Third Annual Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture
“Universities have an enormous role to play in building peaceful societies and promoting dialogues and debates on current issues, through research, and by providing policies and advice regarding the 21st century challenges we face”, said former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, at the 3rd Annual Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture held at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) on Monday, 7 October 2013.
This year’s event was even more special as it was held in celebration of the Archbishop’s 82nd birthday. Attended this year by Premier Helen Zille and Mayor Patricia De Lille, and including officials from governments in the United Kingdom, Madagascar, the Netherlands and Canada, the Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture is aimed at driving peace efforts around the world through dialogue and debate.
Before introducing Annan, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was Chancellor at UWC for more than 25 years, admonished the seemingly never ending wars which claim thousands of lives worldwide. “Imagine, we are sitting here enjoying good laughter and good music while children are dying around the world. It must be difficult to be God, as He has to look down and see His children dying like this in Syria,” said Tutu.
Annan, whose lecture was titled Strong and Cohesive Societies: The Foundations for Sustainable Peace, told a crowd of academics, students, international ambassadors and the general public, that universities must work hand in hand with government, civil societies and the private sector to promote peace and progress.
He also advocated the empowerment of women. “The evidence is overwhelming in that the healthiest societies are those which promote gender equality and invest in the education of girls,” said Annan.
He further lamented traditions such as child marriages and female genital circumcision which are defended in some African countries as acceptable traditional practices. “I am also deeply concerned that in too many countries there remains a high level of violence, including sexual violence against women,” he said.
Annan criticised the state of electoral systems, particularly in Africa, saying that elections provide citizens with an opportunity to debate priorities, to choose their leaders and to hold them accountable. Sadly however, as in many other parts of the world, elections in Africa can become a trigger for conflict rather than a peaceful means of regulating competition for political power.
“Electoral integrity must be restored”, Annan said.
Previous speakers in the series of Tutu lectures include the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whose conversation with Tutu was live-streamed from his residence in India in 2011, while former first lady, Graca Machel, delivered the lecture in 2012.
In closing, Annan spoke directly to the students. “Let me add this plea,” he said, “You are the first generation of true global citizens. We need you to step up, take responsibility, and above all, we need your leadership. With courage and vision, Africa can develop institutions and qualities of leadership that will ensure a stable, prosperous and equitable society.”