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Today, we need Mandela

Today, we need Mandela

Are there any potential Nelson Mandelas in this generation? As Mandela's centenary is being celebrated, the question hangs in the continental air. Of course, to be sure, it is a question of global consequence. From a generation illuminated by the likes of Martin Luther King Jr, Mohandas Gandhi and Archbishop Desmond Tutu blazing trails and pushing down systems from the force of their 20s and 30s, the present lot seem to have arrived at one guided by Evan Spiegel of Snapchat and reality TV star-turned-entrepreneur, Kylie Jenner. But that question is of a greater urgency for those in the African continent, simply because of their bigger burden in the world's problems. The continent has a greater share of poverty and the least portion of capital investment. And, it is surrounded still by wars and very rarely by good news. Where are the leaders of such social consequence that answer the questions of the present with the fearlessness and gravitas that a generation gone past did in its youth? The great generation of Jomo Kenyatta and Nnamdi Azikiwe gave way to the disgraceful era of dictators such as Charles Taylor and Sani Abacha, among many others. There is an uneasy truce, but significant problems are still there, which have been confronted with small answers. The activism is innovative but timid; the anger is burning but contained and the efforts are well-intentioned but altogether small. There are celebrations of the heroism of Mandela, of Desmond Tutu, of Kwame Nkrumah. But, in many African countries and communities, the opportunity for the same heroism exists now. Corrupt leadership, discrimination against women, discrimination against gays, dictatorships – what is being done to meet the opportunity that stands before the people today, before another tomorrow comes? It appears that those seismic changes in social order only come from a willingness to stand not just out of but against the establishment. Then, to gain the credibility and authenticity to lead it, while at the same time being ready to risk lives, or whatever it is that is just as valuable, to speak the truths and to act on truths, boldly, fearlessly, endlessly, until victory is won, whatever the cost. That effort will require much more than Power Point presentations touting change while being extremely comfortable with the oppressive economic elite across the continent. The activism will have to be sustained until victory; the voices must continue to ring beyond the comfort zone. The question that Mandela's life asks of this generation still stands tall, unanswered. "Young people are capable when aroused of bringing down the towers of operation and raising the banners of freedom," Mandela once said. The world owes a lot, including apologies, to Nelson Mandela.

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