General Douglas MacArthur famously said, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” The same will not be said by or about Archbishop Desmond Tutu. As he celebrates his 81st birthday, Tutu remains very much the activist, with the emphasis on “active.”
“In everything he stands for, everything he says, and everything he does, he displays a consistent obligation to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak the uncomfortable truths,” said Mo Ibrahim, in Johannesburg, while announcing a special award to the Archbishop for his work on behalf of peace. The Ibrahim Prize for Achievement is awarded to African heads of state who have excelled during their terms in office and aims to recognize good and responsible governance.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu – Hope in Troubling Times
Recent examples of Tutu’s continuing commitment to peace and social justice abound:
Tutu spoke out in the case of Kiobel vs. Shell which is pending before the US Supreme Court. Shell is accused of working with the Nigerian government to ensure resistance to operations in the oil-rich Niger Delta was protected by military force. He chided the US government not to abandon the people of Nigeria who had been harmed by the company in its quest to exploit the country’s oil resources.
In a speech during the commemoration of South Sudan’s first anniversary of independence from Sudan, Tutu called on the nation’s leaders to stop fighting and conciliate with their former countrymen in the north. He argued that such measures would bring a turnaround in the country’s dismal economic fortunes and save its citizens from continued hardship.
Every year, ten million girls are forcibly married before the age of eighteen, many as young as twelve or thirteen years old. Tutu has long decried child marriages and urged the world community to put a stop to the practice. With a delegation of The Elders, he recently visited India to learn about the causes of child marriage there, discuss the harmful impact of child marriage on human rights and development, and to encourage local efforts to end the practice.
In August, 2012, Tutu refused to share a speaker’s platform with Tony Blair, former prime minister of Great Britain, citing his and George Bush’s role in initiating the Iraq war, destabilizing the country and causing untold suffering among its citizens. Tutu’s controversial remarks unleashed a firestorm of debate in the international press around the murky rationale for going to war in Iraq.
Tutu continues to inspire new generations of activists. His unrelenting determination to pursue the cause of peace and justice around the world reminds us that the spirit of activism does not fade with age.