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Ghana President John Dramani Mahama describes chance encounter with his icon, Nelson Mandela

December 10th, 2013
08:09 AM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

Over the years, whenever Christiane Amanpour has asked heads of state – even the most oppressive – which world leader they most admire, the answer has almost invariably come back to Nelson Mandela.

“He is a great man, that one,” Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe told her in 2009.

Even the world’s longest-serving leader – President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea in West Africa – told her that Mandela was the African leader he most admired.

Of course, it is not only strongmen who admire the conciliatory Mandela.

The president of the Ghana – whose country has enjoyed peaceful elections for more than two decades – was just five years old when Nelson Mandela was thrown into prison with a life sentence.

“Growing up as a young student in secondary school, Nelson Mandela was an icon for us,” President John Dramani Mahama told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.

Ghana, he said, was at the forefront of the liberation struggle against colonialism.

“And so we marched, we held demonstrations in support of him – until he was released from prison in 1990.”

Years later, when Mahama was Ghana’s minister of communications, he had a chance encounter with Mandela at a Cape Town conference.

“I came back to the hotel and was standing right in front of the lifts, going back up to my room,” he said. “And when the lift arrived and opened, President Mandela stepped out.”

“I was shocked; I was frozen; I couldn't utter a word. He nodded in my direction. I was so shocked I couldn't nod in response.”

“This was a man I had revered over the years. I had marched for him; I had demonstrated for him; I held placards calling for his release. And then the opportunity to meet him – I was so frozen I couldn't even talk to him.”

As President Mahama follows in Mandela’s footsteps, he told Amanpour that Mandela himself followed the steps of other African leaders.

“He follows a tradition of several African leaders, who have used forgiveness and compassion to try and build their nation states,” he said.

Mahama cited the examples of Jomo Kenyatta, Kwame Nkrumah, and Julius Nyerere – the founding fathers of Kenya, Ghana, and Tanzania, respectively – as examples of liberators in whose tradition Mandela followed.

Mandela’s legacy, too, will live long after his death, Mahama said.

As for those leaders who say they admire Mandela but block democracy in their own countries, Mahama said “people take the different things that Mandela teaches us and use them as they wish.”

Indeed, one of Mandela’s great legacies, he said, was that he only served one term in office.

“There was a lot of pressure from the chiefs and the people in South Africa for him to continue and do a second term; and he declined.”

“We must prepare the next generation of leaders to take over from us. I don't think that any one person has all the answers to the challenges that our individual countries face.”

Now, as Mandela is mourned and remembered, the world should “not only celebrating his life, but emulating his life.”


Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode • South Africa
soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Nana Yaa Mensah

    Warm words indeed. And how do they match up with John Mahama's conduct in his own country, where his party stole an election last year?

    December 10, 2013 at 10:37 am | Reply
    • Joe Nyankeh Kojo

      please speak wisely. You are at international forum. This is not the forum for discussing your diabolic reason for going to court. Respect the EC and the Judges.

      December 10, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Reply
    • Angel Lynnette Moone

      the fact that people anticipated that party A will win the election but didn't does not mean that party B rigged the election. Mahama's presidency has been challenged in the highest court of the land. if you do not agree with the verdict of the court you can challenge it again. people should stop this election rigging story, give the president a break and lets move on as a nation. Mahama is a wise and good leader and if we give him a chance we will realize that.

      December 11, 2013 at 2:45 am | Reply
    • Kofi Kyei

      Its sad though bcos Mahama is no different from Charles Taylor and it was only by the act of God if not the nation would have been in flames after he stole the elections and bribed the supreme court to rule in his favor, he is the worse shameless president yet Ghana has ever had and all he's good at is looting the nation please give us a break

      December 11, 2013 at 8:00 pm | Reply
  2. Esther Torgbor

    dn't be a foool,where is your evidence.jxt because your man didn't win doesn't mean he stole the election.nana yaa

    December 10, 2013 at 11:25 am | Reply
  3. bob ta

    nkrumah used forgiveness and compassion?? i nearly fell of my seat... ha!

    December 10, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Reply
    • Joe Nyankeh Kojo

      Take it or leave it. That is the truth, after all we know it.

