Nelson Mandela’s Letters from Prison

This Summer  The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela was published. It contains over 250 letter, over half of which previously had been unpublished. Tayari Jones, a professor of English at Emory University, said in the New York Times that these letters reveal Mandela was “as vulnerable as any other human,” especially to being stripped of his family and “the “agony of separation.” He lost “decades of intimacy with a young family, growing away from him in his absence.”[1]

The New York Times published a few of these letters from his imprisonment (11/07/62 to 02/11/90).[2]  Here are some tidbits from these letters:

  • On 02/04/69, in a letter to his two daughters, Mandela said, “Nobody knows when [I will come back to you.] But I am certain that one day I will be back at home to live in happiness with you until the end of my days.”
  • On 04/02/69 in a letter to his wife Winnie, he said that Rev. Norman Vincent Peale had asserted “that it is not so much the disability one suffers from that matters but one’s attitude to it. The man who says: I will conquer this illness and live a happy life, is already halfway through to victory. . . . Remember that hope is a powerful weapon even when all else is lost.”
  • In a 11/03/69 letter about the death of his son Thembi in a car accident, Mandela referred to the man who in the prosecution of Apostle Paul had called him a “pest”   and “the ringleader of the Nazarene Sect.” But this “’Nazarene Sect’ was to spread to almost every corner of the globe and be embraced by many nations as their state religion. The man who was described as a perfect pest later became a saint loved and respected by millions of Christians throughout the world.”
  • In a 07/01/70 letter to wife Winnie, he said, “ We fight against one of the last strongholds of reaction on the African Continent. In cases of this kind our duty is a simple one — at the appropriate time to state clearly, firmly and accurately the aspirations that we cherish and the greater South Africa for which we fight. Our cause is just. It is a fight for human dignity and for an honorable life.”
  • In a 08/31/70 letter to another son, Mandela said, “It’s a good thing to help a friend whenever you can; but individual acts of hospitality are not the answer. Those who want to wipe out poverty from the face of the earth must use other weapons, weapons other than kindness. …This is not a problem that can be handled by individual acts of hospitality. . . .Experience shows that this problem can be effectively tackled only by a disciplined body of persons, who are inspired by the same ideas and united in a common cause.”
  • In a 02/01/75 letter to Winnie, he said, “internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being. Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others — qualities which are within easy reach of every soul — are the foundation of one’s spiritual life. . . .Development in matters of this nature is inconceivable without serious introspection, without knowing yourself, your weaknesses and mistakes. . . . Never forget that a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying. … No ax is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise and win in the end.”
  • In an 08/19/76 letter to wife Winnie, he said that writing to her is “the only time I ever feel that someday in the future it’ll be possible for humanity to produce saints who will really be upright and venerable, inspired in everything they do by genuine love for humanity and who’ll serve all humans selflessly.”
  • In a 05/27/79 letter to a journalist friend, Mandela said that the “numerous messages of good wishes and hope sent by people from different walks of life, have cut through massive iron doors and grim stone walls, bringing into the cell the splendor and warmth of springtime..”

These letters are truly inspiring to those suffering in prison and to those on the outside. They also instruct us on the outside, as Tayari Jones said, “for people in prison, letters remain the best way to engage with a society that has forcibly excluded them”and “someone, somewhere—in a prison across town, in a border detention facility, in a country you’ve never known—is waiting for a letter.”

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[1]  Mandela, The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela (W.W. Norton & Co. 2018); Jones, What Mandela Lost, N.Y. Times (July 6, 2018).

[2] ‘Hope Is a Powerful Weapon’: Unpublished Mandela  Prison Letters, N.Y. Times (July 8, 2018).

White Anxiety and Fearing Immigration     

My prior post about the U.S. need for immigrants also mentioned the fear many Americans have of immigration. Although I favor immigration, I did not make explicit one of the reasons why many white Americans fear immigration.

Now Pat Buchanan has made it explicit. Last week on the Laura Ingraham show when he said that the demographic danger facing whiteness “is the great issue of our time. And, the real question is whether Europe has the will and the capacity, and America has the capacity to halt the invasion of the countries until they change the character — political, social, racial, ethnic — character of the country entirely.” He added, “You cannot stop these sentiments of people who want to live together with their own and they want their borders protected.”[1]

Buchanan expanded on this point on his blog, “The existential question, however, thus remains: How does the West, America included, stop the flood tide of migrants before it alters forever the political and demographic character of our nations and our civilization?”[2]

This prompted the New York Times columnist Charles Blow, an African-American man, to observe: “Make no mistake here, Buchanan is talking about protecting white dominance, white culture, white majorities and white power.”

