Dec 5, 2013
When I received a text message after the news broke about the passing of our greatest icon, Nelson Mandela, I was wrapping up seeing patients in clinic and contemplating how to celebrate my birth day which was instantaneously replaced by deep reflection about his life and self analysis about my own incomplete life.
His was a life fully lived.
I grew up reading Peter Abraham’s Mine Boy which instilled in me a deep sense of being African. If you read over and over again the Mine Boy or Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the struggle of fellow Africans against colonialism and apartheid becomes part of your upbringing. I remember the joy we felt when Nelson Mandela walked a free man from Robben Island. We were glued to the black and white television set in the medical school’s auditorium. I also cheered when he became the first elected black President of South Africa. Unfortunately Africa’s turmoil would continue unabated despite the optimism he brought. No other African leader was ready to live the example set by Nelson Mandela, who stepped down voluntarily after only one term. Although there are bright spots in places like Ghana and Kenya, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Paul Biya of Cameroon , for example, have been in power for over three decades.
The social upheaval, the broken political promise, the search for a free and better life would push many Africans including me out of the continent we love. Lucky few managed to get to North America and Europe. Some even managed to climb the ladder, be it in education or wealth but many who tried to escape the abject poverty often as a result of poor governance, corruption, tribalism, were subjected to dehumanizing conditions. What is happening to Ethiopian and Sudanese immigrants in Saudi Arabia is a prime example of that. Many continue to perish in the jungles, desert, waters trying to escape the brutality of life in the continent, disproportionally so in East Africa. The recent death of hundreds of our brothers and sisters capsized near Sicily comes to mind. Still many youth are trying to get away from the continent.
The passing of Mandela jolted me like a shock in a defibrillator gone wild. It brought my erratic pulse back to regular. A pulse to listen to my inner feelings, identity, and guide the rest of my life to live with clarity and purpose. A purpose that can be fulfilled by helping a fellow immigrant victim of abuse in Saudi Arabia, a needy medical student in South Sudan or a displaced family in DR Congo. A purpose to bring out what is buried inside us, the Madiba in each of us.
I ditched my birth day celebration, for mine had been an incomplete life.
Let’s use this moment to come together and strife to have perhaps an imperfect but a more complete life, then every day becomes a birth day.