Nelson Mandela- Why I Reactivated My Activism
Although I grew in Nigeria going against the norm in secondary school where I earned the reputation as a student leader, my desire to rededicate myself towards activism did not peak until 2001 just one month before I graduated from University of Maryland (UMD). I had made the decision to concentrate on my studies when I got to the Maryland academy due to some negative experiences in my high school student government at the International Secondary School, Rivers State University of Science and Technology. At the UMD I joined the African Students Association (ASA) and was instrumental in setting up our very first website which was established with my second student (glue) account. When the president of the ASA who happened to be a Nigerian was forced to relinquish his position due to misappropriation of our public funds and academic probation, I was distraught but hung around as an active member to ensure that the organization was in solid footing.
However, when we elected the first African American female as the president of the University of Maryland African Student Association, I worked with the organization for a while before deciding to concentrate on my studies and employment opportunities. At certain times as a student I took up full time job positions while enrolled in school as a fulltime student with upwards of 12credits per semester. Since I did not want to make the same mistakes I made in high school, I eventually disassociated myself from the ASA and the larger student body Student Government Association (SGA). But as the years went by, I was able to relate from a distance with the first African/Black (Nigerian origin) and minority (in the United States) female SGA student body president. After Juliana Njoku's historic elections as the President of the Executive branch and head of the student body, she was confronted with several racial hostilities in 1999 that got the campus engulfed in some publicized tensions.
In those days, I would see the worried looks of stress on her face. I saw the student president's situation as analogous to that of my friend Irabor and mine in high school. Nonetheless after witnessing the last 3years of the Obama presidency and the explicit racial currents, I reckon that her situation is parallel to that of President Barack Obama. Irabor was the president and this writer the vice-president of the Christian Student Unions (CSU) in secondary school. Both of us were strong evangelical students within the school body who believed in academic meritocracy and were tapped to get nominated by the teachers as senior student prefects in our final year. But our expectations were dashed when we received our report cards. We found out that our arch rival and the principal of the school, who hated us dearly because he was Sabbatarian and resented our Pentecostal influence in school, had won the battle for control by rigging our grades and essentially failing us. We were devastated and went back to the University Chaplain for solace as we had done at other times when we were presented with challenges from the principal.
Ironically, the university's pastor could not assist us because he was embroiled in his own scandals. There were allegations that some of his academic documents from universities in England and the United States could not stand scrutiny. Our dear chaplain was also alleged to have sexually assaulted some of the university and high school female students during his often held deliverance sessions. On some of our visits to his office on campus I wondered out loud with my friends. Why he took so long casting out the demons? Why there was a noticeable environment of privacy? Why he came out with tremendous perspiration after his closed sessions with the subjects who were alleged to be his victims? How come the ladies in question always looked irritated and avoided eye contact after their emergence from the so-called prayers? In the midst of these developments in Nigeria, I got an epiphany about most organized religions and embraced the notion that religion is indeed politics. I became conscious of the reality that secrecy, sycophancy, and corruption were not only in the Catholic Church, the denomination of my parents but also in my adopted Pentecostal community. These teenage experiences enabled me to tread carefully when I got into the UMD.
During Juliana Njoku's tenure at College Park Maryland as the president of the SGA her situation was mostly complicated because of the disarray within the black student bodies. Although, she did not have a solid base and/or reliable allies who could give her the support that was necessary as the first SGA president of African origin she was able to maintain her pose. The Ethiopian students were busy breaking away from the ASA and forming their own campus body. The Black Student Union (BSU) was involved in shameless heated acrimony with the ASA and rejected the peace efforts of the UMD Nyumburu Cultural Center staffs. When Ms. Njoku and others received hate mails we thought that was an aberration but soon witnessed another round of uniform hatred and distortions after President Nelson Mandela was invited to the campus. His invitation was a crescendo to the anti-immigrant, anti-African, and anti-black attitude on campus. Madiba as he is affectionately called was invited to deliver the Anwar al-Sadat Lecture for Peace on November 14th, of 2001 at the University of Maryland, an annual lecture series named after the former Egyptian Head of State.
