Africa & U.S. : Insane in the Brain Drain?

¨Brain drain¨ is a controversial idea relating to the emigration of educated people from their countries of origin into more ¨developed¨ countries. The controversy stems from the following question; Should people who have tertiary education leave their countries to make better opportunities for themselves (and perhaps in the long-term for their homelands) or should they stick around and use their knowledge and skills to do the crucial work of restructuring and rebuilding from within the country?

This issue is multifaceted and cannot be reduced to simple answers. There are both benefits and detriments to either staying or leaving. But the questions remain; should those who leave be lauded or shamed for their decision? Does working from within or from without make a major impact? Are both needed? And what happens after emigration? Is culture retained or is there an inevitable push toward assimilation for future generations?

Think that make you go hmm…..

(The following article has been modified but is originally from


Written By: Wachira Kigotho, 11 October 2013 Issue No:291

One in every nine people who are born in Africa and have a university degree is a migrant in one of the 34 member states of the OECD – the world’s most developed countries. According to a joint report on global migration released by the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs, or UN DESA, and the OECD secretariat, there are about 30 million African migrants out of the global total of 232 million migrants. The emigration rates of highly educated citizens to OECD member countries is a major concern for the developing world.

According to the recently published statistical report, World Migration in Figures, brain drain is particularly acute for small countries and island states in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. “For instance in 2010, close to 90% of university educated and highly skilled persons born in Guyana lived in OECD countries,” the report revealed. The situation was similar in Barbados, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago, where more than 50% of tertiary educated people live abroad.

The proportion of highly educated people residing in OECD countries was also significant for Jamaica (46%), Tonga (46%), Zimbabwe (43%), Mauritius (41%), the Republic of Congo (36%), Belize (34%) and Fiji (31%).

According to John Wilmoth, director of UN DESA, more than half of all highly educated migrants currently live in the United States, Russia, Germany, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Britain, France, Canada, Australia and Spain.

“In contrast, OECD countries as well as Brazil, China, India and Russia had low emigration rates of highly skilled persons, that stands at 3.5%,” said Wilmoth in a brief read to the United Nations High-Level Dialogue on Migration held on 3 October.

Commenting on the impacts of brain drain, especially on small developing countries with relatively few highly skilled workers, Wilmoth said the loss of human capital affected the provision of basic services, drained fiscal resources and reduced economic growth in some contexts.

The number of tertiary educated people from Africa who migrated to OECD countries in the past five years was 450,000 – compared to 375,000 Chinese.

In Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing countries, where the emigration rate of the highly educated was higher than the total emigration rate, reflecting the higher mobility of people with educational attainment.

In 2010-11, many developing countries had emigration rates for the highly skilled that were more than 20 times their overall emigration rates – Burundi, Lesotho, Malawi, Maldives, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco and Senegal also had significant emigration rates of tertiary educated people, which were about 15 times higher than for total emigration. The mobility of the highly educated is also reflected in the large numbers of students from developing countries studying in OECD nations. According to UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics, 3.6 million tertiary students were studying outside their country of origin by 2010 – a 29% increase since 2007.

Currently 51% of university-educated migrants in OECD countries are women. John Wilmoth noted that the negative impact of emigration in most developing countries was more pronounced for women than for men. According to World Migration in Figures, a large number of highly educated women migrants from developing countries work as teachers and in health care.

The migration of the highly educated is not just a process of brain drain, contributing to the loss of professionals required for national development at home. Governed fairly, it can enhance socio-economic progress both in countries of origin and destination. “Migration broadens the opportunities available to individuals and is a crucial means of broadening access to resources and reducing poverty,” said Wu Hongbo, United Nations under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs. The UN High-Level Dialogue on Migration, held earlier this month, was expected to chart ways forward for global migration.


Africa/America: Voluntourism- Helpful or Destructive?

Africa/America: Voluntourism- Helpful or Destructive?


