OBONYO: The best way to remember Mandela is to emulate him - Daily Nation

The best way to remember Mandela is to emulate him

Tuesday July 17 2018

Nelson Mandela

Supporters of South Africa's ruling African National Congress sing and dance while holding a framed poster of late anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela during the final ANC election campaign rally at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg on May 4, 2014. Mandela is celebrated as a great leader. PHOTO | GIANLUIGI GUERCIA | AFP 

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This year, the world celebrates the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's birth, and the fifth year since he passed away.

Let us not forget that the best way to remember this iconic son of Africa is to emulate him.

I am convinced that former President Mandela would be deeply concerned about the present state of Africa, and its leadership crisis.


Undoubtedly, Nelson Mandela - who died at the age of 95 years - was a a giant of history and a true legend if one considers what he was able to achieve in his lifetime.

African leaders must emulate Mandela, who is credited with steering the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

Certainly, Mandela was not perfect and he admitted his imperfection. “I am not a saint,” he said, “unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying”.

But his unique qualities, visionary and selfless leadership shine bright in the continent and around the world.


Madiba is missed in Africa. His leadership is missed in the continent - a gap that African leaders can fill if only they turn around and emulate his ideals.

As we mark the 100th anniversary, there are many lessons that we can pick from the man who had an impact in the lives of many people – young and old globally.

For example, I still remember when Mandela toured African nations particularly Kenya in 1990 after he was released from prison.

I was a child, and in lower primary school when Mandela came to Kenya.

Unbelievably, I was amongst thousands of Kenyans who thronged Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi to give a rousing welcome to a man we knew little about, other than what we had watched in then popular film Sarafina.


My only encounter was in History class, in a textbook – the picture of a man – who according to me, exemplified leadership.

Mandela’s speech at Kasarani Stadium no doubt touched my heart, my mind, my will power.

His visit to Kenya planted the seed for selfless leadership, and values among young people like myself.

Many of us – young and old – who drew strength and inspiration from Mandela’s good example must carry on with his legacy – to transform our continent, and make life better for everyone – promote total liberation of Africa that Mandela championed.

The departure of Mandela left a huge gap in our continent that has scarcity of leaders of Madiba’s stature and character.


If the Mo Ibrahim award is anything to go by, African countries must urgently develop a new generation of visionary and transformative leaders.

In recent years, the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership has gained notoriety for not being awarded for lack of a suitable candidate.

So far only six presidents have received the award since its launch in 2007, Nelson Mandela, Pedro Pires of Cape Verde, Festus Mogae of Botswana and Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia.

One important fact that Mo Ibrahim has exposed is that Africa is in urgent need of visionary and committed leaders.

Cases of human rights violations, repressive leadership and massive corruption continue to characterize African countries decades since we got independence.


It is sad that in Africa, wealth and power have been a major influence in ascending to leadership positions in the continent, regardless of whether those seeking to be elected have what it takes to lead.

Indeed, Africa is in dire need of visionary leaders like Mandela - who are selfless and committed to improving the livelihoods of the citizens.

Unlike Nelson Mandela who took office as president in 1994 and retired in 1999 after serving for only one term, many African leaders do not want to leave office.

The continent is yet to see the zeal, sacrifice and humility that the iconic inspirational leader demonstrated throughout his life.


African leaders should learn from Mandela, who refused to compromise the welfare of his country and principles that goes with good leadership.

On the other hand, Africans, particularly young people, must think of building a new generation of visionary and selfless leaders.

More importantly, citizens must open their eyes and elect credible leaders who can stand the test of time.

We must take action and risks for our ideals – the change that we desire in our communities and continent will not happen unless and until we get actively engaged as citizens.

Mr Obonyo is the chairman of the African Leadership Institute advisory board. [email protected]