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The Legacy of Madiba

24.08.2018 By: Liv Tørres

Photo: the Nobel Foundation

Photo: the Nobel Foundation

Born in a small village located on the banks of the Mbashe River, South Africa. Today, 100 years later, his birth is celebrated around the world. Nelson Mandela became a legend, a Messiah for millions of people. Humble, yet principled. Stubborn, yet eager to listen. A leader, but still a man of the people. In the northern hemisphere, Mandela is often seen as a man of forgiveness, as he spoke of reconciliation with whites after apartheid. In the southern hemisphere, however, he is seen as a representative of the African values of pride, humanism, democracy, and leadership.

Five years after Mandela’s death, we saw populism, radicalization, and social unrest grow amongst us. Human rights, liberty and democracy was being undermined. But in a world, were leadership had become scarce, Mandela’s light was still shining bright for millions of people.

People are measuring today’s leaders up against Mandela, and often find them to fall terribly short. Mandela has not passed his expiry date, at least not to ordinary people. For many of today’s leaders on the other hand, Mandela seems to never have been a role model, but he should have been.

We need leaders we can respect. In the battle against poverty, oppression and populism, we need to see that we at least achieve some progress. We need the inspiration from the few, brave and principled people who refuse to bow their head against oppression. South-Africans, and the world, were in desperate need of such an inspiration in the 80’s and 90’s. Mind you, brave and principled people was not a scarce commodity in Africa at the time. Lumumba, Nyerere, Kaunda, Machel and Sankara were all role models for millions of people. But, Mandela is still, to this day, the only one who became a hero not only to his own but to a whole world. He stands in the global league of heroes like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, who transcended the limits of traditional party lines, political systems and government institutions, and showed the world new ways forward with courage. Showed true leadership. And among them, Mandela is the only one who had the opportunity to both lead a liberation movement, and become the elected leader of a nation afterwards.

There are several reasons why Mandela became an international hero. One was that he had an international social movement backing him. He became the living quintessence of a movement seen as spearheading the global crusade against racism and oppression. He gave the struggle a face. Furthermore, the apartheid regime helped boost his image and icon status by incarcerating him for 27 years, helping spin myths and legends about his ideas, thoughts and even his looks. And whilst African liberation movements and freedom fighters generally had tough times in the 60s and 70s, Mandela became an icon and symbol of resistance and pride for the whole continent. We can still identify Mandela’s footprints in present-day social movements across the African continent.

The reasons for Mandela’s legendary status are, however, first and foremost to be found in Mandela’s own personal stature and his principles. In the complex and difficult political process towards democracy in South-Africa, Mandela’s strength was based on his strategic and tactical skills. He was also a man of strong convictions who seldom backed down, who refused when offered to be released from prison, in exchange for abandoning the armed struggle against apartheid. He had a high respect for his leadership responsibility and the responsibility towards the people and the collective, and managed also to charm most people with his personal touch, smiles and humour and his ability to keep focus on “the cause”, rather than the people behind it, something that made it also easier to negotiate the transition and reconciliation with previous enemies in South Africa. Mandela believed in decency and that people are inherently good, something even people on the extreme, far-right respected.

Mandela, or “Madiba”, as the people of South-Africa affectionately call him, got his convictions of self-worth, liberty but also stubbornness, tested early as the only black man enrolled at his law school, and when he refused to marry the woman that his family chose for him. He carried with him his pride, but also his stubbornness from his childhood. He came from a family with modest means, but learnt diplomacy and leadership through his family’s connection to a Xhosa king in South-Africa. The English name Nelson was given to him by his teacher when he began school. He has been quoted saying that, ‘why she bestowed this particular name upon me, I have no idea.’ Mandela said that, except for life, his health and the connections to the Xhosa kingdom, the only thing his father gave him was the name Rolihlahla, “troublemaker”. The apartheid regime pointed out Mandela as their nr.1 enemy in the 60’s and the opposition branded him as the “black pimpernel”, a derogatory adaption of the fictional character the “Scarlet Pimpernel”, who evaded capture during the French Revolution. And this is how legends are born.

