Filling Mandela’s Shoes – Easier said than done!

As Africa, Africans and the international community join Mr. Nelson Madiba Mandela’s family and South Africa in mourning his passing; it is very interesting to see leaders of all strips falling over themselves to praise the fallen global icon. Over the years, Mr. Mandela evolved from a detainee; some would say “terrorist” to a prisoner-turned-Nobel Laureate-turned-president-turned-ex-president to a revered international icon whose funeral service commanded a gathering of the world’s most powerful and famous including four American presidents, one whose father is Luo! Madiba’s amazing life, legacy and now passing prompted me to take a closer look at some of the leaders now waxing poetic and eloquently about “their time with Nelson” or “their encounter with Madiba”. Senator Mike “Sonko” Mbuvi even went as far as photoshopping himself in a warm embrace with Madiba! http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/529059/20131210/nelson-mandela-photoshop-legacy-tribute-mike-sonko.html.
Mr. Mandela’s death also got me thinking about past leaders who have been held in the same stead as the man lovingly referred to as “Tata”, who unlike nearly all African leaders of his generation, served only ONE term as president of South Africa then STEPPED down voluntarily! I thought about leaders such as Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere and Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda. Of the four Pan-Africanists, only Nyerere and Kaunda voluntarily stepped down from the presidency, the former in 1985 and the latter in 1991. Mr. Nkrumah was overthrown while on a visit to Asia and Mr. Kenyatta died in office, ostensibly on a “working vacation” in Mombasa.
While this piece is not a comparison between the afore-mentioned founders/leaders of the Pan-African Movement and Mr. Mandela, it allows one to place the latter alongside these leaders of yore who have been lionized, indeed deified either by the people they led, the African continent or the larger global community. I will say that the outpouring of love and affection for Nelson Mandela underscores that for a leader/president; especially of an African country, the man’s appeal is singularly unique and deservedly universal. Furthermore, Nelson Mandela’s global appeal is for the best of reasons, not the notoriety of most of his fellow (African) leaders – past and present. Close to one hundred heads of states spanning the entire spectrum of political persuasions attended his funeral services. America’s Barack Obama, the country’s 44th president placed Nelson Mandela alongside such revered figures as fellow Nobel Peace Prize recipients Civil Rights’ leader Dr. Martin Luther King and non-violence advocate Mahatma Gandhi and America’s Founding Fathers. To quote President Obama:
“(T)he struggle here against apartheid, for freedom, Madiba’s moral courage, his country’s historic transition to a free and democratic nation, has been a personal inspiration to me. It has been an inspiration to the world. The outpouring of love that we’ve seen in recent days shows that the triumph of Nelson Mandela and this nation speaks to something very deep in the human spirit — the yearning for justice and dignity that transcends boundaries of race and class and faith and country.”
http://www.nation.co.ke/News/africa/Obama-meets-family-of-ailing-hero-Mandela-/-/1066/1899202/-/bcbd1sz/-/index.html
America’s first black president also led the world in eulogizing the fallen global icon and South Africa’s first black president saying that “It is hard to eulogize any man…how much harder to do so for a giant of history.” In the same memorial service for Mr. Mandela and in keeping with the reconciliatory nature of the man, Barack Obama shook hands with perceived “enemies” of the United States President Uhuru Kenyatta and President Raul Castro of Cuba, much to the consternation, chagrin and wagging tongues of onlookers, pundits and spinmeisters alike.
http://www.nation.co.ke/news/Obama-leads-world-in-celebrating-Mandela/-/1056/2106878/-/qs3mjq/-/index.html
We now see all, including those who rule, have ruled, comport and have comported themselves in ways completely antithetical to what Mr. Mandela stood for tripping over one another to embrace the fallen nationalist and the principles he stood.
