The Life and Legacy of Nelson Mandela

A little over an hour ago, the news was released to the world that former South African President Nelson Madela had died at the age of 95.  In recent years, his health had been declining but that still does not diminish the impact of his passing.

Mandela was born in July 1918.  While living in Johannesburg later, he became involved in anti-colonial politics.  In 1948, the government began implementing the policy of apartheid, which he would be a voice against.  Although he was a man on non-violence, he co-founded the militant organization Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1961.  He would be arrested in 1962 and sentenced to life in prison.  An international coalition managed to get him released in 1990 while civil strife was escalating throughout the country over apartheid policies.  He led negotiations with then-South African President F.W. de Klerk to abolish apartheid and establish multiracial elections in 1994 to which he won the presidency.  He would serve as President of South Africa from 1994-1999, when we would step aside.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Toward the end of apartheid, he managed to be a unifying figure to a nation that was in desperate need.  Civil strife and violence were escalating.  South Africa was on the verge of becoming like any other African nation… ripped apart by constant civil war and revenge against enemies.  Mandela called for peace and worked with the current government to bring about the free elections.  Even once he had won the presidency, he sought about not violence or revenge, but working together to build South Africa up and to make it a world player.  To have it be a shining light of democracy on a continent that knows darkness.

It was through the leadership of Mandela that South Africa stabilized.  At a time when the nation could have gone one of two ways, he helped steer it the right way… a way to help end the divisions and hatred.  He unified South Africans and made them see each other as countrymen and as neighbors.

Even after stepping down as president, he continued to speak out for peace at home, throughout the continent of Africa, and in the rest of the world.  He showed us all what could be accomplished if we started working together.  He worked to fight poverty and HIV/AIDS through the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

In the United States, we revere the father of our country, George Washington.  Though he led a war against a monarchical government, he still stepped aside when the task was complete.  At a time when the new nation was about to split apart at the seems, it was Washington who stepped in to bring us back together as a people.  And yet, when the time came, he voluntarily stepped aside and gave up power again.  He worked to keep us out of war and to unite us a people and a nation.  We see this type of person in the character of Nelson Mandela… characteristics in a national leader that come around once in a lifetime.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves ‘who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve this world.”

Though Mandela belonged to the people of South Africa, he was shared with the rest of the world.  The  life and legacy of Nelson Mandela will reach far beyond the borders of that nation as it will encompass all nations.  He has shown that we should not seek violence, revenge, or war.  We must step up and do better.  Through peace, we can achieve so much more and raise up humanity.

Mandela showed the rest of the world that Africa was not a lost cause.  It could be a global player under the right leadership.  Given a chance, the people there could step up and be a loud voice for change.  With his passing, the people of Africa (as well as all national leaders) should take note of the example that he set, and to set about doing what is right.

Today, the people of South Africa mourn the loss of the father of their modern nation.  Those of us around the world join with them in their time of mourning for we have all lost a great and just man.  But though we are saddened by his loss, we keep his legacy alive.  We must endure, as a people, to continue the message that he spoke… that he believed.  He set us up and pointed the way.  Now we must take the torch and carry it forward.

To the people of South Africa, I say thank you for sharing him with the rest of us.  He was an inspirational man… and one that we may never see again.



Behind the Iran Nuclear Deal

There is a saying in politics.  Nothing ever happens on the weekend, and when it does it has to be major.  The major story broke late Saturday night.  It announced a possible deal with Iran over its nuclear capabilities and sanctions that are currently in place.  So what are the details behind the Iran nuclear deal?

The talks involved six-nations and met in Geneva, Switzerland.  The deal is only a temporary 6-month agreement to test the proverbial waters for a bigger deal down the road.  This deal includes… (according to the BBC)

  • Iran will stop enriching uranium beyond 5% and destroy all uranium that is enriched beyond that.
  • Iran will give greater access to international inspectors including daily visits to the Natanz and Fordo sites.
  • No further development of the Arak plant where it is speculated that Iran could enrich plutonium.
  • In return, there will be no new nuclear-sanctions placed on Iran for 6-months if it complies.
  • Iran will receive sanction relief of about $7-billion.

One thing sticks out from this list… the very first point.  Commercial nuclear power plants used enriched uranium of 3%.  Iran has stated that its nuclear program is for nuclear energy only and not for the development of a nuclear weapon.  So then one must ask the question as to why they would have uranium enriched above 5%.