According to Blow, we are seeing “white extinction anxiety, white displacement anxiety, white minority anxiety.” Some white Americans have “conflated America with whiteness, and therefore a loss of white primacy becomes a loss of American identity.”

This fear, says Blow, underlies many aspects of the Trump Administration: “immigration policy, voter suppression, Trump economic isolationist impulses, his contempt for people from Haiti and Africa, the Muslim ban, his rage over Black Lives Matter and social justice protests. Everything.”

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[1] Blow, White Extinction Anxiety, N.Y. Times  (June 24, 2018).

[2] Buchanan, Trump and the Invasion of the West (June 19, 2018)

Nelson Mandela Makes Connection with Cecil Rhodes 

Although Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) and Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) were not contemporaries, they both played important roles in South African history. Mandela, of course, survived imprisonment  for nearly 27 years for his struggle against the apartheid regime in that country to become its president and a world-renowned figure. Rhodes was an Englishman who earned a fortune from mining diamonds (De Beers Consolidated Mines) in that country and neighboring Zimbabwe (f/k/a Rhodesia) and who served as Prime Minister in the Cape Colony.  In 1903 his will established the Rhodes Scholarships at Oxford University in England.

On the centennial of those Scholarships, Mandela established an indirect connection with Rhodes. His Nelson Mandela Foundation and The Rhodes Trust created a joint venture called the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, whose “central purpose . . . is to build exceptional leadership capacity in Africa.” It does so by operating “a Scholarships and Leadership Development programme . . . [f]ocusing on the four principles of the Foundation: Reconciliation, Education, Entrepreneurship and Leadership. It selects “young leaders from 25 different African countries . . . [to make] inward and outward journeys of self-discovery . . .[to create] community across differences, and . . . [to grow and learn] more about Africa, its peoples and . . . [to make a]  contribution towards the development of the continent.”

Mandela’s Speech[1]

To mark this historic joint venture, Mandela addressed a gathering of Rhodes Scholars and dignitaries at Westminster Hall in London on July 2, 2003. Below is a photograph of his making that speech.

He said his objective in so doing was “to close the circle” by letting “our peoples, the ones formerly poor citizens and the others good patricians – politicians, business people, educators, health workers, scientists, engineers and technicians, sports people and entertainers, activists for charitable relief – join hands to build on what we have achieved together and help construct a humane African world, whose emergence will say a new universal order is born in which we are each our brother’s keeper.” This will be “a partnership for freedom, peace, prosperity and friendship.”

Mandela also trusted that this joint venture was for “the labourer who toils on the African farm, fighting for a life of dignity; the girl child battling against great odds for an opportunity to realize her potential; the poor AIDS orphan bereft of family or care; the rural poor eking out a subsistence, deprived of the most basic services and facilities.”

Rhodes, he said, was “that great entrepreneur, [who] made most of the money [in South Africa] which he left in legacy for scholars from across the world to benefit from for the past hundred years. It speaks of a growing sense of global responsibility that in this second century of its operations the Rhodes Trust finds it appropriate to redirect some of its attention and resources back to the origin of that wealth. We can only imagine how Rhodes himself would have identified with this decision to develop human capacity in modern day South Africa, enabling that country to continue being a competitive presence in the world as it was in those fields within which he operated during his times.”

Mandela closed his speech with this quotation from the preamble of the South African Constitution: “”We, the people of South Africa, Recognise the injustices of our past, Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land, Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and, Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.” (Emphasis added.)

Other Participants in the Celebration

This blogger was present on this occasion in London’s Westminster Hall, and a prior post recounts the other remarks by Lord Waldegrave, the Chairman of the Rhodes Trustees; “Nicky” Oppenheimer, the Chairman of DeBeers, the diamond mining company started by Rhodes in South Africa; Bill Clinton, the former U.S. President; and Tony Blair, then the Prime Minister of the U.K.

Most memorably when all the speeches were finished, everyone on the speakers’ stage walked the over 200-feet length of the hall through the audience. Mandela, then nearly 85 years old, and frail, was aided in making the long walk; his right arm was held by Tony Blair; his left, by Bill Clinton. They brought tears to our eyes as they passed six feet from us on their journey through the Hall. Below are photographs of the three men during their walk and of the Hall (with a different audience).

