This is the VOA Special English Development Report.
Former South African president Nelson Mandela celebrated his eighty-ninth
birthday last week by launching "the Elders." This is a group of men and women
with almost 1000 years of collective experience to deal with world issues. Among
them are former president Jimmy Carter and former United Nations secretary
general Kofi Annan.
Former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu will be the chairman. Other
members include Indian social activist Ela Bhatt, former Norwegian prime
minister Gro Harlem Brundtland and former Irish president Mary Robinson.
Bangladeshi economist and Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus and former Chinese
foreign minister Li Zhaoxing are also Elders.
Nelson Mandela presented the group at a news conference in Johannesburg with
his wife, Graca Machel, a children's rights activist. One chair was empty. It
represented the final Elder: Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader under
house arrest in Burma.
The idea for the group came from British businessman Richard Branson and
musician Peter Gabriel. They proposed the idea to Mister Mandela and his wife
several years ago. Mister Branson, along with the U.N. Foundation and private
donors, has helped finance the group.
The Elders say their work will not be in conflict with the United Nations or
other international groups. Instead, they say they hope to work alongside such
Mister Mandela says the Elders will use their skills and collective wisdom to
look for solutions to problems such as AIDS, climate change and longtime
conflicts. The idea is that they can talk to anyone they please or get involved
in any issue they wish because they do not represent governments.
The group plans to hold videoconferences and also to meet in person two times
Some people may wonder how much a group of mostly retired leaders can
influence world issues. Nelson Mandela himself has said he plans to take
retirement seriously. He left office in 1999 and announced his retirement from
public life in two thousand four.
His involvement on the council is expected to be largely ceremonial. But he
says he believes in the Elders because each member is fiercely independent. They
are free, he says, to put the needs of the world's people first.
And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jill Moss.
For more development news, go to voaspecialenglish.com. I’m Steve Ember.