Category Archives: Personalities

Matthieu Ricard

B. R.  Ambedkar once said that “a great man is different from an eminent one in that he is ready to be the servant of the society”. Matthieu Ricard definitely fits the definition. Born in 1947, the French doctor, photographer and Buddhist monk, has dedicated his life to others through a very unorthodox path.

After getting his Ph.D. degree in molecular genetics under French Nobel Laureate François Jacob, Ricard decided to settle in the Himalayas so he could concentrate on the practice of Tibetan Buddhism, where he has lived since 1972. 

He has translated into French numerous Tibetan masterpieces, and became in 1989 the French translator of the Dalaï-lama. Additionally, he has published dozens of photographic books, showing life in Tibetan monasteries and some marvelous Himalayan landscapes and day-to-day events. 

Ricard spreads his lessons and thoughts through numerous vehicles, among which this fantastic Ted talk. Amidst other advices, he gives five very simple lessons of wisdom. First, to cultivate altruistic love. Second, to distinguish and overcome emotions. Third, to develop good will and wisdom (for instance, he refuses to fell hatred even before the worst of massacres). Fourth, to search the cure for pain. And lastly, to develop the skill of cooperation. 

The completeness of his property rights are donated to the Karuna-Shéchèn organization, an entity founded by Ricard and which handles over a dozen humanitarian projects in Tiber, Nepal and India, in the areas of health, education and environment. 

Since 2000, he integrated the Mind and Life Institute, an organization favoring the dialogue and the sharing between Buddhism and science.

Today, he lives in Nepal at the Schéchèn Monastery, devoting much of his time to the preservation of the Tibetan culture. 

Learn more about Matthieu Ricard on The Independent, and read his article in The New York Times.

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#AdiósAdolfoSuárez . By Silvia González Marroquín

#AdiósAdolfoSuárez: A small tribute to the man that could promise, and promised.

(Un pequeño homenaje al hombre que pudo prometer, y prometió.)

When we think about the Spanish Transition, terms such as consensus, pact, dialogue, democracy, rapidly appear in our memory, as well as the names of two men: Juan Carlos and Adolfo Suárez. Two elected men, not by the people, but elected (what a paradox, don´t you think?): the first one by Francisco Franco, and the second by his majesty the King, to accompany Spain towards democracy. It was not an easy task, because it was not easy to assure anything, between the happiness of many, and the tears of others, the dictatorship died and democracy was conceived. Our democracy was conceived by men and women, and Adolfo Suárez is without any doubt one of its recognized fathers. He led the Transition, without any valid models or references, as he himself highlighted it: “we were our own precedent”.

Well yes, Adolfo Suárez, the advocate of dialogue and consensus, revolutionized Spain´s History without revolutions. At the age of 43 and after 9 years in politics, this unknown technocrat, with little support from the elite of the time, achieved in only two years and a half to walk Spain from a dictatorial State to a constitutional democracy. He did it with a surprising integrity for those who still resisted accepting the waves of change in Spain by confronting the destabilizing canon shots of the extreme right and terrorism. He achieved his goals: he was able to elect a Parliament by universal suffrage for the first time since 1936, to draft the Constitution which was adopted by referendum, and to set the foundation for a democracy rooted in values of dialogue, understanding and harmony, in which the voice of all could be heard and listened to.

Those who today pay a tribute to Adolfo are those who once led to his withdrawal from what was already becoming a Roman circus. The defensive rise of Felipe González, the revival of Suarez´s past in the National Movement, joined with the UCD´s internal divisions, weakened him. The Spaniard´s disappointment and discomfort in 1980, together with civil-military conspiracies, carried Adolfo to humbly resign from the presidency of the Government.

The political animal and courageous democrat remained. On February 23, Suárez attended the investiture of his successor Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo, when a Lieutenant Colonel of the Guardia Civil, a certain Antonio Tejero, attempted against the rule of law, the one that was costing so much to build, penetrating the democratic body with weapons. All deputies fell to the ground, all but three: Gutiérrez Mellado, Santiago Carrillo and Suárez.

