A Peaceful New Year?
Amidst the cheery greetings of ‘happy new year’ that typically mark our encounters in January comes a chill warning from the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
When he took office in 2017, the new Secretary-General, António Guterres, issued a call for peace as his watchword. Just a year later, he has had to admit that the world has gone into reverse and that, far from being more peaceful, the situation has worsened. It is a gloomy message for 2018 but also a spur for renewed efforts.
The problem with trying to achieve peace is that it is by no means the universal wish of all men and women. Too many people benefit from a continued state of conflict, whether arms manufacturers or groups settling old feuds. Too often, the pursuit of power drives leaders beyond the interests of the majority, and countries remain divided in the face of all reason. Moreover, it is an enormously complex subject, embracing not one but many of the world’s current challenges – from climate change to population growth, from gender divisions to food security.
In spite of all the odds against the idea of a world at peace, some individuals are still willing to devote themselves to the cause. The Founding President of Seychelles, the late Sir James Mancham, was one such individual, exchanging a background in domestic politics and years in exile for a global role as an ambassador of peace. Sadly, he passed away a year ago but not before talks had started with the University of Seychelles to find a way to support his work. The outcome was to form a new research institute at the university, duly launched in August 2017.
Seychelles is a good place to locate this project. Being small, the country is not feared by other nations while, at the same time, it has earned respect for various initiatives on the regional and even world stage. A programme is being developed which includes local seminars and international conferences, research on subjects as diverse as maritime security and national reconciliation, and plans for postgraduate study. Diana Benoit has recently been appointed as Director and former Vice-Chancellor, Emeritus Professor Dennis Hardy, is actively involved alongside. Honorary Professors have been appointed and a worldwide network put it all in a wider context.
The words of the UN Secretary-General have been heeded. The enormity of the challenge is recognised and the response can only be positive; there is no Option B. In our own small way we have at least made a start.