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

The Mandela Foundation’s decision to establish a joint venture with the trust created by a white Englishman who made a fortune in South Africa illustrates, I think, at least two of Mandela’s principles that are discussed in “Mandela’s Way: Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage” by Richard Stengel: “See the Good in Others” because “no one is only good or evil and no one is evil at heart” and ” Have Core Principle–All Else Is Tactics.”[2]

As noted in another post, the world this year rightfully commemorates the centennial of the birth of Nelson Mandela and his Foundation’s website lists events around the world to commemorate this occasion. (That post also discusses Mandela’s being inspired by Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution.)

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[1] Mandela, Address at sitting of joint houses of Parliament, Westminster in celebration of 100 years of Rhodes Scholars (July 2, 2003).

[2] Stengel, Mandela’s Way: Lessons for an Uncertain Age, Chaps. 6, 7 (Broadway Books, New York, 2010, 2018).

Nelson Mandela Was Inspired by Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution

The world this year rightfully commemorates the centennial of the birth of Nelson Mandela, who survived nearly 27 years in South African prisons to become the President of his country and to end its apartheid system with grace and humility.[1]

Also should be remembered was Mandel’s “special fondness for Fidel Castro, who had inspired the African National Congress (ANC) radicals with his daring revolution in 1959 [and] Cuba’s intervention in Angola. Mandela and his colleagues saw Cuba as “a dangerous model; a freak victory, but they were fired by the story of how Castro and Che Guevara, with only ten other survivors from their ship the Granma had mustered a guerilla army of 10,000 in eighteen months, and had marched on Havana in January 1959.” For Mandela, “Castro, not the Party, . . . had realized the moment of revolution had come. He would never lose his admiration for Castro.” Mandela’s “chief defiance of the Western World was his championing of the two American bête noirés [persons one especially dislikes], Libya’s Muammar] Qadaffi and Castro.”[2]

That was why only a year-and-a-half after his release from prison, Mandela went to the city of Matanzas in Cuba to give an emotional speech on July 26, 1991, which is Cuba’s national independence day, with Fidel in attendance as shown in the photograph below.

Mandela thanked Fidel and Cuba for helping the ANC to defeat Angolan invaders of South Africa in 1988.  That defeat, Mandela said, “enables me to be here today.”[3] Here are just a few of his other tributes to Cuba that day:[4]

  • “Today this is revolutionary Cuba, internationalist Cuba, the country that has done so much for the peoples of Africa. The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom, and justice, unparalleled for its principled and selfless character.”
  • “From its earliest days the Cuban revolution has itself been a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people. We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of a vicious imperialist-orchestrated campaign to destroy the impressive gains made in the Cuban revolution.”
  • “We admire the achievements of the Cuban revolution in the sphere of social welfare. We note the transformation from a country of imposed backwardness to universal literacy. We acknowledge your advances in the fields of health, education, and science.
  • We “are moved by your affirmation of the historical connection to the continent and people of Africa. Your consistent commitment to the systematic eradication of racism is unparalleled.”

In response, Fidel in his three-hour speech without notes called Mandela “one of the most extraordinary symbols of this era” by explaining that “apartheid is capitalism and imperialism in its fascist form.”[5]

Conclusion

In July 1991 I was totally unaware of the Mandela-Fidel connection and of Mandela’s speech in the city of Matanzas. It only was in the first decade of the 21st century that I learned of the existence of that city as a result of going there on three mission trips  to visit its Versalles Redeemer Presbyterian-Reformed Church, which is a partner of my Minneapolis church, Westminster Presbyterian Church. Now I have friends from that city. [6]

I was somewhat surprised to find that Mandela’s speech has no mention of Matanzas as a major port of entry for African slaves to work on sugar plantations, especially in the first half of the 19th century. As a result, it is said, due to the high number of both slaves and, importantly, free Afro-Cubans in Matanzas, the retention of African traditions is especially strong there. Perhaps that is the reason Fidel chose this celebration to be in that city. The city’s San Severiino Museum has an exhibit about Cuba’s slave trade.

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[1] Details about the commemoration are available on the website of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. One of the events is the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture on July 17, 2018, which  this year will be given by former U.S. President Barack Obama and will be covered in a future post to this blog.

[2] Sampson, Mandela: The Authorized Biography at 152, 191, 414, 554 (Alfred Knopf, New York, 1999).

[3] Id. at 414.

[4] Speech by Nelson Mandela at the Rally in Cuba (July 26, 1991).

[5] Sampson at 414.

[6]  See these posts to dwkcommentaries: The Cuban Revolution and Religion (Dec. 30, 2011); Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Connections with Cuba (Jan. 13, 2015); Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church Celebrates U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation (Jan. 4, 2015).

