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The East African : December 9th 2013
The EastAfrican NEWS DECEMBER 7-13,2013 END OF AN ERA Mandela isn’t moral icon, he is morality itself He is a man who could have stayed in powe≥ fo≥ life and few would have da≥ed to challenge him BY TOM ODHIAMBO Special Correspondent T o eulogise Mandela is an experiment in the command and use of adjectives. And right now one may seriously fall short of the right words. Words will fail now not because of the grief, not because one can’t find other icons to compare him to, not because Mandela is superhuman but because Mandela’s legacy is too complex to readily account for. His is a history that defies the logic of African postcolonial political cultures. And this is the biggest bequest for Africa by Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Mandela’s death should en- courage African leaders to reflect deeply on servant leadership. Here is a man who could have decided to become “presidentfor-life” and few would have had the moral authority to challenge him but he didn’t. How shameful it is that men such as Muammar Gaddafi, Mobutu Sese Seko, Hosni Mubarak or Laurent Gbagbo had to be hounded out of their presidential palaces when all along they could have done the Mandela thing and retired honourably? What shamelessness stops these men from learning the lesson of the longest political prisoner in the world, who comes out of prison, is elected to public office but hands over much of his powers two years later to his deputy then quietly retires to a fairly nondescript home at the end of his term? Shouldn’t African leaders learn the lesson of politics of “retreat, reflect and respond” from Madiba too? This is a tactic that Mandela effectively used when in the ANC ranks against the apartheid system and when he decided to negotiate with the minority white government later. As a lawyer, Mandela’s engagement with the repressive minority government always seemed to appreciate the enormity of the financial and military potential of his enemies. This explains why he decided that he’d rather be jailed than negotiate with his tormentors, on their terms. He would bide his time and hopefully wear out the Afrikaners. But when he felt that it was time to negotiate, he took this route. Much has been written about the geopolitics that forced the Afrikaner government to seek peace with the majority black population. Less is written about the fact that the South African government could easily have retained power through continued use of brute force. South Africa had a sophisticated economy that was globally connected through several multinational companies; its minerals, especially diamonds, would still have been sold all over the world; its education system and research laboratories were world class; its farms guaranteed food supply for the whole population. In other words, South Africa was a self-sufficient country that Members of the public light candles outside Mandela’s house in Johannesburg. Picture: File His is a history that defies the logic of African postcolonial political cultures.” could still be laughing at much of Africa about liberation while doing business with the whole world. Only a wise man like Mandela would have seen the sense in negotiating with it; he had waited long enough and probably knew that the whites could outwait him. He didn’t really surrender to them as those accusing him of selling out to the whites like to say, men such as Robert Mugabe, but probably he had a more acute sense of the realpolitik of the time. Add to that, the personal magnanimity that led him to forgive his tormentors and you see why many people think he is a saint. Mandela, for me, wasn’t just a moral icon. For the seven years that I lived in South Africa, Mandela’s name always invoked a moral agency and order beyond the man himself. He hardly appeared in public after retiring from politics, not many places in South Africa are named after him and he avoided participating in many of the public debates that South Africans, like Americans, are permanently engaged in. His influence But wherever I travelled in South Africa his name would suddenly change the atmosphere. To mention Mandela was to call people to order; it was to demand commitment to certain duties. Mandela’s name seemed to travel with the wind, reminding all and sundry in South Africa of the struggles to overcome racism, poverty, disease, illiteracy etc. Anyone, including his former jailers, freely cited it to demonstrate their human imperfection and Madiba’s seeming redemptive powers; which is what made him all human. And it is the urgent need for the redemption of Africans that Mandela’s legacy will demand of us. What Africans make of Mandela is inextricably tied to his lifelong commitment to the liberation struggle. But liberation can’t just be political. It has to be social, economic as well as cultural. The key lesson from Mandela’s struggles is to translate the patience, perseverance and commitment to the ideal of political