Power: At its Best and Worst

May 20, 2008
By Corie Anderson, Ramona, CA

Many major disasters and accomplishments throughout the world are due to the mighty leaders who show the way. Africa, still developing and vulnerable, has long been the site of such ground-breaking events and historical rulers. During their unforgettable period of influence, Nelson Mandela and Idi Amin showed the world how power looks at its best and worst.
Though renowned for being presidents, life before Amin and Mandela took power greatly affected who they would become. Idi Amin was born and raised in Uganda, a small country in central Africa. When of age, he joined the Ugandan army and quickly rose through the ranks. He was a proud, opinionated man who would do almost anything to get what he wanted, and he wanted power. After Uganda gained independence from Britain, Amin seized control in a military coup.
Nelson Mandela was born in a small village in South Africa, a large country on the southern coast of Africa. Unlike Amin, Mandela did not join any nationalistic organizations, and for one simple reason: he did not support the South African government. The government was segregating racial groups, favoring white people, which was a system known as apartheid. Instead waiting for change, he joined the African National Congress (ANC) in hopes of creating equality for all South Africans. Many years later, Mandela was democratically elected South Africa’s first black president. He did not have to take power from the government, like Amin, but instead, the people chose him to be their leader.

During their periods in office, Idi Amin and Nelson Mandela used their power for very different reasons. Amin was initially supported by the Ugandan people because he promised to give them something they needed: civilian rule. Instead, he declared himself president and chief of the military and used his influence for his selfish desires. He set out to make Uganda “a black man’s country” by expelling all Asians, Indians, and Pakistanis. To enforce his regime, he persecuted anyone who did not support him, murdering about 300,000 citizens. Throughout the next few years, Uganda picked fights with countries around the world, and watched its economy slowly die.
Because Nelson Mandela was only president for five years, by choice, it could be said that his campaign against apartheid in South Africa was his time in power. Over the course of many years, Mandela became the president of the ANC, an outlaw, a prisoner, and a beacon of hope. When the ANC was banned, Mandela was sentenced to life in prison for treason. Unlike Amin, Mandela was not selfish with his power. He knew people believed in him, so even in prison, he never gave up. After much effort, the ban on the ANC was lifted and Mandela released to be later elected president. While Amin lived only for himself and gaining power, Mandela lived in order to create positive change for his people.
Both leaders had a profound impact on their countries and the world. Amin left Uganda a torn country with a shattered economy and a broken dream. Mandela rid South Africa of its system of apartheid and created equality for all.
Idi Amin and Nelson Mandela will always be remembered throughout history for their actions. As models for great leaders and the downfall of power, people and countries can learn from these to supreme examples of rulers.

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