Instead of recognizing that the world we lived in, with increasingly sophisticated communications, transportations and weapons systems necessitated sophisticated leadership that would bring the global family together, the then-leaders of the US and UK fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand – with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us. If leaders may lie, then who should tell the truth? Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu, Anti-Apartheid Activist & Nobel Laureate, 2012Strong bonds of friendship forged in the throes of the anti-apartheid struggle between Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu and former British Premier Tony Blair have proved no longer able to support the lies underpinning the Iraq war. Infact the former has been destroyed by the latter and in boldly speaking out against the double standards of global politics, threats to world peace and in repeatedly demonstrating a rare courage amidst the silence of many, anti-apartheid icon Tutu has truly established himself as the foremost moral voice in today’s world.
In 2003, George Bush and Tony Blair invaded Iraq and toppled its leader, the total lack of international consensus for the attack regardless. At the time, the two leaders tried unsuccessfully to convince the world that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and had every intention of deploying them in threat of world peace. Repeated checks by the United Nations’ weapons inspectors however turned up nothing – more because of absence than concealment. Bush and Blair argued otherwise, purportedly adducing evidence which they called the “smoking gun.”
In the run up to the war, Arch Bishop Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, called then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and requested for more time for UN weapon’s inspectors to confirm or deny the existence of these weapons. Rice declined, explaining according to Tutu that “there was too much risk and the president would not postpone any longer.”
The rest as we all know is history: Iraq was invaded and destabilized, President Saddam Hussein was hanged on conviction for crimes against humanity, and the threat of global terrorism remains undiminished. Last but not least, after almost a decade, still no proven weapons of mass destruction are the world’s lot! But of course, the goal posts keep shifting which is why despite touting weapons of mass destruction as their smoking gun for war, Blair et al., today find solace in Saddam’s “human rights abuses” as the foremost justification for war! The reason has either changed or has undergone dainty transmogrification!
Last month, Desmond Tutu was scheduled to address the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit in Johannesburg alongside Blair. As the time drew nearer, Tutu grew increasingly anxious at the prospect of sharing the stage with the former British Premier. In his own words, “I did not deem it appropriate …. I felt an increasingly profound sense of discomfort about attending a summit on "leadership" with Mr Blair…” Tutu finally turned down the invite with apologies. He did not end it there however. He authored a blistering treatise explaining his position in the UK’s Guardian newspaper in the process, raising a lot of thought provoking issues.
We live in a world that has hauled former Liberian President Charles Taylor to the Hague and convicted same for facilitating the murder of thousands of people in neighboring Sierra Leone. Others have recommended Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe’s appearance at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Cote D’Ivoire’s Laurent Gbagbo, deposed through the joint action of French military forces and Ivorian rebels faces similar charges at the Hague.
In the same world, despite an average of 6.5 people dying each day in suicide attacks and vehicle bombs in Iraq,(according to the Iraqi Body Count project), despite over 110,000 Iraqis dying since 2003, despite millions being displaced by the conflict, despite nearly 4,500 American soldiers being killed in the war by the end of 2011 and despite more than 32,000 American soldiers being wounded, the principal actors who visited this havoc on the world walk free—never to see the Hague.
The Archbishop’s is the unwavering rallying cry of human conscience when he queries, “On what grounds do we decide that Robert Mugabe should go to the International Criminal Court, Tony Blair should join the international speakers' circuit, bin Laden should be assassinated, but Iraq should be invaded, not because it possesses weapons of mass destruction, as Mr Bush's chief supporter, Mr Blair, confessed last week, but in order to get rid of Saddam Hussein? The cost of the decision to rid Iraq of its by-all-accounts despotic and murderous leader has been staggering, beginning in Iraq itself.”
As if this powerful question was not affirmatively disruptive enough, Tutu pushed further with a startling recommendation; “On these grounds alone, in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in the Hague” adding that the “immorality of the United States and Great Britain's decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history.”
In a spirited riposte, Blair posited that Iraq is now a better place due to their invasion. “I have a great respect for Archbishop Tutu’s fight against apartheid – where we were on the same side of the argument – but to repeat the old canard that we lied about the intelligence is completely wrong, as every single independent analysis of the evidence has shown.” He also described as bizarre, the Archbishop’s argument that “Leadership and morality are indivisible. Good leaders are the custodians of morality. The question is not whether Saddam Hussein was good or bad or how many of his people he massacred. The point is that Mr Bush and Mr Blair should not have allowed themselves to stoop to his immoral level.”
For consistently speaking the uncomfortable truth to power, for being the combined voice of the voiceless, of justice, freedom, democracy and accountability, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation this week awarded a one off USD 1million to an astounding “African civil society champion.”
“Whether one always agrees with Archbishop Tutu or not, his contribution to dialogue, to accountability, and to the debate on Africa’s future has been unparalleled. His integrity and moral authority deserve recognition. We hope this Award will inspire the next generation to follow Archbishop Tutu’s example and speak truth to power.” Mo Ibrahim Foundation.
11th October, 2012