Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Critics Rap Mandela Approach to Nigeria

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Critics Rap Mandela Approach to Nigeria

Article excerpt

SOUTH AFRICAN President Nelson Mandela has finally gotten tough with Nigeria - but critics say he abused his moral authority by appeasing the military dictators with many months of quiet diplomacy.

The 52-member Commonwealth Summit in New Zealand on Saturday suspended Nigeria after it ignored international appeals for clemency and hanged nine minority-rights activists, including prominent writer Ken Saro-Wiwa. The organization threatened expulsion if Nigerian leader Gen. Sani Abacha did not make moves to restore democracy.

Mr. Mandela was a driving force behind the unprecedented punishment by the Commonwealth, which links Britain's old empire. He mobilized the support of the African caucus and expressed revulsion over Nigeria's flouting of the Commonwealth's 1991 principles of human rights and democracy.

For many observers, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate wasted vital time with his previous insistence on diplomatic pressure. This sent the wrong signal to Africa's largest country and was ironically soft, considering that Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) benefited from international sanctions against apartheid during its liberation struggle.

The Democratic Alternative group, a pro-democracy organization in Lagos, said Mandela should take responsibility for Mr. Saro-Wiwa's death.

Mandela "had the opportunity to save the lives of the nine human rights activists, but he opted to fold his arms while they were being slain. We are disturbed that our appeal to Mandela to take decisive steps against the military regime had fallen on deaf ears," said an official of the group, Imme Edigeji.

In its defense, Mandela's 18-month government has wanted to distance itself from the bully boy approach of white apartheid predecessors who destabilized neighboring regimes they didn't like. South African officials said the various high-level envoys sent to Lagos had produced results, such as preventing the execution of alleged coup plotters.

"I was correct in trying to persuade the Nigerian authorities to consider clemency," Mandela told New Zealand television.

The international community is now waiting to see whether he will act more vigorously. …

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