A world of difference

By Richard Graves

Kofi Annan ’61 will be visiting us this Saturday, to deliver an address that we have eagerly waited for. While we have basked in the attention from our alumnus serving as Secretary-General to the United Nations, he has tackled seemingly intractable problems like global poverty, global climate change, and conflict in Africa, with a budget one-seventh the size of NASA’s. Kofi Annan’s second term will expire next year and the new Secretary-General will face the problems of the world.

I recently returned from a trip to New York representing Honduras at the National Model United Nations conference. For the whole team, the highlight of the conference was meeting Tonderai Chikuhwa ’96, from the UN Office for Children and Armed Conflict. Mr. Chikuhwa spoke of his experience advocating on behalf of children in conflict areas. He told fascinating stories of lobbying the Security Council, to trying to convince a thirteen-year old child soldier, high on cocaine, to put down the AK-47 he was holding in his shaking hand and leave with him to find the boy’s family.

We talked about the proliferation of global problems, like global climate change, the spread of nuclear weapons, and the trafficking of human beings, and how we only have one place for truly global solutions. The United Nations charter charges it with “saving succeeding future generations from the scourge of war” and “reaffirming faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.”

Yet the United Nations could not stop the United States in its march to war in Iraq or pressure the international community to live up to its promises and intervene in the genocide of Darfur. I had one question for Mr. Chikuhwa that day: where will the energy come from to reinvigorate the United Nations?

In this new era, Macalester must determine its responsibility to the world and its position in the international system embodied by the United Nations. As a student body, we dedicate ourselves to worthy causes and passionately debate global issues over dinner, and consequently when we return to our homes around the world we are richer for it.

Will Macalester will simply be the past of the United Nations, paying tribute to the memory of Kofi Annan? Or will its future, embodied in an explicit effort to reach out to the international community and use our college as a place to generate ideas, and future leaders, that will build the United Nations into an organization that can live up to the ideals of its charter and the needs of a troubled world?

Macalester is a liberal bubble in a country controlled by conservative forces. This isolation has led some to call for more `diverse voices’ at Macalester, citing a lack of political debate as the reason. I believe that we will only lack debate if we fail to address problems in the greater community. We need to reach out and promote the principle that global problems require global solutions.

President Rosenberg’s vision of the Institute for Global Citizenship could nuture these global solutions. It can only happen, however, if we take ownership of the Institute and see it not as an imposition by the administration but an opportunity to live the ideals of our college. Macalester’s true value lies in the efforts of students to create meaningful change and organizations like the Model United Nations or our environmental, social, and cultural organizations could be so much more. We need to focus on nurturing change, educating ourselves on making a tangible difference as students, and building a platform to bring our ideas to the world.

As Kofi Annan comes to speak at Macalester, we can simply celebrate how far we have come as a college or we can look toward becoming a college that educates global citizens on solving global issues. The alternate remains too terrible, as the world debates over who should have nuclear weapons, whether it’s too late to act on global climate change, or if the latest atrocity constitutes genocide. We may not believe that we can create the world of our ideals, because we are convinced that we as individuals cannot change the world. But if we will not make the effort, who will?

Contact Richard Graves ’06 at [email protected]