FRANTZ FANON, PROPHET OF THE AFRICAN REVOLUTION
Frantz Fanon: Prophet of African liberation
Frantz Fanon played a key role in ‘legitimising violent struggle’ among ‘African liberation movements’, writes Cameron Duodu, in an exploration of Fanon’s relationship with Pan-Africanism, in particular in Ghana.
The late 1950s, the era in which Ghana achieved its independence and took its place as the first British territory south of the Sahara to attain the nationhood that the visionaries of Pan-Africanism had demanded for Africa decades earlier, were heady days. Signs of the impending surrender of power to the African populations of the British and French colonies were in the air, and the atmosphere in our part of Africa was quite intoxicating. Of course, few of us knew very much about what was happening elsewhere in Africa.
What we thought was happening was that the British, installed in their Houses of Parliament in London, were happy to write ‘constitutional orders-in-council’ for any of their African ‘dependencies’ that made a ‘good case’ for one. Such constitutions assumed that ‘ordered progress’ would be made towards self-rule. That would eventually enable former British territories to become ‘members of the Commonwealth, with full dominion status’ – an objective that was extolled as the be-all and end-all of the process that would lead to ‘equality’ between newly-created African nations like Ghana, and older ‘dominions‘ such as Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. And since Britain was a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) some of us naively expected that those of its NATO allies which also owned territories in Africa – France and Portugal in particular – would also be infected with the bug of ‘disengagement’ in Africa and allow their territories to achieve independence, just like Ghana. Somehow, we managed to overlook what was going on in Kenya, where the British were quite brutally repressing the African people’s rebellion against the theft of their lands. That was an unfortunate ‘aberration’ that would soon be resolved through British ‘good sense’, it was assumed.
We were soon to know, however, that our optimism was misplaced. For in 1958, just a year after Ghana’s independence, Guinea was flung into a hurricane of economic destabilisation by France, when it voted ‘No’ in a referendum called by General Charles de Gaulle to determine whether the French-ruled territories in Africa wanted to stay as members of the ‘French Community’ or not. The French, who had said that the vote would be a free one, were so angry that Guinea had chosen to state what it actually wanted that the French packed up and left Guinea high and dry, taking everything they could with them. They even took such petty things as typewriters bought with Guinea taxpayers’ money. What they could not take they wantonly destroyed – such as yanking telephone wires out of their sockets.
To their credit, Ghana’s political leadership, especially our Prime Minister, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, and his adviser on African Affairs, George Padmore, who had worked together in London as joint secretaries of the 5th Pan-African Congress in Manchester in 1945, had no illusions about imperialist intentions in Africa. They strongly believed that only a united Africa could free itself from imperialism, and so they called a Conference of Independent African States to take place in Accra from 15 to 22 April 1958. All the countries in Africa that had achieved independence before Ghana attended the conference – Ethiopia, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and the United Arab Republic (Egypt).
That these countries responded positively to Ghana’s invitation, and did not snub Ghana as an arriviste to the comity of nations that wanted to punch above its weight, was due to the enormous diplomatic skill and energy devoted to its preparation by George Padmore, who took care of Africa whilst Nkrumah devoted himself to the affairs of Ghana. Born in Trinidad as Malcolm Nurse, Padmore had participated in socialist activities while studying in the USA, and had eventually left to work in Moscow as the Comintern’s (Communist International) organiser of programmes involving black trade unions both in the USA and in African countries.
However, Padmore had come to the realisation that Moscow would back the black struggle only if it did not interfere with the Soviet Union’s relationship with the countries with which it was, in the 1930s, cultivating an alliance against Nazi Germany. Which were these countries? Great Britain and France, of course. How could Padmore acquiesce in ‘going soft’ on the two principal countries that were sitting on Africa, head and shoulders?
So Padmore took the extremely dangerous step of splitting from a Soviet Communist Party led by that terror of a man, Josef Stalin. But unlike Leon Trotsky, Padmore survived. He arrived in Britain, where he set up shop, writing articles and books and agitating for Africa’s independence. His protégés soon included most of the African politicians who were either students in the UK or had gone to Britain to discuss their countries’ future political development. Among them were two of the most significant figures in Africa’s struggle for freedom – Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.
