(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

It sounds like a myth now. They say South Africa was on the brink of civil war after the release of Mandela and the collapse of apartheid. Civil war? Really? The Zulus and the Xhosas were heading for tribal war? And, simultaneously, the blacks against the whites in racial massacre? Well, it is true that it all sounds a bit far-fetched to some people now… because it did not happen. Because Mandela opted for reconciliation and spearheaded an intense drive to find a common basis for all to live, share power and face the future together. But, as far-fetched as all this may seem today, it was actually the most likely turn that events would have taken, based on the history of African so-called independence. This is a history that Mandela, and those who thought like him, knew all too well and, like wise people do, gravely feared. It is a history replete with the educative one-two punch of the strong heady wine of independence, liberation and freedom, eventually followed by the bad-tempered and moody hangover of disorientation, destabilisation and crisis.

Independence, all too often, is followed by civil strife and civil war. On all continents, in different eras, there abound records of great and small nations who have been unable to avoid this cliff in the arch of their history. When a nation-space has been oppressed or suppressed for a long time, it exhibits the properties of a socio-political pressure cooker. Once the lid of suppression is lifted, tumultuous explosions sooner or later follow as the various agendas and sensibilities of its component parts push to the fore, each demanding fulfilment. It requires strong-willed, knowing, conscious leadership to harness the liberated energies and channel them into constructive upbuilding. The opposite would mean a repetition of the same wild implosion into self-destruction witnessed after independence in many African countries, and as is happening right now in South Sudan. It is a pity that more than two decades after the fall of apartheid, Mandela’s example has not been understood and internalised by many other African peoples, personalities and groups still trying to find the most conducive forms of post-independent co-existence.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije

Continued in Part 2 of 11:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 2 – (Egypt’s modern pharaohs)