Thank you proud Oromos in South Africa!
Thank you proud Oromos in South Africa!
By Penny Dale BBC Africa, Addis Ababa
In July 1962, Col Fekadu Wakene taught South African political activist Nelson Mandela the tricks of guerrilla warfare – including how to plant explosives before slipping quietly away into the night.
Mr Mandela was in Ethiopia, learning how to be the commander-in-chief of Umkhonto we Sizwe – the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC).
The group had announced its arrival at the end of 1961 by blowing-up electricity pylons in various places in South Africa.
Sometimes we had to restrain him a bit for safety reasons”
Col Fekadu Wakene
Then on 11 January 1962, Mr Mandela had secretly, and illegally, slipped out of South Africa.
His mission was to meet as many African political leaders as possible and garner assistance for the ANC, including money and training for its military wing.
And to be moulded into a soldier himself.
During this trip, he visited Ethiopia twice and left a deep impression on those who met him during his stay in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Nelson Mandela’s first international speech, 1962
‘Made others laugh’
“Nelson Mandela was a very strong and resilient student, and he took instruction well and was really very likeable,” Col Fekadu said.
“You couldn’t help but love him.”
Col Fekadu was a corporal when he trained Mr Mandela. He was a member of a specialist police force – the riot battalion – based in the suburbs of Kolfe, in barracks which are still used today.
He remembers a “happy, cheerful person” who “concentrated on the task in hand”.
“He was polite, always happy and you never saw him lose his temper,” he said.
“He laughed easily and made others laugh as well.”
Col Fekadu says he was responsible for training Mr Mandela in sabotage and demolitions and how to stage hit-and-run attacks.
The day’s theory lessons were put into practice during night-time exercises.
Mr Mandela was a good student, hardworking and physically strong – but sometimes too robust and too enthusiastic for his own good, the colonel recalls.
“Physically he was very strong and well-built. But sometimes during the training he would get ahead of himself.
Nelson Mandela also visited Tanzania in 1962, staying with the late minister Nsilo Swai, whose wife, Vicky Nsilo Swai, told the BBC about his left luggage:
“On the day Mandela was leaving, he had to leave behind a suitcase because he had too much luggage. In the suitcase was a pair of brown, leather boots. My husband and I ended up keeping them for 33 years.
After my husband retired from politics, we moved from Dar es Salaam to Moshi, near to Kilimanjaro – and the boots came with us.
Then, my husband got a job with the United Nations so the boots lived in New York for 15 years.
I kept them in our bedroom in a cupboard. I never polished them, I never cleaned them but I put newspaper in them to keep them firm.
The boots are very strong and the leather is excellent – and when I took them back to Mr Mandela in 1995 they were really like new.
The boots still fitted Mr Mandela and he joked that ‘these boots have travelled more than myself’.
A lot of people are surprised why I kept the boots for so long. But I really wanted a man who I saw so dedicated to his country to have a memory of these boots.”
“And while his intentions were good, that could also be dangerous, and sometimes we had to restrain him a bit for safety reasons.”
Col Fekadu had been told to train Mr Mandela by his commanding officer, General Tadesse Birru, the assistant police commissioner who had played a key role in crushing an attempt at the end of 1960 to overthrow Emperor Haile Selassie. He was later executed by the Derg regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam.
Back in 1962, Col Fekadu did not realise the significance of the South African politician he had been instructed to turn into a soldier.
“All we knew was that he was our guest from abroad and that he would spend some time with us,” he said.
“Everything was kept very secret. We were kept in the dark.”
Mr Mandela was in Ethiopia at the invitation of the emperor, an ardent supporter of Africa’s decolonisation and African unity.
At the time, Ethiopia had one of the strongest armed forces on the continent.
Its troops were part of the UN peacekeeping operation during the Congo crisis in 1960 and a decade earlier Ethiopian soldiers had fought in the Korean war.
And the emperor had invited many other African liberation struggle fighters to be trained on Ethiopian soil.
As well as learning how to commit acts of sabotage, Mr Mandela’s military training also included briefings on military science, how to run an army and how to use a gun.
He was also taken on long treks carrying his knapsack, rifle and ammunition.
This was one of Mr Mandela’s favourite activities during his military training, and he writes about it with affection in his Long Walk to Freedom autobiography: “During these marches I got a sense of the landscape, which was very beautiful… people used wooden ploughs and lived on a very simple diet supplemented by home-brewed beer. Their existence was similar to the life in rural South Africa.”