As soon as Nkrumah, now Prime Minister of Ghana, appointed Padmore as his adviser on African Affairs, Padmore set to work networking with politicians he knew in the other independent African states. Now, because of his work on the Pan-African Congress of Manchester in 1945, and his earlier work in Moscow, Padmore knew everyone who was anyone in Africa, or knew someone who knew them. So he received a positive response to the proposal to hold a Conference of Independent African States in Accra.
Padmore devised the slogan, ‘The Sahara Unites Us!’ which formed the theme of the conference. This neutralised, at a stroke, the suspicions that had historically, existed between the Arab north of Africa and the Black south. Padmore also took the trouble to travel personally to every African country to lobby its leaders to attend the conference. I am certain that he met Frantz Fanon in Tunisia, where the Algerian freedom fighters had their headquarters.
FANON AND INDEPENDENT AFRICA
Fanon’s relations with the independent African states were always problematic. He had to deal with them on behalf of the Algerian government in exile, which was formed in Cairo in September 1958. But Fanon needed to resort to secrecy, as many of the independent African states were only dressed-up as sovereign states, but had state institutions that had been infiltrated to the hilt by the colonial powers.
The French campaign against the Algerians was particularly vicious: On one occasion, they attempted to kidnap Fanon, when he was trying to fly from Monrovia in Liberia to Conakry, Guinea. Fanon was waiting in the airport lounge for his flight when he heard the name in which he had booked his flight called out on the airport tannoy. He was requested to proceed to the airline’s office.
When he got there, he was informed that his flight had been postponed to the next day. But he needn’t worry, he was told. The airline would ‘bear the cost of putting him up in a hotel for the night’. And he was given a voucher to go to a particular hotel in Monrovia.
But it was not for nothing that Fanon had won the ‘Croix de Guerre’ in the French army, in which he had served as a soldier. He had his wits constantly about him, and always took measures to protect himself against unusual developments in his life. On this occasion, his suspicions aroused, he pretended to be grateful for the free hotel accommodation, and took the voucher. But from the airport, he immediately arranged to make the journey to Conakry by road instead!
On another occasion, he narrowly escaped being killed by a bomb, when he was travelling by road between guerrilla camps in Tunisia. Factional FLN disputes might have been responsible for that, but whether that was the case or not, what is not in dispute is that the French knew only too well that he had a very powerful intellect, and so didn’t want him around whilst they were trying to conquer the Algerian freedom fighters at both the military and political levels. Indeed, a few years later, when Fanon was hospitalised in Rome with the leukaemia that eventually killed him in December 1961 – exactly 50 years ago – the hospital room in which he was supposed to be lying, was shot up with machine-gun fire. But again, Fanon had been too smart for the French – he had changed rooms during the night, after he realised that a French journalist who had come to interview him, had, either stupidly or conspiratorially, disclosed the name of the hospital in which he was a patient. Fanon later got himself flown to America for treatment after the attack, for he was sure the French would be back to try their luck again.
The formidable intellect Fanon possessed and which made him such a target for French assassination was applied, in 1958, to winning over the Independent African States so that they could use their membership of the Afro-Asian bloc – a group that had been gaining strength since its formation at the Bandung (Indonesia) conference in 1955 – to press Algeria’s case for independence, at the United Nations and other international forums.
The invitations to the first Conference of Independent African States had gone out from Accra in April 1957 – just one month after Ghana’s independence. Egypt under President Gamal Abdul Nasser was Algeria’s principal supporter in the world (second only to President Habib Bourguiba’s Tunisia, which had allowed the FLN to open bases on its territory). So Egypt kept the FLN in the loop about the negotiations for the conference. So when Dr Kwame Nkrumah sent George Padmore to Egypt and the other African countries to consult them on the agenda of the conference, Padmore, being the clever and experienced Pan-Africanist that he was, would undoubtedly have used the occasion to meet FLN leaders, including Fanon, in either Cairo or Tunis or both cities. He would have briefed them on what was going on and worked out a strategy with them to ensure that they were not left out of the loop. For Padmore’s purpose, along with Dr Nkrumah, was to enlist the Independent African States wholly behind the African countries that were still under colonial rule.
