|Photos curtesy of The Nelson Mandela Foundation
Colin McCoy writes to us this month with this report on Africa, a special for the Alliance.
By Colin McCoy
I recently was invited to attend a conference held near Johannesburg, South Africa. The conference was hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation in co-operation with the African Leadership Initiative. This conference was titled “The Promise of Leadership.” The stated purpose of this conference was to discuss and form work groups that would attempt to address a very serious set of issues related to the production, the nurturing, and the education process required to grow a leadership base dedicated to the principals of freedom, and constitutional democracy, not only for South Africa but for the entire African continent.
The conference hosts also recognized the need for discussion on the importance of the creation and maintenance of economic infrastructures supportive to the effort of establishing positive economic opportunities, with the purpose of providing all people, with additional focus on specifically helping those from a lower income demographic, gain access to a better standard of living through micro free market, and social entrepreneurship related enterprises.
To say that this conference had an ambitious agenda would be a understatement.
I was impressed by the pedigrees of the attendee’s, it’s a positive testament to the legacy of the name sake of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, that when the Foundation sends out their invitations, heads of state, prominent business leaders, and activists, without hesitation make the effort to attend and participate.
One of the many reasons that I wanted to attend this conference was because I have noted striking similarities between the struggle for freedom, and the maintenance of a healthy representational constitutional democracy, between what is happening in South Africa as well as on going here in the United States. A big noted difference however was in the clarity that the South African people, as well as the citizens throughout the African continent are clearly on the front lines of this struggle.
While here in the United States, the unfortunate truth is that the majority of our citizens take the comforts of their existence for granted, in fact allowing themselves to become passive bystanders, as the battle for “eternal vigilance” is waged.
New Models Needed
I believe many of the similarities we see are to be expected in any society striving to maintain a culture dedicated to the concepts of liberty and justice. What has held my attention between our two nations was in how our societies are dealing with our responsibilities to humanity in the area of inter-racial equality, ending “all forms” of harmful and socially unacceptable discrimination, while we work to promote economic models best suited to create equal opportunity, access, and freedom.
I found almost without exception that the people of South Africa are friendly and welcoming. The only openly negative experiences I had came from a couple of instances where I was questioned up front about why I had a pony tail, incorporated as a hair style, these questions never came from the people that make of the majority of the S.A. population base, but always from a particular S.A. minority demographic. I found myself wondering If some people just need something that they can hate in order to deal with the uncertainties in their lives.
I came away from the event more troubled and concerned, than hopeful. Globally the cards are continuing to be stacked against what we in the “West”?? would consider to be needed support resources, both in the educational knowledge base and the economic infrastructure, needed to support true efforts of freedom and equality across the planet.
The conference opened to a keynote address put forth by Rwandan President Paul Kagame. As summarized after by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, President Kagame spoke of the period of conflict in his country, and the efforts being made to rebuild. When it came to what he believed was required to develop effective leadership in Rwanda, what he believed was necessary and what the process in Rwanda had been made to include, he spoke of five main points.
1.) The process had to be inclusive to ensure that all voices were heard and given an opportunity to provide input.
2.) There had to be a vision to transform the economic situation, ensuring improved quality of life.
3.) The process needed to have the proper ideological mindset, one that rejected defeatist perceptions of Rwanda, as an economy.
4.) Leadership had to be part of the people, and could not raise itself above the people.
5.) Leadership had to be constantly reviewed in order to ensure it was living up to its promise.
Portland Won’t Understand
Many local progressives might be uncomfortable with President Kagame, he has been accused, linked, and indicted by European courts for crimes against humanity, war crimes ect. A Spanish court “ICC“, did not indict due to his immunity status as a head state. While they did indict 40 of his Rwandan government fellows. This is the same “kangaroo-ish” court that due to pressure from the United States dropped charges against U.S. officials.
President Kagame did recently get his parliament to grant him lifetime immunity from prosecution, similar steps/processes that George Bush Jr. refrained from for himself.
I am not an expert on the troubles that the nation of Rwanda has experienced. Many of the activists here in the U.S. have no real concept of what an environment like that is like, here in the U.S. the sophistication of the abuse of our citizens is so controlled, purified in it’s delivery, without question or meaningful challenge from our major media, we just sort of have our lives bled out quietly, isolated and suppressed without a noticed drama, as the majority of our population is allowed to continue with their Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy existence. We are however, as a percentage of our population, paying more attention now, than I believe we have in decades.
