Someone please tell me this is a joke.
Nelson Mandela and five other senior statesmen will today form themselves into a team of international troubleshooters called “The Elders”.
The initiative, funded by Sir Richard Branson, will be launched in Johannesburg during celebrations marking Mr Mandela’s 89th birthday.
The former South African president, who spent 27 years behind bars during the apartheid era, is a figure with unparalleled moral authority.
The idea is that he will team up with Jimmy Carter, the former US president, Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary-general, Mary Robinson, the former Irish president, Desmond Tutu, the Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town and Mohammed Yunus, the Nobel Laureate and founder of the Green Bank in Bangladesh.
The membership of The Elders has been carefully chosen. Each one is a non-partisan figure with a rolodex packed with international contacts.
Meryl has already articulated what I wanted to say:
Non-partisan my ass.
But it gets better.
“This group can speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind the scenes on whatever actions need to be taken,” said Mr Mandela in a statement.
“Together we will work to support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict, and inspire hope where there is despair.”
Sir Richard Branson cited hostage situations in Nigeria as an example of where The Elders could intervene.
During the build-up to the war in Iraq in 2003, Sir Richard persuaded Mr Mandela and Mr Annan to agree to travel to Baghdad and persuade Saddam Hussein to leave the country peacefully.
But the war began before the idea could get off the ground. Mr Mandela, who enters his ninth decade today, no longer travels outside South Africa and very rarely speaks in public.
He is unlikely to be an active, travelling member of the club. Instead, he is more likely to be an elder figurehead of an elderly group.
At least they are not likely to be around too long.
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