He would do squats and jumping jacks. He followed that exercise routine religiously every morning”
Tesfaye Abebe Stationed at Kolfe police barracks in 1962
Mr Mandela’s presence in Addis Ababa was supposed to be top secret. But physically he stood out.
He was much taller and broader than most of the police cadets.
And, as well as going on fatigue marches through the countryside, he would exercise out in the open in the grounds of the barracks.
One person who took a particular interest in the tall stranger in his midst was Tesfaye Abebe, who was working in Kolfe as the head of the battalion’s music and drama department.
He recalls Mr Mandela running around a big field in the compound – which today doubles up as a running track and a parade ground.
“He would do squats and jumping jacks. He followed that exercise routine religiously every morning.”
A curious Mr Tesfaye snatched conversations with Mr Mandela when he and his trainer came into the canteen for lunch.
“Security was quite tight and we weren’t really allowed to approach him.”
But, he says, Mr Mandela was “very friendly and talkative” and explained apartheid to him and how the ANC intended to fight it with guerrilla warfare and political activism.
On a couple of occasions, the police band – in which Mr Tesfaye was the pianist – played for Mr Mandela in the officer’s club.
“He really enjoyed that. He was really happy when we played for him.”
Nelson Mandela’s guerrilla war training
Mr Mandela’s military training in Ethiopia was supposed to last six months – but after only two weeks he was called back to South Africa by the ANC.
He had already spent seven months out of the country – and he was needed back home.
As Mr Mandela left Ethiopia, Gen Tadesse presented him with a pistol and 200 rounds of ammunition – a gun that is thought to be buried somewhere on Lillesleaf Farm, where in 1963 other ANC leaders were arrested and sentenced to life alongside Mr Mandela in the famous Rivionia trial.
Mr Mandela himself had been arrested on 5 August 1962 – for leaving the country illegally, shortly after his return from his trip around Africa – and still in the military fatigues in which he had been trained in Ethiopia.
Additional reporting by BBC Africa’s Hewete Haileselassie
Mourning the Departure of Freedom Icon and African Hero Nelson Mandela While Celebrating His Achievements
December 9, 2013
We, the Board of Directors and staff members of the Human Rights League of Horn of Africa (HRLHA), would like to express that we are deeply saddened by the passing away of our African hero and freedom icon Mr. Nelson Mandela, also known as Madiba, especially among his fans and lovers. It is everyone’s belief that this icon of freedom, although he is peacefully departing, has left behind an everlasting legacies of hope for the better future, perseverance in the struggle for equality, justice and dignity for all human beings as well as forgiveness. We could say that not only the South Africans, but also the rest of African and other global communities are better off because of his priceless sacrifices, democratic achievements, spirits of hope, forgiveness, peace, harmony, and overall human dignity. HRLHA believes that those of us at all ages and generations who are staying behind are expected to take lessons from his legacies and carry on the torch of freedom that this freedom icon has ignited from where he has left it, and make Africa a much better place where political differences are settled through round-table discussions, negotiations, and reconciliations, and policies are framed based on respect for human rights.
As the biography of Madiba clearly shows, he stood firm for the equal rights of all people. For that stance, he stood unyielding and he was charged with treason by the apartheid South African government, spending 27 years of his life in prison. Madiba, among other things, is always remembered for forgiving those who extra-judiciary imprisoned him and inhumanly treated along with other South Africans, despite being forced to spend this many years in harsh prison conditions. Madiba forgave those who not only punished him without a crime, but also who categorized hundreds of thousands of other fellow South Africans as subhuman and condemned them down to destitution and all forms of socio-economic crises by dispossessing and detaching them from natural resources such as land. We the leadership of HRLHA see that Madiba lived and departed as a hero and a great leader. As a hero, he stood up for human dignity and equality; and, as a result, he paid unparalleled sacrifices. When he was elected as a president, he made tremendous efforts to deliver justice for all and as an “angel” he promoted reconciliation between the people who were extremely divided based on racial and colour differences. He forgave those who cruelly treated him and his fellow South Africans for refusing to accept racial discrimination and subordination. Madiba’s achievements during most of his lifetime left a clear message for the people of Africa and the world – that all human beings are equal. In his life and departure, Madiba taught especially the younger generation about the need for perseverance, hope and forgiveness.
