthday of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mr. Annan will describe the strategies needed to build societies which are strong, cohesive, and enable every individual to thrive and live in dignity.

Mr. Annan will argue that sustainable peace depends on deepening democratic practice and building effective institutions that are grounded in the rule of law and respect for human rights. He will identify four priorities:

• Reject the zero sum approach to politics: “We must turn our backs on the ‘winner takes all’ approach to politics which has been so damaging to our continent. We have seen how this has led to abuses of power by the winner and encouraged losers to reject democracy as a peaceful means for change.” 

Improve electoral integrity:  For an election to have integrity “it must be based on the democratic principles of universal suffrage and political equality, and must be professional, impartial, and transparent in its preparation and throughout the electoral cycle.” “When conducted with integrity, elections bolster democracy, promote development, and produce governments which are more likely to represent their citizen’s interests.” “Sadly, elections in Africa can become a trigger for conflict rather than a peaceful way to regulate competition for political power.”

Uphold the rule of law and combat impunity:I am surprised to hear critics ask whether the pursuit of justice might obstruct the search for peace. Justice is not an impediment to peace but a partner.” “In adopting the Rome Statute, the international community courageously tipped the balance away from impunity in favour of justice. I was proud that so many African countries, where judicial systems are weak and divisions run deep, provided such strong support for the Court. I am therefore concerned by recent efforts to portray the Court as targeting Africa. I know this is not the case… It is the culture of impunity and individuals who are on trial at the ICC, not Africa.”

Better manage the diversity within African societies: “Societies which embrace diversity as a source of strength become healthier, more stable and prosperous. In those which do not, whole communities can feel marginalized and oppressed, creating conditions for conflict.” “Appropriate laws and institutions are needed to manage differing needs and interests and to protect the rights of each individual.” “Much can be achieved through education, and mechanisms at the community level can be effective by promoting dialogue.” 

Mr. Annan will also draw attention to the worryingly high tolerance for violence which exists in many parts of Africa: “Violence towards those who are different from us, or who we disagree with is unacceptable, and has no place in healthy societies. We have to learn from each other, making our different traditions and cultures a source of harmony and strength.”  

Mr. Annan will call on leaders to be active in promoting justice, praising Archbishop Tutu as a role model. He says: “There is a crucial role here for Africa’s religious leaders in promoting tolerance and understanding of our common humanity. We need them, at every opportunity, to denounce violence, and discrimination, including on the grounds of gender and sexuality.”

Mr Annan will emphasise the importance of educational institutions in encouraging and empowering young people, especially young women, to take a leading role in bringing positive change and peace to future generations on the continent.”

Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. (Photo: BBC)
Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. (Photo: BBC)

Related articles and links:

http://kofiannanfoundation.org Kofi Annan Foundation

http://www.tutu.org/home/ The Desmond Tutu Peace Centre

http://www.theelders.org The Elders

http://kofiannanfoundation.org/global-commission-on-elections-democracy-and-security Report of the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security – “Deepening Democracy”: September, 2012

Africa’s exits from ICC ‘Badge of shame’ – Annan (ethiopiaobservatory.com)

Lessons from Kofi Annan… (acupofteasolveseverything.wordpress.com)

Desmond Tutu: Invitation to My Birthday Party (huffingtonpost.com)


8 thoughts on “African Postman: The Elders’ Kofi Annan

  1. Reblogged this on Summer Solstice Musings and commented:
    A lot of food for thought in this post. In this address, Kofi Annan talks about social injustice and other problems in Africa but really, it can be applied to any continent or country in the world. The two aspects that struck me the most -because they are the closest to my heart, are non-acceptance of diversity and high tolerance to violence.
    “Societies which embrace diversity as a source of strength become healthier, more stable and prosperous. In those which do not, whole communities can feel marginalized and oppressed, creating conditions for conflict.”

    Also, high tolerance for violence: “Violence towards those who are different from us, or who we disagree with is unacceptable, and has no place in healthy societies. We have to learn from each other, making our different traditions and cultures a source of harmony and strength.”

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    1. Thank you very much for the reblog! It’s appreciated. Yes, I felt there was a lot of food for thought in the speech too – and that yes, it is relevant to almost anywhere. Those two issues you picked out – violence and intolerance of others – are of great concern to us on our island. His words resonated. I am glad you found it helpful. Thanks and please continue to read! (“African Postman” is a series I started, because I felt many African stories were not being told).

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  2. Reblogged this on Spirit In Action and commented:
    ““Violence towards those who are different from us, or who we disagree with is unacceptable, and has no place in healthy societies. We have to learn from each other, making our different traditions and cultures a source of harmony and strength.”  (Kofi Annan)
    Thank you for posting this! I believe strongly that we can extend the rule if law, real democracy, human rights and culturally respectful community based decisionmaking to all of the Earth ( even my absurdly violent and often proudly ignorant homeland! ) in the long run the good in all our hearts will connect and dissolve the divisions between us.

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    1. Thank you so much for the reblog and for your thoughtful comments! I really appreciate it. My adopted country for the past 25 years (not my birthplace, but home) is also “absurdly violent and often proudly ignorant” – so I can relate! Looking forward to keeping in touch.

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  3. SO much respect for Rev. Tutu…. All respect I had for Anan went through the door when he was UN Secy general and under his watch so many people died in Rwanda and he did nothing to stop it. I think he needs to do some self reflection on the power he had and the fact he did not even try to mobilise the World to stop the Genocide unlike the current Un Secy General who was adamant something MUSt be done in Syria.

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    1. I get your point about Annan, but the situations in Rwanda and in Syria are/were very different. Also, he had very little commitment from UN member states to the situation in Rwanda. It wasn’t that he didn’t care – the members did not care to do anything about it and contributed very few troops. And he has repeatedly expressed regret that he could not do more. He did try to mobilize member states but they weren’t interested. Syria is a much easier cause to rally members around, especially since the chemical weapons thing came up. Yes, I agree – I admire Rev Tutu tremendously.

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