Lessons from Obama for Uganda

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Posted  Thursday, December 12  2013 at  02:00

US President Barack Obama’s powerful eulogy to Nelson Mandela quite aptly criticised the hypocrisy of authoritarian leaders, some of whom were shamelessly at Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium soaking up the limelight which glows on anything about the great man.

It is such a blot on the global community’s conscience that this giant of history was being seen off by “too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people.”

The American leader may have been speaking about Uganda’s own unfolding political calamity when he said: “around the world today, men and women are still being imprisoned for their political beliefs.” The unnecessary brutality displayed in the routine clamp-downs on Dr Kizza Besigye and other opposition leaders by the police give graphic basis to Mr Obama’s thesis.

Yes, you may not agree with your opponent’s beliefs, but the true Statesman must be humble enough and ready to accept their universally recognised birthright and freedom to hold an opposite view.

Mandela’s quest for a society where justice and equality for all prevailed, a society where freedom and human rights were upheld resonates specially for this country today. Many Ugandans will identify with these, his words, spoken at the 1964 treason trial in Rivonia: “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination.

I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunity. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

How ironical that there are still individuals wielding State power in this country who also actively seek to dominate and exclude others from the national conversation.

As we celebrate this heroic figure, Ugandans should seize the moment. That magnanimity we all so admire in Mandela must not just be recounted in speeches. Mr Obama was typically direct in noting that while we, at once, mourn and celebrate the inspiration of Mandela, this too should be a time for reflection upon how well we have applied his lessons in our own lives and dealings.