By Steven Youngblood, Director, Center for Global Peace Journalism, Park University
At the UN Monday, world leaders gathered for the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit. Somehow, I got invited.
Speakers included dozens of prime ministers, presidents, and foreign ministers, and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Each presenter sang Mandela’ praises, and urged one another to carry on his legacy. This event, designed to honor Mandela and discuss peace, occurred the day before the opening of the General Assembly on Tuesday (when world leaders laughed at Donald Trump).
The event was simultaneously uplifting and discouraging.
Many of the speakers were inspirational. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said, “The challenge of our age is to answer the question, what is it that we can do to convey peace, prosperity, and democracy everywhere?…Conflict has its roots in poverty, exclusion, and marginalization. We (leaders) represent the hopes of billions for a peaceful and prosperous world.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was equally eloquent. “We’re all part of the same community. We must live in a way that respects and enhances the freedoms of others,” he said.
The day’s most passionate speaker was undoubtedly Amnesty International President Kumi Naidoo, who stated his refusal to adjust to the continuing inaction, to “not adjust to leaders who espouse fascist narrative, to not adjust to bloodbaths, to not adjust to inhumane treatment of refugees…”
One theme emphasized by a half dozen speakers was the importance of multilateralism, and the folly of unilateralism–a clear shot at the U.S. president, though his name was never mentioned. Naidoo touched on this, as did the head of the African Union, a spokesperson for The Elders (a peacebuilding group), the Namibian president, and the EU Commission chair.
Collectively, it was reassuring to hear their speeches, almost all of which correctly emphasized the role of poverty, inequality, and discrimination in impeding a lasting peace. However, I was disappointed that so few speakers discussed or proposed concrete actions–let alone pledged to take action.
I wish I had these leaders as students. I would put them in groups, make them come up with a concrete action plan (with deadlines for implementing each action), and ideas for communicating their actions and goals to their citizens. If each country started with 2-3 attainable goals, perhaps some momentum could be built.
While the speeches were nice, lasting peace is going to take much more effort and commitment than a day’s full of well-meaning oratories.
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