Nigeria: Nation-Building – the Mandela and Nyerere Examples

By Jideofor Adibe

In my column last week, I restated what I have always believed is the fundamental problem of the country – namely the crisis in our nation-building process. I believe that unless Nigerians feel there is ‘an imagined community’ that has their overarching loyalty, the current wave of de-Nigerianisation will continue unabated and solutions thrown at our problems will end up compounding those problems. A central manifestation of the crisis in Nigeria’s nation-building project is that no individual or institution enjoys universal legitimacy across the fault lines.

A fundamental question is how this crisis will be resolved amid the numerous developmental challenges facing the country.

The key responsibility for driving a reconciliation process in any polarized and fractious society lies with the leadership of that country. Since the leader of such a fractious society necessarily belongs to one of the fault lines or contending blocs in such a society, he or she has to make an early choice whether to deliberately transcend the extant fault lines (at the risk of displeasing his or her ‘own people’ in the short term) or politicize those fault lines by cultivating some and alienating others in a bid to entrench himself or herself in power.

In this piece I will highlight the examples of Mandela and Nyerere in uniting post-apartheid South Africa and Tanzania respectively.

Mandela’s story has been told so often that it needs no repeating. He died on December 5 2013 as one of the greatest moral authorities in the world. He was one of the few souls that had a date set aside every year to celebrate him. July 18, Mandela’s birthday, was globally celebrated as the Mandela Day by the United Nations. During such celebrations, people were asked to devote 67 minutes of their time – one minute for each year Mandela spent in prison -to help others or consciously do something that will help change the world or their environment for the better.

Jailed for 27 years for his opposition to apartheid, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela came out of prison in 1990 expressing no bitterness towards those who deprived him of 27 years of his life. When he was sworn in as post-apartheid South Africa’s first democratically elected President in 1994, many Black hard liners wanted justice for the sins of apartheid while many White people were apprehensive of their fate under Black majority rule. Mandela opted to champion reconciliation among the country’s fractious population, espousing the principles of nation-building and co-operative governance.

It would take more than a generous human spirit for any man to truly forgive people who jailed him for 27 years. More than that, Mandela had to deal with the initial disappointment of many of his hard line Black supporters who felt that he was subordinating reconciliation to the quest for justice. It was a gamble: if he alienated his Black supporters and the Whites ended up despising him, he would have lost out completely. But the gamble paid off: he was able to transcend the fault lines in the country and by so doing became a unifying symbol.

When he set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995, the emphasis was on reconciliation in sharp contrast to the approach taken by the Nuremberg Trials and other de-Nazification measures.

Even before he became President in 1994, Mandela had chosen to be a reconciler. A clear demonstration of this was in 1993 when a White right winger murdered Chris Hani (at the time arguably the ANC’s most popular leader after Mandela). Many Black South Africans simply wanted war. But Mandela thought otherwise. In one of his most impassioned speeches, Mandela declared:

“Tonight I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being. A white man, full of prejudice and hate, came to our country and committed a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster… .

“A white woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her life so that we may know, and bring to justice this assassin.”

Mandela’s greatest legacy was his uncanny ability to steer South Africa through the crisis of its rebirth. Though today South Africa still remains a divided country, it would certainly have been worse without Mandela.

Assessments of Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s first president (1962-1985) tend to focus on his quest for ujamaa – a just social order based on community solidarity. While supporters hail ujamaa as a “creative adjustment of socialist thought to local realities”, critics contemptuously dismiss it as an attempt at redistributing poverty.

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Source: Daily Trust (via