As we face unprecedented global challenges in 2018, Kofi Annan draws lessons from the life of Nelson Mandela, specifically the need for leaders to respect international law, human rights and act with compassion and empathy.
We live in troubled and turbulent times. The last twelve months have seen a series of shocks to the multilateral system that has underpinned geopolitical stability since the end of the Second World War, and the year ahead is likely to bring more disruption and uncertainty.
The nuclear tensions on the Korean Peninsula remain among the most acute and urgent threats to global peace. They can only be resolved in 2018 if leaders in Washington and Pyongyang address the issues in a calm, sober and respectful way, with the support of the United Nations.
A similar approach, which respects multilateral processes, international law and human rights, will be needed to defuse dangerous tensions in Israel and Palestine. As ever, it is ordinary people who suffer when leaders make rash decisions and deploy inflammatory rhetoric for political goals.
As we contemplate the future, it is also important to study the past for valuable lessons and perspectives.
In 1918, one hundred years ago, the First World War was entering its final year, whilst independence movements were stirring in African and Asian countries still ruled and repressed by Western colonial powers.
Resolving violent conflicts, respecting the rights of self-determination for oppressed peoples and protecting universal freedoms are just as important now as then. And there is a thread that ties these values to both points in time: the life of Nelson Mandela.
2018 marks the centenary of his birth, and affords us a chance to reflect on his legacy. Throughout the long years of Mandela’s struggle against apartheid, he never abandoned hope – and nor did he ever concede his principles or compromise on his commitments.
When Madiba founded The Elders in 2007, he gave us a specific mandate: to “support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict, and inspire hope where there is despair”.
Terrorism spreads a bloody stain across the globe, from the streets of London to the sands of the Sinai, slaying innocents in an obscene offence against our civilised human values.
How we respond to these atrocities is a test of these values. Whatever the outrage, there can be no excuse for torture, extra-judicial killings, collective punishment of whole communities or a clampdown on freedom of speech or human rights.
When Nelson Mandela left prison in 1990 after 27 years of incarceration, he knew that the only way to build a free and just society was to act with what he termed “kindness and generous accommodation”.
The Elders will promote this spirit in 2018 through our “Walk Together” campaign, launched last July to mark our tenth anniversary. We will shine a light on civil society activists fighting for peace, health, justice and equality, who in their own way inspire hope and continue Madiba’s long walk to freedom.
In the year ahead, we must show the same courage as Nelson Mandela, to walk together with compassion and empathy, and help build a world of which he would be proud.