Graça Machel
October 30, 2007



Graça Machel remains one of the most respected, charismatic, and influential leaders of the African continent. Machel was born in Mozambique in 1945 and became a freedom fighter against Portuguese colonialism during the mid ‘70s. After independence, Machel was the only woman to hold a post in the new government’s cabinet. As the Minister of Education and Culture, Graça Machel worked relentlessly to educate as many Mozambicans as possible—eventually increasing the number of children in school from 400,000 when she arrived to 1,500,000 when she left office.

Her dramatic but humble commitment to children’s and women’s rights, education, and development soon earned her recognition beyond Mozambique and Africa. In 1993, the UN asked her to conduct and lead a study of the impact of armed conflict on children. The groundbreaking report presented by Machel in 1996 forever changed the world’s policy on protecting children from being brutalized, used, and murdered as part of adult conflicts. I recently heard someone describe Machel’s command of communication as Shakespearean: exquisite in presentation and relentless. I certainly found this to be true in her writings:

I come from a culture where traditionally, children are seen as both our present and our future, so I have always believed it is our responsibility as adults to give children futures worth having.

I have been chilled listening to children who have been so manipulated by adults and so corrupted by their experiences of conflict that they could not recognize the evil of which they had been a part.

These are the stories behind the figures given in this report — figures of such magnitude that they often hide the impact of these horrors on each child, each family, each community.

Machel continues her global activism today tackling issues from education to HIV/AIDS to land mines. Most recently, Machel confronted the genocidal Khartoum regime during a trip to Sudan with the Elders Project. The Elders is a small gathering of independent world leaders including Graça Machel, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Aung Sun Suu Kyi, and Mary Robinson among others. The Elders project is free from political, economic, and military pressures and its only stated agenda is that of “humanity”. Each Elder speaks not for a government but as an individual with their own moral imperatives.


I was fortunate to be able to sit in on an absolutely incredible debriefing of the Elders’ trip. The anecdotes and stories shared during this off-the-record meeting blew me away. Graça Machel is apparently so well-known and loved on the continent that as she walked through the refugee camps in Chad and Darfur, villagers, refugees, and African Union forces would crowd around her crying out “Mother! Mother!”—hardly taking notice of Desmond Tutu. It seems she represents to them a worthy vessel in which to send out their complex message of hope and fear. When Graça speaks, she will demand the world to acknowledge our obligations. Those within her reach will listen—not because she is an elder of our global village—but because she will have reminded us of an important point. Not to feel these losses and not to acknowledge these gross atrocities against innocence, manifests another type of loss: that of one’s own humanity.

Graça Machel wrote the preface to the 2004 Global Report on Child Soldiering and signed off with this:

Finally: a message to all activists – in families, in governments, in civil society groups – who work with such commitment and courage.

To all of you, throughout the world: your determination to bring an end to the[se abuses], your perseverance and your unstinting efforts in the face of grave dangers are shining examples of what true humanity and commitment mean.

You keep alive the flame of hope and the belief that by working together we can create a world where children can grow up with love, in dignity and in peace.

South African Civil Rights leader Nelson Mandela is married to Graça Machel.

Responsibility to Protect,