Elizabeth Cheruto / Calendar Editor

I grew up identifying similarities between Mandela and Martin Luther King and I always wondered if Martin Luther were still alive, if their paths would have been identical.

Africa is mourning one of its finest leaders, Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday, Dec. 5, at the age of 95 in his native country of South Africa. He will be laid to rest on Sunday, Dec.15. in his ancestral home.

His death has cast a dark shadow on the continent of Africa and robbed us of a leader who fought for change, justice, freedom, human dignity and equality for all.

Mandela was a man I associated with freedom. He was credited for the fight to end apartheid; he was an icon and a symbol of peace that fought for social change.

I come from Kenya, a country where for years we were under the rule of dictatorship and a leader like Nelson Mandela was what we hoped to see as a nation. He transcended politics in a way we only dreamt about, there are so many virtues that Kenyan politicians and the general human population can borrow from him.

When Mandela was released from prison in 1990, I was relieved. It felt as though my own dad was set free. That’s how much I longed to see his release.

I was able to know what it meant for Africa as a whole. His release represented democracy in a different way than what we were experiencing at that time across the continent.

Mandela became South Africa’s first democratically elected president and famously declined to run for a second term and preferred the life of an elder statesman and global ambassador for worthy causes.

That was unheard-of in Africa. We were looking at some power-hungry African presidents who had clinched power for more than 24 years and still counting and I admired the example set by Mandela.

I remember many traditional settings, politics dominated the conversations and we credited Mandela for being a symbol of forgiveness. Mandela forgave the men who oppressed and imprisoned him.

Mandela was able to recognize that you don’t hold grudges, but dignify the people you are ruling, leading by example.

It is memories like this that take me back to 1999 when I visited Robben Island, which served as a place of banishment, isolation and imprisonment for  Mandela. His imprisonment became personal to me when I stood in the same cell where the Afrikaners imprisoned him.

Though Mandela is free at last for eternity, the struggle for human rights and the ideals he stood for is far from over.

Mandela’s reputation of greatness and forgiveness were brought into the limelight especially in the past 10 years when many American celebrities and other leaders all over the world visited him in South Africa.

Many countries mourn the passing of the icon of the triumph of the human spirit. Though many of them supported apartheid.

But Africa, which had to fight much the same adversity to secure its independence, should not forget the ideals that Mandela lived for to the end.

Mandela was a liberation leader, the voice of courage, a source of inspiration and a beloved leader. I hope his legacy will live on