Padmore would have anticipated that the conference would come up against the hurdle of whether ‘violent struggle’ had any place in the anti-colonial struggle. Egypt and Tunisia were no problem, as without their support, the FLN would have been defeated as soon as it launched its campaign of violence in 1954. But Liberia, Libya, and Sudan were a problem. Ethiopia, although an ally of the United States, was a wise old African owl, having experienced brutal colonial invasion at the hands of the Italians in 1935, a good four years before the Second World War broke out.
Even Ghana had a little problem. Its leader, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, had always taught his followers that non-violent, or ‘Gandhian’ methods of struggle were not only legitimate but probably superior to violent struggle. He emphasised, in his early writings, the method of ‘Positive Action’, which was based on strikes, non-cooperation and other forms of non-violence. Anyway, whatever Nkrumah himself believed, Padmore knew that Nkrumah’s party, the Convention People’s Party (CPP), needed to be carried along, otherwise the campaign to free the rest of Africa would not get the full support of the Ghanaian populace. Apart from the CPP leadership, the Ghanaian civil servants, most of whom had modelled themselves on the British expatriates they had replaced, also needed political education.
What the Ghanaian intelligentsia needed, Padmore concluded, was exposure to good stalwarts of the anti-colonial struggle, who would explain clearly that not all African colonies would be released to independence by their colonial masters, in the relatively peaceful manner that Ghana had itself experienced.
So, what Padmore did was to arrange for Fenner Brockway, the leading supporter of Africa’s struggle for freedom in Britain (he was a Labour Member of Parliament and chair of the Movement for Colonial Freedom, one of the most effective anti-colonial organisations in the world) to visit Ghana and engage in unfettered political debate with those around Dr Nkrumah.
Fenner Brockway arrived in Accra in March 1958 and on 1 April, he published an article in the Evening News, the party organ of the governing CPP, in which he sought to open the Party’s eyes to the true nature of imperialism. He went straight to the point: ‘Algeria’, he wrote. ‘has become the symbol of most of the issues which now convulse the world.’ What was at stake in Algeria was ‘more than colonial freedom’. The political, social, and economic problems that shaped the Algerian situation – the prospects of self-government as well as the control to be held over Algeria’s resources – had emblazoned themselves on the colonial situation as a whole; for colonised peoples throughout the world were confronting the dangerous politics of European imperialism.
Brockway poured scorn on the French attempt to convey the idea that there was some sort of almost mystical ‘historical’ or ‘familial’ bond between the French settlers in Algeria and the Algerian people. Instead, Brockway pointed out, the so-called ties that bound the settlers and the natives and which the French had begotten the slogan, ‘Algérie française’, was little more than a façade designed to hide France’s ‘nefarious’ intentions’ – and actual practice of oppression – in North Africa. The truth was that the Algerian situation was indicative of a general pattern of exploitation and coercion that extended throughout the African continent, as European and NATO forces sought to ensure control over Africa’s natural resources, such as oil, copper and uranium, for their side in the Cold War.
Padmore made sure that Brockway’s message in the Evening News was followed up just a fortnight later by a person I have no doubt was Frantz Fanon, but who used the pen-name, ‘Visitor’. In articles about Algeria he wrote for the Evening News, ‘Visitor’ called on the readers of the paper to ‘Lift Up the Torch of United Africa’.
‘Visitor’ wrote: ‘From Algeria in the North to Nigeria in the West, from Kenya in the East to the tribes in the South, Africans bemoan their fate against the atrocities of colonialism… The whole of Africa trembles under the impact of colonial brutalities.’