Mandela earned respect because of his personal qualities, as one of the few educated blacks in the struggle, and with a leadership-style based on pragmatism, collectiveness and tactical skills. He once said that his decision to transform the opposition into an armed resistance was solely based on tactics, and not ideology. The non-violent struggle of the previous ANC-leader Albert Luthuli, which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for, did not work in the 60’s, according to Mandela.

Mandela spoke for popular democracy. He said that when he grew up, he was profoundly affected by how the clan system operated. People who proclaim that democracy is a western idea is mistaken. The clan-system that was practiced in South-Africa, was consensus-oriented, and decisions were collectively made. He was proud of his heritage, but did not believe he had to pull other people down to maintain that pride. It is in this spirit that Mandela fought against oppression, racism and apartheid. When Mandela was released from prison in 1990, he repeated the same words he had said during his trial; “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Madiba continued his battle against oppression and racism, even after he stepped down as president of South-Africa. He spoke freely to his successors about the AIDS-epidemic in Africa and that medication should be available to people, even though his successor Mbeki was against it. He criticized people of his own party ANC for undermining democracy. He fought against corruption. And he compared the high poverty rate and growing inequality in the post-apartheid South-Africa to the evils of apartheid. He spoke for the freedom of the Palestinians. And he warned against selfishness. Mandela had what few leaders has today: the courage to make tough and unpopular decisions, even when it offended his own constituencies. He repeatedly asked people to mobilize against leaders who failed in their leadership. Promise me this, he told a trade union congress in the early 90s: do the same to us as you did to the apartheid regime if we ever start behaving like them: than you must mobilise!

Madiba brought forth the African humanistic ideal “ubuntu”, seeing yourself through the eyes of others. This is the legacy of Mandela. A service of a long walk towards freedom, justice, democracy, equal opportunity and fair distribution of resources. He underlined repeatedly that his role in the struggle was only as a representative for the people and their common cause, that he had a responsibility to the people and that it was the people who gave him strength and inspiration to fight. How many of today’s leaders can say that they actually show that kind of leadership? How many of today´s leaders can we say take that walk? Or walk what they talk? And yes, we do need a Mandela-Day, but in the spirit of true leadership, leaders should make every day a Mandela Day. That is what he would have done.

Roger Waters and Vera Lynn

23.08.2018 By: Liv Tørres

“I’m just a simple rock ‘n roller,” he says, after talking about Palestine, the U.S., Syria and the state of the world. We’re at the Nobel Peace Center, in what is fair to call an intimate gathering, with the music-, singer- and composer-legend Roger Waters. He doesn´t do these things often, but here we are, discussing politics with a rock ‘n roller.

Roger Waters and Liv Tørres at the Nobel Peace Center 13 August 2018. (Photo: Johannes Granseth / Nobel Peace Center)

Roger Waters and Liv Tørres at the Nobel Peace Center 13 August 2018. (Photo: Johannes Granseth / Nobel Peace Center)

Waters has spent his whole life fighting authoritarian systems and wars – with legendary music, I might add. Music engraved in people’s repertoire, with lyrics that many of us know by heart. How often have you caught yourself singing “we don’t need no education” out of the blue? From his days in Pink Floyd up until today, he has managed to keep his political views alive through music and text. He’s an important voice of our time. Not only because of his music, but because he has the courage and strength to not go quietly. He doesn’t “go high” when others “go low”. When others go low, he shouts louder and clearer. During his concerts, he uses powerful and symbolic special effects, such as balloons, flying pigs and digital art – all planned and executed with perfection. And he spares no one, targeting political groups and religion all the same. Where some of us might have preferred to use different methods, Waters use his artistic freedom exactly the way he wants.

