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Remembering Mandela

ACCRA- The passing of Nelson Mandela last Thursday has evoked tributes from all corners of the earth. From US President Barack Obama to the last white president of South Africa, F.W. de Klerk, world leaders have been quoted at length lauding his legacy and singing his praises.

Ghana is no different. President John Mahama, in a largely forgettable editorial in the New York Times, wrote of Mandela’s “long walk to freedom” as “Africa’s story.” Mandela in other words has, despite the odds, provided the continent with constant cause for optimism and inspiration.

It should come as no surprise that Ghana’s younger generation is similar in their praise. Paul Agbo, 24, a student at the African University College of Communications (AUCC), felt a profound sense of shock and loss when he heard of Mandela’s passing.

“He [was] the epitome of true leadership, its what Africa should be aspiring to…when you hear Mandela you hear redemption, you hear hope,” Agbo said.

Hope is perhaps something of which Ghana, if not Africa, has a plenty. Mandela’s actions and moral legacy will serve as a benchmark upon which to construct future struggles and campaigns says Emmanuel Kortu, 26, also a student at AUCC. The hope stems from his ability to reconcile with past enemies, his desire to forgive acting as the impetus for change.

Mandela’s word served as a guiding light for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Kortu’s home country, Liberia. As such, Kortu remembers him as someone who can, even in death, inspire people to let old animosities die.

“They will use his ideas and apply them to future decisions,” said Kortu.

Mandela’s accommodation of previous adversaries has not gone without criticism, as his legacy is and has been blindly (perhaps understandably so) followed. Steven Friedman, a professor at the University of Johannesburg, says that Mandela’s sanctity is in the extreme, especially outside of South Africa.

“There isn’t this kind of mania about him here that there is in some quarters overseas…This sanctified image of him has always been more extreme elsewhere in the world than the local attitude.”

For Ali Baba Valamdou, 23, Mandela has acquired this saintly image.

“I see Mandela as a prophet,” said Valamdou. “He had heart for all the people. He believed in God and his people. He was a man of faith.”

In a damning condemnation of current political leaders Valamdou says, “[They] don’t believe in their people, they don’t help them.”

In Ghana during these early days following Mandela’s death, there is little separation of the man from the politician. Editorials and comments alike evoke similar opinions. But perhaps criticism isn’t necessary. Maybe it is better for future generations to remember him for his strengths, rather than for his political mistakes or weaknesses. Focusing on the positive might be more in keeping with his legacy than it would be to scrutinize his successes and failures.

That being written, Mandela most likely would not agree with this strategy. One can only learn by recognizing one’s own mistakes, and by analyzing decisions and actions taken. Some of the criticism aimed at Mandela involves his inability to adequately punish human rights crimes. It is easy for those on the outside to live with Truth and Reconciliation, while victims of apartheid still suffer the consequences. It is easy to romanticize the prioritizing of social calm over justice, critics say.

For Paul Agbo, the best way for Ghanaians to remember Mandela therefore,  would be for Ghana to construct a museum for him.

“In order to learn from him we need to study him, read his material. From there, we can move forwards.”



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