Commentary

Why African leaders will not mourn Mandela

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By Odoobo C. Bichachi

Posted  Saturday, December 14  2013 at  02:00

In Summary

Yes, Africa is littered with too many failed freedom fighters and they were in big presence at Mandela’s memorial.

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Except for the annual UN General Assembly, former South African president Nelson Mandela’s memorial at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on Tuesday remains one of the biggest collection of bad and good leaders under one roof in recent times.

There were more than 100 heads of state – present and past, according to press reports. Among these were the blood-soaked tyrants – most of them from Africa and Asia, the decent and humble – from the Scandinavia, and the bombastic – from the Americas, to describe a few. Ironically, they were all brought together by a man who most of the world considers to be one of the epitomes of good. Thus if there was ever any truth to the adage “good always outshines bad”, then this was it!

Anyhow, if the presence of this wide array of leaders at the memorial was not just for the cameras but to truly pay tribute to a great man who stood for democracy, justice, human rights and all, then we hope many of them picked a leaf or two from the life of Mandela or at least from the eulogies that were bestowed upon him.

President Jacob Zuma of South Africa was no doubt the chief mourner – according to protocol – but his speech was drab. The most poignant speech came from US President Barack Obama, who seemed to speak directly to Africa. In his well delivered words, he echoed the frustrations of a generation that has not known freedom even as we say farewell to one of the last African freedom fighters. This means that in many ways, Mandela left Africa much the same as it was when his generation of freedom fighters took on the colonial forces then ruling over the continent.

What has changed is that the “colonisers” are now black Africans ruling very much like the white colonialists but without the efficiency of the latter. Be that as it may, two things from Obama’s speech were particularly instructive for Africa and I dare say Uganda. One, that Mandela “understood that ideas cannot be contained by prison walls, or extinguished by a sniper’s bullet”. In Uganda’s case, one might wish to add that ideas cannot be suffocated under the choking fumes of tear gas, nor be subjected to “preventive detention” as we have come to know in the last many years.

Second, that “there are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard”.

The first part was referring directly to some of our leaders who have not tired referring to themselves as freedom fighters even when their hands are dripping with blood of repression, while the second part was referring to the African elite who are content to tolerate the abuses heaped on the majority because somehow the system rewards then one way or the other.

Obviously the discomfort at these remarks in the stadium among leaders must have been palpable but for millions of Africans glued to their television sets, no one could have said it better. Yes, Africa is littered with too many failed freedom fighters and they were in big presence at Mandela’s memorial.

Here in Uganda, the discomfort at government level was palpable: it took close to 18 hours after the death of Mandela was announced for the government to come up with a statement. When President Museveni wrote a condolence message to his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma, it was uncharacteristically vague, only saying “Mzee Mandela, along with his colleagues Albert Luthuli, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Oliver Tambo etc, gave almost all their adult lives to the struggle for the freedom of South Africa and its people…” without mentioning any of the things the whole world was talking about.

Little wonder that on Tuesday when Parliament was scheduled to debate a motion paying tribute to Nelson Mandela, there was no cabinet minister in the House! Mandela will remain standing tall in the world for the values he represented but among fellow leaders, few will honestly mourn him because he exposed them for what they are – tyrants who only use freedom as a slogan to attain power and then oppress the rest they duped.

Rest in Peace, Nelson Mandela!