(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)
Some say that Mandela, by doing the right and revolutionary thing in South Africa, has placed upon that country’s shoulders the heaviest burden ever borne by an African nation, certainly the most historically unusual. The burden of responsibility. To preserve, protect and build upon… PEACE. Today’s South Africa has no antecedents in Africa, no African sister States to learn from. Instead, the others will study and learn from the curves, triumphs or failures and vicissitudes of South Africa’s socio-political path, post-Mandela. Whatever challenges modern South Africans still have to master in the generations going forward – just like every country has challenges to master – they started out under the guidance of a visionary leadership that not only set the political framework, but also socially and morally set the tone for a continued sustainable upbuilding. In their new beginning was the pronounced will to forge a more just and perfect union, a reconciled nation-soul, one in which the blessings of liberty are secured. The value of such a beginning cannot be over-emphasized. Every and any diversion that may ever occur in the future has a corrective reference point, like a compass needle, to which it can return. Mandela gave to South Africa, and to Africa as a whole, a special gift. He took a chance on peace, reconciliation and absolute democracy. Of modern Africa’s foundational leaders, Nelson Mandela – whose country obtained freedom last – was the one who took the leap of faith. The last became the first.
True, it is not an easy example to follow, Mandela’s. Infact it has few precedents in known human history, not just in Africa. On such a large national scale, to checkmate a slide into civil strife and bring about the mutual pacification and unification of bitterly warring nation-subgroups, guiding them into a voluntary fusion of patriots, the large majority of whom want to make the nation project work – and he achieved this feat purely by the force of pragmatic forgiveness and well-defined reconciliation, aided by the iron power of persuasion, diplomacy and tact, full of farsightedness and a sense of history. TO crown it all, he secured it by serving one term in office and then stepping down. In the twenty-seven years he spent in prison, he had watched with frustration as one African nation-state after another squandered the momentum of independence and liberation, and failed to start the rotating engine of democracy, or build the institutions that lay the foundation for patriotic, enthusiastic, inter-united upbuilding. Instead they degenerated into national fratricide, due to the inability of even the most well-meaning and most intelligent leaders of politics, leaders of military and leaders of thought and of faith, to forsake vengeance for reconciliation; unilateralism for universal inclusion; suppression and oppression for liberty of rights and free will; arbitrariness for the rule of law; rigid ideology for a flexible approach to a real and changing world; personal power for nation-wide empowerment; personal wealth for national enrichment; past grouses for present peace and future progress; selfish desires for national interests; and demagoguery for democracy. Economic projects without political emancipation is the same as building on shaky ground. You need politics to protect the economy. As true as it is that economic troubles can destabilise a country, so is it also true and all the more important to have stable politics in place to safeguard country and economy. Whether the economy is flourishing or is fragile and floundering, you need stable sustainable politics to protect it. Stable sustainable politics, however, goes deeper then even a constitution. It is a moral contract that a society has with itself. Yes, ‘tis true indeed: peace is harder than war. And Mandela learned from history. Not only did he politically reconcile black and white in South Africa; but, even more impressively within the African context, he pacified native Black groups, convincing adversarial African tribes that there was more gain in cooperation than in conflict, and the path to peace does not always have to pass through the flaming gates of war. Why don’t others learn from that?
Today, in modern North Africa, five years after popular revolutions via which their peoples maneuvered their countries into position for a new beginning, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt have been unable to manage the momentum that began with the so-called Jasmine revolution. In Egypt, the newly democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood President, with the backing of his supporters, immediately set about repeating all the historical errors of the past, ostracising and repressing different parties, groups and ideologies, disempowering the judiciary and trying to strong-arm a new constitution into place, thus triggering furious and vicious waves of resistance. The nation, in the middle of a sensitive, tentative search for unity, was immediately and bitterly divided again, and then army General el-Sisi pushed aside Mursi, setting a new sequence of events into motion, the end-result of which no-one can yet say, and North Africa too is still troubled. All of this on the same continent that had recently produced a Nelson Mandela, a beacon of light, and a shinning example to all on how to turn years of persecution into the moral authority to reconcile a nation within, and with, its many selves.
Be it religion, be it ethnicity, be it race, be it class, be it ideology, be it orientation, or one thing or the other… there has always been something to divide Africans. And there have been pitifully few strong spirits with the courage, voice, moral and political authority to empower a reconciliation of the peoples.
– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.
… continued in Part 11/11:
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 11 – (Africa, Unite)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 1 (Preamble)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 2 (Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 3 (Tunisian Troubles, Libyan Losses, Ethiopian Woes)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 4 (Sudan and South Sudan)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 5 – (Ghanaian Black Holes & Ivorian Time Bombs)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 6 – (Nigerian Nightmare & Congolese Chaos)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 7 (Ugandan Up-n-down)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 8 – (Angolan Angers, Zimbabwean Tragedy and a host of others)
MANDELA, LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES: 9 – (Sharing Power and Passing it on)