Vigilantism on the rise
I have said it before, and I’ll say it again, the United States, if it has not already qualified, is well on the way of becoming the most sophisticated police state the world has ever seen. One step back from, two steps closer. We have a vigilante problem that is unique in a developed country. In both South Africa and the United States there exits strong blatant vigilantism. In South Africa the aspect of vigilantism exists primarily to fill a real void created by a lack of adequate community police support.
We have had similar developments here in the U.S. from time to time, think of the old west. Whereas in the United States today vigilantism rests in the hands of the largely uneducated, it’s participants blindly following the directives of their police/government handlers, or working off information gleaned from the internet, without questioning the validity of such a one-sided, biased source of information. Which is especially troubling when you consider in the U.S. we have approximately 100,000 factually innocent people in prison and an estimated additional 300,000 factually innocent people that have made it out of prison and are currently trying to survive after having been turned into permanent second class citizens. In both countries vigilantism represents a threat to democracy, and is clearly a threat to the civil rights, and political freedoms of all.
My read of the Rwandan situation is that many of the claims against President Kagame are politically motivated, troubling though is that many also seem to have merit. Currently there is clear indication that President Kagame is benefiting From some political protection from the U.S. and Britain.The truth is, I believe, that the carnage that took place in Rwanda, there is clear evidence that much was fomented by European, and perhaps U.S. interests.Very few that had to walk through that environment can hold up hands that are clean. This may very well include President Kagame.
An Old Saying
There is an old saying “that you may know them by the fruit they bear.” Clearly President Kagame’s five points are progressive and non-dictatorial. Also under his leadership a new constitution has been put in place, and the societal infrastructures needed to enforce it are being rebuilt. If you read this new constitution you can clearly see that the government headed by President Kagame is serious about never allowing what happened in his country to happen again.
Equality, and issues of non-discrimination are up front and center. I believe it is also important to note that while the United States has effectively once again done nothing to stop the genocide in the Darfur, that Rwanda has actually provided the largest contingent of troops, who are dying in their effort to protect the Darfur people. One of the Rwandan generals, on the ground in the Darfur, was one of those recently indicted by the Spanish ICC.
On the African continent there is a clear aura of guilt, or lack of satisfaction over the amount of foreign aid that has been received, and accepted. The people of Africa want to be economically independent. President Kagame’s government has reduced the amount of foreign aid from approximately one hundred percent of the Rwandan budget to roughly forty five percent, a huge improvement.
As I study the situation in greater detail, I can only watch closely to see what fruit is born. Other than that we’ll just have to wait and see. President Kagame’s address was a challenge, what will the response be?
I would like to go back and see for myself.
Social entrepreneurship was an integral part of the conference. How to create free market enterprises, as well as social movements that will lead to a more prosperous and stable constitutional democratic governing process
...through out the African continent. The sad fact I came away with is that while we have true heroes, working to make these needed programs a reality, current micro financing projects are representing currently less than 5 percent of the required global need. This has only been worsened by the current global economic melt down. It’s is my opinion that under current greed based/controlled economic systems this need will never get the resources it requires to save, and better the lives that these programs could save, and that these programs and processes have demonstrated they are in fact fully capable of saving/bettering.
It’s important to keep things in perspective, in the last couple of years our U.S. societal failures have squandered the resources that should have provided not only the U.S. citizens, but our global neighbors as well the opportunity to usher in the potential beginning of a golden age. In the U.S., our defense budget alone is approximately eight times larger than the entire annual South African budget.
One of the disappointing things I saw at the conference was that the rules of engagement were being dictated by those that control the status quo. The Nelson Mandela Foundation showed signs of having forgotten from whence it had come, The revolutionary spirit of pushing the envelope with not only the discussion of, but the act of a physical follow through of supportive action towards the promotion of out of the box thinking, was absent to the degree that meaningful and timely efforts require. Solutions were entertained only under existing rules of engagement, with no discussions being held on the potential behind perhaps changing the rules!!!