 

 

 

 

 

 

President Obama and Moroccan King’s White House Meeting

In November 2013, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI met at the White House with President Barack Obama. Below is a photograph of the two men in the White House.

Their subsequent Joint Statement “reaffirmed the strong and mutually beneficial partnership and strategic alliance between the [U.S.] and the Kingdom of Morocco; . . . [their mapping] out a new and ambitious plan for the strategic partnership and [pledging] . . . to advance our shared priorities of a secure, stable, and prosperous Maghreb, Africa, and Middle East.   The two leaders also emphasized our shared values, mutual trust, common interests, and strong friendship, as reflected throughout our partnership.”[1]

Democratic and Economic Reforms. After the President “commended the [King’s] action and the leadership . . . in deepening democracy and promoting economic progress and human development,” the two men “reaffirmed their commitment to work together to realize the promise of Morocco’s 2011 constitution and explore ways in which the [U.S.] can help strengthen Morocco’s democratic institutions, civil society, and inclusive governance. . . . [They also] reaffirmed their commitment to the UN human rights system and its important role in protecting and promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms, and committed to deepening the ongoing U.S.-Morocco dialogue on human rights, which has been a productive and valuable mechanism for the exchange of views and information. . . . [The] President expressed support for Morocco’s initiative to reform its asylum and immigration system based on recommendations from Morocco’s National Human Rights Commission.  The President [also] welcomed Morocco’s intent to take concrete steps to . . . [ensure] women fully participate in public life, and that they lead and benefit from inclusive economic growth.”

Economic and Security Cooperation. “The two leaders emphasized that the [U.S.] and Morocco are dedicated to working together to promote human and economic development in Morocco [under several specified programs].” They noted that the two countries [had] signed a Customs Mutual Assistance Agreement . . . to expand bilateral cooperation on the detection of money laundering, trade fraud, and other financial crime. . . . [and] a Trade Facilitation Agreement that furthers the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement and represents a forward-leaning, 21st century agreement on customs reform and modernization. . . . These important initiatives reflect our common commitment to building stronger economic ties with and among the region.”

They both “recognized the importance of Morocco as a trade and investment platform for North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa and the benefits of maintaining an attractive business climate for investment in Morocco.” A prior and upcoming “U.S.-Morocco Business Development Conference” each “aims to build on business-to-business contacts in aviation, the agriculture and food industry, and energy to expand trade and promote investment, as well as regional economic integration.” Morocco also will be hosting the “Global Entrepreneurship Summit, and both leaders highlighted the importance of fostering broad-based economic opportunity in the region, particularly for young people and women.”

Educational and Cultural Cooperation. The two leaders expressed their commitment “to exploring further cooperation to promote mutual understanding and interfaith dialogue in Morocco and throughout the region, . . . to enhance and diversify [their] exchange programs, . . . [to ratify and implement an] agreement on the registration and status of the system of American schools in Morocco, . . . to strengthening ties and increasing mutual understanding between Moroccan and American youth.”

 The Issue of the Western Sahara. “The President pledged to continue to support efforts to find a peaceful, sustainable, mutually agreed-upon solution to the Western Sahara question. . . . [The U.S.] has made clear that Morocco’s autonomy plan is serious, realistic, and credible, and that it represents a potential approach that could satisfy the aspirations of the people in the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity.  We continue to support the negotiations carried out by the United Nations . . . and urge the parties to work toward a resolution. The two leaders affirmed their shared commitment to the improvement of the lives of the people of the Western Sahara and agreed to work together to continue to protect and promote human rights in the territory.[2]

 Regional Security and Counterterrorism Cooperation.The leaders noted their partnership on the [U.N.] Security Council over the past two years in the advancement of international peace and security, including in Mali, the Sahel, Syria, Libya, and the Middle East.  They reaffirmed their commitment to continue to deepen civilian and military cooperation in the areas of non-proliferation and counter-terrorism.  To address their deep concern for the continuing threat posed by terrorism, the [U.S.] and Morocco intend to continue cooperation to bolster democratic criminal justice institutions and to counter the threat of violent extremism in the region.  The leaders also reinforced their commitment to regional cooperation initiatives.”[3]

 “The leaders are committed to continuing close cooperation in the Global Counterterrorism Forum and to work to strengthen regional political, economic, and security ties across North Africa and the Sahel, including through a reinvigorated Arab Maghreb Union and other regional forums.

