I played the “beautiful game” of football competitively from age 12 until age 16, and what fascinated me the most was the power of the referee.
In our dynamic and complicated world of today, who or where is the referee? Because for close to a century, the US was usually seen unofficially, though, as the moral compass and referee of the world, especially post-WWII. The Marshall Plan, first promoted by US Secretary of State General George Marshall in June 1947, benefited countries like France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, and a dozen others. It was a defining moment in our world’s history and a colourful introduction to America’s seeming benevolence.
Though there was no referee’s uniform to wear, the blue and white stripes and stars of the American flag were usually a welcome recognition by a planet in need of a neutral but powerful voice of reason. In the last decade, however, in what was the beginning of a seeming vacuum that included a new doctrine of “America first,” other newer and bolder competing powers for the role of the world’s referee organically emerged. One of the smallest and boldest emerging influencers for this role has been the state of Qatar, whose nationally branded planes were the only aircraft visible when the Taliban suddenly reemerged as the dominant power in Afghanistan in August 2021 when the US withdrew from that strategic central Asian nation. The EU block, if it has its way, would also desire a speaking role as one voice. Except it is like trying to herd a bunch of cats, because most EU members still nurse or polish a national agenda that benefits their political and economic interests first.
Tiny Qatar, just weeks ago in early December, played a very prominent role in the life-saving ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. It is a conflict where one too many lives have been lost, as the world watched as a collective spectator group — some with hands on their heads in shock, some with hands over their eyes to block the carnage, while still some are in the cheering stand, cautiously gazing around and looking out for signs the tide of support just might change. Indeed, a quiet world in a loud neighbourhood!
Now that I have tried to set this global stage of seeming chaos, distrust, mistrust, and the ever-changing rules of a game, many are too afraid to get caught watching — like a bootleg movie in a darkened high school dorm. The question is, “who or where is that moral compass” called a referee today?
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, whom I sat down with 5 years ago on December 14th, brokered a first face-to-face Presidential meeting in another impending military conflict between two South American nations – Venezuela and Guyana, over the disputed oil-rich Essequibo territory. Here again, a smaller nation punches far above its weight as a referee in the absence of traditional names.
On this same Guyana and Venezuela impending international fracas, eight years ago, I had stepped into a mediation role at the UN between these two countries, meeting first with President David Granger of Guyana to convince the parties that there were other avenues to a military conflict. The peace held, seemingly, until December 3rd this year when President Nicolas Maduro called a referendum on annexing Essequibo.
So, was I a referee when I added my voice to this peace mediation, or was I just punching above my weight? Was I just a global citizen, a disillusioned spectator, or a young woman who was numbed by being part of a very “quiet world” in a loud neighbourhood called ‘chaos,’ with screams of help echoing from streets and alleys that began in Ukraine, Israel, the Sahel, and more devastatingly today — in Gaza.
But if I was a referee, I would come in three parts: the craftiness of Henry Kissinger, the audacious optimism of Brigadier Joseph Garba, and the rugged patience of Sergei Lavrov.
Zuriel Oduwole is a global education advocate and a presidential advisor. She earned her double Master’s degrees in Global Security & International Negotiations and Conflict Resolution from the American University in Washington DC. Twitter: @zuriel oduwole