Being a Speech delivered to the 2019 Mandela Washington Fellows at Bridgewater State University, Massachussetts, U.S.A. by Gloria Mabeiam Ballason Esq.

Gloria Mabeiam Ballason is a lawyer and the CEO of House of Justice, Nigeria, a human-rights radio call-in program, of which she is the host. She is also the Law columnist in a national newspaper. She serves at a regional level as a conflict mediator for the herder-farmer conflict that has claimed so many lives.

I am delighted to be invited to address the 2019 cohort of the Mandela Washington Fellowship at the Bridgewater State University. Launched in  2014, the fellowship was initiated by the President Barack Obama administration as an academic and leadership training for  young, outstanding  African leaders who are doing great in their field but who, for the purpose of enhancing what they have, are brought to the United States to learn more, connect and network more so they can increase in capacity and accelerate their leadership trajectories for the growth, prosperity, peace and security of Africa.

The fellowship which was first known as the Young African Leaders Initiative has been co-named after a man who at his death was described by President Obama as “influential, courageous, profoundly good and one who achieved beyond what could be expected of any man.” Indeed Jacob Zuma his successor lend credence when he described him as “one who earned the respect of the whole world and whose humility, passion and humanity earned him love.’ Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is that man. Although he now belongs to the ages, his spirit and commitment to better humanity continues to be a light that shines our path. Let us examine a scenario that reveals the brilliance of Mandela’s leadership style and how he gained moral authority.


On 10th April,1993, Chris Hani who was second  only to Mandela in the African National Congress was assassinated outside his home in Boksburg. This was a tipping moment for the reconciliation and achievement of a united South Africa. The assassin,Janusz Walua and his accomplice Clive Derby Lewis, would later admit that the intent for killing Hani was to provoke a race war and derail the negotiation process meant to end white minority rule. The options available to Mandela were as clear as they were difficult: to give in to rage, lose more people and jeopardize the negotiation process or to risk public credibility by calling for calm. As difficult as the loss was, Mandela realized how easily the freedom that was hard fought could be lost. He proved to be an indispensable figure in a moment of crisis by calling on the nation to affirm Chris Hani’s views of peace and of a South Africa free from apartheid rule.

But there was something else he did, while he could have conveniently skimmed over a salient but heroic act, and seeking to demonstrate that the good and ugly sometimes co-exist, Mandela highlighted the role of a white woman who at great risk to her life tipped the police on those who assassinated Chris. In the weeks that followed the apartheid government led by President De Klerk began to lose legitimacy and were forced to agree on a date for election in order to appease the angry nation.

There is more than that story in our annals. On the sand of history are the footprints of Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere who built a sturdy socialist country. We call him Mwalimu not just because he was considered a teacher and deep thinker but much more because he taught the continent to unite when he pushed for, and caused to be realized the founding of the Organization of African Union which is today known as the African Union.

In Ethiopia a son was born and unto the earth a deep thinker was given. Haile Selassie is his name. His memory is cherished and his leadership philosophy echoes especially when he said “ Untill the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is permanently discredited, until there are no longer first class and second class citizen of any nation, until the color of one’s skin is no more significant than the colour of one’s eyes, until basic human rights is guaranteed to all, the dream of  world citizenship and international morality will remain a fleeting illusion to be pursued but never attained.”

Time will not permit to speak of the greatness of Nnamdi Azikiwe who strived to instill nationalism in Nigeria, Thomas Sankara who ensured a literate and women inclusive Congo or Kwame Nkurumah who built an economic vibrant Ghana.

At great risk and effort, they served their generation and gave to us  a continent to hold and to have. Now that the baton is in our hands, what do we intend to do with it? Will we pour out ourselves in service or wait to be served? Takes us to the BSU story.


This is hallowed ground. In 1840 what is now known as the Bridgewater State University was planted by Horace Mann. Almost two centuries after the institution stands proud as the home of teacher education in America in a state that is the educational capital of the US and arguably, of the world. It’s sterling but humble motto “ Not to be Ministered Unto but to Minister” has continued to inspire generations of students and scholars that the hallmark of education is service. That the challenges of our countries, continents and the world cannot be conquered until someone steps out to serve, to meet a need and to solve a problem. The United States like our countries has its own challenges. This is a moment where the  land of the free and the home of the brave is fast losing its moral authority on the globe, UK’s decision to exit the European Union (also known as Brexit) has caused the British Pound to fall to its lowest level yet in the last 30 years and the Brits are bearing the brunt. The government of China, a country considered the world’s second largest economy is facing a crisis of school drop outs which would impinge on its leadership in the coming years if not addressed. I say that to say that we may have come through different ships but we all in the same boat, varied only by where we each sit.


Thankfully we do not have to despair because the solution to your coun tries and the world is in your hands. There may be many moving parts to it but there is just one whole. Amongst you are teachers, philosophers, doctors, lawyers, prison or aviation officers, development workers, activists, politicians, journalists, law enforcement officers…each of you stand in the very place of leadership where answers can be provided. All of you are activists in the fields that you have been called. And what does it take to be an activist? It requires that you should be angry enough at the wrong that goes on in your various sectors and persistent enough to weed out what is wrong and grow the seed of what is right. To do so, you will require love – love for what you do and love for your countries because if you don’t see your countries as valuable, no one else would.

The world has taken a deep breath under the darkness that hovers it and the hardness that is beneath it. Humanity is in captivity as needless wars are fought and those who do not have to die are killed. The challenges are diverse and complex but the time is ripe when you can sow and nurture the seed that frees us all. This is the perfect time for you to step out and shine your light.

Make no mistake about it: Sometimes your seed will fall on hard ground. It may be choked by thorns or scorched by heat but be assured that if you don’t give up there will be seeds that will fall on fertile ground. These seeds will grow to save mankind and liberate the oppressed. So when you feel all alone while growing that seed, do not despair because though you come as one, you stand as ten thousand and the effect of your good will not only be far reaching but long saving. I wish you courage and thank you for listening.

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