In Africa

Published on October 14th, 2008 | by Sam Aola Ooko

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World Needs Nelson Mandela’s Lasting Influence on Sustainability

This article is part of EcoWorldly’s week-long spotlight on Politicians You Can Believe In. To read more, subscribe to our RSS feed, or view our posts about politics.

Nelson Mandela Sustainable Leadership
“Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that generation” – Nelson Mandela, Make Poverty History rally, Trafalgar Square, London, UK, February 2005

What makes a political leader to be great? What makes a generation to be great? To think of it, one word defines it – sustainability. Would this, then, be a moral issue or an economic issue?

Does the world’s population today — both older and younger segments — understand the social dilemma that the next generation of leaders just on the threshold of global influence find themselves in?

Yes, next generation of leaders. Because we can no longer hedge our hopes and beliefs and inspirations on leaders who are stuck in the time warp of old politics.


We all need inspiration. The world needs inspiration. But we cannot get it from a politician however towering his influence is. It doesn’t matter what strings one attaches to heroism while on national duty. It doesn’t matter the nods one gets with uplifting, lyrical speeches.

Leadership today, anywhere in the world, rebounds on sustainability, and how to act it. The current economic downturn in the United States and the forced federal government interventions in the recalcitrant mess just reminds us of one thing – the death of hollow capitalism is nigh, sustainability must be allowed to take over.

Sustainability, if we take it in its definition by the World Commission on Environment and Development, makes a lot of sense which can, in turn, make us a great generation if we act it well. It is what revolves around the “forms of progress that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

Well said. Does this inspire you? Do our political leaders understand this? Are these forms captured in their election platforms or address programs on education, health care, jobs, environment, etc? Are you convinced certain government administrations have tackled these issues well?

Can individuals and corporates be made accountable to the environmental actions or impacts of what they do? In moving towards sustainability, we should be attempting to reduce our ecological footprint.

Leadership is therefore required both on the local and global fronts in addressing environmental sustainability. How do we tackle issues to do with energy, water, building design, transport, waste and recycling, and green business?

But sustainability in general refers to three broad themes, economic, social and environmental, that must all be coordinated and addressed to ensure the long term viability of our community and the planet.

The next generation of leadership must see to it that economic, social and environmental benefits are achieved in any individual, business, industrial and community practices or projects anywhere on the planet to drive the sustainability point home.

Yet we must also be reminded that each person, business, and industry has a role and a responsibility to ensure their individual and collective actions support the sustainability of our Mother Earth.

Nelson Mandela is a firm believer in sustainable leadership – leadership that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. He also believes that access to water — which many billions around the world dream of — is a basic human right.

To him, overcoming poverty is a paramount justice issue. For us who look up to sustainable leadership, we can only do justice to his uncompromising legacy by quoting and drawing inspiration from him.

Mandela once said education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world. Any other nation in the world, election-primed America included, definitely needs an education. To make the “One Sustainable World” dream real again, however, sustainability must be part of the game.

That is what true and inspiring leadership is about.

Image credit: Geoffulls at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.




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About the Author

Sam is a green journalist and media practitioner based in and writing from Nairobi, Kenya. He runs SolarGren Media, a public interest media organization dedicated to promoting eco-consciousness in Africa and the world. When he is not blogging or thinking green, he spends time promoting freedom of information and human rights reporting on his beloved continent.



  • http://www.bauuinstitute.com/Publishing/IAmSustainabilityBook.html Sustainability Advocate

    Excellent points, and I could not agree more. We need leaders like Mandela if we are to emerge from the current world crisis with a sustainable economic and political foundation. I don’t know of any that fill those shoes, but let us hope.

  • Phil

    Well said. Best thing I’ve read on sustainabilility in such a long time!

  • Johmn

    This write of Mandela views on a sustainable economy fills in some of the blanks in my understanding of a recent white paper introduced in the Cayman Islands by the UK. Diverse sustainable economy; Yes.

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