TUTU LECTURE | Amina Mohammed: How do we move from a world in crisis to a world more equal?

TUTU LECTURE | Amina Mohammed: How do we move from a world in crisis to a world more equal?
TUTU LECTURE | Amina Mohammed: How do we move from a world in crisis to a world more equal?

Africa-Press – South-Africa. On Friday, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Amina J. Mohammed delivered the 12th Annual Desmond Tutu International Peace lecture in Cape Town. She called on the audience to celebrate Tutu’s legacy, which has ‘never been more relevant in our world of great pain’. Here is an edited version of Mohammed’s lecture.

It is a pleasure and deep honor to be with you for the 12th Annual Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture.

It is the first of these lectures since the passing of our beloved Archbishop, who served throughout his life as a towering global figure for peace and an unwavering voice for the voiceless.

We continue to mourn his loss, yet celebrate his legacy, which has never been more relevant in our world of great pain.

Our world, our Global Village, is in deep crisis. We are today in desperate need of hope and healing. And Archbishop Desmond Tutu stood above all for courageous hope and healing based on principles rooted in pragmatism.

Hope, the Archbishop 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 the world.

Our world is in crisis

Our world is in crisis, with Africa left behind yet again. Nearly three years after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, nations across the world, particularly 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. Gender equality is becoming dangerously out of reason. Gender-based violence, conflict and humanitarian crises are spreading like a virus. The climate crisis is gathering pace, crossing all borders. And social cohesion is fraying, with inequalities increasing and xenophobia, nationalism, hate speech and radicalisation on the rise. Yet, it does not have to be this way.

Our incredible world, starting with this beautiful continent, has abundant riches: immense diversity in our people and cultures, our languages, our food, and most of all, our innovations and ideas. Our planet is packed with the resources we need to thrive: plentiful food and water, and boundless renewable energy. These unique, irreplaceable resources must be treasured, protected and handed down from generation to generation. We have never been so connected by technologies, better educated, living longer and [encountering] women leadership. Our world is more inclusive, sustainable, and hopeful.

It is with this reality and vision all countries agreed to come together for the 15-year roadmap for peace and development, leaving no one behind.

This is the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. It is the world envisioned in the African Union’s Agenda 2063: the Africa We Want. It is a pathway to a world that cherishes human dignity, a world free of poverty, hunger, violence and injustice.

It’s a world of opportunity, where everyone has access to quality education, healthcare, decent jobs and a fair shot at life.

It’s a world of equality, where the rights of every woman and girl are fully respected and where discrimination in any form is fully 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 we depend on. And, of course, it’s a world of peace and 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 roadmap, 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 realise our common vision for a brighter tomorrow and future generations?

From his experience and life, the Archbishop himself has shown us the way. First, we must begin with ourselves, believing in our humanity, and giving our best of ourselves, to reap the best of each other.

Education is a powerful tool

At the core of our actions, we must cherish and invest in education for its intrinsic value to both industry and society. Archbishop Tutu understood that education is the most powerful tool that a person can receive to ensure their independence, self-sufficiency 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 instrumentalised education for the oppression of black South Africans.

“Inclusive, good-quality education is a foundation for dynamic and equitable societies,” the Archbishop said. But today, disparities in access to education are one of the great challenges facing our world. Instead of being a great equaliser, education is quickly becoming a great divider – separating poor children from opportunities from birth.

Some seven in ten children in poorer countries are unable to read a basic text by age 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, [those] living with HIV and AIDS, and children from marginalised groups face the toughest challenges of all.

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 mobilised new commitments to reimagine education to be fit for the 21st century, decolonising 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, communities and societies, in the hope that we are able to build nations fit for now and future generations. The second lesson from the life of Archbishop Desmond Tutu is that to arrive at a prosperous future, we must also build peace together.

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

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together,” the Archbishop so beautifully said.

Work together

He understood that peace, in its broader conception, 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. This concept is reflected in African thinking and policies today. We just need to implement them.

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

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

As the Archbishop said:

The third of the Archbishop’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.

Archbishop Tutu 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 dialogue.

He knew that no matter the size of the country, no one could do it alone. The United Nations remains the only forum in the world where parties come together to transform common threats into shared solutions.

For over seven decades, it 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, saving millions of lives.

Common ground

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 need it most. This calls for a reformed and strengthened multilateral system with the transformation 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. A multilateral system that looks for common ground even in areas where there is currently none. A multilateral system with a renewed capacity to create hope and healing. Let’s be specific – what does a strengthened multilateral system mean for Africa? How do we get to where we need to be?

We must recognise we are not beginning from nothing; we must change the narrative; we are not hopeless nor helpless. Our potentials are enormous. We are 54 sovereign nations on varying paths to democracy. We have 1.4 billion people, 2,5 trillion dollar market opportunities, and the fastest growing FinTech – connecting people, especially 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 Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

We have the necessary instruments – the 2030 Agenda, Agenda 2063 and the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). With potential, institutions, and instruments, that in itself is hope.

What next do we need?

First, political leadership with the will and courage to act for people and planet.

Invest in institutions and systems that deliver on basic rights and services, health, and education – attaining the SDGs.

We need to begin at the local level, supporting communities, especially women and youth. That means the devolution of resources to build resilience and strong foundations for the Africa house.

Ensuring disaggregated data and statistics that allow targeted investments to ensure we leave no one behind and enable transparency. It also allows us to communicate the result with credibility, strengthening the trust between the government and its people.

This includes all stakeholders and partners to build a nation that includes local to global partnerships across borders, without which the AfCFTA would have no wings to fly. The foundations for these partnerships must be built within nations and across countries of Africa, profiting from the 1.4 billion population. In turn, healing the tension of mistrust, violence, hate and xenophobia within the country. Archbishop Desmond Tutu called relentlessly for hope, rooted in the audacity of our convictions.

The commodity of hope has never been more precious, as have our faiths and beliefs in humankind.

As the Archbishop 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 forward together as unstoppable Africans and as a member of this God-given earth.

Let us honour the ‘Arch’ on his birthday by living and acting on the inspiration he gave us for the hope that we may find deep within us, the will to be part of healing 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.”

Let’s do it together.

– Amina J. Mohammed is the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.

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