An annual international day held in honour of Nelson Mandela, and first celebrated on his birthday on July 18th 2009, Mandela Day was made official by the United Nations in November of the same year. Seeking to celebrate the values Mandela espoused, his legacy, the importance of working for the community, it’s campaign call-to-action harnesses the transformative power of the individual: ‘Nelson Mandela (has) fought for social justice for 67 years. We are asking you to start with 67 minutes.’
Tomorrow being the eighth official day, Mandela Day shines an increasingly bright light on Africa’s progress with regards to poverty, peace, reconciliation and cultural diversity. Mandela was the greatest of optimists, and I am certain he will have been delighted with how far we’ve come in the last 15 years. Infamously tagged by The Economist in 2000 as ‘the hopeless continent’, the last decade has seen an annual average growth of 5.5%, average life expectancy increase by five years, infant mortality slashed by a third, and the percentage of people living in extreme poverty reduced by more than a tenth.
Even so, it’s not quite the Africa rising that everyone predicted. Poverty may have declined, but the continent’s exponential population growth means the number living below the poverty line has actually increased, with half of the world’s poor living in sub-Saharan Africa. Economically, countries have performed unevenly, the likes of Rwanda punching way above its resources, the likes of Angola and Tanzania falling short of expectations. Meanwhile, the increased wealth of key countries – for example South Africa, Botswana, Namibia – has also seen the beginnings of much greater levels of inequality in terms of income distribution. Potential and actual wealth has not necessarily translated into prosperity for all. Clearly, there’s some way to go if we’re to hit the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s key goals.
None of which will have surprised Mandela, though I wouldn’t pretend to second guess what he would advise. Still, I’m pretty sure – education and health apart – that ensuring that people are afforded the kind of universal social protection systems that the developed world takes for granted would be high on his list. Policies and programmes designed to protect children, women, the elderly, the disabled, the employed and the unemployed, such systems have a direct affect on poverty, on equality, and therefore on the prosperity of a given country.
All of which sounds very macro, politically, economically and socially. And it is, which is why it’s set to take another decade, and is a whole-continent effort, requiring the long-term collaboration of nations and regions. However, as Mandela would say, it’s also about the micro, the individual, the effort it takes to contribute to change. We all, he said, have the power to make a difference. Here’s to tomorrow and to all of us putting aside 67+ minutes of our time to do just that. Happy Mandela Day.
If you haven’t already made a pledge, and you’re interested in getting involved in helping protect Africa’s wildernesses in partnership with the communities for which they are home, please get in touch with Paul Herbertson or Will Jones of Wild Philanthropy, our sister charity.