The causes of instability in Africa and in the world in most cases have political differences that generate from racial motives. In one of his famous speeches, Mandela said, “no one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Promoting racial, cultural, or national superiority or simply advancing a monolithic view is contrary to human rights principles; and always instigates violence and instability. In its turn, violence and instability consume our human and natural resources; and hinder us from achieving our potential. The African and world communities need to follow the lessons from of our hero – Madiba- and focus on teaching our children as to how to unlearn the views that they have learned- and to refute racial, cultural, and/or national superiority theories and practices.
Instability that has been ravaging the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia and Uganda) is driven by theories of racial, cultural, national, and clan superiority. For example, the Ethiopian land leasing policy also referred to as a land-grab, which has evicted thousands of people from their homes, is driven by the longstanding colonial concept of terra-nullius – the land belonging to no one. All political prisoners in Ethiopia and the refugees in the neighboring Horn of African countries who fled that country and, some of them perishing in the Red Sea, the Mediterranean Ocean and the Sahara and Sinai deserts are all those who have been conditioned by the racial superiority theories of the ruling Tigrian regime. All political prisoners who are languishing in torturous prisons of Ethiopia did nothing wrong except that they asked for the respect of their individual and collective rights, and those of others.
In the past and present in darkness in the tropical forests of Africa, people oriented themselves by the “star” in the sky – Venus -Bakalcha. Mandela, the freedom icon, has established the norm by which African and global leaders should function. Just as the planet Venus has shone and given directions for millions of years, the life of this freedom icon should guide present and future African leaders. Democracy, human rights, social justice and reconciliation should be the motto and the leading ideology. Using this opportunity, we call upon the peoples in the Horn of Africa, especially the youth, to harness the ideas and ideologies for which the freedom icon – Madiba stood and challenge ideas and ideologies that are contrary to the principles of human rights, social justice and equality.
We would like to end this note with the wise words of Nelson Mandela, who said, “I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man.” Let us celebrate the legacy of the freedom icon by detesting all forms of racism – whether or not it is based on skin color, culture or religion; and stand up firmly and strongly for human rights, human dignity, and equality.
Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA)
Full version of HRLHA’s Press Release is available here: HRLHA PR – Madiba
HRLHA is a non-political organization (with the UN Economic and Social Council – (ECOSOC) Consultative Status) which attempts to challenge abuses of human rights of the people of various nations and nationalities in the Horn of Africa. Tel: (647) 280 7062, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Web site: http://www.humanrightsleague.com
Oromo Liberation Front
December 8, 2013
His Excellency Jacob G Zuma
Republic of South Africa
Dear Mr. President:
It is with feelings of great sorrow that we in the Oromo Liberation Front and the Oromo people at large learned the passing of Mr. Nelson Mandela, the first elected President of South Africa and a true freedom -fighting icon. On behalf of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the Oromo people, I wish to convey my deepest condolences and sympathies to you and the people of South Africa during this time of national mourning. The passing of Former President Mandela is a tremendous loss not only to South Africa and Africa alone but to the whole world.
Ethiopia accused of stoking Moyale clashes.
By ALI ABDI
Moyale, Kenya: Borana leaders have accused the Ethiopian military of fueling the conflict in the border town of Moyale.
MPs Ali Rasso (Saku), Roba Duba (Moyale) and Mohamud Ali, a former Moyale MP, Sunday claimed Ethiopia was using its military and local militias to hunt down Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) rebels.
Rasso, a former Kenya army colonel, alleged that about 400 militiamen fighting the OLF in Kenya were behind the anarchy in Moyale.
The leaders blamed the attackers for the burning of more than 100 houses in Butiye and Moyale town.
Rasso said a gang in full military uniform went on a torching-spree of houses that belonged to senior Borana personalities.
Among the houses burnt on Saturday morning included that of Butiye Ward Representaive Golicha Galgalo and former MPs, Guyo Halake Liban and Mohammed Galgalo.
‘‘Moyale was deserted on Friday afternoon and the whole of Saturday. Even the fighters retreated. But some people in military uniform were all over burning houses and killing all those in sight,’’ said Rasso.
The MP claimed the Kenya Defence Forces, deployed to stop the inter-clan clashes, was collaborating with the Ethiopian military and the militias.
He claimed a detachment of Kenya Army based at Odha has an Ethiopian military liaison officer by the name Kiross.
Waamicha Kabaja Guyyaa WBO fi Bara Haarawaa 2014
Konyan ABO Switzerland Guyyaa Waraana Bilisummaa Oromoo (WBO) fi Simannoo Bara Haarawaa 2014
Magaalaa guddittii Switzerland, Bern, tti gaafa 31.12.2013 sa’a 18:00 irraa kaasee hamma barii tti kabajata.
