By Joe Bartuah
Yesterday and today in South Africa–the Rainbow Nation—as their late president famously tagged it—dignitaries and ordinary citizens from around the world are joining hundreds of thousands of South Africans for their highly anticipated Global Citizens Festival, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of their late President, Mr. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. From all indications, the festivities are definitely star-studded.
Perhaps because President Mandela, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was a renowned champion of diversity, the organizers of the event prudently selected former United States President Barack Obama, a gentleman whose presidency singularly marked an epochal moment in the incessant quest for global diversity, to be the keynote speaker. While Obama is ably leading the intellectual charge in reflecting on the late South African president’s exemplary legacies, Beyonce`, a global icon in the entertainment industry, is in the Rainbow Nation to enrapture fellow global citizens during the fanfare slated for the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg. Of course, Beyonce will not be alone; Jay-Z, her rap mogul husband, will also join her, along with Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities. To further immortalize the centenary memorial of the Madiba, the South African Reserve Bank has issued special commemorative bank notes and gold coins.
It’s an understatement to say that amidst a mercurial rise in pervasive Acquired Leadership Deficiency Syndrome (ALDS) in some of the most powerful countries around the world, it is imperative that farsighted global citizens celebrate and immortalize the exemplary legacies of President Mandela. ALDS is pathetically characterized by camouflaged idiocy, shrouded in sheer arrogance, crude xenophobia, callous bigotry and myopic snobbery, among others. Those were some of the vile values that Mandela fiercely fought against until his very last days on earth.
President Obama, alluding to the pugnacious wave of ALDS in a speech to Global Citizens yesterday in South Africa, decried the menace of “strongman politics” in some parts of the world. Obama, also a former constitutional law professor, expressed consternation at “the utter loss of shame” by some of the strongman politicians who continue to sink in the depth of moral deficiency. “I am not being alarmist; I’m simply stating the facts”, Obama reminded his audience, adding, “Look around—strongman politics are ascendant, suddenly whereby elections and some pretense of democracy are maintained, the form of it, where those in power seek to undermine the very institution or norm that gives democracy meaning.”
Like Obama’s, Mandela’s presidency was an epitome of virtuous leadership. Not only that President Obama is a Peace Prize laureate like the late South African leader, but also the presidencies of both men sought to inspire generations rather than blatantly intimidating swarms of innocent people who mean no harm. That’s one of the reasons why I strongly believe that his selection as a keynote speaker at such an auspicious event does make sense.
During his presidency, Mandela courageously cultivated and catalyzed the diversity of his country for the ultimate benefit of the larger society, rather pitting one racial group against another. Upon reflection on his epic struggle against Apartheid and all forms of debilitating discriminations in his country, one might be tempted to say that Mandela had sufficient reasons to be crude and cruel, upon assuming the national mantle of South Africa, yet he wisely chose to be cordial and compassionate. When he was still in his prime, he was shackled to the doldrums of an inhumane society, yet his presidency prioritized and fiercely protected human dignity.
After suffering excruciating pains at the cruel hands of Apartheid for more than three decades, 27 of those years in a virtual solitude, Mandela had sufficient reasons to be bitter and repulsive, but he chose to be a caring leader who was respectful of all segments of the society. When other African leaders were myopically choosing to flirt with dictatorship, Mandela chose to stick to democracy. At the time he assumed the presidency of his country in 1994, Nelson Mandela’s iconic popularity as an eminent champion of freedom and fundamental democratic precepts was globally unmatched, yet he chose to voluntarily relinquish power after a mere five years in office. By unshakably committing himself to basic democratic principles, Mandela helped in laying a formidable foundation for democratic consolidation and economic prosperity of his country.
Now, the question is, as we all—as Global Citizens—deeply reflect on the legacies of the Madiba, what lessons can we, as human beings, learn from the legacies of the late South African sage? Or better still, are we honestly prepared, ready and willing to follow his good examples? I strongly believe that in celebrating the exceptional leadership acumen of Mandela, we must not be lost in the grandiose and pageantry of the festivities.
It’s instructive that world leaders, most especially African leaders be keen on emulating those inspiring legacies that the late Mandela bequeathed to humanity. Unlike many African leaders who tend to be foolhardy about their mortality, or who seem oblivious about their legacies, Mandela was fully aware of and readily embraced the inevitability of change. In spite of his iconic eminence, he didn’t believe that any individual was so indispensable to the society, to the extent of destructively resisting change when change was inevitable.
As a result, unlike many of his African counterparts, he did not proffer egregious platitudes as a justification to perpetuate his stay in power. As we mark his 100th birth anniversary, other African leaders must seek to conscientiously follow the pivotal examples set by the late South African leader for the common good of us all on the continent. To our contemporary African leaders, I say rather than indulging in selfish, risky political adventures that have the propensity to dismantle the fabrics of your society and ruin its core, seek the noble pedestal of democratic continuity, which ensures regular change in leadership, for the ultimate benefit of the people. Politics does not have to be a callous game of irrationalism and barbaric elimination of key opponents. If African leaders make the highly desired political U-turn and tread the honorable path of democratic pluralism, commemorating Mandela’s centenary will turn out to be the most transformative public event ever held on the continent.
About the Author
Columnist Joe Bartuah studied English (BA), Political Science (BA) and Conflict Resolution, Public Policy and International Relations (MSc.) at the University of Massachusetts Boston and its McCormack Graduate School of Public Policy and Global Studies. His forthcoming book is entitled, “An Agenda for a Better Liberia—A Common Sense Approach to Nation-Building.” He formerly edited The News newspaper in Monrovia. Bartuah is accessible on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media. His email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.