They were good guys, but not terrorists. Why did it take so long for the West to support Mandela?

Sir Nick Stadlen, a former High Court Judge, has made a remarkable new film about the Rivonia trial called Life Is Wonderful: Mandela’s Unsung Heroes.

The 1955 Rivonia treason trial in South Africa was an event of monumental, almost biblical stature. Not just was – is. Nelson Mandela and his comrades were on trial for their lives. The African National Congress leaders had been caught red-handed at a house called Liliesleaf Farm north east of Johannesburg as they plotted a campaign of guerrilla warfare. They had realised that the Apartheid government would never concede democracy to black people in South Africa and that armed resistance was the only way forward. The police found detailed plans for a bombing campaign and details of many key members and activists. 30 of these were put on trial. After years of failed peaceful protest, the ANC had decided to take up arms against a race-based political and social system that deprived them of the rights of freedom and democracy, reduced human beings to brutal slavery and questioned their very humanity.

Sir Nick Stadlen, a former High Court Judge, has made a remarkable new film about the trial called Life Is Wonderful: Mandela’s Unsung Heroes. It’s a clever title because the accused were not executed, as they expected, but given life sentences. The film was recently shown at the British Museum and I hope it gets a global showing. It brought together many of those who were, in one way or another, part of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and the UK. Sir Sydney Kentridge, the last surviving lawyer for the accused, introduced the film. Most of the audience were old and grey but their straightforward self-confidence and simple attire suggested that many of them had resisted and fought against apartheid.

Continue reading →

Freedom is unknown and the future not so certain in Ethiopia

Rally in support of Abiy Ahmed(Photo Petterik Wiggers)

Back-lit and draped in palm leaves, Abiy Ahmed bears an uncanny resemblance to Jesus Christ in the stickers you see plastered on car bonnets, shop windows and sign boards. The 42-year-old appears equally Messiah-like in his posters, which show him folding Ethiopians in a warm embrace, encouraging them to love one another. Men and women wear T-shirts with his image and the radio plays the praise song “He awakens us”. “Let us forgive each other from our hearts and start a bright new future”, Abiy told parliament after his surprising appointment as Prime Minister end of March. He released tens of thousands of political prisoners and lambasted the state apparatus that tortured them as “terrorist”. He declared Ethiopia’s border war with archenemy Eritrea at an end by saying: “The border has been demolished and replaced by a bridge of love”. Abiy Ahmed’s appearance on the political scene represents something that has been missing for too long on the African continent: a chance for profound change.

The population worships its new prime minister. A spell of euphoria and positive energy has been cast over all. “He deserves the Nobel Prize”, argues young construction worker Bekede, “Abiy Ahmed is young and charismatic, he unites all Ethiopians in ecstasy”. Bekede lives in Bole Michael, a bustling working-class area squeezed between a new highway and the busy airport, deafened by the roar of aircrafts. In the neighbourhood cafe Esther serves coffee, Ethiopia’s national drink. Her husband fled to Canada last year and she was planning to close her coffee-shop this month to join him. “Abiy Ahmed won me round. I am not leaving “, she says resolutely, “I phoned my husband and told him to come home. Thanks to our new prime minister, I can now see a future for us here “.

Continue reading →

Life style audits in Kenya a good idea to fight corruption

By Willy Mutunga

Lifestyle audits of state/public officers is a great idea. Our political elites are never short of great ideas. In every great idea coming from them we must always ask the attendant question, namely, is there political will and commitment to implement the idea or is the idea yet another example of political distraction from what ails our nation?

In a public statement in May this year President Kenyatta told the nation there would a lifestyle audit that would begin with him followed by the Deputy President. Who would oppose such a great idea? I do not recall anybody who did.

Continue reading →