Many members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, are not thrilled with this deal.  They see it as being weak against Iran.  They see the current sanctions that were placed on Iran in 2010 having a crippling effect on the Iranian economy.  According to the CIA,

  • The estimated GDP (real growth rate) for Iran in 2012 was -1.9%.
  • It’s unemployment rate was estimated to be 15.5% in 2012 with 18.7% below the poverty line as of 2007.
  • The estimated 2012 inflation rate was 27.1% which was up from 20.6% in 2011.
  • The exchange rate of the Iranian Rial (IRR) is 12,175.5 to the US Dollar.

The sanctions are crippling the Iranian economy, but it’s only affecting the Iranian people and not the leadership.  There is no freedom of media in that nation, so the people only get the information that their government allows.  So do the people actually understand the full reason why these sanctions are in place?  And can they do anything that could cause us to shift our stance?

Leaders of both parties (and other members) would be the first to spout off that the people could overthrow the government and install a democratically-elected government in its place.  The problem with this line of reasoning is that the United States overthrew Iran’s last democratically-elected government in the 1950s because the Prime Minister was going to nationalize the oil fields.  The US installs the Shah government which the 1979 Revolution overthrows.  It sounds very ironic, and slightly hypocritical, for the US to tell them they need a democratically-elected government when we overthrew their last one.


And let us not forget that though we complain about Iran’s nuclear ambitions today, it was not always the case.  It was during the Shah government that the United States gave Iran nuclear technology.  It lasted from the 1950s until the 1979 Revolution.  It was a program called “Atoms for Peace.”  It was even ramped up during the Ford administration by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already publicly stated that the deal is a mistake and that Israel will act unilaterally, if necessary, to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon which he feels that this deal only delays.  Netanyahu also plans to put pressure on the US Congress to pass more sanctions on Iran which Congress was already considering before these negotiations.

There is a lot of distrust on both sides.  These are the first direct talks that have taken place between the US and Iran since before the 1979 Revolution.  There really is no framework for anything.  The US and the other western nations involved in the deal held the upper hand in these negotiations.  But trust must be earned from both sides.  So they have agreed to lift some sanctions, but if Iran fails to live up to what it has agreed upon (or lies and deceives) then those sanctions go back into place immediately.

The American people are war weary from Afghanistan to Iraq to the larger “war on terror.”  Personally, I don’t know if this is a good idea or not.  Talking does beat silence.  That much I do agree with.  As for the short-term deal and the possibility of a long-term one, I’m just not sure yet.  There is still that much animosity.  But we owe it an attempt before we decide to spend billions of dollars to go war yet again.  The ultimate goal is clear.  Iran must not be allowed to enrich uranium to the point that it can have a nuclear weapon.  How we achieve that goal is up for debate.

The Congo Conundrum

In April 2012, ethnic Tutsi soldiers mutinied against the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in Africa.  This ongoing conflict dates back to the Second Congo War, which also carries the name the “African world war” as it involved nine African nations and about 20-armed groups, that began in 1998.  Despite a treaty being signed in 2003, fighting has continued in the eastern part of the DRC.  There are stories that involve rape and other sexual violence that is being described as the worst in the world.  And since 1998, the conflict has killed more than 5.4-million people, thus giving it the distinction as the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II.

In 2009, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) signed a peace treaty in which it agreed to become a political party in exchange for political prisoners.  When the Tutsi troops defected from the government earlier this year, they formed the rebel group M23 (March 23 Movement) with other former members of the CNDP claiming that the President of the DRC cheated in the recent election.  Most of the fighting has been around Goma, the capital of the North Kivu province, resulting in its capture by rebel forces on November 20th.  For the year (as of November 21st), 350 rebels have been killed with another 250 wounded.  The government has reported that 40 have been killed with 93 wounded by the same date.  One UN peacekeeper has also been killed.  The US government has even threatened to cut off aid to neighboring Rwanda as it is rumored that that nation’s government is aiding the rebels forces.

The DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world… with the second lowest GDP.  However, it is one of the richest in the world when it comes to natural resources.  It’s untapped deposits of raw minerals is estimated to be worth approximately $24-trillion.  These minerals include cobalt, copper, and 30% of the world’s diamond reserves.  It also contains coltan, a major source of tantalum which is used in making electronic components in computers and mobile phones.  Most of us have heard of blood diamonds before, but what about blood computers and blood phones?  There are certain laws in place where minerals such as diamonds are not supposed to be bought and/or sold from nations in conflict; however, those minerals are still generally smuggled out.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the North Kivu province highlighted.