“The President encouraged Morocco to join the [U.S.] in founding the International Institute of Justice and the Rule of Law in Malta, which intends to train a new generation of criminal justice officials across North, West, and East Africa on how to address counterterrorism and related security challenges through a rule of law framework.”

Africa. “The President acknowledged . . . the King’s leadership and the actions carried out by Morocco in the field of peace keeping, conflict prevention, human development, and the preservation of cultural and religious identity. In this context, both countries committed to explore joint initiatives to promote human development and stability through food security, access to energy, and the promotion of trade based on the existing Free Trade Agreement.  [They] were pleased to note their common assessment of the critical role of human and economic development in promoting stability and security on the African continent, and committed to explore in greater detail concrete options for pragmatic, inclusive cooperation around economic and development issues of mutual interest.”

Middle East Peace. His Majesty commended the continuous commitment of the . . . [U.S.] to advance Middle East peace.  The President acknowledged the contribution of His Majesty, Chairman of the [Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s] Al Quds [Jerusalem] Committee, to the efforts aiming to achieve a two state solution.”

Conclusion. The President and His Majesty the King [emphasized] . . . their shared commitment to the special and longstanding relationship between the [U.S.] and . . . Morocco, which in 1777 became the first nation to recognize the independence of the [U.S.].  [The two leaders] . . . reaffirmed their commitment to stay in close contact and to continue on a path of increased cooperation that will strengthen the [U.S.]-Morocco strategic partnership.”

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[1] White House, Joint Statement by the United States of America and the Kingdom of Morocco (Nov. 22, 2013).

[2] As noted in a prior post, the U.N. Security Council on April 28, 2017, unanimously passed a resolution extending the mandate of the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 30 April 2018 and calling on the parties to that conflict to resume negotiations under the auspices of the Secretary-General without preconditions and in good faith, in order to facilitate a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution.

[3] Another prior post discussed Morocco’s current bilateral and multilateral counter-terrorism activities.

Highlights of American Anthropological Association’s Exhibit on Race

As a previous posts explained, I recently visited an exhibit about race that was organized by the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and discovered its 1998 Statement on Race, which has scientific and historical/cultural components.

The exhibit also had informational panels. Here are some that talked about the subjects addressed by the AAA statement.

“Race is a recent human invention. It is only a few hundred years old. . . . Although not scientific, the idea of race proposed that there were significant differences among people that allowed them to be grouped into a limited number of categories or races. Yet, are we so different? All humans share a common ancestry and, because each of us represents a unique combination of ancestral traits, all humans exhibit biological differences.”

“From the beginning, the idea of race was tied to power and hierarchy among people, with one group being viewed as superior and others as inferior.”

“Genetic variation refers to the natural differences in DNA sequences found in a population. These differences exist because tiny, random changes are always occurring in DNA and accumulate over time. Almost all of these differences are ‘silent’ and don’t affect us in any way. But some are at the root of each person’s unique appearance—they might make us taller or shorter or cause some of us to have brown eyes and some of us blue.”

“The more isolated a population, the more it is affected by three evolutionary processes responsible for much of human variation.” First, Mutations. These are “randomly occurring changes in the genetic code,” are “the source of all genetic variations. Geographically separated populations may experience different mutations.” Second, “Random Genetic Sampling.” “Because each generation inherits a random sample of the genes of the previous generation, some alleles (different forms of the same gene) may become more or less common in a population just by chance.” Third, Natural Selection. “Traits that increase the chance of survival in a certain environment are more likely to be passed on to the next generation. Different traits provide an advantage in different environments.”

“People have lived in Africa far longer than anywhere else—scientists estimate between 150,000 to 200,000 years. This time has allowed the population in Africa to accumulate more of the small mutations, or genetic changes, that make up our genetic variation.”

“Because only a small part of the African population moved beyond Africa to begin colonizing the world, only part of Africa’s genetic variation moved with them. For this reason, most genetic variation found in people living outside Africa is a subset of that found among Africans, and more variety remains with Africa even today. [Yet] nearly all the genetic variation in Europe and Asia is found in Africa, too.”

“At the bottom of your skin’s outer layer are cells called melanocytes that produce a brown pigment called melanin, [which] screens the deeper layers of your skin from the Sun’s UV radiation.”

“If your skin is darker, some of your ancestors likely came from more tropical climates. If your skin is lighter, some of your ancestors probably came from places that did not receive much sunlight.”