Some people are protesting Waters´ views on U.S. politics. Some don’t like him because of his views on Syria and White Helmets, others because of Palestine and Israel. Some argue he’s an anti-Semite, and others claim that he’s the Palestinians’ only hope. And then there are those who voice their disappointment about welcoming Waters to the Nobel Peace Center. Our Center is the public face of the Nobel Peace Prize. Our mandate is to put relevant issues for peace on the agenda, through debates, speeches and events. Do we have to agree with everyone visiting the Nobel Peace Center? No. And there are, without a doubt, people who have visited our Center that I’ve disagreed with on more points than what I do with Roger Waters. But if we should only accept speakers we agree with, we would be a boring center. More importantly, we wouldn’t advance peace-building or engage people on issues that might help us move forward and create positive change. Platforms like ours cannot be used only for those we agree with. That would leave us with a world of uninformed people, meaningless debates or debates where we only shoot at each other from our respective echo chambers on the internet and through social media. We need more than that, and particularly in the current, political climate. Plus, Waters already has a platform developed over decades with millions of listeners. This is our chance to talk to him and ask proper questions.

So, here we are at the Nobel Peace Center. Waters outlines his upbringing, background and his life-long political missions. He’s angry about the billions of U.S. dollars spent annually on the military machine, whilst people are starving. He’s angry about fences and walls being built to separate people, and the tendency of leaders to blame “the others” in order to enrich themselves. The election of Donald Trump made him angrier. “A call for action and resistance,” he says. Waters has been angry about the Israeli occupation and the blockade for years. It has nothing to do with anti-Semitism, he says, but he reacts to the actions of the Israelis and Israeli state. His arguments are about basic human rights and why we don´t see the plight of the Palestinians in the same light as other civilians. So, what should other artists do? He thinks it’s the responsibility of all artists to take a conscious stand on human rights and occupation, and that the principles we hold should be valid in all settings.

Not all artists aim to be political. But to pretend that art and music is apolitical is to say that their work is not making an imprint. Music and art reflects society and communicates back to society, thereby making a political statement, one way or another. We may not like it, but that’s the effect of art and music. It doesn’t mean that including political statements in songs or art automatically equals high quality, but Waters has it both: strong, political statements and good music, and he doesn’t shy away from neither. He shares his political opinions loud and clear, and you may not agree with him, but it’s after all easier to relate to and more refreshing than those who pretend that their politics is something else than political.

We don’t see eye to eye on the situation in Syria. He disagrees with my narrative that there was a popular uprising in 2011, he believes that there was no chemical attack in Douma, and that the White Helmets is an international operation created by the West. All of this goes against my image of the White Helmets’ rescue work having followed the conflict relatively close and been actively involved in providing humanitarian aid to Syria for years. Yet, surely his criticism of Israel must be similarly tough for Israelis to hear. And his criticism of U.S. politics may be heavy for some Americans. Disagreeing is not dangerous. It is the basis of democracy. It also creates a common responsibility to engage in debate, listen and sometimes adjust views. And the ability to do all that deserves respect. Roger Waters has my respect: for his life-long commitment to creating fantastic music, for his political engagement, for not giving up, for discussing properly and listening when encountering disagreement, for asking me to provide him with more documentation, and for being able to say; “If I am wrong, I will be the first to say so.”

At the concert, the evening after our talk, he refers to the inspirational evening at the Nobel Peace Center and asks the audience; “Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn…?” Maybe it takes a “simple rock ‘n roller” to remind us.

In Memory-Kofi Annan

20.08.2018 By: Christian Berg

Photo: Nobel Peace Center

Photo: Nobel Peace Center

“We need better leaders and better leadership” said Kofi Annan when he last visited us. This was during my first days in my position at the Nobel Peace Center and I was star struck. Yet, Annan quickly made me feel at ease with his soft-spoken style, cool manner and natural unpretentiousness. This was not his first visit. In fact, Annan had previously popped by both announced and unannounced. It is said that the first time he came by, he just walked by with his wife, Nane, and asked at the entry whether there were special ticket prices for Nobel Peace Prize laureates.

