While a dignified and iconic Nelson Mandela was being presented with the ANC centenary flame at his home in Qunu, a humbled and infamous Charles Taylor was being correctly sentenced to 50 years in prison by the international criminal court far from his home.
Is it not a shame that one giant of Africa close to celebrating his 94th birthday, should see on the news another former African leader in the dock for crimes against humanity?
Baby Face is a legendary song writer and producer. Occasionally he makes his own albums. Readers might recall the following lyrics from one of his hits:
“Bring back those simple times of yesterday, when a man was man and a friend was a friend. …when you meant what you said and you said what you meant…” These lyrics came to mind when I reflected on the nature of man and power the other day.
I think of the young man throwing stones in the intifada, the youth who were cannon fodder in Libya, the young lady activist in Binga and the mother who has lost her children in Argentina or Mexico, civilians in Syria in ’82 or today, the disappeared junior party officials from opposition parties all over the world, civilians in Iraq and then I look at the people they fought for and I despair about human nature.
Ordinary people fight for something bigger than themselves. An ideal called freedom and the space to be able to attempt to shape their destiny.
When strong men whether in the form of Nazis, powerful people beyond the reach of the ICC or dictators who can be caught, abuse their political positions, it is the ordinary people who pay the biggest price.
Charles Taylor will probably have more comforts in prison than the scarred people he left behind outside its walls.
Ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things as we saw, for instance, during our first and second Chimurenga, the battle of the Somme and the election of Barack Obama which showed that a people determined to make a change can do regardless of the status quo.
To do this, ordinary people must embrace the concept and the potential of a singular idea: the power of one. It is individuals or small groups of people who have shaped nations and societies.
Ghengis Khan and Hitler were driven enough by the idea of vengeance that they made life a living hell for those they ruled and forced in to war and worse for those they conquered. Similarly, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglas, Ghandi and Mandela brought their stubborn and just beliefs in equal rights and justice to impact society in powerful and positive ways.
Before they led movements, these people were individuals.
Those who chose the criminal and unsustainable path of hate ended up committing suicide, in prison or afraid to travel the world lest some intrepid judge issue a warrant of arrest.
Those who chose humanity displayed what we can term citizenship.
This is what is required of all of us now. Today it is civilians in Syria who are the pawns in a terrible chess game between powerful forces, yesterday it was the ordinary worker who fell prey to greedy wall street bankers. Who will it be tomorrow?
My brother likes to repeat the saying, “there is nothing new under the sun”. Indeed there isn’t.
Ordinary human beings have been the pawns of the majority of politicians since the first man fenced a piece of land and declared it his own.
What is required though is a citizen’s activism that is not left to the whims of an NGO budget sponsor.
What is required is a new enlightenment, one that says I am able to make an impact on society through my beliefs, writing, speech and actions in a manner that allows for the creation of a better world. What lessons have you learnt from the last dozen years or so from your personal inaction? Could you have done more?
Let’s take the example of Amnesty International who have welcomed the decision on Charles Taylor and who only a week ago were slamming the Canadian government for not arresting George W Bush for war crimes; http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2012/05/24/amnesty-international-bush-canada.html .
This excerpt from their website gives us an example of the power of one: Amnesty International began with one man’s outrage and his courage to do something about it.
After learning of two Portuguese students imprisoned for raising a toast to freedom in 1961, British lawyer Peter Benenson published an article, “The Forgotten Prisoners” in the Observer newspaper.
That article launched the “Appeal for Amnesty 1961”, a worldwide campaign that provoked a remarkable response. Reprinted in newspapers across the world, his call to action resonated with the values and aspirations of people everywhere. This was the genesis of Amnesty International.”
By 2010 Amnesty International had 3 million members from over 150 countries with thousands of prisoners, from Fela Kuti to faceless individuals freed from detention as a direct result of the intervention of the organisation. Just because one man spoke up!
The world has changed with information technology.
You have it within your power to stop being abused by a small political elite who by their deliberate actions or criminal negligence can destroy your country.
To light a candle, instead of cursing the darkness, you must be become an active citizen and help prevent rather than lament another meltdown