It’s time to break ground for the permanent home of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre. After more than 10 years, the men and women on the boards of the Desmond Tutu Peace Trust (South Africa) and the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation (United States) are anxious to begin construction. The Centre will rise on a piece of prime real estate near the city’s thriving waterfront in Cape Town’s central business district, propagating the vision of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu, anti-apartheid activist, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and former chairman of post-apartheid South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. If all goes as planned, by 2010 the Centre will host, empower and educate more than a million people to spread the principles and strategies of nonviolent peace making.
Though press reports often make it seem otherwise, peace is in the air in Africa. Six years ago, when U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued his first major report on the causes of conflict in Africa, 14 countries were embroiled in war and another 11 were suffering from severe political turbulence. In his 2004 annual follow-up report, the secretary noted that just a half a dozen African countries were in the midst of serious armed conflict, among them Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.
Brokers of peace play a big role in all of these conflicts. These are prominent men and women from around the world who are well experienced in sorting through, and sorting out, the ugly collision of political and socio- economic interests. Their efforts are usually buttressed by “keepers of peace,” military forces toting the latest in firepower, the very symbols of conflict. Africa now receives the highest deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in the world: there were nearly 48,000 troops at the end of August 2004, according to the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations. In June, the Economic Community of West African States authorized the creation of a standby peacekeeping force of 6,500 trained and equipped soldiers for rapid deployment to any country that may fall into crisis in West Africa. The African Union plans to set up a similar standby force at the continental level, with the Group of Eight industrialized countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) providing financial support and training.
The Desmond Tutu Peace Centre recasts the peacekeeper as an individual who brandishes a philosophy of nonviolence, one so imbued with caring and respect for his or her fellow human beings that physical clashes and the symbols of them have no place in problem solving. To this end, the Centre has developed an Emerging Leadership Program targeting mainly high school students. The goal is to prepare a committed generation of leaders to construct sound peace initiatives and address the challenges of their time. It would use the examples of South African leadership that guided South Africa from a legacy of violence to a cooperative peace. Similarly, the Centre’s Women in Leadership Program focuses on the experience of leadership among Southern African women, and encourages participants to promote peaceful coexistence.
The Centre is intended to attract visitors from around the world. It will house various exhibitions and attractions dedicated to peace building. The largest of these will be a high-tech museum exhibit documenting South Africa’s complex past, including a narrative account of the many voices that have comprised the country’s search for identity, freedom, justice and peace. There will also be the symbolic “Hands That Shape Humanity” exhibit featuring iconic men and women from around the world renowned for their wisdom. The messages of these individuals will be portrayed on film, in their own handwritten pieces and through photography. A remarkable component of the exhibit will be bronze casts of the hands of these individuals. Currently in the works, this multimedia art exhibit will travel the world for four years before taking up permanent residence at the Peace Centre.
The archbishop’s collection of private gifts and honors also will be on display. Add to all that a memory wall, a hall of heroes, a resource center, an auditorium, a commercial center with shops and restaurants, a public square and a space for quiet contemplation and the stage is set for a destination unlike any other in Africa.
There is a role for Africans of the Diaspora to play in the evolution of this space for peace. A few of us serve as members of the board of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation (www.tutu.org ), which supports the Peace Centre through fund-raising. This work is valuable, but hardly enough.
By Rosalind McLymont