Perhaps it was his political and personal generosity, which characterized him until the last moments of his life, leading him to express himself in this way when receiving the last visit of his confessor: “I’m always ready to give and to receive forgiveness “; perhaps it was his courage and vision of public affairs; perhaps his unwavering loyalty to the King and Spain; or perhaps the humility of a Christian, who combined his spiritual integrity with the great duties of a democracy thirsty for freedoms; perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. What is certain for me is that Suárez is one of the few Spanish men and politicians who inspire me.

His death has filled the Spanish society, which is going through a context of widespread political tension, complaints and alleged marches for dignity, with the nostalgia of a glorious past, in which prevailed the values of integrity, dialogue and consensus. Politicians and citizens must now go through the exercise of rethinking their duties and citizenship respectively, in our democracy, and avoid the temptation of threatening its principles which were championed by its founders, precisely the power of the word, integrity and courage against violence.

Neither the three days of official mourning, nor the more than 30,000 condolences and tributes that visited the funeral chapel, nor the almost unconditional recognition from the whole political spectrum, seems to me as sufficient to pay a rightful tribute to the courage, vision and faith of this statesman.

Demonstrations of affection are appreciated, but must go beyond political correctness. The real tribute is to change this circus in which the law of the jungle prevails. The real tribute is that each Spaniard makes an exercise of introspection, and applies the same level of requirement to others and to himself. Precisely today, when Spain is going through hard times we should remember the journey, not sublimating it, and look forward to the road that lies ahead. Neither the crisis nor the hardships or difficulties can make us forget that we owe ourselves to Spain, to a democratic Spain. It’s time to remember that citizens and politicians must keep working together for a society in which pluralism is respected and where the legality of the institutions is truly consolidated. I want to believe that with his death, Adolfo wanted to fill us with a message: the return to the spirit of the Transition, a spirit of harmony and of the construction a common project. A moment from which many good things blossomed, despite the fact that is was neither obvious nor easy to promise anything, as today it is not either.

Let’s give thanks and dedicate him a fairer, a more democratic, a better Spain. We need a reformer and visionary now! Lets be inspired by Adolfo, his moderation and humility as a man, a citizen, a politician and a Spaniard, but also by his weaknesses, in order to demand more from our politicians as citizens, but without forgetting that as citizens, we are called to aspire to be a little more like Suárez.

Gracias Presidente!

SILVIA GONZALEZ MARROQUIN is a Law student at Sciences Po Paris. She was raised between the US, France and Spain. She’s currently studying Law at IE University in Madrid.  

Narendra Modi (1950 – )

Narenda Modi (1950-) is an Indian politician and the front-runner to be India’s next prime minister.

A man of humble origins, Modi was born in a family belonging to the low Ghanchi caste, also known as “other backward class”. As a child, he worked with his father selling tea at railway stages and by the age of 8, he volunteered  to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), “a movement whose purpose was to see India remade as a Hindu state”.

Modi built his political career in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is based on right-wing Hindu nationalist ideals and represents today India’s second largest political force. He dedicated the last twenty years to the local government of Gujarat and the success of his economic policies made him gain national attention. Indeed, some even talk about a ‘Modinomics’ model.

Today chief minister of the Gujarat state, Modi is also the most likely future prime minister of India.

Despite his marriage with Jashodaben Chimanlal when he was only 13, Modi claims to have no family and uses his celibate as a political argument. At a time when India has been hit by countless corruption scandals, Modi embodies the figure of the last honest politician, claiming that because he has no family, he has no one that would profit from his election.

Yet, his populist rhetoric has its flaws. First, the economic success of Gujarat is challenged by many. Although many claim that Gujarat has become one of the most business-friendly states of India, others question its inclusiveness.

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen points that Gujarat’s infant-mortality is more than three times that of Kerala, a much poorer state. And for Christophe Jaffrelot, a political scientist from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris specialized in India, the Gujarati Muslims are facing much worse working conditions that other Gujaratis.

