Deputy Secretary-General Calls for Global Transformation from Inside Out, Commitment to Hope, Healing, in Desmund Tutu Peace Lecture Remarks

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks at the Twelfth Annual Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture, in Cape Town, South Africa, today:

It is a pleasure and it is a deep honour to be with you for the Twelfth Annual Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture.  I would like to extend the special greetings of our UN Secretary-General and myself to Mama Leah, to Mpho, Naomi, Theresa and Trevor.  And especially to you that I have met this evening.  It is such an honour to meet you and to see the vision of your father in you.

It is the first of these lectures since the passing of our beloved Arch, who served throughout his life as a towering global figure, as we have heard so often, for peace and an unwavering voice for the voiceless.  We continue to mourn his loss, yet we celebrate his legacy, which has never been more relevant in our world today of great pain.

Our world, our global village, is in deep crisis.  We are today in desperate need of hope and of healing.  And the Arch stood above all for courageous hope and healing, based on principles rooted in pragmatism.  Hope, the Arch famously said, “is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.  You see it wonderfully when you fly and the sky is overcast.  Sometimes you forget that just beyond the clouds, the sun is shining.”

As a proud African man, the Archbishop leveraged his position in international bodies, from the World Council of Churches to the All Africa Conference of Churches and, later, the Elders, to promote positive change and share his wisdom, not only in his own country and continent, but around our global village.

Inspired and humbled by his legacy, I am here just as a mere servant of the global townhall, to the global village, the United Nations — calling for global transformation from the inside out, shepherded by Arch, his steadfast commitment to hope and healing.

As we say often, our world is in crisis with Africa left behind, yet again.  Nearly three years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — and I want to say that that was a time that God pressed the pause button so that you need to reflect on which path you want to follow — nations across the world, particularly our African countries, face a multitude of cascading and compounding crises.

More people are poor.  More people are hungry.  More people are being denied health care and education — basic rights.  Gender equality becoming dangerously out of reason, and reach.  Gender-based violence, conflict and humanitarian crises are spreading like a virus.  The climate crisis is gathering pace, and it is crossing all borders.  And social cohesion is fraying, with inequalities increasing and xenophobia, nationalism, hate speech and radicalization on the rise.  Yet, it does not have to be this way.

Our incredible world, starting with this incredibly beautiful continent, has abundant riches:  immense diversity in our people and cultures, our languages, our food, and most of all, our innovations and our ideas.

Our planet is packed with the resources we need to thrive:  plentiful food and water, and boundless renewable energy.  These are unique, irreplaceable resources and they must be treasured, protected and handed down from generation to generation.  Today we have never been so able, connected by technologies, better educated, living longer and with women in incredible positions of leadership.  Our world is more inclusive.  It is more sustainable.  It is more hopeful.

It is with this reality and vision all countries agreed to come together for the 15-year road map for peace and development that left no one behind.  That’s the infamous 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals that I and many spent four years having a conversation with the world as we crafted them.  It is the world envisioned in the African Union’s Agenda 2063:  the Africa that We Want.  But it is also a pathway to a world that cherishes human dignity; a world that is free of poverty, of hunger, of violence and injustice.

It’s a world of opportunity; where everyone has access to their basic rights of a quality education, health care, decent jobs and a fair shot at life.

It’s a world of equality, where the rights of every woman and every girl are fully respected and where discrimination in any form is rejected.

It’s a world of sustainability; where we embrace the clean energy revolution and ensure our economies and our lifestyles are compatible with the environmental systems that we depend on.

And of course, it’s a world of peace and of justice — where we cherish and respect diversity; where we ensure public participation and fundamental freedoms; where all forms of violence are rejected.

Sadly, halfway through this visionary road map we are off track.  How do we get from a world in crisis, to a world more equal, a world in harmony with nature?  How do we realize our common vision for a brighter tomorrow and for the responsibility that we do have for future generations?

