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Elders welcome African youth to their 'global village'

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The Elders, a group of eminent global leaders, met with 80 youth leaders from around Africa in Newtown, Johannesburg, on Saturday, in an encounter they described as "the high point" of their four-day working visit to South Africa. 

The Elders, a group of eminent global leaders, met with 80 youth leaders from around Africa in Newtown, Johannesburg, on Saturday, in an encounter they described as "the high point" of their four-day working visit to South Africa.

The aim of the meeting - billed as "A Game Plan for a Winning Continent" - was for the Elders and representatives from eight youth-based educational organisations to brainstorm solutions for the continent's problems. The youth representatives included secondary and tertiary-level learners, as well as young professionals.

Each of the 10 Elders chaired a breakaway discussion on topics that included "leadership in Africa", "environment and climate change", "equality for girls and women" and "jobs, business and entrepreneurship".

A smiling, dancing Archbishop Desmond Tutu opened the meeting, paying tribute to the role young people have played in moments of historical importance. "You [the youth] dream of a world where poverty is history, you dream of a world where people can live peacefully together," Tutu said.

"I was taught to listen to my elders, now the Elders must listen to me," said a participant at Tutu's table, which discussed "heritage, culture and self-image".

After the 90-minute breakaway discussions, each group presented its game plan. Ideas included:

    •    Promoting and rewarding excellent African leadership, to reverse the brain-drain.
    •    Using the power of technology to connect women with one another
    •    Creating "African schools" as opposed to "schools in Africa".
    •    Using the philosophy of ubuntu to formulate an "African Dream".
    •    Setting term-limits on leadership positions in all fields.
    •    Promoting regional trade.

Mary Robinson, the first woman president of Ireland, moderated the report-back session. Thanking the youth for their contributions, she encouraged the participants to "break the rules from time to time", adding, "Stretch yourselves like you stretched yourselves today."

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian after the event, Elders spokesperson Katy Cronin said: "The Elders will compile a report that captures the spirit of the meeting. This report will feed into their future discussions with world leaders."

Who are the Elders?
The Elders are an independent collective of senior leaders who have demonstrated inclusive, progressive leadership in a range of fields, and who now lend their wisdom, experience and influence to promoting dialogue and peace-building on the global stage. The Elders have participated in initiatives in Cyprus, the Middle East, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Burma.

The Elders is the brainchild of entrepreneur Richard Branson and musician Peter Gabriel. They approached Nelson Mandela for help in constituting the Elders, and the group was formally announced at Mandela's 87th birthday in July 2007.

The Elders currently include:

Martti Ahtisaari
Former president of Finland (1994-2000), and 2008 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Kofi Annan
Former United Nations general secretary (1997-2006), and 2001 joint-Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Ela Bhatt
Founder-chair of several grassroots microfinance institutions for Indian women.

Lakhdar Brahimi
UN special envoy to South Africa (1994), Afghanistan (2001-2004), and Iraq (2001-).

Gro Bruntland
Three-time former prime minister of Norway, and Special Envoy of the United Nations secretary general on Climate Change (2007-).

Fernando Cardoso
Former president of Brazil (1995-2002), and winner of the Mahbub ul Haq Award for Outstanding Contribution to Human Development.

Jimmy Carter
Former president of the United States (1977-81), and 2002 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Graça Machel
Former Mozambique Minister of Education and Culture (1975-1989)

Mary Robinson
Former president of Ireland (1990-1997) and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002).

Desmond Tutu
Elders chairperson, former chair of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1994-1998), and 1984 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Aung Saan Suu Kyi (honorary member)
Elected to lead Burma in 1990, she was prevented from taking her position by the military. Still in detention in Burma, the Elders place an empty chair for her at their meetings. Suu Kyi is the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Nelson Mandela (honorary member)
Former president of South Africa (1994-1999), and 1993 joint-Nobel Peace Prize laureate.


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