Uncle Zola slowly leaned forward from the chair and deliberately turned to his nephew Peter, who was transfixed by the television coverage of Catanga's first elected president since independence. He was filled with a profound pride at the thought of being part of the historic moment, a moment not only for himself, but also his nephew. He felt compelled to mark the occasion with reflective insight, seizing an opportunity to make an impression on the young man he still considered a boy.
"This is a great day for Africa, Peter, a great day," Uncle Zola proclaimed. "Change is on the way," he paused momentarily for Peter's benefit before continuing, "mark my words today, this is a great day for our nation." He placed his large, worn hand on Peter's shoulder, "I am so glad we get to share this before you go to England."
Peter was visibly skeptical, but nonetheless awed by the spectacle of his people singing in their native Catangan and dancing in frenetic joy. He marveled at the splashes of yellows, oranges and blacks of those adorned in elaborate traditional robes and gowns. He then nodded in response to his uncle as he spoke.
"A great day for Catanga maybe, uncle, but I think the rest of Africa has a long struggle ahead."
"Peter," Uncle Zola stood up to assert an air of authoritative wisdom, "if you want to change the character of a man you start with the heart. Catanga is the heart of Africa. Great things can come from the actions of one."
"With respect you are an optimist, uncle," Peter offered as he turned his eyes from the television to his uncle. "Do you remember how hopeful you were when General Samba won independence from the British colonies?"
Uncle Zola waved a dismissive hand at Peter. Peter's cynical rebuttal dampened his euphoria. Uncle Zola didn't relish the idea of recounting memories from the past few turbulent years. Peter's guarded nature was well-founded, but it was too simple for him to paint individuals as absolutely good or absolutely bad. He had to set his nephew straight on the ambivalence of human nature.
"He was a good President, Peter. It was the greed and corruption of his own people that led to his assassination―"
"Yes uncle, and the years of tribal wars that followed left blood on every inch of Catanga's soil," Peter exclaimed.
"Yes, he was assassinated but he was a good leader," he became more visibly animated. "Catanga would have prospered ―"
"But for how long?" asked Peter rhetorically. "And out of the bloodshed came General Quassi, a dictator who kept Catanga in a state of war, fear and poverty with his love of power and greed."
Uncle Zola's emotions frothed as he listened to his nephew's retorts. His message wasn't getting through. He paused to collect himself, though he still had the fervor of excitement in his speech.
"That is exactly my point Peter, if General Quassi, a maniac, a butcher," he paused for a second, then walked over to his nephew before firmly but gently pressing his fingers to his chest. He continued, "If General Quassi can change his heart, Africa can too. Think of it, Peter, a dictator like Quassi brings in our first democratically elected president. That does give me hope. Yes, it is a great day for Catanga. I am sorry you will not be here to see the changes we will bring."
"Yes, well I think you are still an optimist," Peter smiled calmly. He felt as if he should correct his uncle, to point out that General Quassi did not really change his mind. The story went that on the advice of his advisors and nearing death, the general called for elections. Peter and most of Catanga knew the election was a thinly veiled way for General Quassi to preserve his name for posterity. Nevertheless, he believed it to be a step in the right direction. "I think power corrupts all men, uncle. But you are right, it is still a great day for Catanga."
"What about you, Peter. Do you believe that you too can you be corrupted?"
Peter thought for a moment before answering. He looked at his uncle and then off into the distance. He chose his words carefully, a trait he learned from his uncle.
"Perhaps uncle, that is why I want to study law, to keep my mind on justice and keep my ego bound by rules and legislation. Because it is my fear that power can corrupt the most well intentioned of men."
It seemed to set Uncle Zola's mind at ease, at least for the time being.
"Well, let's hope that President Massa has the same goals as you Peter, and when you go to England, I trust you will lead those you work with by example. I believe you have a good heart. Now be quiet. Our new and honorable president is about to speak, and I want to hear his words of hope and optimism, if you don't mind."
Peter nodded and gestured for his uncle to sit beside him. Uncle Zola obliged. The two settled into their chairs after reaching an amicable though uneasy truce. It wasn't the first time the two had debated, nor would it be the last. But it was a dialogue that strengthened the ties between Uncle Zola and Peter. Theirs was a relationship fraught with obstacles thrown at them by unfortunate circumstances. And through it all, they remained close. The voice of President Massa then filled the small house.
"Today is a proud day, and not just for the people of Catanga, but for all the people of Africa who believe in a better future for Africa. A future of equality, a future of prosperity and a future of freedom for all of Africa's peoples..."