Another controversy surrounding the candidate is that Modi was investigated for complicity in the wake of the 2002 communal violences, a mass killing against the minority Muslim population in the state of Gujarat. He was cleared of all charges in 2011 but his lack of rapid reaction at the time of the events is certainly criticized by many.

If you’re interested in knowing a bit more about (probably) one of the most powerful future world leaders, don’t miss The Economist last week edition “Can anyone stop Narendra Modi?”  and the Washington Post “The two views of India’s Narendra Modi”.

In The Economist’s words, “If economics alone mattered, Mr Modi’s achievements in Gujarat suggest he is the man best placed to get India moving again. The problem is that political leaders are responsible for more. For all his crowds of supporters, his failures in 2002, and his refusal since to atone for them, or even address them, leave him a badly compromised candidate with much left to do”.

You can also read Rosa Perez’s article on The JR Chronicle about the indian elections, in case you missed it.

Anja Niedringhaus (1965—2014)

“The legacy of any photographer is her or his ability to capture the moment, to record history. For me it is about showing the struggle and survival of the individual,” veteran AP photographer Anja Niedringhaus wrote in 2012. The Pulitzer winner was shot dead by an Afghan police officer this Friday, on the eve of the country’s presidential elections. She was 48. 

Based in Geneva, the German photographer reported in numerous conflict zones for over two decades, including Bosnia, Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Pakistan. She was known for putting a human face on the conflicts she covered, which resulted in extremely moving and insightful images like these. She had been covering Afghanistan since 2002 along with her longtime colleague Kathy Gannon, who was shot in the same attack but is now in a stable condition. Gannon was one of the few Western reporters whom the Taliban allowed to work in Kabul when they were in power. 

The women were attacked while covering an election-commission convoy in the eastern province of Khost, near the border with Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area. As they waited outside a government compound guarded by security forces, a police lieutenant walked up to their car, eyed the pair in the back seat, and then shouted “Allahu akbar!” (God is great) — before opening fire with an AK-47.

What is so frustrating about her death, besides the colossal loss of talent, is that in such circumstances it didn’t matter how experienced and cautious these two reporters were, for the attack came from within. As an old friend of Niedringhaus and photojournalist Moises Saman put it, “how can you prepare for the time when someone who is supposed to be protecting you turns on you? It’s impossible.”

A local police source told The Telegraph authorities believed the shooter, who was immediately arrested, attacked in an act of revenge for a US air strike that took place in January close to his hometown in Parwan province, killing several civilians. Other officers said the motive was unclear, but it certainly wouldn’t come as a surprise. Revenge for drone killings and resentment towards Westerners have become major implications of what is now America’s longest war.

While this has been considered a “largely peaceful landmark election”, it was a particularly bloody run-up for journalists. Last month Swedish radio reporter Nils Horner was shot dead while on his way to interview a surviver from a Taliban attack. His death was followed by the shooting of senior AFP journalist Sardar Ahmad, who was killed along with his wife and two children in what was considered one of the safest hotels in Kabul. His 2-year-old son was the only survivor, even though he was shot five times by Taliban militiamen.

“For me, covering conflict and war is the essence of journalism,” Niedringhaus wrote for the Spring 2012 issue of Nieman Reports, a publication of Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism. Conflict zone dangers never deterred her from going back (even though she also covered other events, including nine Olympic Games). 

In fact, she knew the risks too well. According to the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), “in 1997, her foot was crushed and broken in three places by a police car while she was covering demonstrations in Belgrade, requiring three reconstructive operations”. The following year, in Kosovo, “Niedringhaus was blown out of a car by a grenade while caught in cross-fire. In 1999, in Albania, she was with a group of other journalists at the Albania-Kosovo border crossing when they were mistakenly bombed by NATO forces.” She won several awards for her pictures, including the  IWMF Courage in Journalism Award in 2005 and the Pulitzer she shared with 10 other male colleagues for breaking news photography of the Iraq War.