Sagantaa kana irra tti Oromootni fi firoonni uummata Oromoo hundi akka argamtan kabajaan isin affeerra!
Bakki itti kabajannu: Haus der Religionen, Laubeggstrasse 21, 3006 Bern
Yeroon: Sa’a 18:00 – hamma barii tti
Ergaa kana Oromoota hunda nuuf qaqqabsiisaa! Hirmaadhaa! Waliin haa kabajannu!!
Konya ABO Switzerland
Call for Participation and Contributions:
The Union of Oromo Students in Europe, (UOSE) or Tokkumma Bartoota Oromoo Awurooppaa (TBOA) is a student organization based in Germany. Founded in 1974, it is a political organization that functions according to the political programs and political ideals of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).
As active branch of UOSE, UOSG (Union of Oromo Students in Germany) played the biggest role in nurturing the language and culture of the Oromo people, protesting against successive Ethiopian regimes, and coordinating the overall support to the OLF from the Oromo community in Europe, worldwide and from the diaspora too.
At this moment UOSG are preparing their annual plan for the new year (2014), therefore, all Oromo communities (worldwide-International) are invited to contribute or send us your new ideas and suggestions or points that should be included in our annual plan as it will be the first in its kind since late 2000s.
We are also preparing Bulletin named Biiftuu Bilisaa 10th volume, 3rd edition which will be published by Mid-January, 2014. Therefore, you all are invited to express your views in the coming edition of our publication by sending us through our E-Mail address with not more than 250 words. Note that deadline for contribution is due 30 December, 2013.
Please kindly forward your constructive ideas, suggestions and contributions through our email address:
or call us through the following numbers for further information:
+4915210249774 or +491745994312
UOSG Team and Secretary of TBOJ/UOSD
Oromootni hundi gaafii fi deebii kana dhaggeeffa dha! Waan ilmaan Abashaa jettu fi obboo Bulchaan jedhan hubadhaa!
By Jacey Fortin
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Flags are flying at half-staff outside the African Union headquarters on Friday in honor of Nelson Mandela, whose death Thursday has the entire continent, and the world, in mourning. The activist, politician, scholar, husband, father and Nobel Peace Prize laureate fought against apartheid, a system of formalized segregation that saw black South Africans treated as third-class citizens, and helped to heal a fractured nation in the aftermath of minority rule.
“Nelson Mandela will be remembered as a symbol for wisdom, for the ability to change and the power of reconciliation,” AU Deputy Chairman Erasmus Mwencha told reporters here in Ethiopia’s capital city on Friday morning. “His life and legacy is the biggest lesson, motivation, inspiration and commitment any African can give to Africa.”
But Madiba, as Mandela was affectionately known, was not always a man of peace. Before he capped his career as South Africa’s first black president in 1994, before he spent 27 years imprisoned for his anti-apartheid activism, Mandela came to believe that violence was sometimes necessary in the fight for freedom. And it was in Ethiopia that the young Mandela received his first formal training in the art of guerrilla warfare.
At that time, Ethiopia was ruled by Emperor Haile Selassie, who had gained a reputation as a defender of African sovereignty. Mandela was a member of the African National Congress, a then-illegal organization that opposed apartheid in South Africa and is now the country’s ruling political party. He had founded the group Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), which would operate as the military wing of the ANC, in 1961. Mandela first traveled to Addis Ababa in 1962 to attend a pan-African summit as a representative of the ANC.
“Ethiopia has always held a special place in my own imagination, and the prospect of visiting Ethiopia attracted me more strongly than a trip to France, England, and America combined,” Mandela later wrote in his 1994 autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom.” “I felt I would be visiting my own genesis, unearthing the roots of what made me an African. Meeting His Highness, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, would be like shaking hands with history.” On his Ethiopian Airlines flight to Addis Ababa, Mandela was surprised to find a black pilot in the cockpit, the first he had ever seen.
Mandela went on to visit a host of African countries and meet with leading officials, but at the end of his international tour he returned to Ethiopia for military training. It didn’t last long; the young revolutionary was soon called back to South Africa, and in August 1962 he was arrested and thrown into a Johannesburg prison. He would spend the next 27 years behind bars at several different facilities until his final release in 1990.