Under these conditions I believe that on a global scale we will continue to move too slowly to meet the needs of the people and planet, but they did provide a forum and I believe their intent is to clearly strive to make improvements where “they” see as being needed in future events.
I also witnessed some troubling indicators that the Nelson Mandela Foundation Dialog Program was spending more time trying to protect the Nelson Mandela bobble head doll and t-shirt concession, rather than engaging in the needed levels of dialog promotion. In fact in some instances it was clear that the heads of the Dialog Program were not any more capable of engaging in dialog than any other self protecting bureaucracy.
A recurring theme was, yes we see the problems, yes we can sit here and talk about it, but what do we do now. This is something I’m used to in the United States, but I was not expecting to see it manifest so strongly in a country where people had just gained their freedom so recently.
There was a work shop on the role of media. In the group I participated in, there were members of the African Leadership Initiative present, every one of whom was willing to entertain some form of government control over media content, and none verbalized an understanding of a free and independent press to a free and democratic society. To date, the South African press is still functioning in a free and independent manner as required in a free society, but there have been efforts from those involved in political parties to gain an improper control over these institutions.
Better youth mentoring needed
Another critical issue that the conference hosts recognized as needing to be addressed was that absolute necessity to utilize and incorporate the strength, energy and idealism of the African youth. That there was a need to create much needed improvement to the educational resources needed to prepare the young people to be effective leaders of the future.
I listened to this through the eyes of someone who had just finished watching on the television the previous evening a young white women being shouted down at a political gathering by the wise and enlightened non-white majority. This was eventually corrected by the event hosts on stage, but only after an inappropriate long delay.
I also read with interest the stories of the African youths affiliated with the ANC proclaiming their willingness to kill and do violence for the benefit of the Party, which was followed over the course of, again, a too long delay of several days, and with what many considered to be a weak rebuke. In South Africa those with the knowledge base needed are far rarer than I had thought.
Instead I found a growing level of disrespectful conduct by the South African youth towards the heroes of the South African freedom movement. I found the instances of this as well as the origins deeply troubling. In the United States our systems of freedom are also in danger because we force our children to live in a society of lies and hypocrisy. The educational system and individual mentors have been seriously depleted, both through entropy and malicious intent. The dangers to freedom in both South Africa and the United States manifest through similar processes of greed, corruption, and failed mentoring of our young.
Mandela: 10 Years Gone
It has only been 10 years since President Mandela retired from the Presidency, a presidency that gained the well deserved respect and admiration for the wisdom, integrity, compassion with which it dealt with a myriad of highly volatile issue’s successfully. It has only been a few years since Nelson Mandela has been encouraged to reduce the hours he spends on important issues due to concerns about his well being. Clearly even with his short absence from a direct leadership role we can see the beginnings of a breakdown. The formation of some cracks in the South African government and social structures. How this could happen so quickly after such a unprecedented role model/effort was witnessed/demonstrated I find hard to grasp.
The South African government, in a clear break with anything that Nelson Mandela stood for, recently denied the Dalai Lama permission to enter the country for a “Peace/Freedom conference.” This was a clear response to Communist Chinese pressure.
We, “The World”, allowed Nelson Mandela to be wrongfully imprisoned, and then The overwhelming majority of us did essentially nothing about it for far to long, and we can now clearly see this has been to our own detriment and loss. I think back to when Dick Cheney was in congress, when he would not support the release of Nelson Mandela, this and related failures brought shame to our entire society.
A Suggestive Thunderstorm
During the conference there was a really impressive thunderstorm, there was a presentation being made by a Mr. John Hope Bryant who was speaking to the audience as the storm progressed. The storm was later used as an event that symbolized our need to persevere over adversity. My take was a little different.
I found it symbolically relevant that as the speaker continued with his presentation.
The storm continually grew in strength, finally knocking the power out, and ending the speech in darkness! The speaker did continue later, after the power was restored, but I found myself wondering if perhaps the “forces that be” might have been trying to make their own statement concerning the proper role of money in our society. Perhaps if we want to survive, we are going to have to change our perspectives.
Another area where I saw a lack of understanding was in the area of the importance of women having full reproductive rights. When this right was mentioned in a work group as being needed to ensure, and help aid in the maintenance of a free society.