Tributes from colleagues and friends have poured in from all over the world, who remembered her as someone with an “infectious laugh”, who “gave herself to the subjects of her lens, and gave her talents to the world”. The AP posted this tribute video that depicts her amazing journey as a photojournalist. Check out her last pictures here and here

Sir Ken Robinson, Driving Creativity Forward

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original”.

Such is the motto of Sir Ken Robinson (1950-), an English author and speaker who has delivered some of the most interesting ideas about education we have heard lately. He challenges our current education systems and urges us to acknowledge the importance of creativity.

After working as a professor of education in the university of Warwick, Robinson worked for the UK government where he led the commission on creativity, education and the economy. Beyond influential, his report was qualified by The Times “as raising some of the most important issues that businesses faced in the 21st century”. Today, Robinson works with different European and Asian governments as well as with top Fortune 500 US companies where he advocates a rethink of our school systems.  .

 With his 2006 video for the TED Conference  – a global set of conferences which the slogan is “Ideas Worth Spreading”, Robinson’s presentation quickly became a record in TED’s history. With over 25 million views, it is estimated that his talk has been viewed by around 250 million people in over 150 countries.

Sir Ken Robinson challenges the division between academic and non-academic. In his own words, “intelligence is diverse, intelligence is dynamic and intelligence is distinct”. He argues that one of the problems of our societies is the hierarchy that puts mathematics and literature at the top and all creative subjects at the bottom. Creativity should be considered as important as mathematics or literacy. Yet, our education systems, usually focus on a very narrow view of academic ability.

Additionally, Robinson points out the risks carried in our education systems. Teaching that it is normal to make mistakes is probably one of the things our educational systems are worst at. From the panic of making errors at the school blackboard, to the anguish of not saying what the professor wants to hear at university. We are programmed, indoctrinated not to make mistakes. The result is that people are not educated to explore their creativity.

Intelligence today means academic success. Maybe that explains why so many young people are marginalized or denied a place in society.

For more information about Sir Ken Robinson check his interview for The Guardian and  his website

 

Mayam Mahmoud: Egypt’s first and fearless veiled rapper

Mayam Mahmoud started making headlines last October, as she took to the Arabs Got Talent stage dressed in a light pink outfit and a matching hijab. Performing in front of an audience for the first time, the 18-year-old from Cairo started rapping vigorously about the challenges women they face in the Arab world.

Although she insists “it was never about going on stage in a scarf,” it was her appearance that inevitably caught worldwide attention in the first place. You don’t come across a teenage girl in a hijab rapping every day in Egypt. Or ever.

Participating on Arabs got talent, Mayam told CNN, “was about going on stage and sharing a message.” Her feminist lyrics condemn sexual harassment of women in Egyptian society and stress the importance of girls’ education. In one of her denouncing raps, she goes: “I won’t be the shamed one. You flirt, you harass and you see nothing wrong with it. But even if it’s just words, these are not flirts, these are stones.”

Mayam’s mother introduced her to poetry at the age of 12 and encouraged her to start writing her own poems. Her dad persuaded her to always “talk about something with value”. While they were a bit reluctant when their teenage daughter turned to hip hop to voice her concerns, fearing it wasn’t feminine enough, Mayam says they eventually gave in and never stopped supporting her. When she recorded her first track in the city of Alexandria, they waited in a cafe round the corner. 

The economics undergraduate from Cairo decided to speak out because “Egyptian women undergo harassment and bullying on a daily basis”. Last November, a poll of gender experts concluded that sexual harassment, soaring rates of female genital mutilation and a spike in violence made Egypt the worst Arab country to be a woman. And according to a 2008 survey conducted by the Egyptian Center for Women’s rights, 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women have been sexually harassed. Mayam refuses to accept this reality. She wants to get people talking and inspire others to advocate for civil rights, too. 

With this in mind and as her audience grew, Mayam recently set up “Carnival of Freedom”, a Facebook event page where she challenges people to express themselves freely and post activities that are still considered off limits, such as “women playing football or going to a cafe.” What kind of reaction have her daring activities sparked? According to the Guardian, her fans tend to post up to 50 supportive messages a day on Facebook, but there are also unwelcome messages accusing her of “creating a bad name for Islam,” she said. “Or even that I’m an infidel.”