Kofi Annan comes from African aristocratic background, but that did not give him many free tickets for his later endeavours. He had to work hard, first at the Methodist church at the Cape Coast in Ghana before studying Economics and later International Relations and Management. Annan later said that his schooling taught him «that suffering anywhere concerns people everywhere”. His professional work started in the World Health Organisation, he was then appointed Director of Tourism in Ghana before proceeding to the UNHCR and later, from 1983, the UN Secretariat. In the early 1990s, the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Gali, established the UN Department of Peace Keeping Operations where Annan was appointed Deputy to its Under-Secretary General. Later he took over the Department and was Head of Peacekeeping during the clashes in Somalia and the resulting collapse of that peacekeeping mission. Annan also led this Department during the genocide of approximately 800 000 in Rwanda and the massacre of around 8 000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serbs in Srebrenica. No doubt this also shaped his years as Secretary General of the UN.

The failures of Annan, the UN and International Community to intervene and stop the genocide in Rwanda and the attacks in Srebrenica later led him to apologize. Due to this, in his later period as UN Secretary General, he spent considerable resources to strengthen the peacebuilding operations and human rights fundament of the UN. He became in many ways the Father of the Millennium Goals and later the Sustainability Goals. Annan set the international community´s “responsibility to protect” civilians higher on the agenda, with him also asserting the need for all of us, including the Corporate Sector, to have a human rights base. This resulted in the establishment of the Global Compact. In addition, his commitment and investment in containing the spread of HIV should be mentioned among his many achievements. In 2001, the Nobel Peace Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Kofi Annan and the UN where they particularly emphasized the role Annan had played in revitalizing the UN and prioritizing human rights. It was on his watch that both the UN Peace Building Commission and the Human Rights Council were established.

When Annan accepted the Peace Prize, he said:

“No one today is unaware of this divide between the world’s rich and poor. No one today can claim ignorance of the cost that this divide imposes on the poor and dispossessed who are no less deserving of human dignity, fundamental freedoms, security, food and education than any of us. The cost, however, is not borne by them alone. Ultimately, it is borne by all of us – North and South, rich and poor, men and women of all races and religions.

Today’s real borders are not between nations, but between powerful and powerless, free and fettered, privileged and humiliated. Today, no walls can separate humanitarian or human rights crises in one part of the world from national security crises in another.

Scientists tell us that the world of nature is so small and interdependent that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon rainforest can generate a violent storm on the other side of the earth. This principle is known as the “Butterfly Effect.” Today, we realize, perhaps more than ever, that the world of human activity also has its own “Butterfly Effect” – for better or for worse.”

Annan invested his work and resources with the recognition of what begins with the failure to uphold the dignity of one life, all too often ends with a calamity for entire nations.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureates all share an extraordinary degree of courage and stubbornness. They have all paid a price. It would have been both easier and cheaper to give up. And, while they are many differences between them, they have all left us with experiences and wisdom of high relevance for today’s conflicts. Annan told me that he does not think that today’s guerrilla movements can be fought only by military means, but rather we need to assure that people are integrated and part of society. To confront the kind of challenges we now face of extremism, radicalization and populism, we need, in his view, better leaders and stronger leadership. We need leaders who look to the future and not only towards the next election they aim to win.

Rest In Peace #KofiAnnan – you were indeed such a leader!

the legacy of madiba

18.07.2018 By: Liv Tørres

Photo: The Nobel Foundation

Born in a small village located on the banks of the Mbashe River, South Africa. Today, 100 years later, his birth is celebrated around the world. Nelson Mandela became a legend, a Messiah for millions of people. Humble, yet principled. Stubborn, yet eager to listen. A leader, but still a man of the people. In the northern hemisphere, Mandela is often seen as a man of forgiveness, as he spoke of reconciliation with whites after apartheid. In the southern hemisphere, however, he is seen as a representative of the African values of pride, humanism, democracy, and leadership.