This is an excellent article by Philippa Biddle about her perspectives on voluntourism. Voluntourism is, in theory, a beautiful blend of vacationing in exotic locations AND volunteering for charities all over the world. While this may seem like a monumental mashup of leisure and service, what are the long term repercussions? Does it actually make a difference? Do cultural barriers such as language and religion impact the potential effectiveness of these programs? 

In the US there are a lot of family and child welfare careers that highly DISCOURAGE job applicants to apply for positions if they are not very serious about it and willing to stick around. For example, if you promise to be a mentor for a child and end up taking them to one baseball game and then quit because of your schedule, how do you think this impacts the child? It may leave them feeling even more abandoned and worthless than they did before you stepped into their lives.

The main idea in this article candidly talks about the flaws in volunteerism and how it can end up being more of a waste than a help to a community. However, this does not mean that people should not volunteer or care. Rather, it means that we should all honestly and critically assess our motives and gifts and use them in a way that is most advantageous to the targeted community.

Ego to the left, to the left. 

(Click on the link for the full article)

KENYA: Prominent Leader Series- Jomo Kenyatta

(Article taken from an awesome site I highly recommend visiting


Written by: By 

First president of Kenya and prominent independence leader. Born into dominant Kikuyu culture, Kenyatta became its most famous interpreter of Kikuyu traditions through his book Facing Mount Kenya.

Date of Birth: Early 1890’s
Date of Death: 22 August 1978

In 1922, Kenyatta, born Kamau, adopted the name Jomo (a Kikuyu name meaning ‘burning spear’) Kenyatta, and began the start of his political career — the previous year Harry Thuku, a well educated and respected Kikuyu, had formed the East African Association, EAA, to campaign for the return of Kikuyu lands given over to white settlers when the country became the British Crown Colony of Kenya in 1920. Kenyatta joined the EAA in 1922.

In 1925 the EAA disbanded under governmental pressure, but its members came together again as the Kikuyu Central Association, KCA. Kenyatta worked as editor of the KCA’s journal between 1924 and 1929, and by 1928 he had become the KCA’s general secretary. In May 1928 Kenyatta launched a monthly Kikuyu-language newspaper which was intended to draw all sections of the Kikuyu together. 

The Territory’s Future in Question
Worried about the future of its East African territories, the British government began toying with the idea of forming a union of Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika. This would be disastrous to Kikuyu interests — it was believed that the settlers would be given self-government, and that the rights of the Kikuyu would be ignored. In February 1929 Kenyatta was dispatched to London to represent the KCA in discussions with the Colonial Office, but the Secretary of State for the Colonies refused to meet him. Undeterred, Kenyatta wrote several letters to British papers, including The Times.

Kenyatta’s letter published in The Times in March 1930 set out five points:

  • The security of land tenure and the demand for land taken by European settlers to be returned
  • Improved educational opportunities for Black Africans
  • The repeal of Hut and poll taxes
  • Representation for Black Africans in the Legislative Council
  • Freedom to pursue traditional customs (such as female genital mutilation)

His letter concluded by saying that a failure to satisfy these points “must inevitably result in a dangerous explosion — the one thing all sane men with to avoid“.

In 1934 Kenyatta began his studies at University College, London, working on Arthur Ruffell Barlow’s English-Kikuyu Dictionary. The following year he transferred to the London School of Economics, to study social anthropology under the renown Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski. Malinowski was a significant influence in Kenyatta’s life — as world leading ethnographer, and the creator of the social anthropological field known as functionalism (that a culture’s ceremonies and rituals have a logic and function within the culture), Malinowski steered Kenyatta in his thesis on Kikuyu culture and tradition. Kenyatta published a revised version of his thesis as Facing Mount Kenya in 1938.

 Kenyatta became involved with a group of anti-colonial and African nationalists from around the African continent and the Diaspora. Dr Hastings Banda, the future president of Malawi, was stranded in London by World War II, and his house became a regular meeting place for Kenyatta, Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), novelist Peter Abrahams (South African), journalist Isaac Wallace-Johnson (Sierra Leone), Harry Mawaanga Nkubula (Northern Rhodesia), as well as George Padmore and CLR James from the Caribbean. Together they formed the Pan-African Federation.