One women was heard saying that she didn’t need full reproductive rights because her boyfriend leaves her alone when she so desires. This presented viewpoint failed to recognize that full reproductive rights for women can only exist in societies in which women are of equal standing under the law, as well as economically, and in which they have the physically available means to enforce those rights when needed. Having to rely, or being willing to rely on the good graces of the males is a sad and unacceptable alternative to being equal in all things under the law, and having these legal rights enshrined, socially recognized and readily enforceable. If the women of South Africa actually had these rights over the past 20 years, I believe the level of HIV/Aids in South Africa would be one tenth what it is today. If they had these rights today I believe those South African’s that we can expect to become infected in the future would be less than a tenth of what this number will be.
Growth = Strength?
The African population issue was also not to be readily understood. There was a speaker that actually got up and spoke to how the potential growth in the Africa continents population would become a source of strength. Seeing as how the African continent cannot currently get clean water and food to it’s existing population, I view the interpretation and presentation of the doubling of the African continents population over the next 30 years as anything other than a massive disaster that it would be, to be a serious error. In fact this would be a disaster that is not only avoidable, but if allowed to arrive will doom every current effort at raising the standard of living and promoting the cause of liberty, and constitutional democracy to failure. To try and present this potential as something other than a disaster is a serious sign of a material intellectual failure.
The United States has failed to provide South Africa, as well as the African continent the minimal resources required in order to ensure the success of the freedom and democracy movement there. As we watched the intellectual vacuum that existed between the ears of the last President Bush, and the actual power behind the throne, Vice President Cheney, grow to a globally devastating strength, the force of this vacuum sucked needed resources away from areas in need of support in the needed effort to promote representational constitutional democracies, not only in South Africa, but the African continent, as well as across the globe.
Because of this we see both the South African and the United States taking body blows, that when it comes to issues of freedom, our societies may not be able to recover from.
In Africa this has also created an economic need that had to be filled, in Africa this need is being addressed by a massive level of investment from communist China. A government that has been successful on a number of fronts, but not real strong on real issues of human rights, freedom, and the importance of representational democratic governmental concepts.
In Africa we see a continent that has only just recently really been seen to be making real progress towards a successful progressive group of societies, now getting into bed, so to be speak, with organizations that may prove to be dangerous, and potentially destabilizing long term prospects, out of an economic necessity. An economic need that could be met, - where at least an alternative should be being offered, through investments from nations that have a historic, although somewhat inconsistent, vested involvements in concepts of freedom.
In the global game of chess being currently played, the current level of support being offered to the South African Government, as well as the African continent in general, is well below the effort needed to protect the interests of free societies everywhere. It also puts the quality of life and the freedoms with which we live in the United States directly at risk as well due to the threat that the currently developing situation may pose to our economic stability, environmental global health, and the risk of being drawn into a war that could become much more of a possibility if the cause of freedom, of justice for all, and the support of constitutional democracy fails in South Africa.
I praise the Nelson Mandela Foundation for their efforts, the world is a better place because of it. How much better is difficult to measure especially in light of troubling inconsistencies presented from former President Mandela, and thus we may assume the Nelson Mandela Foundation as well.
Zuma May Lead Them Astray
Nelson Mandela recently endorsed through an appearance at a political rally ANC President Zuma. Mr Zuma is all but certain to become the next leader of the South African government, this will be confirmed by the time this article appears in print. Mr Zuma was the head of the ANC intelligence branch during the struggle to end apartheid. In 1998 the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that this branch of the ANC routinely engaged in gross violations of human rights and extensively used torture to extract information.
Mr. Zuma has been accused of rape, I think everyone should look into this for themselves as well as the recent charges of corruption that have been dropped against him. The recent release of a convicted cohort for medical reasons is also suspect.
Mr. Zuma has repeatedly made comments that indicate he is lacking in an understanding or working democratic principals. My review of the above mentioned issues has left me with the opinion that all indications are that Mr. Zuma may very well bring to South Africa what Mugabe brought to Zimbabwe.
I understand struggle, but there are problems here.
We need to do more, we need to push harder, and time is running out.
Colin Stuart McCoy is a local activist & is also the founder/operator of the Sunrise Foundation, a Portland-based progressive organization with the goal of raising awareness about the physical realities of our national and international currencies.