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Should Western Leaders Have Boycotted Mandela's Funeral?

Thu, 6 Feb 2014 Source: Baidoo, Philip Kobina

If I should have the luxury of polling a cross section of African opinion, on the above question, I will be guaranteed a near certainty of negative unanimous responds. Setting the records straight, it is imperative to note, quite unequivocally, the awkwardness I feel, personally, to float such a question. The possibility that it will arouse multiple conduits of thoughts on the legacy of such an illustrious African personality that might not always be positive is very real. However, it became a legitimate question when one of the most prolific ghanaweb contributors argued for a rather cynical motive for the Western leaders paying their respect to, in my opinion, the greatest African of the twentieth century. It was by accident that I came across a piece published on the 27th of December 2013 by Clement Sangaparee entitled, ‘Why Western Leaders Descended On Soweto’. After reading this well crafted diatribe I thought it was a nice try, but concluded that his effort does not advance the African cause one inch.

Though a fine writer, I hardly share his views, but I do make time to read his articles because they are informative. On that score alone, I always give him the benefit of the doubt, which lends itself for a reasonable trade off. However, his conclusions and opinions on this said article cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. He raised very serious points, which will take quite a few words to rebut. In the central theme of his piece, the most salient polemics heaped on the Western leaders also contained the death nail of Mandela’s iconic image and achievements. And I honestly believe it should be tackled head on.

The problem of racism he touched slightly does not have its roots in colonialism nor imperialism, but humanity. Man is the problem. I know quite a few people will be quick to point my attention to the Atlantic triangular trade and the despicable treatment of the inhabitants of Congo by the Belgians just to name a few. And my rebuttal is to draw their attention to what the Germans did to the Jews, gypsies, Bolsheviks Poles and other European minorities who did not fit their racial philosophies. Unbelievably, all those nightmarish atrocities were wreaked in six years. Can you imagine what they would have happened if they had won the war? Now, let us throw a search light in our own backyard, and for the purpose of time and space let’s choose just Rwanda. The period leading to the massacre of the Tutsis by the Hutus was preceded by demonization. By the time of the genocide the Tutsis have been transformed into cockroaches. And when you see your fellow human being as less than human and more in terms of a bug they become easy to be crushed under the feet psychologically. Sadly, this is what happened in the Rwandan genocide. It is ironic that this happened among people with indistinguishable human traits and pigmentation. In the Volta Region, there are still areas where people are held under bondage by a system known as Trokosi. As I write, slavery is still practiced in Mali where the victims are mainly darker skin people.

So it is a problem with humanity. And don’t get me wrong; I am not suggesting that all human beings are bad. Some are capable of incredible altruistic tendencies. There are varied reasons for the things we do. Some can be edifying and others not so great. Even a philanthropist sometimes has an ulterior motive for doing what he does. In the end what makes it worthwhile are the lives he changes. Nonetheless, look at what is happening in our own country Ghana. What do politicians do with our money? Gyeeda, Wayome, Subah etc is what you get. The fact that there is no blood on the carpet does not mean that their hands are clean. They are as genocidal as the man who wields a machete to disembowel a pregnant woman.

By definition Mandela was at a point in time a terrorist. You cannot dissociate that from his résumé if you are writing an honest history. If he was labelled as such by the West that is what he was before he was incarcerated. But we don’t live in a black and white universe. There are grey areas, which enables a person like me to gravitate towards him after ploughing through the facts. It is official that Margaret Thatcher labelled Mandela a terrorist. However, I don’t think anybody will have a modicum of difficulty crystallising such belief when they have close encounter with a near brutal elimination of their entire cabinet by the IRA. Besides, what a lot of people forget is she received Mandela at 10 Downing Street when he was released from prison.