However, this most sacred moment was nearly upending by the venom of racial intolerance and pseudo historical analysis on the pages of the Diamondback student newspaper by some misers of the truth within the student body. The Republican Student Association led the canard of opinion writers to suppress the truth on campus by christening President Mandela as a terrorist. These nefarious, insensitive, and privileged students decided to accuse Mr. Nelson Mandela of being an extremist without portfolio. I and many others were lost for words and wondered how one of the best symbols of peace and reconciliation in the history of the world could be so maligned by few students. I marveled at how in a left leaning state like Maryland (maybe second only to Massachusetts), people could have so much irresponsible misrepresentations of facts. Thus my assessment was that if these east coast chaps would call Mr. Mandela a terrorist then surely they must realize that President George Washington is not as dignified as the Nobel Peace prize winner Madiba. The Republican students took to a smear campaign because most republican presidents are not honorable enough to touch the soles of Madiba's feet in a thorough and objective analysis of history.
After witnessing the speech of President Mandela at the Cole field House and his uncanny ability to speak truth to power especially on the issue of the original 9-11 attack and his opposition against the impending Iraq war, I was moved to embrace my activism. In his keynote speech he called out the double speaks, double talks, and insidious lies that were orchestrated to obfuscate the truth in the United State and the West at this sold out gathering. Then my analysis of the situation came full circle when I realized that the conservative and Republican students had gone ahead to demonize President Mandela because he was against the misinformation apparatus that would eventually lead us to an illegal and unjust war against Iraq. Mandela spoke up way before we found out that Dick Cheney was feeding information to the New York Times through Scooter Libby and then going on the Meet the Press show with Mr. Tim Russert to cite the same stories/sources as facts.
Therefore, as contemporary social justice activists, I and others are able to stand on the shoulders of the Great Mr. Nelson Mandela and expose the voters' suppression laws, election fraud, and misinformation campaign of the Republican Party and Tea Party. We challenge the mainstream press or corporate media to do more to address the systematic suppression, fraud, and misinformation that are hallmarks of the conservative party. The same folks that told us that part of their packs of lies for invading Iraq included the establishment of a free and fair election are now writing their names not with the election ink of Iraq but along the hall of shame annals of dictators and segregationist. Thus the Republican Governor of Pennsylvania Mr. Tom Corbett is using the same scare tactic as Saddam Hussein. Governor Rick Scott of Florida and the Secretary of State Scott Gessler of Colorado are the new George Wallace of our times. How about other luminaries of the 2012 election cheating and stealing class such as Governor John Kasich of Ohio and his secretary of state Jon Husted who have flagrantly undermined the decisions of the courts in their unabashed determination to suppress voters and would go down as comrades of Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus and Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan? The chairman of the national Republican Party Reince Priebu knowingly hired Nathan Sproul the election fraudster of international reckoning and notoriety.
Like in the President Nelson Mandela situation at the University of Maryland the Republicans have unleashed their warfare of obfuscation and retrogression. Instead of expanding their base to include a broad spectrum of the American public they have hedged their party's future on marginalizing all and sundry. On women issues, they are against equal pay for equal work and women's rights to control their bodies including in times of rape and incest. For all immigrants especially Latinos, the Republicans are espousing electoral intimidation with the pretext of voter identification fraud, targeted economic sanctions that would starve and cripple families and ultimately lead to self-deportation. The attack against white men and others includes downsizing companies with enormous profits, outsourcing jobs, and then using the proceeds to open hidden accounts in the Carman Islands, Monaco, and Switzerland. African Americans and students face an unprecedented disenfranchisement and intimidation exercise that would make apartheid seem like the next step after a history of police profiling and discriminatory criminal incarcerations.
In reality these attacks and the misinformation that follow are not exclusive to these different groups and if the Republican Party is allowed to triumph we are going to have an economic apartheid state ruled by the 1% for the 1% against the 47% and/or 99% with more income disparities and indentured labor. If after spending 27years in trumped up charges in prison President Mandela was subjected to vitriolic attacks by members of the Republican Party then President Obama should remain optimistic. Those of us that have lived under dictatorships and have actually heard martial music on the airways know what divide and rule and authoritarianism is all about. We know about economic hardship that befalls the 99% when few plutocrats lie, steal power, and only care about their privileged friends and country club communities. This is why we are standing up on the mountain tops and screaming out of our lungs against the Republican Party and their tycoon tax evading candidate Governor Mitt Romney. Senator Rick Santorum was on point when he called him the worst republican. Albeit are the American people going to vote for a job exporter with no moral core just because he is a white man?
Nnamdi F. Akwada MSW, BA is a Social Justice Activist