Last week, Mayam Mahmoud was honoured at the Index Freedom of Expression awards, winning this year’s Arts category. She received her award in a colourful floor-length dress adorned with women’s graffitis, explaining with a smile that each drawing stood for women’s rights – female street artists are a growing (and fascinating) breed in Egypt

“One of the strongest messages I’d like to send is, ‘Freedom is an obligation on others before it becomes my right,” she said. Seeing someone stand up for human rights is always commendable. Seeing a veiled teenager from an oppressed country embarking on such a brave mission is pretty inspiring. Let’s just hope no one silences her. 

For more Arab female rappers, check out Paradise, an Afghan singer who also advocates for women’s rights.

José Mujica

A good man is hard to find.

A good man who makes a career in politics is probably even harder. Yet in the midst of one of the greatest political crisis ever, where social trust in political leaders is slowly crumbling, one leader from a small Latin American country appears as a breath of fresh air. His name is Jose Mujica, he’s the 40th President of Uruguay, and he’s also known as “the world’s poorest president”.

Born in 1935 from a poor farming family in Montevideo, Mujica joined the Tupamaros guerrilla in the 1960s, a movement which earned the reputation of the “Robin Hood guerrillas”. Among other illicit activities, its members robbed banks and distributed the stolen money to the poor. Mujica was eventually captured by the authorities on several occasions, but escaped in a famous prison evasion from the Carretas Prison in 1971. Nevertheless, in 1972, he was recaptured, and following the military coup in Uruguay in 1973, he was sent to a military prison where he spent 14 years, of which two years in in solitary confinement.

With the return to democracy in 1985, Mujica was freed and later joined the left-wing party Movement of Popular Participation. In 1994, he was elected deputy and in 1999, voted for senator. Only ten years later, in 2009, José Mujica was elected President of Uruguay. He became the President of “No palace, no motorcade, no frills”, and one of his first measures was to donate 90% of his monthly salary to charity. As The Guardian describes, “the only security detail in Mujica’s residency are two guards parked on the approach road, and Mujica’s three-legged dog, Manuela”.

Since becoming the leader of his country, “Mujica has reaffirmed Uruguay as the most socially liberal country in Latin America”. In 2012, he pushed for the same-sex marriage bill, as well as for the legalisation of abortion, making Uruguay the second country in Latin America after Cuba to legalise abortion for all women. In 2013, Uruguay became the first nation in the world to legalise marijuana trade.

In this inspiring and philosophical speech at the UN Rio +20 conference on sustainable development, President Mujica protested against “the blind obsession to achieve growth through greater consumption”. It’s controversial, but definitely worst seeing. Learn more about the exceptional José Mujica here and here.

Yoaní Sanchez

In 2012, Yoaní Sanchez was named one of the “10 Most Influential Ibero American Intellectuals” of the year by the Foreign Policy magazine. Before that, she had received many other honors and awards. Who is Yoaní Sanchez?

Yoaní is a Cuban of 38 years old who is a philologist who, as she herself describes, understood she did not want to be a philologist. She thus became one of Cuba’s most important bloggers by writing about the daily-life of the Cuban people.

After finishing her studies in philology, Yoaní realized that she considered the world of “intellectuals” too hypocritical. Then, she understood that people in Cuba were too badly paid and she decided to start working in tourism, which according to her, is the only sector that pays decently in the country. As she explains, many highly-qualified people in Cuba for long found it more lucrative to work as cab-drivers or as salesmen than doing what they were specialized in.

Tired of the Cuban repressive system, in 2002 she decided to leave Cuba and went to Switzerland. Eventually, she returned to Cuba in 2004 for personal reasons. Nevertheless, while in Switzerland she did the first steps that would lead to her success-story. She started to work in informatics, which she loved. Upon her return to Cuba, she founded a magazine of “reflection and debate”. In 2007, she founded the blog that would make her known, Generación Y [her blog can also be found in english here]. She describes the blog as “[…] a Blog inspired by people like me, with names that start with or contain a “Y”. Born in Cuba in the ’70s and ’80s, marked by schools in the countryside, Russian cartoons, illegal emigration and frustration.”. There, she tells the story of hers and other generations in Cuba, there she narrates the daily-lives of her fellow-compatriots.