From his experience and life, the Arch himself has shown us the way.  First, we must begin with our self, believing in our humanity, giving the best of our self so that we reap the best of each other.  At the core of our actions, we must cherish and invest in education for its intrinsic value to both the individual and the society.

Arch understood that education is the most powerful tool that a person can receive to ensure their independence, their self-sufficiency, their dignity and equality.

In 1957, two years after taking up his first employment as a teacher, a young Desmond Tutu resigned in protest against the Bantu Act that instrumentalized education for the oppression of Black South Africans.  “Inclusive, good-quality education is a foundation for dynamic and equitable societies,” the Arch said.

But today, disparities in access to an education, a quality education, are one of the great challenges facing our world.  Instead of being a great equalizer, education is fast becoming a great divider — separating poor children from opportunities almost from birth.  Some 7 in 10 children in poorer countries are unable to read a basic text by the age of 10, because they are either out of school or in school but barely learning.

As the world goes through a fourth industrial revolution, with enormous implications for jobs and training, nearly half of all students do not complete secondary school.  Seven hundred million adults are illiterate, the majority of whom are women.  People with disabilities, living with HIV and AIDS, and children from marginalized groups face the toughest challenges of all.  A blind spot to many.

In convening the Transforming Education Summit last month at the United Nations, in response to Our Common Agenda, the Summit helped lift education to the top of the global Agenda and mobilized new commitments to reimagine education that would be fit for the twenty-first century, decolonizing decades of a system designed for others.

In the coming years, if we are to stand a chance of securing a future of peace for all, we must make good on those commitments, in our homes, our communities and our societies, in the hope that we are able to build nations for now and the future generations.

The second lesson from the life of the Arch is that to strive for a prosperous future must also be to build peace, together, in solidarity.

The Arch was a firm believer in social interdependence, a central concept in his philosophy, expressed as ubuntu.  Arch called ubuntu “the essence of being human”.

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together,” as the Arch so beautifully said.  He understood that peace, in its broader concept, can only be achieved if we approach humanity as a community in which — as in any African village — everyone takes care of each other.

This notion of peace is not only the absence of violence or conflict, but the pursuit of common values.  And this concept is often reflected in African thinking and, when we are lucky, in some of our policies today.  We just need to implement them.

When African countries adopted the Lusaka road map for Silencing the Guns, they acknowledged that tackling the root causes must deal with social-economic issues including inequalities, injustice, and the exclusion of our youth and women, all of which are indispensable to peace and to sustainable development.

Likewise, the Secretary-General’s proposal for a New Agenda for Peace is a key element of Our Common Agenda, addressing new and emerging threats, while ensuring that human rights, political, civil, social, economic and cultural, are leveraged  as a main tool for conflict prevention in the pursuit of sustainable development.  This we must do, and we must do it in solidarity.

As the Arch once said — “When we see others as separate, they become a threat.”  When we see others as part of us, as connected, as interdependent, then there is no challenge that we cannot face — together.”  Ubuntu.

The third of the Arch’s lessons I would like to share is that to build a prosperous future, we must be fully committed to working together, collectively, for the common good.

Arch was a true believer in the power of multilateralism.  He was a distinguished member of the United Nations Advisory Committee on Genocide Prevention and took part in a high-level fact-finding mission to Gaza.  More broadly, he was engaged in many other global issues, always promoting joint solutions through listening and through dialogue.  He knew that no matter the size of the country, no one can do it alone.

The United Nations remains for me the only forum in the world where parties come together to transform common threats into shared solutions.  We try to face the reality of the day with the aspirations of humankind, and each day, we try to close the gap.  Some days are good days, and some days, not so good.

For over seven decades, the United Nations has offered Member States a platform to address pressing issues, always inspiring hope and a better tomorrow.  It has supported major economic and social progress.  It has been a cornerstone of international peace, from promoting prevention and resolution of conflict to providing humanitarian relief and saving millions of lives and livelihoods.