Kenyatta returned to Kenya in September 1946, He was invited to lead the newly formed Kenya African Union, KAU, of which he became president in 1947. Over the next few years Kenyatta traveled around Kenya giving lectures and campaigning for independence. 

Mau Mau Rebellion
The Kenyan Crown Colony was still dominated by white settler interests, and the dangerous explosion he had predicted in The Times in 1930 became a reality — the Mau Mau Rebellion. Seen as a subversive from his call for independence and support for nationalism, Kenyatta was implicated in the Mau Mau movement by the British authorities, and on 21 October 1952 he was arrested.

The trial achieved worldwide publicity. Kenyatta was sentenced to seven-years hard labor for “managing the Mau Mau terrorist organization“. 

The Path to the Presidency

Kenyatta’s 15 year stay away from Kenya had proved beneficial — he was seen by much of the Black population of Kenya as the one person who was free from the ethnic bias and factional infighting of the new political parties. Mboya and Odinga arranged for his election as president of KANU in absentia (he was still under house arrest) and campaigned for his release. On 21 August 1961 Kenyatta was finally released, on the condition that he didn’t run for public office.

Independence for Kenya
In 1962 Kenyatta went to the Lancaster Conference in London to negotiate the terms of Kenya’s independence. When independence was achieved on 12 December that year, Kenyatta was prime minister. Exactly one year later, with the proclamation of a republic, Kenyatta became Kenya’s first president.

Increasingly Autocratic Approach

Kenyatta rejected calls by African socialists to nationalize property, following a pro-Western, capitalist approach instead. Amongst those alienated by his policies was his first vice-president Oginga Odinga. But Odinga, and the rest, soon discovered that under Kenyatta’s smooth façade was a politician of stern resolve. He brooked no opposition, and over the years several of his critics died under mysterious circumstances, and a few of his political opponents were arrested and detained without trial. 

By 1974, Kenyatta won a third presidential term (he was, however, the only candidate). But the cracks were starting to appear. Kenyatta’s family and political friends had gained considerable wealth at the expense of the average Kenyan. And the Kikuyu were openly acting as an elite, especially a small clique known as the Kiambu Mafia who had greatly benefited for land redistribution in the early days of Kenyatta’s presidency.

Kenyatta’s Legacy

Jomo Kenyatta died in his sleep on 22 August 1978. Kenyatta’s legacy, corruption not withstanding, was a country which had been stable both politically and economically. Kenyatta had also maintained a friendly relationship with the West, despite his treatment by the British as a suspected Mau Mau leader.





This is an interesting article discussing what happens to relationships and families after a woman has been raped according to research conducted in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to findings, many men leave their wives after she has been raped because of shame and cultural pressure. The woman is often regarded as undesirable and has lost significant value in the eyes of the community.

What is, however, a shocking discovery is that many of the men who do stay continue in the cycle of violence against the woman. This often stems from shame that the man himself was powerless during the rape (and thus he punishes the woman as a result) and anger that the incident happened in the first place and the effect it has on the way society sees HIM for staying, Take a look at the article and ask yourself how these cultural norms affect not only the women raped, but the family unit as a whole. How will this affect the next generation? Will young boys who see this type of behavior perpetuate what they saw? Are men now perpetuating behavior they saw as children? How will the cycle ever end?


(Article from

Never-ending trauma: In DRC, rape survivors are punished with more rape

By Lauren Wolfe/Director — January 29, 2014


The horrors are so terrible that they sound made up but—somehow—they aren’t.

A woman raped in front of her husband. In front of her parents-in-law. Forced to watch her child killed and then raped. Forced to have sex with her son in front of militants. Raped when nine months’ pregnant.

The examples are endless in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There has been such extreme humiliation of women at the hands of militias for nearly two decades of war.

