What to look for in the next ‘Nelson Mandela’?

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July 5, 2013 By specialguest

“The Mandela medal – minted in the Netherlands in 1984, at a time when it was illegal in South Africa to publish his image.”

No modern African leader has commanded as much respect and sympathy worldwide as Nelson Mandela. Only Desmond Tutu and Kofi Annan even come close. Mandela, both through his person and in this thoughts and acts, has managed to inspire people all over the world. He will be remembered and mourned by all of humanity.

What are some of the key features of Mandela’s greatness? What could or should other Africans do or look for in the ‘next Nelson Mandela’ (even though of course there won’t ever be somebody like him)?

Of course, part of Mandela’s appeal lies in his charisma as a human being. But other Africans have or had charisma. Perhaps Muammar Khadaffi was one of the most charismatic African leaders. But that itself is not enough.

Of course, part of his appeal lies in his history of struggle against an unjust and cruel system and in his imprisonment. But Robert Mugabe did the same and was imprisoned as well. So that itself is not enough.

Then, Nelson Mandela never denied and indeed was proud of his traditional background and culture. Yet at the same time, he was open to other cultures and ideas and showed respect for all his fellow human beings. He never felt he was ‘better’ than anybody else. In my experience, this is very common in Africa, but by no means universal. However, among the African leaders, there are not so many who share this trait with Mandela. So this would be something to look for in a leader.

Nelson Mandela did not accept the unjust Apartheid laws, but he did respect the rule of law in general and he believed in respecting and defending human rights. He did not cling to power, but stepped down as President. His successor, Thabo Mbeki, was appointed by the ANC in a democratic election. Mbeki then won the elections and became the next President of South Africa.

Nelson Mandela did not try to bend the law to seek favours for himself or for his family. He lived simply, donating part of his income to the Mandela Children’s Fund. He did not try to create a political Mandela dynasty or a Mandela business empire.

Mandela worked for reconciliation and harmony, although he did not hide his views on what he considered to be wrong in South Africa or elsewhere.

All of these traits, it is sad to have to say it, are rare among African leaders today. (Yes, there is Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, who stepped down as President. But he doesn’t score so well on the other criteria.)

The example set by Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela should never be forgotten but should be emulated by leaders in Africa – and, in fact, worldwide.

Bert is a Dutchman who was trained as a social scientist. He has been active in the environment and development movement in the Netherlands and elsewhere, starting his ‘career’ in the Anti-Apartheid movement. Bert has lived in Kenya for  four years and is passionate about anything related to culture and intercultural communications. He is a world citizen with a particular interest in Africa, loved for its diversity and richness.

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