This country, and its fight against apartheid, is perhaps one of the best examples of the potential of the United Nations to support and enhance positive transformations.

Today, global challenges are undermining trust in multilateralism at a time when we actually need it most.  This calls for a reformed and a strengthened multilateral system with the transformation for being more fit for purpose of the United Nations at the core.

A multilateral system that serves those who are furthest behind, not just those who were first in line 75 years ago.

A multilateral system that responds to the needs and challenges of today, looking into tomorrow.

A multilateral system that looks for common ground even in the areas where there is currently none in sight.

A multilateral system that has a renewed capacity to create hope and healing.

Let me try to be specific — what does a strengthened multilateral system mean for Africa?  Our incredible continent, our motherland; this vast, prosperous land and human capacity.

How do we get to where we need to be?  I believe that we have to start recognizing first that we are not beginning from nothing, we are not beginning from scratch; we must change the narrative, we are not hopeless nor are we helpless, our potentials are enormous.  We are 54 sovereign nations on varying paths of democracy.  We have 1.4 billion people, $2.5 trillion market opportunities, and the fasted growing FinTech — connecting people, especially our women, to financial services.

We have the institutions, the United Nations, the African Union, the African Development Bank, Afrexim Bank and we have over 25 stock exchanges, with the largest being in Johannesburg.  We have the necessary instruments — there is the 2030 Agenda, there is Agenda 2063 and there is the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.

So, with the potential, with the institutions, and with the instruments, that, I believe, in itself is hope.  So, what do we need next to translate that hope into the aspirations of millions?  I would start with leadership.

First, political leadership with the will and the courage to act for the people they represent, bearing in mind that our home, the planet, is one of the first responsibilities they will have.  Not to the exclusion of the leadership beginning from the home, through all the strata of our societies, of our communities.

The second, I would say, is democracy and human rights.  Although today, I would say that perhaps the model for democracy is failing us while the values remain relevant, and perhaps that is some food for thought.

We need to invest in institutions and systems that deliver on basic rights and services.  Those that we look to as second, nonetheless health, education, yet they are the first.

Inclusion.  We need to begin at the local level, supporting communities from the ground up, especially our women and our youth.  That means a level of devolution of resources to build the resilience and the strong foundations for the house of Africa.  I have not yet seen a country in the world that builds their houses from the roof down, except when we come to Africa.

Accountability.  Ensuring that we have what often is so technical, disaggregated data and statistics.  But you know, behind every number, every percentage, are millions and millions of people.  Many that are left behind because we don’t see where they are.  And we need this so that we can target our investments to ensure that we have transparency and accountability for the resources that we expect results for.  It also allows us to communicate the result with credibility, strengthening the trust between the government and its people.

Last, but certainly by no means the least, this includes partnerships.  All stakeholders and partners, to build a nation that includes an approach from local to global.  The partnerships globally are much in need, but so are those across our borders, without which the African Free Trade Agreement would have no wings to fly.  The foundations for these partnerships must be built within nations and across countries in Africa to begin with, so that we may look to our opportunities for a 1.4 billion population.

In turn, maybe we can begin to heal from the inside out, the tensions, the mistrust, the violence, the hate, the xenophobia within our countries and across their borders.

Arch called relentlessly for hope, rooted in the audacity of our convictions.  The commodity of hope has never been more precious, as have our faiths, our beliefs in humankind.  As the Arch beautifully wrote, “To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass.  Despair turns us inward.  Hope sends us into the arms of others.”

Let us step firmly forward into the howling wind, navigating the storm to face the new dawn of hope and healing in a world of crisis.  With courage and solidarity, let us move together, as Africans and as a member of this God-given Earth.

Let us honour Arch on his birthday, by living and acting on the inspiration he gave us for hope so that we may find deep within us, the will to be part of the healing of the torn fabric of our societies in a world of crisis, and yet with so much hope for the future.  In Madiba’s words, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”




Source: United Nations

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