Mandela’s visit to Ethiopia was a pivotal moment for many Ethiopians, including Merera Gudina, who now chairs the major political opposition coalition Medrek and still draws on South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle for inspiration.
“Mandela was hosted by one of our best known heroes, Gen. Tadesse Beru, who was at that time the commander of the Ethiopian special forces,” said Merera. “Even during the time of the emperor, people were supporting the cause of South Africans. South Africa was a part of the larger African anti-colonialist struggle.”
Mandela spent only a couple of months training with Tadesse, but he didn’t leave empty-handed. There is one artifact that still connects South Africa to Ethiopia, a relic of history whose mysterious disappearance has baffled historians for years. During his time in Ethiopia, the young freedom fighter received a gift from the general to symbolize his struggle: a semi-automatic Soviet-made Makarov pistol. He brought it back with him to the headquarters of Umkhonto we Sizwe in South Africa, a place called Liliesleaf Farm outside Johannesburg, and buried it for safekeeping lest authorities raid the premises.
That was right before his arrest, and five decades later, the gun has yet to be found, despite Mandela’s later assertions that it was buried just 20 paces away from where the Liliesleaf kitchen used to be. (The property has been rebuilt and divided up, though the Liliesleaf Trust, as it is now called in it new role as a historical site, remains at its former location.)
Like that elusive weapon, much of Mandela’s military history remains underground; his legacy is built on peace, not war. But in Ethiopia and all across Africa, there are some who still think of Mandela not just as an ambassador of peace, but as a man who knew when something was worth fighting for.
Merera says his own opposition efforts owe much to Mandela’s struggles. “In fact, our political party took its first name, Oromo National Congress [it is now known as the Oromo Federalist Congress], from the South African National Congress to symbolize the fact that major groups should not fight for secession, but for more equality,” he said. “We are in many ways connected to Mandela and South Africa.”
“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.”
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (1918 – 2013)
Captain Guutaa Dinqaa was Nelson Mandela’s bodyguard in Finfinnee. He talks about his experience on those days.
CONFERENCE ON THE CONFLICT OF THE HORN OF AFRICA
THE STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM, DEMOCRACY, PEACE AND DEVELOPMENT
The Union of Oromo Students in Germany (UOSG/TBOJ), Ogaden Gemeinde e.v in Deutschland and People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PDFJ) unit of Frankfurt am Mainz shall be pleased to have you join us on our Eritrea-Oromo-Ogaden Conference. This conference will be held at Frankfurt am Main, Haus der Jugend Frankfurt Jugendherberger, Deutschherrnufer 12, 60594 Frankfurt on 4th of January 2014 from 12:00hrs to 23:00hrs. Official from OLF, ONLF, human right activists and political analysts have been invited to present a paper on this conference. The organizing committee invited you to take your roll in candid, dignified and constructive discourse.
Schedule and topics of papers to be presented on the Conference include but not limited to:
12:00-12:15 registrations of participants
12:15-12:30 Opening Speech – Chairperson of the Co-coordinating Committee
12:30-13:15 Human right Situation in Oromia and Ogadenia
13:15 – 14:00 Lunch break
14:00- 16:15 A prospective view on current political affairs of Horn of Africa and the liberation movement of ONLF and OLF by representatives of OLF and ONLF
The role of Eritrea in peace and conflict resolution of the Horn- Representative from PFDJ
16:15 – 16:30 Discussion
16:30-17:15 the role of international community in resolving the conflict at the Horn of Africa
17:15-17:45 Is there any traditional ways of resolving conflicts to look for the current turbulence in the Horn of Africa
17:45 – 18:15 Discussions and conclusion
18:15 -19:00 Joint anniversary of Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) day
Tadesse and Mandela
Nelson Mandela (right) with Ethiopian colonel and Oromo rights activist Tadesse Birru in 1962.
I came of age in troubled 1980s Ethiopia under the dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam, right after a generation attempting to bring about social change inspired by Marxism was thinned out. Few in my generation had any appetite for political activism. Even if some of us managed to shed misgivings about the risks of Africa’s politics, we had hardly any genuine leaders to look up to. Fewer could identify with the plethora of official leaders paraded on national TV, our only window to the world outside.
The Pan-African leaders of prior decades, pioneers in the struggle for independence from European colonialism — figures like Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta and Leopold Sedar Senghor — were long forgotten, their performances in office falling woefully short of their lofty ideals. The only leaders that social activists of my generation could remotely identify with were in remote hideouts commanding shadowy rebel troops pitted against the armies of the self-proclaimed Big Men of Africa, whose oversize photos clogged billboards and TV screens.