The dynamics of post World War II geopolitical winds made a lot of people behave very badly indeed. It spawned a few high profile casualties like Lumumba, while Nkrumah narrowly escaped with his life. It did not even spare the life of one of the most glamorous American presidents – JFK. Apartheid was kept on life support needlessly due to communism, and it cracked when that evil monster imploded in 1989. Western politicians are subject to their electorates and those who bankroll their campaign. The latter mainly look to their immediate interest and to some degree the former as well. Western high street shoppers who buy their cheap clothes from Walmart, Primark or Tesco don’t really care about the conditions in sweat shop factories in Bangladesh. Similarly, over three to four decades ago Western consumers did not bother too much about what was going on in South Africa until anti-apartheid activist, like Donald Woods, brought the awareness to Britain with the publication of Cry freedom. In the end, it was economic and sports boycott demanded by their electorates that forced them to change course. Like Ghanaian politicians, their Western counterparts also look to their immediate political interest, though the methods might not necessarily be the same the principles are spot on. Historically, an evil institution like slavery, which used to oil the British economy, came to an end as a result of a long and hard campaign by Wilberforce et al backed by a shift in public opinion to jettison that hideous monster. Eventually, in the case of Apartheid, the U.S. congress came along when their electorates brought pressure on them to join their righteous indignation.

He further touched on miscarriage of justice, which Black American happens to be at the receiving end. In every human institution there is corruption and the American justice system is no exception. If you should investigate the Ghanaian judiciary you will be surprised what will be lurking in its closet. Besides, there are quite a few white victims in America. It all lurks in the shadow of human weakness and abuse of power. In the arena of justice there is what I call soft target, which Black America’s vulnerability seems to fall beyond the pale.

Now, to the main thrust of his assault; and this is where I think he allowed his emotions to cloud his thinking. There are those who felt that Mandela should have rounded up all the blood thirsty Afrikaners and got them shot or imprison them and throw away the keys. There are certain facts that people like Clement are glossing over. What they fail to realise is the South Africa’s situation is quite unique. In the sense that the minority white South Africa are also South Africans with no place to go. These are people who fought the British in the Boar war, and experienced untold hardships at the hands of the British. They were used by the British to pioneer concentration camp, which was perfected by Adolf Hitler. These people feel strongly attached to the land and would have fought tooth and nail to maintain it. For example, Abraham Lincoln feared race war to the extent that he entertained the notion of sending back to Africa all the black population in America. The possibility that the right wing Afrikaners would have taken power back through the barrel of the gun was not insane to conceptualise. It, therefore, impinges on the idea that the threat of a racial war was real and he moved heaven and earth to avoid that.

What Clement was driving at strikes at the core of the political schism that haunts Ghana since independence. If Nkrumah had the skills and wisdom to incorporate his foes when he initially won power in 1951 we wouldn’t be in this mess. On the other hand, Mandela had time on his side to have studied all the mistakes of past African leaders. It is George Santayana who said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," Mandela was wise enough not to have flirted with a scorch earth policy like Hitler instructed his lieutenants when it became obvious to him that he had lost the war. Rhetoric and poetry is wonderful for aesthetics, but it does not put food on the table and educate the next generation. Sangaparee was thinking only about justice. Yes, justice is extremely very important, but should it be at the expense of the economic well being of the whole country? Sometimes to survive you rest survival on what is expedient, but not what is right. If Mandela had adopted the three prescriptions he eloquently outlined there wouldn’t have been anything to celebrate; that beautiful country would have gone up in flames. It is Lord Mansfield who said, ‘let justice be done, though the heavens fall’, that is steeliness and determination. Then again, the heavens will come crushing down like a tonne of bricks suffused with the death of compromise; it wouldn’t be anything resembling the gentle touch of a morning dew. So we have to be mindful of those whom the heavens are going to fall. It is called a pyrrhic victory when the heavens come crushing down on everybody. Nobody wins.

Under normal circumstances I would argue that Rawlings should be tried for the lives of the three judges that were murdered in cold blood under his watch. However, I wouldn’t because the cost and implications are enormous to contemplate. We live in country where quite a substantial number of our compatriots allow their emotions to dominate every bit of their thinking. Sadly, those marshy bits of our humanity can be misdirected by demagogues; twisting things around for their personal advantage. Freedom is a very expensive concept. The price is paid in money, blood and sweat. Jefferson said, ‘the tree of liberty should sometimes be nourished by the blood of its patriots and tyrants.’ Chris Hani, Steve Biko and all the unknown victims, may their souls rest in perfect peace, nourished the South African liberty tree.

Philip Kobina Baidoo Jnr

London

baidoo_philip@yahoo.co.uk

Columnist: Baidoo, Philip Kobina