[An anthropologist has contended] “that different skin colors evolved to balance [everyone’s] need for both folate [folic acid, which is vital to the healthy development of fetuses] and vitamin D [which allows us to absorb calcium and deposit it in our bones] depending on the regions where people lived. Darker skin blocks more folate-destroying UVR [radiation]. Lighter skin lets people absorb more UVR and make more vitamin D. The skin color in any population is a balance between the need to protect folate and the need to produce enough vitamin D.”

[Therefore,] “geography–not race—explains skin-color variation.”

 

Exploring Sub-Saharan African History

 I am currently taking a brief course, “Sub-Saharan African History to Colonialism,” to learn about such history “from many angles: anthropological, historical, geographic, cultural, and religious. From human origins through the populating of the continent, the great civilizations, the slave trades, to the beginning of European domination.” Offered by the University of Minnesota’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), the course’s instructor is Tom O’Toole, Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Anthropology of Minnesota’s St. Cloud State University.

Why does this Euro-American septuagenarian take this course? Foremost, I know virtually nothing about this history and want to know more. I also realize that I have various direct and indirect connections with Africa.

The most immediate precipitating cause is reading the discussion of the names of African and African-American intellectuals and historical figures that were discovered at Howard University by African-American author Ta-Nehisi Coates and recounted in his book “Between the World and Me” and my realizing that I did not know virtually any of these people. This book also has prompted me to research and investigate my own notions of race, including my recent posts about statements from the American Anthropological Association about race’s non-scientific basis and historical and cultural background. Further posts about notions of race are forthcoming.

I learned more about one of these figures of African history this spring when my 10th-grade grandson wrote a History Day paper on Mansa Musa, who was a 14th century Emperor or King of Mali. Moreover, one of my sons knows more about this history from his having studied African history and Swahili at the University of Minnesota and from spending a semester in Kenya with a program of the National Outdoor Leadership School and then a week on his own living with a Maasai tribesman in that country.

Coates also legitimately castigates the U.S. history of slavery and its lasting impacts on our country. This has underscored my interest in the importation of slaves from Africa to the Western Hemisphere. This was part of Lawrence Hill’s fascinating novel “The Book of Negroes” (“Someone Knows My Name”), about which I have written. Moreover, I have visited Matanzas, Cuba and Salvador, Brazil, which were major ports of importation of African slaves to work on sugar plantations in those countries.

I have a number of friends from West Africa (Cameroon, Nigeria and Ghana) and visited Cameroon on a mission trip from Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. There I learned about the country’s having been a German colony (Kamerun) in the 19th century and then having French and British administration under League of Nations mandates after Germany was stripped of its African colonies by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles ending World War I. Forty-plus years later Cameroon became an independent country with the joinder of the Francophone and Anglophone territories. Yet life today in the country is still affected by the language and cultural differences from the French and British governance and less so by the previous 30-plus years of German rule.

I also have visited Namibia, Botswana and South Africa focused primarily on observing their magnificent wildlife and nature, but also the prison on Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other African National Congress leaders were imprisoned during the years of apartheid. In addition, I had the opportunity to see and hear Mandela speak at a 2003 celebration of the centennial of the Rhodes Scholarships held at Westminster Hall in London and to see him escorted through the Hall’s audience, only 10 feet from me and my wife, by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

The visit to South Africa also included stopping at Cecil Rhodes’ Cottage and Museum at Mulzenberg overlooking False Bay and the Indian Ocean at the southwest corner of the country. (My interest in Cecil Rhodes, the Founder of the Scholarships, and his 19th century involvement in South Africa and Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe) stems from being a Rhodes Scholar who was “up” at Oxford, 1961-1963, and from my gratitude for being a beneficiary of his largess.)

While co-teaching international human rights law at the University of Minnesota Law School, I learned about the International Criminal Court, whose initial cases all came from Africa, thereby prompting some resistance from African leaders who thought this was anti-African discrimination. (I have written many blog posts about the ICC.) Previously I had been a pro bono lawyer for two Somali men’s successful applications for asylum in the U.S.

Other indirect connections are provided by three Grinnell College classmates. One became a professor of African history. Another served in Africa with the Peace Corps in Ethiopia, where he met his English wife serving in a similar British program and where they both frequently return to participate in a project of preparing and distributing audio textbooks for blind students. The third classmate, also in the Peace Corps, served in Mali, where he was involved in smallpox eradication. In addition, one of my Grinnell roommates from Chicago now lives in South Africa.

All of these direct and indirect connections with Africa provided additional motivation to learn more about its history. In a subsequent post I will attempt to summarize the key points of this brief exploration of African history.