This woman was raped by soldiers in DRC. According to the photographer, the attack caused her to miscarry and gave her fistula. She fled her village. (Endre Vestvik)

Here is one woman’s experience, in her own words:

I had just finished bathing and saw that military men had arrived at my house. They forced open the door and forced me into the main room. Then the rape started. I wanted to defend myself. I asked why this was happening to me. I was beat by one while the other raped me. My children cried. The soldiers forced us to be silent and threatened to kill us. I am ashamed and want to die but I also want to protect my children.

I don’t know what happened to this woman when the soldiers left her house. Did her husband leave her? Many husbands have—claiming that their wives have lost “value” or are now drawing negative attention to the household. In fact, a 2012 study conducted by the South Africa-based Sonke Gender Justice Network and Brazilian nonprofitPromundo in Goma, in Congo’s North Kivu province, found that 43 percent of men surveyedagreed with the statement that “A man should reject his wife when she has been raped.”

Men have walked out of their marriages, leaving women to figure out how to earn money to feed themselves and their children and to cope on their own with the extraordinary violence perpetrated on them. But many men have stayed. The question then becomes: Did these men help their wives through the trauma they’d experienced? Did they honor them despite this cultural shame of having been violated? After their 2012 study, Sonke and Promundo went back to DRC to conduct further research on exactly this. What they found in their new study is shocking.

“We went into the study thinking it was positive when men did not reject wives or partners who experienced rape in conflict,” said Gary Barker, international director of Promundo.

But that’s not what was going on. What was happening was that the combined trauma of the war and of the rape of their wives was creating a situation in which men became abusive to their partners.

In fact, more than half of the men surveyed reported ever carrying out some form of violence against their female partner, and 65 percent of women reported ever having experienced violence, including sexualized violence, from a male partner, i.e., women were attacked by their husbands on top of being raped by soldiers.

“We were distressed at how much men are traumatized by their partners’ experience of rape and how much men’s trauma was taken out in the form of physical violence on their already victimized wives,” Barker said.

Violence begets violence. And in DRC, that has come to mean rape: “The scale of rape over DRC’s years of war has made this crime seem more acceptable,” said Susan Bartels, chief researcher at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, in 2010. She was commenting on a study recently completed that found that rape by civilians had increased 17-fold in the country.


While such treatment may be inhumane, it’s also important to look at the reasons why a number of men have chosen to take out their anger on their victimized wives.

“To truly assist women survivors of conflict-related rape in DRC and elsewhere, we need to understand how women’s trauma affects men and how men’s trauma affects women,” Barker said.

In DRC, basic hardships like poverty, hunger, childhood trauma, and lack of work have taken their toll on generations of men and women. (And by “hunger,” I mean that 57 percent of men and 60 percent of women eat only one meal a day or less, according to the researchers.) Another major finding was the high levels of trauma among men from the war—“which further exaggerates levels of violence in the home,” according to the report. Large numbers of men, the study said, have also themselves been the victims of various forms of violence, including of sexualized violence, whether during the war or in childhood. Researchers found that there was a “clear association” between men’s exposure to violence during childhood and increased likelihood of perpetration later.

Together, these difficult circumstances are associated with the use of violence by men against their partners—an example of men taking out their frustrations on their subjugated wives. And if women haven’t been subjugated already, they may have become so from the lowering of status that comes with rape in DRC: “Women who were raped reported losing their reputation before their family at higher rates than women who were not raped,” according to the researchers.

Take a look at these statements from women in the study to get a better idea of how they’ve been treated after their rape:

He feels weak and frustrated because he was not able to stop the rapist, or get him. He feels that he lost his power and fertility. He accuses his wife for this.”

“The community makes it very difficult; my husband feels ashamed, and me too. People don’t respect him because he has no work and a wife that was raped.”

“The day I told him that I was raped, he fell on the floor and got ill. He lost his self esteem and needs medicine.”

And here are statements from men:

“My brothers and sisters became my enemies after I forgive my wife that she was raped. They say that my wife killed me because I got HIV/AIDS and they don’t support me.”

“I tried to live with my wife, but she lost all value as a wife. It destroyed our relationship and family life. I beat her a lot.”

As a side note—keep in mind that children of these couples are caught in the nightmare as well:

“He is beating his children. He says, ‘I have problems because of your mother, that is why I beat you,’” said one woman.