liberation into personal, communal, national and pan-African principles to liberate Africans. This is a man who eschewed the acquisition of personal wealth, which can’t be said of many postcolonial African leaders as he didn’t build a personality cult around himself. One hopes that Mandela’s rejection of self-aggrandisement and materialism, in the mould of Gandhi and the Dalai Lama, will be an enduring lesson to a new crop of African leaders. His protégé, Thabo Mbeki, learned the lesson properly, which guaranteed an easy power transition when he was injudiciously removed from office in 2008. South Africa may be grappling with some problems but it has Mandela to thank for its political stability today. It is because of Mandela’s moderation that the country is, undoubtedly, the most sophisticated in Africa politically and economically, one that may just provide what Africanists call “home-grown solutions” to the continent’s economic and political stagnation. Tom Odhiambo teaches liter- ature at the University of Nairobi. of Mzee Mandela starts in 1453 AD when the Ottoman Turks captured Istanbul He≥oic sto≥y of Mandela began some centu≥ies ago I t is with sadness that I heard of the news of Mzee Nelson Mandela’s death. The sad and heroic story from the Byzantine Empire. That capture blocked the overland route from Europe to Asia that had been established by Marco Polo many centuries before. That route was important to Europe, especially for spices and silk trade. With that blockage, the Europe- ans started looking for an alternative sea route to the East, around the massive African continent. Prince Henry, the Navigator of Portugal, established a naval school at Cadiz to improve on the construction of ships and on navigation techniques so that they could have ships that could withstand long ocean voyages to Asia around Africa. This is not the time and place to go into the details of that European effort of circumventing the Muslim blockade. Suffice it to say that by 1498, a mere 45 years after the fall of Constantinople, the Portuguese, sailor Vasco Da Gama, had rounded the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Town) and spent the Christmas of that year at Natal, which is why that area was so named, remembering the birth of Christ. With the discovery of the sea route to the Far East by the Europeans, the sad but also heroic story of Nelson Mandela and Africa begins. Initially, the Europeans came as traders, establishing refuelling and replenishment stations for their ships on the way to the Far East. Within a few centuries, however, the traders had become the colonisers. The sad thing is that while all this was unfolding, the African chiefs and other leaders never made serious efforts to co-ordinate in order to guarantee our future as free people. Yes, various tribes fought the colonialists. However, COMMENTARY YOWERI MUSEVENI The sad and heroic story of Mzee Mandela starts in 1453 AD when the Ottoman Turks captured Istanbul from the Byzantine Empire the co-ordination was either not there or too late. On account of internal weak- nesses within Africa, therefore, by the birth of Mzee Mandela in 1918, the whole of the African continent, except for Ethiopia, had been colonised. Therefore, Mandela had the mis- fortune of being born under colonialism like many of us were. Various individuals reacted differently to this situation. Many acquiesced and accepted colonialism or even collaborated with it. However, a few others like Mandela, Albert Luthuli, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo chose the difficult and hard route of resistance to colonialism. That resistance invited reprisals from the oppressors. The African National Congress people are more qualified to go into the details of that resistance by the party and the individuals who were involved. On account of our pan-Africanist orientation, we linked up with the ANC in 1967 in Dar es Salaam. Ever since that time, the NRM, or its precursors, have been working closely with the liberation movements of Southern Africa – Zanu, Zapu, Frelimo, ANC, Swapo and 13 MPLA. The resistance of all the colo- nised peoples of the world had benefitted from the continued resistance of those colonised peoples, fratricidal fighting among the imperialists (the First and Second World Wars) and solidarity from the socialist countries (Soviet Union, China, etc, ever since 1917) That resistance had led to some of the cleverer imperialists giving back the freedom of the people peacefully, examples being India and many of the African countries, including Uganda. However, those who were not so clever, such as Portugal and the Boers of South Africa and Rhodesia, thought they could maintain their colonial or minority and racist regimes. It was the lot of freedom fighters like Mzee Mandela and his colleagues to sacrifice and fight those regimes. Out of his 95 years on earth, given to him by God, it is only in the last 22 years, since 1991, that he lived as a free man.
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