António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, on Saturday said, while quoting Nelson Mandela, that “education is the most powerful tool we can use to change the world”.
Guterres made the remarks while delivering his speech at the 18th Nelson Mandela Day annual lecture.
The lecture, a virtual one, with the theme: “Tackling the Inequality Pandemic: A New Social Contract for a New Era”, was dedicated to the memory of Mandela’s daughter, Zindziswa Mandela.
Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, described her as a brave activist who endured the pains of harassment when her father was in prison.
Ramaphosa noted that her father’s life was one lived in the service of everyone and his legacy in fighting apartheid is still relevant till date.
“In his memory, we must strive harder to build societies rooted in respect and this pandemic has revived the bonds of solidarity among nations of the world,” Ramaphosa said.
Guterres, in his speech, took aim at the various layers of inequality that are being exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and outlined the threat posed “to our well-being and future by historic injustices and other societal ills.”
He recommended for a more equitable, just and sustainable way forward in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.
According to him, in order to deliver quality education for all, we need to more than double education spending in low and middle income countries by 2030 to three trillion dollars a year.
“Governments must prioritize equal access from early learning because science tells us that pre-school education changes the lives of individuals, and brings enormous benefits to communities and societies.
“When the richest children are seven times more likely than the poorest to attend preschool, there’s no surprise that inequality is intergenerational.
“With this, all children in low and middle income countries could have access to quality education at all levels. This is possible, we just have to decide to do it,” he said.
He urged governments to prioritize investment in digital literacy and infrastructure because learning facts and skills are not enough.
“Technology transforms our world and learning how to learn, adapt and take on new skills will be essential.
“The digital revolution of artificial intelligence will change the nature of work, and the relationship between work leisure activities, some of which we cannot even imagine today.
“The roadmap for digital cooperation launched at the United Nations last month promotes a vision of an inclusive, sustainable digital future.
“Technology can turbocharge recovery from COVID-19 and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals,” Guterres said.
He said that the vicious cycle of corruption, which is both a cause and effect of inequality must be broken at all levels.
“Corruption reduces and raises funds for social protection, it also weakens social norms and the rule of law.
“Fighting corruption depends on accountability and the greatest guarantee of this is a vibrant civil society, including the free independent media and responsible social media platforms that encourage healthy debates.
“Let’s face the effects, because the global political and economic system is not delivering on critical global public goods, public health, climate action, sustainable development and peace,” he said.
The Secretary-General further said that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought home the tragic disconnect between self interest and common interests and the huge gap in governance structures and ethical frameworks.
He said that to close those gaps and to make the new social context possible, “we need the new global deal to ensure that our wealth and opportunities are shared more broadly and fairly at international level.
“A new model for global governance must be based on full, inclusive and equal participation in global institutions.
“Without that, we face even wider inequalities and gaps in solidarity, like the fragmented global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Developed Countries have strongly invested in their own survival in the face of the pandemic and have failed to deliver enough support needed to help the developing world through the dangerous times.”
Guterres said the developing world must have a far stronger voice in global decision making.
“We also need a more inclusive and balanced multilateral trading system that enables developing countries to move up global value chains.
“Illicit financial flows, money laundering and tax evasion must be prevented.
“We must work together to integrate the principles of sustainable development into financial decision making and ensure markets must be full partners in shifting the flow of resources.
“We have been brought to our knees by a microscopic virus that has demonstrated the fragility of our world.
“It has laid bare, risks we have ignored for decades, which include indequate health systems, gaps in social protection, structural inequalities, environmental degradation, the climate crisis, among others.
“Entire regions that were making progress on eradicating poverty and narrowing inequality have been set back years in a matter of months.
“Difference, inequality defines our time and more than 70 per cent of the world’s people are living with rising income and wealth inequality with the 26 richest people in the world holding as much wealth as of the global population,” he said.
He said that Africa had been a double victim, first, as a target of the colonial project and second, with African countries being underrepresented in international institutions that were created after the Second World War.
According to him, the composition and voting rights in the United Nations Security Council and the boards of the Bretton Woods system are a case in point.
He noted that inequality started at the top in global institutions and there must be a reform to such cases.
Guterres said that now is the time for global leaders to decide whether to succumb to chaos, division and inequality or right the wrongs of the past and move forward together for the good of all.