On the need for African leaders to learn the lessons of history - Part II
Posted Sunday, February 17 2013 at 02:23
Mahatma Gandhi waged a gallant and heroic struggle and realised his ideal and dream of a free India in 1947. He fought the good fight and won the race, but like all truly great men he handpicked a suave young man, Jawarharlal Nehru, as prime minister of India.
It was Nehru who received the prize of independence from Britain on August 14, 1947.
On that historic day, Nehru made one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century titled: “The noble mansion of free India”, which has inspired thousands of young men and women the world over.
“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.
A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”
Those historic remarks made by Nehru in 1947 are quite fitting and pertinent for Uganda in 2013. The soul of Uganda suppressed for decades by a corrupt, evil and tyrannical regime longs for freedom and yearns to find utterance.
The inspiring words I attributed to Robert F. Kennedy in the first part of this opinion were taken from an address he made on June 7, 1966 at the National Union of South African Students’ Day of Affirmation at the University of Cape Town. Kennedy, who had in 1965 been elected Senator for New York State, was on a visit to South Africa which was largely ignored by the apartheid regime.
But at the University of Cape Town an enthusiastic crowd of about 18,000 people, predominantly white students, greeted him and this forced the racist regime to take note. Kennedy seized the opportunity to speak not only to South African students, but to the youth of the world at large and as a member of the National Union of Students of Uganda (NUSU) we got wind of that big event.
“We stand here in the name of freedom,” is how Kennedy prefaced his address. “..the enlargement of liberty for individual human beings must be the supreme goal of and the abiding practice of any society.
The first element of this individual liberty is the freedom of speech.
The right to express and communicate ideas; to recall governments to their duties and obligations; above all the right to affirm one’s membership to and allegiance to the body politic - to society.”
He continued: “Hand in hand with freedom of speech goes the power to be heard; to share in the decisions of government which shape men’s lives; all can be swept away by a government which does not heed the demands of its people.”
It sounds as if Kennedy was predicting what would, in due course, happen in our region! He continued: “Therefore, the essential humanity of men can be protected and preserved only where government must answer, not just to those of a particular religion or race, but to all its people.” Sadly, Kennedy did not live long enough to pursue his noble ideals to their logical end. He was assassinated in 1968. What a tragedy!
Nikita Khrushchev was the Prime Minister of the Union of Soviet and Socialist Republics (USSR) which is now called the Russian Federation. He rose through the ranks of the powerful Communist Party of the USSR to succeed Joseph Stalin who died in 1953. Stalin was dreaded, hated and despised in equal measure.
It took Khrushchev three years to prepare and gather sufficient courage to denounce one of the worst tyrants in modern history. In a classic speech delivered, at a secret meeting on February 25, 1956, at the 20th Congress of the CPSU, Khrushchev denounced what he termed, “the cult of the individual” which referred to Stalin’s absolute and total control over all the affairs of the USSR. Lenin had warned the CPSU on his deathbed about Stalin’s autocratic and intolerant tendencies.
In December 1922, he wrote in a letter to the Party Congress that: “After taking over the position of Secretary-General, Comrade Stalin accumulated in his hands immeasurable power and I am not certain whether he will be always able to use this power with the required care.”
In Lenin’s “testament”, he recommended that Stalin who “is excessively rude” should be removed as Secretary-General of the CPSU. Alas, after Lenin died in January 1924, attempts to remove Stalin failed and the colossal damage he did to the body politic of the USSR is immortalised in Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book, The Gulag Archipelago. It was Stalin who invented the concept, “enemy of the people” to mean anybody who did not agree with him! Whoever disagreed with his bizarre ideas was condemned as an “enemy of the state” and Stalin was the state!
Does he not remind you of somebody? “Comrades, we must abolish the cult of the individual decisively, once and for all” roared Khrushchev in 1956. That speech demystified tyranny in USSR for a while, but unfortunately the orator became one of its early victims. Such are some of the lessons of history.