“The child born after rape is poisoning me and my family. Seeing the child reminds me of the rape. I hate the child, I hate my wife and the Rwandans who did this,” according to one man.

The researchers have put it well: “Family has become the battlefield where men try to regain control and power that is lost elsewhere in life.”


In DRC, all forms of violence against women are “underpinned by widespread acceptance of patriarchal norms and perceptions that support rape, that justify and normalize rape and the everyday subordination of women,” said Barker. And such patriarchal norms and variations of these perceptions exist across much of the world.

Women in dozens of countries are saddled with a violent life at home after facing sexualized violence in war, and some men—I truly believe—are burdened with the inability to value and connect with their wives and children. It seems a sad life for such men, doesn’t it? Men who rebel against their own humanity, their own empathy, in further violating their injured wives? Such emptiness.

But there is only so much that condemnation can do. At some point, there must be redress for the men who carry out these acts, a way to rehabilitate them in order to stop these brutalizing cycles. There must be a way to restore their humanity. (Women’s medical and psychosocial needs obviously need further attention too, but international organizations at least pay a little attention to these problems—although funders certainly could do more to reach more women.)

A program called Living Peace, supported by Promundo and the World Bank, is trying to “engender opportunities for men and women to re-envision what it means to be a man beyond the context of war as a pathway to sustaining, and living, peace.” The group is trying to build community support for families living with war-related trauma. One hopeful drop of relief in an ocean of pain, the program attempts to help men rebuild and “return to living” in conflict-affected areas around the world.

Men “returned to living” means more peace. More peace means less violence for women. Less violence for women means that they will finally have time and space to heal from already-inflicted wounds, giving humanity a real shot at finding kindness and love in a deeply broken place.

SUDAN/ERITREA: Is Israel Marvin K. Mooney-ing Folks?


The following article gives a little insight into the current immigration issues going on in Israel regarding primarily East African refugees. Although Israel has housed a fair number of African immigrants over the years (many from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ivory Coast and Sudan) the environment is becoming more hostile between the Israeli government and the immigrant populations. It really boils down to are they refugees escaping oppression in their homelands or are they economic migrants looking to start prosperous lives in a country that is more economically advanced than their nations of origins. Check out the following article:

(Written by Richard Galpin, taken from

Protests throw spotlight on Israel’s African migrant pressures

Hundreds of African women and children marched across the Israeli city of Tel Aviv on Wednesday to demonstrate outside the offices of the United Nations and the embassy of the United States. It was the latest in an unprecedented wave of protests by African asylum seekers, who fear the Israeli government is trying to force them out of the country. Since a new law came into force last month, the asylum seekers – most of whom are from Sudan and Eritrea – say the authorities have been instructing many of them to leave the cities and towns where they have been living and report to a detention centre in the Negev desert in southern Israel.

The new law gives the authorities the power to hold them in the centre indefinitely, putting them under intense pressure to agree to leave Israel voluntarily.

The African immigrants began arriving in Israel in 2006 and it is estimated there are currently 53,000 in the country.

Female African asylum seekers and their children demonstrate on January 15, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.T

“The reason I am here is because I fled violence and persecution back home, the on-going genocide,” says Dahar Adam who is from the Darfur region of Sudan. “I came here seeking protection as a refugee and have been here almost seven years, but I didn’t get any kind of status or recognition as a refugee.”

In a rare public rebuke, the UN Refugee Agency has accused the Israeli government of following a policy that “creates fear and chaos amongst asylum seekers,” and warned that putting asylum seekers under pressure to return home, without first considering why they had fled, could amount to a violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention.

A child from the African migrant community holds a placard ahead of a protest against Israel's detention policy toward migrants, in Tel Aviv (15 January 2014)

But the government is sticking to its position that the African immigrants are not refugees but are instead economic migrants who see Israel as an attractive destination because it is the nearest developed country where they can find jobs.

The government also insists it has the systems in place to process any asylum applications.

“Only a few hundred have applied,” says the foreign ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor.

“It is quite a mystery why not more have tried to use the procedure.”

And only a handful so far, approximately a dozen, have been granted refugee status.

“The others have been found to be working migrants or other types of migrants and did not qualify for refugee status under the criteria of the Refugee Convention,” Mr Palmor said.

Male African migrants protesting in Tel Aviv (January 2014)

But a spokesperson for the UN refugee agency rejected this, telling the BBC that the Israeli government, having initially advised the immigrants they did not need to apply for asylum, then changed its mind in 2012.

But, the UN spokesperson said, the government failed to inform the migrants that they needed to submit their applications.

any of the Africans live in a run-down area of south Tel Aviv, attracted to the city by the chance of finding work in the many restaurants, cafes and hotels.

African migrants walk on a road after abandoning a detention facility in the southern Israeli desert (December 15, 2013)Illegal migrants who agree to leave the country get $3,500 compensation

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned the immigrants that their protests will make no difference to the government’s policy of removing “illegal infiltrators”.

The increasingly shrill debate about the African immigrants prompted President Shimon Peres to speak out last week.

He reminded Israelis that the country had signed the UN convention on refugees and this prohibited the deportation of people to countries where their lives would be in danger.

He added: “We remember what it means to be refugees and strangers.”

And all this even though the government says it has successfully stopped almost all illegal immigration into Israel, with the completion last year of a fence across the border with Egypt – the route which the Sudanese, Eritreans and other Africans had been using.

DRC: Peace Talks in Kenya

(Article taken from The Democratic Republic of Congo’s government has signed a peace deal with the M23 rebel movement its forces defeated last month, Kenya’s presidential spokesman says.

The accord was signed in the presence of regional leaders in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, Manoah Esipisu said.

Last month, the government refused to sign a deal brokered by Uganda.

At least 800,000 people fled their homes during the conflict.

The M23 took up arms in eastern DR Congo in April 2012, accusing the government of marginalising the ethnic Tutsi minority and failing to honour previous peace accords.

‘No blanket amnesty’

It was defeated early last month following a major offensive by government and United Nations (UN) forces.

The UN has more than 19,000 troops in DR Congo, with an attack force given the mandate of neutralising armed groups.

DR Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende told the BBC’s Focus on Africa radio programme that the M23 had signed one document and the government another.


There was no single document that both sides had signed, he said.

The M23 document, signed by its political head Bertrand Bisimwa, confirmed the dissolution of the M23 as an armed group, Mr Mende added.

In the government document, Foreign Minister Raymond Chibanda signalled the government’s determination to work towards the disarmament and demobilisation of M23 combatants and their reintegration into society, he said.

There would be no amnesty for those wanted for war crimes, Mr Mende added.

Earlier, Mr Esipisu said on his Twitter account that DR Congo’s President Joseph Kabila was hailed by regional leaders for signing the deal at a ceremony in the capital, Nairobi.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta hosted the ceremony.

Other leaders present included Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni and Malawi’s President Joyce Banda, he said.

The leaders were in Nairobi to attend celebrations to mark Kenya’s 50 years of independence.

On 12 November the DR Congo government refused to sign a deal with the M23 in Uganda’s capital, Kampala.

It said it had a problem with the title of the Ugandan-mediated document, not its contents.

The document should be called a declaration and not an accord as that gave too much credibility to the rebels, the government said at the time.

Eastern DR Congo has been wracked by conflict since 1994, when Hutu militias fled across the border from Rwanda after carrying out a genocide against Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

According to the charity Oxfam, there are currently more than 30 other groups are operating in the east.

Understanding DR Congo Map showing the location of different rebel groups in eastern states of Democratic Republic of CongoEastern DR Congo is awash with a variety of different rebel groups. This is a snapshot of their locations in late 2012. Some have come from neighbouring countries, while others have formed as self-defence groups. Many are taking advantage of the lack of a strong state to seize control of the area’s mineral riches. Map showing the size of the Democratic Republic of CongoThe Democratic Republic of Congo covers 2,344,858 square km of land in the centre of Africa, making it the 12th largest country in the world. Map showing the population centres of the Democratic Republic of CongoWith an estimated population of 75.5 million, DR Congo is the fourth most populous country in Africa. Some 35% of the population live in cities and the capital Kinshasa is by far the largest, with more than 8 million inhabitants. DR Congo has around 200 ethnic identities with the majority of people belonging to the Kongo, Luba and Mongo groups.