As she explains, in the blog she can write what she cannot say out-loud. While not a blog of critic, it inevitably criticizes the choices of Castro’s regime. As she started to get recognition for her blogging in the international arena, her blog was blocked several times by the authorities in Cuba (knowing that internet is highly controlled). She was even abducted once, by men working for the government. Fortunately, she was able to keep on writing her articles by sending them by e-mail to friends outside Cuba who would publish the articles for her. Thus, millions of readers continued to connect to her site every month, which showed that what she was writing was worth reading.

In 2008, Yoaní received the Ortega y Gasset Prize for Journalism, and after that she was recognized as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” by Time magazine. The honors kept flowing for several years, as even Barack Obama recognized that Yoaní’s blog provided “[…] the world a unique window into the realities of daily life in Cuba.”.

tortuga

Until today, Yoaní continues to publish articles about the life in Cuba. One of her latest posts, “At Turtle Pace”, had a photo of a turtle which represents the regime, and said “At this rhythm, the Island [Cuba] will be rebaptized as the country of the “never ever”, where the clocks and the calendars will be prohibited […]”, showing that Cuba still has to walk a long walk…

[We thank Judith Lenzen for giving us to know Yoaní Sanchez.]

The two faces of Robert Mugabe

The President of Zimbabwe, Africa’s oldest dictator celebrated his 90th birthday this past Friday, the 21st of February, 2014, amid speculation that his health might be failing him.Advanced age and health issues have brought the topic of succession onto the table as it looks like the old despot is reaching the end of his reign, leaving the world with one less tyrant. But he was not always an oppressor, a dictator. There was a time where he was a liberator and a democrat that was worshipped as a hero.

Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born in what was then Rhodesia, one of the British Empire’s colonies. At age 10 his father abandoned him and he was raised by catholic missionaries. From catholic school, he went on to study at Fort Hare University, in South Africa, where roughly a decade later, a young Mandela would enrol. Much like Madiba, Mugabe came in contact with the African National Congress (ANC) while at Fort Hare and it was during that time that he became politically aware.

He undertook several of his seven degrees at Fort Hare before becoming a teacher in Ghana. Mugabe kept studying but longed for his home country, where a war for independence was brewing. He returned to Rhodesia as a political activist, fighting for civil rights and independence, a trade which earned him 10 years in prison for “subversive speech”.

Mugabe served his time and then left for Mozambique where he joined and then lead a guerilla against British backed Rhodesian prime-minister, Ian Smith. His men were called the ‘thinking man’s guerilla’, in a reference to his intellect. Truce finally came in 1979 and in 1980, through the Lancaster House agreement, Rhodesia became the Republic of Zimbabwe.

Mugabe rose to power to lead a Zimbabwean nation devastated by 15 years of civil war. He did so in coalition with Joshua Nkomo, leader of another guerilla that fought against Ian Smith. While in power he adopted a conciliatory stance on the white man: “If yesterday I fought you as an enemy, today you have become a friend”. He forgave and forgot, in the name of Zimbabwe, and invited blacks and whites to work together in the reconstruction of the country.

The principle was one of national reconciliation, as he called it, one that would then characterize Mandela ‘s policies in South Africa. For that he was nominated for the Nobel peace prize, along with Lord Carrington, the British Foreign Secretary with whom he worked. Unlike Madiba, roughly a decade later, he did not win.

