Leadership and Power in Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom

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Political Science


Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom analyzes the racial power conflict in South Africa, and Mandela's own role as a leader in that struggle. Mandela saw the conflict in variable-sum, not zero-sum terms: it was in all sides' interest to avoid civil war, but without risk-taking leadership civil war was the likely outcome. Mandela employed several of the strategies for resolving variable-sum ('mixed-motive') conflict described in Thomas Schelling's The Strategy of Conflict, including rendering oneself powerless to make further concessions and not pushing an opponent too far. But Mandela's accomplishments also highlight the limitations of Schelling's analysis, which minimizes the role of creative leadership in resolving conflict. The episode invites wider reflection on the nature of both leadership and power.