The second annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) officially launched this morning with an opening plenary session which included First Lady Laura Bush and panelists including President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, President Alvaro Uribe Velez of Columbia and Javier Solana, the Secretary General of the Council of the (EU) European Union.
President Clinton introduces First Lady Laura Bush
At the plenary session, President Clinton announced the first five commitments of 2006, including a commitment by Mrs. Bush to provide thousands of citizens in sub-Saharan Africa with safe drinking water. Mrs. Bush committed a $16.4 million pledge from USAID, PEPFAR, the Case Foundation, and the MCJ Foundation. These committed funds will provide Play Pumps water systems to more than 1000 communities and schools in sub-Saharan Africa to provide thousands with safe and clean drinking water. It's both an ingenious and simple idea. It harnesses human nature and child's play to make it work.
The panel at the opening plenary was mediated by NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who asked a question of each panel member - "If the 'Clinton genie' could grant you one wish - what would that wish be?" I will provide some of their answers for you at a later time.
President Johnson-Sirleaf stressed the belief that the people of her nation's localities need to set the priorities for their needs in order for those needs to be realistically and successfully met. (re: schools, clinics, business needs, etc). The returning refugee population in her once turbulent nation need tools and seeds for farming in order to revive agriculture in Liberia.
President Musharraf made a plea for a return of diplomacy in world affairs. During the panel session, he stressed that a global divide was growing and that problems in the Middle East contribute to that divide. He sugested that we all need to build bridges rather than to burn them; to move away from extremism with something other than simply a militaristic solution. He stated that it was his opinion that Pope Benedict XVI's recent words - the ones that inflamed so many in the Muslim world - were "unwarranted." He believes that many in the Islamic world are already experiencing poverty and hopelessness; they feel a sense of abandonment and misunderstanding. "Rubbing salt in their wounds" is not a successful solution. He said that the cart cannot be put before the horse - that the Palestinian conflict lies at the core of many of the problems of extremism and terrorism. He doesn't trust that struggles such as the Iraq War will "fall in line" until the Palestinian problem has been resolved. He touched on some other political topics that I will cover in future posts.
Mrs. Bush speaks
Secretary General Javier Solana said that, without security, there can be no successful development. We all have a responsibility to protect the innocent from genocide - and we must remember that there are consequences when we use that very word. When Mr. Friedman asked Mr. Solana about a single policy change the EU could take right now, he said world leaders need to continue working together toward the alleviation of suffering and as a force for international security. Barbara O'Brien (Mahablog) has a lot more on Mr. Solana.
Keeping busy in the press room.
There were afternoon sessions held on four focus issues: Climate Change, Global Health, Poverty Alleviation, and Mitigating Religious and Ethnic Conflict.
I listened in to workshop sessions on Global Health and Mitigating Religious and Ethnic Conflict. I also have some video from a Press Conference held later in the afternoon by the session leaders. I'll share that with you at my earliest opportunity.
Later on... Some of the bloggers who attended the CGI conference at a Press Reception.
I have much more to tell you about this conference, but it's late and I have to be back in the morning. One thing I'll leave you with is that I've talked to a few people this evening and one common thread running through the opinions offered about Day One of this conference is that the issues and the way they're being aproached and embraced by those participating in the CGI commitment process is generating a feeling of hope for this world that few have sensed for a long, long time.