Can world's 'Elders' help solve Darfur?
Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, and other respected international leaders join forces to push for peace in Sudan.
Johannesburg, South Africa; and En Siro, Sudan
In Sudan, where African Union mediators, Hollywood stars, and even the pope have failed to secure a lasting peace, South Africa's retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his group of retired statesmen, The Elders, are stepping in.Skip to next paragraph
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It is the first of what will be many peace missions by the new group, which includes Nobel laureates former South African President Nelson Mandela and former US president Jimmy Carter. On the current Sudan mission, Mr. Mandela's wife, Graça Machel; Mr. Carter; former UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi; and Mr. Tutu are visiting both government and rebel leaders to discuss solutions to the conflict in Darfur.
Sending an elder statesman, with no political stake in the outcome, to seek a peaceful solution is a proven conflict-resolution tool. Retired Sen. George Mitchell, for example, was instrumental in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. And if one elder statesman has an edge, will a bevy of them ensure success?
It's too soon to say. But this group of elders comes armed with plenty of mediation experience. In 1995, Mandela played a key role in resolving the civil conflict in Burundi. In 1989, Carter managed to bring a pause in fighting between Eritrea and Ethiopia, although the peace deal has since fallen apart. Carter won his Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for "untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts."
The group is wisely, analysts say, already tamping down expectations and indicating they're in it for the long haul.
"I think this is more than just a victory lap," says Francis Kornegay, a senior political analyst at the Center for Policy Studies in Johannesburg. "It's probably part of a longer-running process of conflict resolution and mediation. It's an effort to get as much international diplomatic and political leverage on the situation as possible."
The Elders' visit comes three weeks before fresh UN-sponsored Darfur peace talks in Libya, and observers hope the group's global status and negotiating experience will give the process a much-needed boost.
"There is no doubt that the role of elders has always been a part of African politics, and not just in Africa; it's a global phenomenon," says David Monyae, a history professor at Witswatersrand University in Johannesburg. "They bring a continuity and experience and a credibility that, especially in a conflict-torn country, would be of good use and quite welcome."
In the past, Africans have tended to respect elders, but for decades now it's the young men who have been fighting, and for whom guns, not experience, are the means of power.
The question now is whether elder statesmen such as Tutu, Mandela, Carter, and others can gain traction in a conflict that has resisted efforts from Chinese, European, and Arab mediators thus far.
The Elders already have one victory of sorts, a promise by the Sudanese government in Khartoum to pay $300 million in compensation ($200 million of it from China) to help rebuild Darfur after the war. And Carter said President Omar al-Bashir was also willing to have international observers at planned elections in 2009.
Members of 'The Elders' on the Darfur mission
Desmond Tutu – Retired South African archbishop
Jimmy Carter – Former president of the United States
Lakhdar Brahimi – Former UN envoy and reknowned peacemaker
Graça Machel – Rights advocate and wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela.