Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Last Three Anti-Colonialist Leaders--Mandela, Mugabe, and Castro

Nelson Mandela turned 90 yesterday. In watching CNN International's constant coverage of the event (which frankly made him seem more like a grandpa than the hard-core revolutionary that he in fact is), I could only remember three living anti-colonialist leaders. Mandela, Robert Mugabe, and Fidel Castro. Perhaps there are one or two more but I can't think of them. What a three they are too! They almost perfectly represent the different trends of post-colonial leadership.

Mandela of course is the ideal. Few stayed as committed to the welfare of his people as Mandela. Perhaps this was possible because he was in prison as so many of the best leaders went on the wrong track or were killed. Maybe he learned from the mistakes of others. But not only was Mandela arguably the greatest personification of the fight for good in the world during his years in prison but he was also an excellent president of South Africa. I'm no South Africa expert and perhaps he made some mistakes. But he worked to fight poverty and perhaps most importantly, to create a bi-racial country out of an apartheid regime. After he left office, he remained active and even today at the age of 90, he occasionally speaks out against poverty or even against his old anti-colonialist ally, Robert Mugabe.

Mugabe of course represents the worst kind of leadership. Unable to give up power, he has taken Zimbabwe straight into the toilet. From what I know, up until at least 1990 or maybe even 1995, Zimbabwe was a relative success story in Africa. Poverty remained strong there for sure, but there was some reasonable racial cooperation, the country brought in a lot of tourist dollars because of its great wildlife, and Mugabe was generally seen as a pretty decent leader. Then he went off the deep end. In his mid-80s now, it is clear that he will remain in power until his death. He was never a Mandela but now he is on the level of Mobutu. Too many nations of the developing world ended up with this kind of leadership, particularly in Africa and they suffer today from it.

With Mandela playing the saint and Mugabe as the monster, let's now turn to the man in the middle, Fidel Castro. Castro seems the most typical post-colonialist leader. Like Yassir Arafat perhaps, he was a great leader for his people, but his unwillingness to think outside of his dogmatic training ultimately has held his nation back. On the other hand, the lives of average Cubans is better than many nations in Latin America and certainly far superior to how they were under his precedessor Fulgencio Batista. Even here in Bolivia, you see the signs of Cuban successes everywhere, particularly with the Cuban doctors providing medical care to the masses of Bolivian poor. Still, like Arafat and many others, Castro has stuck around way too long. Had he stepped aside in the 1980s, perhaps Cuba would be more advanced today. Certainly, the lack of human rights seems ridiculous in today's world. I know that Raul is opening things up a touch, but it's really quite a bit too late.

Ultimately, although Castro is sui generis, probably most of the post-colonial leaders would have followed somewhat similar paths had they remained in power. Of course, all too many died before their time. Patrice Lumumba, Salvador Allende, Malcolm X, Jacobo Arbenz, Martin Luther King, and Ghandi, among too many others, were assassinated. The United States (and to some extent the Soviet Union as well) eliminated leaders they didn't like. Many of the Arab nations went off into either extremism (Iran and Algeria) or dictatorship (Egypt and Libya). Outside of Castro, no anti-colonial leader was ever really given enough of a chance in the Americas to prove their meddle. Either they were killed and replaced by dictatorships or the U.S. funded their opposition and forced them to give up such as in Nicaragua.

Again, the three leaders that are left seem to really represent the fates of the developing world as a whole during the late 20th century. If there are examples I am not thinking of, please mention it in comments.