      December 10, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Reply
  4. Ghana ba pa

    This is what I call hypocrisy....u put up a face on international front and you do otherwise back home. John Mahama is a lair and a thief. He will never be half the man that Mandela was (if he doesn't change). I have lost hope in Ghana, I'm sorry but that is what I feel.

    December 11, 2013 at 2:45 am | Reply
    • Angel Lynnette Moone

      i don't think he said he wants to be Mandela. of course he can't be because each person is unique in their own way. And Ghana has no hope in you too because clearly you have nothing to offer the country. we all want to get something from the country but no one is willing to give anything to the country. And those who try to do something we only accuse and discourage them. I suggest you change that name of yours "Ghana ba pa indeed!"

      December 11, 2013 at 2:55 am | Reply
  5. IDDRIS

    Mr.president,keep it up.we really love u.God will always be with u.

    December 11, 2013 at 5:16 am | Reply
  6. mosesalan

    mr president you have spoken well .this is the kind of leadership we want in ghana. is my prayer that you will send us to the promise land like joshua did to the israelites thank you mr president.

    December 11, 2013 at 11:24 am | Reply
  7. Michael

    We need to be objective anytime we talk about others.President Mahama is the president of Ghana and if you can't agree,LEAVE that country and go to Iraq or Sudan.

    December 11, 2013 at 11:59 am | Reply
  8. Divine Kpordzi

    That was brilliant.Keep it up mr president. I recognize u us a president.

    December 11, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Reply
  9. Kofi Kyei

    Its sad though bcos Mahama is no different from Charles Taylor and it was only by the act of God if not the nation would have been in flames after he stole the elections and bribed the supreme court to rule in his favor, he is the worse shameless president yet Ghana has ever had and all he's good at is looting the nation please give us a break

    December 11, 2013 at 8:00 pm | Reply
  10. Habib Suhuyini

    Well spoken my president, but I think that the fact that one is not able to finish full term in office does not make him a great man.

    December 12, 2013 at 3:32 pm | Reply
  11. BEDU

    Well done my president that you were able to go to South Africa to witness the death and to celebrate the final journey of the beloved Son of Africa Nelson Mandala. This is an hour for all the leaders 0f AFRICA especially my country Ghana to take good look of the number of people who were crying, celebrating, singing, testifying the good deeds of Mandala. Now let all ask ourselves that, if we also depart from the people we have served, what kind of send off celebration, would we receive. Is it going to be like YIPEE!!!! he is gone the President who did not care for the people who voted him into the office, or we wanted him out and now he is dead. Oh thank God. I personally believe that whatever you received on this earth you receive in heaven. So I believe that Mandala is in Heaven receiving a great joy from the ANGELS of God.I would like to take this opportunity to advice my fellow leaders of Ghana to sow a good seed so that their name could also live on forever. Care for your citizens, the poor , children, let them feel that they voted you onto power to look after the nation properties but not to ask a question like ( DO YOU NOW WHOM I'M)
    Any servant humble not being conceited so that people of Ghana can approach you with their problems. Having all the riches in this world and leaving your country in a mess will never even make your own family leaving behind happy because they may be living in the same mess you have left behind. Take good care of GHANA and God will bless all of you or continue Nkrumah's Ideologies .
    Thanks and see you soon in Ghana
    BEDU

    December 14, 2013 at 10:56 am | Reply
  12. Abdul rahman

    Oooh Ghanaian's you turn everything into politics why ?. Leave my president alone oo. J.M papapaa, J.M no size. Stay bless.

    December 14, 2013 at 5:56 pm | Reply
  13. John Abugum

    Mr president you really make Ghana proud

    January 5, 2014 at 9:05 am | Reply
  14. friendship anderl

    President John Dramani Mahamah can't be Nelson Mandela in any way because l see him as ineffective government. Consider this a country in which ministers loot national money and fighting over national asset. Ordinary citizens will deal with responsibly for a crime; but government officials no and my question is why

    May 16, 2016 at 2:38 pm | Reply
  15. friendship anderl

    President John Dramani Mahamah can't be like Nelson Mandela in any way because l see him as ineffective government. Consider this a country in which ministers loot national money and fighting over national asset. Ordinary citizens will be deal with responsibly for a crime; but government officials no and my question is why

    May 16, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Reply

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