Other leaders — such as Tadesse Birru, the Ethiopian colonel who inducted Nelson Mandela into armed struggle and a man who would later become a founding member of a movement to emancipate his own people, the Oromo of Ethiopia — were either dead or rotting in some derelict prison without ever being charged or granted their day in court. Few looked up to these leaders anyway. For some, their communist ideologies belonged to a bygone era with its cherished ideals long discredited and abandoned. For many others, these figures had failed to make an impression, largely because of the strictly enforced news blackout.
By the end of the 1980s, a handful of former young revolutionaries long imprisoned for their dissident views won their freedom, only to lose it again in the oblivion of protest politics from which they failed to wean themselves. In the early 1990s, a few wily-eyed rebel leaders emerged victorious from their mountain hideouts sporting bushy beards and trendy coats — men such as Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. As quickly as they came, these former freedom fighters went out of favor, proving themselves replicas of the Big Men they helped topple from power.
The image of one man towered above all others: Mandela. Whereas the fame of other leaders rose and fell with the African seasons, Mandela’s endured and transcended generations. Like a good long-term investment, Mandela’s standing appreciated while that of his contemporary African leaders declined or crashed.
Happiest day of our lives
For millions of Africans my age, Mandela’s beaming smile upon his release from Robben Island, the prison where he spent 27 years in solitary confinement, represented the happiest day of our lives. I have since wondered many times what would take a person condemned to life imprisonment to self-assuredly proclaim “I am the captain of my soul” while still in the palm of his jailers.
But we weren’t always sure where Mandela would end up. Some were terrified that he, too, would betray his people and global admirers in a bid to cling to power. By stepping down after one term as president and at the peak of his popularity, Mandela defied expectations and broke the mold of Africa’s Big Men.
At times during my two decades of exile far away from Africa, the stream of bad news from home made it hard to be openly proud of my origins. Mandela’s autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” became highly prized in my cubicle at work. The courage and composure with which he carried himself throughout his long life — in detention and in freedom — helped me take a fresh look at the relationship between my activism for the Ethiopian diaspora community and the people still tethered to Africa’s soil. Not least, his marital troubles with his second wife, Winnie, shortly after his release from prison enabled me to cope with my own divorce. Such is the mark of great leaders: They lead even in their failures.
Mandela’s life story had a profound hold on my life. In 2009, I joined my 70-year-old father and my brother — both onetime prisoners and Oromo freedom fighters — and my U.S.-born 16-year-old daughter to watch “Invictus,” the movie about Mandela’s efforts to steer post-apartheid South Africa out of stormy waters. By the time the movie came to an end, we could not look into each other’s eyes.
Mandela united South Africa with his unique style of leadership deeply rooted in Africa’s grassroots rather than in corrupt institutions born out of the contitent’s colonial legacy. His principled stewardship of the people’s trust, steely determination, indomitable spirit and unbounded optimism connected generations of men and women throughout Africa and the wide world. He was the leader they all wished they had and the person whose example they aspired to emulate.
Africa’s truest son
Inevitably, Mandela has his own share of detractors. There are those who fault him for leaving South Africa’s immense wealth in the hands of the white minority and winning only the trappings of freedom for the black majority. Time will tell if his magnanimity to his former enemies will be vindicated. However, to a continent awash with small men pretending to be its Big Men, few would disagree that Mandela exemplified the true path to greatness. As Africa’s truest son, the adult in the company of aging leaders who stubbornly refused to grow into manhood, he modeled how sworn enemies could become citizens of a common country together experiencing the joys of freedom.
To societies afflicted with civil strife, Mandela pointed the way out by embracing his enemies. Whereas other African leaders would have simply gotten rid of their opponents by demonizing or incarcerating them under trumped-up charges, he won them over through his regal embrace, graceful charm and candid honesty.
To the vanquished, Mandela showed that a principled, negotiated peace and democracy offered better prospects than a victory begotten through unrequited violence. To the continent’s leaders who saw appeasement of global powers as indispensable to govern their countries, he demonstrated the African people’s long desire to see their leaders chart Africa’s path on its own.
Mandela the man is dead. He will surely be missed. But his example will live on, reverberating far and wide as an eternal symbol of Africa’s unfulfilled promise, untapped potential and unexplored wisdom.
Hassen Hussein is an Assistant Professor at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, a long time democracy activist, and a leader of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not