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Does the world need a group of elders?

By Sally Gould

Updated on 27 July 2007

More4 News asks if the Council of Elders can make an international impact.

The multinational body established by Sir Richard Branson and Peter Gabriel is the latest in a long line of groups that claim to have the moral authority to intervene in world affairs.

Despite, or because of, the Council's strange provenance, the membership of this body is so august that it might actually have an effect.

Traditional societies have village elders and the thinking is that the global village can use the same kind of thinking.

The United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan has admitted international problems include poverty, enviornmental degradation, infectious diseases, internationally organised crime and weapons of mass destruction.

Sir Richard and Gabriel are funding the Council. It is an idea they came up with years ago, but it was not launched until the gravitas of Mandela was secured.

Some claim the group has ethical capital, but not everybody agrees.

Kofi Annan has been criticised for failing to stop the genocide in Rwanda and more recently was mired in the UN's oil-for-food scandal.

Another elder, Li Zhaoxing, was, until a few months ago, China's foreign minister, the international face of a country with a questionable human rights record, who last year welcomed the president of Sudan to Beijing.

Dr Helen Szamuely of The Briges Group, said: "This is a fatuous idea, the notion that elderly gentlemen and ladies can travel round the world and look at individual conflicts that grow out of separate problems, and decide how these conflicts can be solved, is absolutely nonsensical.

"Why would anyone want to listen to any elders? I mean I'm surprised they haven't asked President Mugabe, there's a political elder round the world, a sage, why isn't he on this committee?"

The elders hope they will succeed because they are not afraid of failure.

Observers say their success may rest on whether they are disciplined enough to concerntrate on specific issues, Darfur for instance, or even the Middle East, making sure they don't spread themselves too thin.

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