This is where the similarity between Mugabe and Mandela ends, on their first term. Madiba served for just five years and then relinquished power, whereas Mugabe clang to it. Soon after his rise to power, Zimbabwe’s hero fell from grace as he and Nkomo started to drift apart. Eventually a rebellion began and Mugabe used his Fifth Brigade – trained in North Korea – to crush Nkomo’s guerrilla in an ethnic cleanse that left nearly 20,000 dead. He did so while expanding healthcare and education to the four corners of Zimbabwe, a feat that, combined with the country’s booming economy, was enough for the West to ignore the violence. In fact, despite the numerous accusations made against his regime, in 1994 he was knighted by the Queen of England. Yes, for a time he was Sir Robert Mugabe.

The West ignored the repression until it could ignore no more. Nearly two decades after Zimbabwe’s independence, unrest took to the streets, fuelled by a young generation that did not live through Mugabe’s fight against Britain. They did not acknowledge his heroic status and wanted a say in the country’s future. Protests were met with repression until Mugabe decided to appease the mob with patronage. He threw the “national reconciliation” principle that made him a success, through the window and went in a different direction. Mugabe confiscated acres and acres of land from white proprietaries and distributed them to landless blacks, disrupting a functioning and growing system. The results were devastating. In a few years, Zimbabwe’s economy shrank to half, its currency became a joke and life expectancy fell from 61 to 45.

The West, especially Britain, noticed when white citizens were being confiscated of their wealth and Mugabe was no longer a hero. In history’s narrative, he became a villain. His repressive nature became was now widely known throughout the world and there were repercussions. In 2008 he was stripped of the title he was given by the Queen, and his country has been sanctioned by the UN.

Mugabe has spent 34 of his 90 years in power and, at his age, he is serving a 7th term and considering an 8th. His health is not what it once was as he spent his 90th anniversary in Singapore, where he had surgery to remove cataracts from one of his eyes. That is the official version. The unofficial, supported by a leaked US cable, suggests he might have prostate cancer. Even so, when asked by a journalist about handing the country over, to the next generation, he replied with another question: “at this age I can still go one more, can’t I?”.

When the curtain finally closes on Robert Gabriel Mugabe’s life, we’ll have two sides of him. Mugabe the democrat, liberator and hero. Mugabe the despot, the killer and the tyrant. Despite the cruelty of his regime there still seem to be a few, mainly in his home country, who are willing to forget his latter years and remember him as a hero. I have my doubts. How should a man who elevated his country, only to put on its knees, be remembered?

George Orwell

Born in India, George Orwell, pseudonym of Eric Arthur Blair (1903-1950), was an English novelist and one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century despite his small number of publications. As stated this documentary states, despite Orwell’s requests that there should be no biographies, countless writers tried to tell his story. 

In Orwell’s words, “what he had always most wanted to do was to make political writing into an art”. His object was not to promote a certain point of view, but to arrive at the truth; exposing the hypocrisy and injustice prevalent in society”. For that, he devoted his life to the understanding of inequalities and injustices. After studying at Eton, he attended the British Burmese civil service, where he definitely broke with the British Imperial Ideology by resigning in 1927. Later he would write an essay called Shooting the Elephant where he would said that “Theoretically and secretly of course, he was always for the Burmese and all against the oppressors, the British. As for the job he was doing he hated it more bitterly than he could perhaps make clear”.

Two years later, in the mid of the Great Depression, Orwell undertook another life changing experience in Wigan, and industrial town ravaged by unemployment and misery. His observations let to the publication of The Road to Wigan Pier where he described the real life conditions of the English working classes during the financial crash. Despite his close relationship with the Communist Party, in 1936, after volunteering to fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, Orwell started to despise the extreme left wing. He was shot in the neck in 1937 and left Spain after writing the book Homage to Catalonia telling his experiences and criticising the inefficiency of the Communist Party.

He returned to England where he would die in 1950 at the age of 47, after writing his most celebrated pieces: Animal Farm in 1945, a satire novel telling the story of revolutions which go wrong, based primarily on the Russian revolution and on Stalin’s betrayal of the Bolshevik cause; and Nineteen Eighty-Four, a dystopian novel about the dangers of totalitarian rule, and immortalized by the phrase “Big Brother is watching you”.

You can discover more about him in the 2003 BBC documentary “George Orwell – A Life in Pictures” and in the George Orwell’s website.