SOUTH AFRICA: Mandela (Tata to Our-diba)


Article taken from

Three Myths About Mandela Worth Busting

Written by: Tony Karon

I sometimes feel Nelson Mandela is in need of rescuing, trapped in some pretty bizarre narratives that have nothing to do with his own story or politics. Full disclosure: I freely admit that Nelson Mandela is the only politician for whom I’ve ever voted; that I celebrate him as a moral giant of our age, and that I proclaimed him my leader (usually at the top of my tuneless voice, in badly sung Xhosa songs) during my decade in the liberation movement in South Africa. That’s maybe why the “Mandela” I’ve encountered in so much American mythology is so unrecognizable. Herewith, the three most egregious versions:

Mythical Mandela #1: The Pacifist

“Like Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela…” How many times haven’t you heard that phrase to describe some politician, somewhere, opting for pacificism in the face of a nasty regime. Don’t take it from me, try a google search on that exact phrase.

I understand the compulsion to link figures of great moral authority, but this is a little misleading. Nelson Mandela was never a pacifist. When the Gandhi route of non-violent civil disobedience brought only violence from the state, Mandela declared: “The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices – submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defence of our people, our future, and our freedom.”

He played a leading role in setting up the ANC’s guerrilla wing, and traveled abroad to gather support, even undergoing guerrilla training himself in Algeria, from the commanders of the FLN who had recently ejected the French colonials.

Mandela was no terrorist, however. Under his leadership, the movement’s armed wing targeted symbols and structures of minority rule, and combatants of its security forces; never white civilians or any other non-combatants. And most importantly, he saw it as always, immediately and ultimately, subordinated to the political leadership.

In these beliefs he remained consistent and proud. Even as the mass non-violent opposition reasserted itself, under ANC guidance, in the 1980s, he reiterated its connection with the armed wing, writing in a smuggled message from prison that “between the hammer of armed struggle and the anvil of united mass action, the enemy will be crushed.” (Of course it didn’t ever work that way– the armed struggle was never particularly effective, and mass action combined with international sanctions did more to topple the regime.) And he, like the rest of the movement’s leadership, never hesitated to take the opportunity to find a political solution for the greatest benefit of all South Africans — but that was the same spirit with which he’d embarked on his armed struggle, telling the court, “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Mandela and his organization suspended the armed struggle only once the apartheid regime conceded to democracy. He was no pacifist; on the contrary, he never hesitated to pick up arms when he perceived his people were confronted with the choice between submission to tyranny and armed resistance. But nor was he a militarist: He never hesitated to take the political path when that presented itself. And in that example, he has much to teach the world.

Myth #2: The “Mandela Miracle”

Google “Mandela” and “Miracle” together, and there are over 3 million citations. This idea has entered American shorthand as follows: South Africa would have exploded in a racial war, and white people would have been driven into the sea, had it not been for the “miraculous” generosity of spirit of Nelson Mandela, who supposedly restrained the vengeful hordes.

Oy, where to begin?

The assumption that black people would seek violent revenge for the violence they had suffered at the hands of white people is racist. (Remember Gandhi’s arch put-down when asked by a journalist what he thought of Western civilization: “That would be a fine idea,” or words to that effect.)