The current occupant of State House and crimes-against-humanity suspect Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta said that the former South Africa President “….had taught the world the strong virtues of humanity, which made him stand out.” Mr. Kenyatta went on to add that Mr. Mandela “…believed in the noble principles of equity, justice, cohesiveness and inclusiveness in governance. He had faith and confidence in the ability of his people to realize the dream of a free, united and prosperous South Africa.”
http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/mobile/?articleID=2000099552
Not to be left behind, the junior partner of the digital duo and fellow crimes-against-humanity suspect chimed in with the somber-sounding
“The world has lost a moral example of selfless leadership, a man of courage, principle and honor. The African Continent is poorer without Madiba. We are mourning a father to multiple generations of Africans. Madiba left a legacy of leadership and he was a shining example that we should all emulate.”
http://www.nation.co.ke/InDepth/-/490068/490832/-/hlndic/-/index.html
It is one thing to lather praise about the ideals enshrined in a document such as the Constitution or embodied in the legacy of a man such as Nelson Mandela. It is an entirely different ballgame to live one’s life and govern a polity to said ideals to wit I wonder whether Mr. Kenyatta and his sycophants would embody (honor?) Mr. Mandela by stepping down from the presidency AFTER one term! What of facing a “personal challenge” such as being charged – fairly or unfairly – head on without using a country’s limited resources and goodwill or without playing the “race card” to avoid facing said charges?
President Kenyatta opined rather eloquently that Mr. Mandela believed “…in the noble principles of equity, justice, cohesiveness and inclusiveness in governance…” yet he, Uhuru Kenyatta, is the willing and less-than-noble beneficiary of wealth and privilege, most obtained under dubious circumstances and through the less-than-cohesive and exclusive government of his father Jomo Kenyatta. Add to the hypocrisy of Mr. Kenyatta’s commendations of Mr. Mandela’s legacy of inclusiveness is the exclusivity of his Jubilee government; one whose composition is dominated by the two tribes that gave the party the winning majority in the 2013 elections.
Again I say: It is one thing to blame someone for the sins of their father. It is an entirely different discussion when the person being blamed for their father’s sins embraces, indeed embodies some of the very sins the father is accused of. Born into royalty, Mr. Mandela eschewed the trappings of the royal court and chose instead to lead a humble life “….sharing insights and listening to and learning from others” including those who had imprisoned and tormented him. Mandela grew up to govern South Africa by embracing former South African President William de Klerk; a man whose government continued his detention before releasing him in 1990. Mr. Mandela also embraced a political rival and founder of Inkatha Freedom Party Mr. Mangosuthu Buthelezi; appointing him as his Minister for Home Affairs and as acting president on more than one occasion!
Madiba also exemplified a quality that most leaders in Africa, certainly none of Kenya’s past presidents can even come close to personifying. In a segment on preparations for Mr. Mandela’s burial in his childhood home of Qunu, presenter Gregory Warner of radio station KQED FM88.5 marveled at the lack of ostentation, indeed underdeveloped state of the village of Qunu; ancestral home of South Africa’s first black president and the world’s most revered public figure of his generation! Mr. Warner reported that the roads leading up to Qunu had to be upgraded in preparation for Mandela’s funeral procession because they were not tarmacked and the recent rains in the area had made them virtually impassable! Additionally, Qunu did not reek of the one-sided allocation of developmental resources that was the hallmark of Kenya’s own founding father and his successors.
In response to reports of rampant corruption, cronyism, nepotism, poor governance and wealth disparity that pervades today’s South Africa, the country’s current president and archetypal “Big Man” Jacob Zuma was mercilessly booed by his countrymen/women gathered to pay respect to South Africa’s first black president and the very antithesis of said “Big Man” caricature Mr. Nelson Mandela. Adding insult to injury was the fact that Mr. Zuma was being booed by South Africans who had just enthusiastically cheered America’s first black president and the man Kenya’s current government has chosen to demonize for allegedly conspiring to have its leader (Mr. Kenyatta) and its deputy (Mr. Ruto) face charges at The Hague.
Mr. Jacob Zuma, a man two presidencies removed from Mr. Mandela’s tenure and is accused of unMandela-like behavior including allowing his South African government to support the even more unMandela-like charges both Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto are shamelessly trying to avoid answering for at The Hague was raucously booed by his countrymen/women even as Mr. Obama, the man whose American government is accused of pushing to have Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto answer the crimes they have been charged with received a prolonged and warm ovation.
The symbolism reflected in the dichotomous crowd reactions to American president Barack Obama and to the host country’s own Jacob Zuma should give pause to all those tripping over themselves to carry Madiba’s mantle including Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto. It is indeed a fitting bookend to Nelson Mandela’s legacy of what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable leadership.

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