By Owei Lakemfa
HUNDREDS of Africans are converging in Abuja this weekend. They are being joined by brothers and sisters from Latin America, the United States and United Kingdom.
Cuba, in whose solidarity they are gathering, has neither silver nor gold to give any of them. In fact, participants are paying their way, bed and meals. Those of us organising the three-day solidarity meeting at the Yar‘Adua International Centre from next Monday, September 23, have to raise the funds entirely from our pockets.
This is not the usual multilateral conference where a country or a group, like the G7, gather states to pledge funds or loans. This is a unique people-to-people gathering of persons and groups who appreciate sacrifice and the meaning of freedom. People who see the world beyond the dollars pledged at multilateral meetings of the rich and powerful. This solidarity is freely given and freely received.
The roots of our solidarity reach out to the 18th and 19th centuries when about one million Africans were captured, sold and taken as slaves to Cuba. But there are many such countries in the Caribbean and we do not hold solidarity with them. Rather, this Afro-Cuban solidarity is situated in more contemporary times when Africa was in dire needs and we had virtually nobody to come to our aid.
All of Africa, except Liberia and Ethiopia, had been colonised. We had a whirl wind of independence in the 1960s and by the mid-1970s, we had another gale of decolonisation; Western Sahara fought free of its Spanish colonisers, while Guinea Bissau, Mozambique and Angola emerged from bloody liberations struggles against brutal Portuguese colonialism. However, the focus was on Angola primarily because the in-coming People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola, MPLA, led by Dr. Agostinho Neto was a radical one who was wedded to the decolonisation of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabawe) which had been seized and regarded as an eternal colony by racists led by Ian Smith. It was also committed to free South West Africa (now Namibia) and remove the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Apart from Britain and the United States supporting the apartheid regime, backing it economically and militarily and protecting it against possible sanctions, it was also the Cold War Era and the West feared that the newly independent countries might cross the Non-Alignment lines to side with Eastern Europe. The West was determined to stop the patriotic MPLA and install a stooge coalition of the National Liberation Front of Angola, FNLA, led by Holden Roberto and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, UNITA, led by Jonas Savimbi. However, Africa wanted an end to racist rule in Zimbabwe and Apartheid in Namibia and South Africa, so most African countries supported the MPLA.
In November 1975 as the Portuguese colonialists were departing, South African and Zairean (now DRC) forces with American military advisers and agents of the Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, poured into Angola to overrun the country in favour of the FNLA and UNITA coalition. To ensure the new Angolan government was completely isolated and destroyed, then American President, Gerald Ford sent his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger to warn African countries not to recognise or support the MPLA government.
Nigeria, one of the countries that recognised the Angolan government got a little veiled threat from America. In a January 1976 letter to then Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed and personally signed by President Ford, America told Nigeria that it has to stop the Organisation of African Unity, OAU, from recognising the MPLA government. Ford, insinuated that Angola has no right to self-determination and added: “On the South African question, I wish to state that the U.S. in no way sought or encouraged the South Africans to become involved in Angola, nor were we consulted. They acted, no doubt, in defense of their national interest as they see it.” It was a bared-faced justification of Apartheid South African invasion of an independent African country.
On January 11, 1976, General Muhammed stood before the OAU Conference in Addis Ababa to respond to the insulting letter from President Ford. In conclusion, Murtala said: “Mr. Chairman, when I contemplate the evils of apartheid, my heart bleeds and I am sure the heart of every true blooded African bleeds. . . Rather than join hands with the forces fighting for self-determination and against racism and apartheid, the United States policy makers clearly decided that it was in the best interests of their country to maintain White supremacy and minority regimes in Africa… Africa has come of age.
“It’s no longer under the orbit of any extra continental power. It should no longer take orders from any country, however, powerful. The fortunes of Africa are in our hands to make or to mar. For too long have we been kicked around: for too long have we been treated like adolescents who cannot discern their interests and act accordingly.
“For too long has it been presumed that the African needs outside ‘experts’ to tell him who are his friends and who are his enemies. The time has come when we should make it clear that we can decide for ourselves; that we know our own interests and how to protect those interests; that we are capable of resolving African problems without presumptuous lessons in ideological dangers.” On February 13, 1976, that is 33 days later, General Muhammed was dead; cut down by assassins.
Africa was like orphan, but Cuba under President Fidel Castro, came to our aid, sending combat troops over 9,000 kilometres to defend Africa and our sovereignty. The country sent about 55,000 troops in two waves.
Finally in 1988, at the historic Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, our Cuban brothers and sisters at the cost of thousands of lives, decisively defeated the Apartheid Armed Forces and all the other forces America and its allies had thrown into the conflict. It was the first time the powerful forces of apartheid was defeated. As the Cubans pushed towards Namibia, apartheid sued for peace, agreed to grant Namibia independence, which it did on March 21, 1990. Four years later, the badly injured apartheid regime also gave way in South Africa.
In shedding the blood of its youths for Africa, sending thousands of doctors and teachers to assist Africa and helping us fight Ebola, Cuba never asked Africa for favours nor colonise an inch of African soil.
The Afro-Cuba meeting in Abuja which I enjoin all those who appreciate selfless sacrifice to attend, is also intended to reiterate the fact that our Cuban brothers and sisters have a right to sovereingty, including that to the political system of their choice, be free of sanctions and embargo and, to live in peace.