So why is any of this important?  Let’s go back to the beginning…  5.4-million people have died since 1998 in this ongoing conflict.  If this conflict was happening between Israel and the Palestinians or if it was happening in Europe, we would be involved.  But because it is Africa, we have yet again turned a blind eye to the ordeal.  It’s not about picking one side over the other, it’s about making sure that genocide is not taking place… or any human rights violations.  We invade countries in order to get oil, but the DRC has no oil.  Maybe that explains our neglect of this issue, but it still does contain valuable minerals that we use without even realizing it.  Though it is rich in those minerals, it is severely underdeveloped… even moreso than when it gained its independence from Belgium in 1960.  Two-thirds of the population suffers from malnutrition.  Some of this is the result of the ongoing conflicts.  As a result, the DRC is not able to take advantage of its vast richness.  According to a UN report, the river system in the DRC could provide hydro-electric power to all of Africa.  And for those that want to blame the typical African corruption that we generally see taking place, the DRC is one of the twenty lowest ranked countries on the Corruption Perception Index.  This is a country that should be investing in itself and in democracy.  It could easily be a world player.  While making sure there is not any human rights violations (or genocide), we should be helping to bring about stability by bringing the various sides to the table to get an agreement they can agree on, and to make sure its implemented.  We talk about spreading democracy around the world, but why not do it through peaceful means instead of by bombs and guns?  We don’t need the military involved in such a situation unless we have to move in to stop atrocities.  In a recent development, though, Uganda’s Chief of Defense has said that the leader of the M23 rebel forces has agreed to let him mediate a truce.  Part of this agreement was that M23 forces would leave the provincial capital of Goma, but that has not happened yet.  Let us be diligent with our observations and not allow this to escalate into a bigger problem.  There is a vast opportunity for something good to come from this, but the world must not let it slip through its fingers.

After capturing Goma, the M23 forces took the neighboring town of Sake.  They are now moving onward to take the capital of South Kivu.  Government forces did launch a counterattack to retake Sake on November 22.

United Under Rings

They came.  They saw.  They conquered.  The world met in London.  Athletes competed while under a flag of five rings… one for each continent (Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia/Oceania, and the Americas).  In these days of competition, there has been a bigger understanding of our cultural differences and a bigger exchange of human understanding.  For these past couple of weeks, the nations of the world have been united in friendship, harmony, and peace.

Watching these games, I have seen the athletes from countries all over the world act better than our leaders have.  Gold-medalist Usain Bolt of Jamaica was giving an interview when the national anthem from another country started to play during an another medal ceremony.  He stopped the interview to honor that athlete.  During another race, a Chinese runner fell injured.  So two others went back and helped him across the finish line.  Gymnasts have hugged and swimmers have high-fived.  This is cross-culturalism (I coined that term some time ago in another blog entry) at its greatest.  Our national leaders can say and do as they wish, but when this many nations… this many people of the world come together, the biggest winner is a better understanding of each other.  We are reminded for these days what it means to be part of the human race… something our leaders need to remember, as well.

Not all of the athletes will win medals.  There are even participating countries that have never had an athlete win a medal.  But they are all winners in the eyes of the world.  They came together for peaceful competition and they leave with a greater understanding of other nations and other cultures.  Today’s Olympians could be tomorrow’s leaders.  The lessons they have learned in London will go on long after the Olympic flame is put out and after the five rings that make up the Olympic flag are moved to Sochi, Russia (winter) and Rio de Janiero, Brazil (summer).  And though we have only been bystanders in these events, watching from our homes and from the stands, we have also learned these same lessons.  We have witnessed our athletes at their very best and showing us how it should be done.

Every two years for 17-days, the world comes together to watch our athletes compete.  We always want our own to do well, but we still somehow find ourselves cheering on the athletes of other countries, too.  In the end, we are shown that it doesn’t matter what country a person is from or how different one’s culture is from our own.  We are all part of the human race, all inhabiting our own small part of this planet.  Uniting together under a flag of five-colored rings can teach us a great many things.  There are no limits to what we can accomplish when we come together under peace and friendship.  May the Olympic spirit not diminish when the flame is extinguished in London, but rather, may it live on in each of us wherever we are until the next beacon is lit to bring us together.

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