But let’s not even go there. This myth ignores the political culture of the ANC, which Mandela helped form, and which also formed him, and was never dependent on his own, or any other individual’s strength of character. The basic political architecture of the process of reconciliation always inscribed the internal politics of the ANC which was always a non-racial movement that had substantial white membership, and whose policies distinguished between white minority rule and white people. It would be remiss of any historian to understate the role of the South African Communist Party in nurturing this culture. I’ve written some pretty nasty things about the SACP in the past, but nobody can deny that not only were they the first, and for a long time the only organization in South Africa advocating black majority rule; inside the ANC they played the leading role in shaping the analysis and strategy based on non-racialism and drawing whites into the struggle against colonial-style minority rule. When some angry youths who had left to join the guerrilla forces wanted to respond to the regime’s rampant bloodletting in the townships in the 1980s by targeting white civilians with terror strikes, it was the communists — led by Chris Hani, the commander of the ANC’s military wing and later leader of the SACP, who walked the ANC back from the brink.

And, paradoxical as it may sound, it was the Leninist realpolitik of the ANC’s communist intellectuals that led the movement to embrace the path of a negotiated, compromise solution with negligible “rejectionist” backlash.

Of course communist discourse had a downside: I remember cringing when freed Robben Island prisoners would tell me things like “In Moscow, comrade, when you come out of the subway, there’s just piles of fruit there, really good fruit, and it’s just there for anyone to take, free, for everyone…” And I nearly fell off my chair when reading a statement Mandela released to the media in Cape Town from prison late in 1989 proclaiming German reunification such a spectacularly bad idea that if released from prison, he would personally fly to Germany to try and stop it. Let’s just say he was a product of a different age.

But the broader point here is that it was not some epiphany on the part of Nelson Mandela that led South Africa to its inspiring outcome. There were no angry hordes baying for revenge. Everyone understood what freedom meant, and it had nothing to do with revenge. To imagine otherwise is to insult the millions of ordinary South Africans who struggled and sacrificed to free Mandela, and bring him to power.

Myth #3 Marcus, Malcolm, Mandela and Me — It’s a Black Thing, You Wouldn’t Understand

When I first saw that on a T-shirt being sold in Chinatown, Manhattan, in 1991, I laughed out loud. And actually, when watching Spike Lee’s Malcolm X movie at an ANC fundraising premiere in Cape Town, I’ll never forget how the audience of Mandela loyalists erupted in raucous laughter when their good-natured leader appeared in the final “Spartacus” scene, intoning “I am Malcolm X.” The implication that their leader was inspired by a figure entirely unknown in the South African liberation movement discourse was pretty funny.

Louis Farrakhan was probably a little surprised when he visited South Africa in 1995, and received a verbal dressing down from Mandela over his separatist politics.

My own favorite encounter with the Marcus-Malcolm-Mandela myth came one night in 1997, at a media party where I was chatting with a well known hip-hop scribe and his girlfriend, who ended up giving me a ride home in their rented limo. I should have known trouble was coming when girlfriend said to me “So, what was it like coming to America and meeting FREE black people?” I told her that I had worked in the struggle, and although the black people I met there were viciously oppressed by a colonial regime, their minds were always free.

But the scribe and his girlfriend simply could not accept that I, a white boy — a Jew, to boot — had been in the ANC. “Mandela didn’t work with white people,” he insisted. Uh, actually, of the eight men on trial with Mandela in 1964, three were white (all of them Jewish, actually). By the time the regime fell, there were thousands of whites in the broad liberation movement led by the ANC. A minority of the white community, to be sure, but a consistent presence in the ANC. Neil Aggett was killed in security police detention, just like Steve Biko. David Webster was murdered by a police assassin, just like Matthew Goniwe. Of course the vast majority of the people waging the struggle and bearing its sacrifices were black. But there were always a handful of whites alongside them. And so I went on, but none of this was making any impression.

Finally, the limo driver turned around, exasperated. He was Palestinian, he informed us. From Ramallah, where he’d been active in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a leftist faction of the PLO. “And we always had Israeli Jews in our organization,” he said. “Not many, but always a few. Because we were against Zionism, not against Jews.”

And so it went on. The South African Jew and the Palestinian leftist trying, in vain, to explain Mandela’s basic non-racialism to the hip-hop philosopher who preferred the Mandela of his own fantasies. Only in New York.

This article first appeared some years ago on “Rootless Cosmopolitan” and is republished here with permission of the author.