Fanon/Visitor exposed the ‘evident hypocrisy’ of the European imperialists. They had, he said, instituted a global relationship that promised to bring Africa into the ‘modern world’ through ‘Christianization’ and ‘Civilization.’ However, despite this lofty objective, with its promise of ‘purported progress’, Europe’s colonial powers maintained their authority through ‘the systematic use of violence, exploitation, and racism.’
The African peoples, and specifically the Algerian people, had ‘the responsibility’ to ‘respond to this aggression by vigilantly acting to obtain their freedom “through all available means”’.
Heard that phrase before? Yes: ‘By any means necessary!’ (Malcolm X). Fanon got there first!
The issue at hand, ‘Visitor’ further argued, was not whether the African peoples had the right to use violence in their fight for self-determination. For in situations like that of Algeria, the colonial officials had left no alternative but violent action. The French settlers’ aggressive denial of the Algerian nation’s right to exist, had robbed the Algerian people of their land and broken up their communities and families.
‘The inhuman atrocities directed against the Algerians, whose only “crime” is their bid for freedom, points the barometer of wilful sin at the French Christians.’ Yet, it was rather they, the ‘sinners’, who, through a vigorous and at times quite successful propaganda campaign, had gone to great lengths to ‘delegitimize resistance to their authority on the African continent’.
The result of the colonialists’ propaganda campaign was that, in the international press and at the UN, it was the oppressed Algerians who were labelled as ‘terrorists’. They suffered from a process of demonisation analogous to ‘giving a dog a nasty name in order to make it easy to shoot it.’
Fanon, like Brockway, used his article, ‘Lift Up the Torch of United Africa’ as a call upon all African peoples to reject an international community dominated by the colonial powers of the West. Denouncing ‘the French Community’ promoted by De Gaulle, Fanon declared: ‘The African peoples have no future in a community that sees their struggle for self-determination as everything from “naïve” to “illegitimate”.’
Fanon’s clear objective was, as in his later works, to turn the discourse on ‘anticolonial terrorism’ on its head, by establishing a moral system that distinguished between the emancipatory violence of the colonised, from the repressive and therefore illegitimate violence of the murderous coloniser.
Fanon’s preparatory work in Ghana achieved the greatest success possible. Having laid the groundwork in the diplomatic and media spheres, he got together with a delegation from Cameroon, Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC) led by Felix Moumie, which had taken up arms to try and win independence for Cameroon as a country with an agenda hostile to France’s intention of making the territory a neocolonial entity. The two delegations won a hearing at the Conference of Independent African States, which opened in Accra on 15 April 1958 and ended on 22 April.
So effective was Fanon’s presentation and so uninhibited the support given to it by the Egyptian and Tunisian delegations in particular – that the Conference devoted an entire resolution to ‘The Algerian Question.’ For the time being, the naïve approach to the liberation of the remaining colonial territories in Africa appeared to have been shelved.
Now, that was no small achievement, for the ‘conservative’ regimes among the Independent African States carried a lot of baggage loaded with ideological dynamite: Think of revolutionary Egypt sitting alongside monarchical Morocco and the Libya of King Idris. Think of Liberia under US influence, suspicious of its young and politically fidgety neighbour, Ghana. What was Ethiopia to say? It was well-versed in the ways of imperialism, having been invaded by fascist Italy under Mussolini without provocation in 1935, and left to fend for itself by an indifferent League of Nations. Yet, it was now firmly under American tutelage and quite frightened that any politics of a ‘radical’ nature in Africa might become infections and threaten the reign of His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie The First. To get all these disparate regimes to jettison their individual reservations and focus solely on the liberation of the African continent, was a major diplomatic feat, worthy of the efforts of the two men who had done the ‘donkey work’ at the Pan-African Conference in Manchester in 1945 – George Padmore and Kwame Nkrumah.
The text of the Algerian resolution – clear, incisive and visionary in its implications, speaks for itself:
‘The Conference of Independent African States,
Deeply concerned by the continuance of war in Algeria and the denial by France to the Algerian people of the right of independence and self-determination, despite various United Nations resolutions and appeals urging a peaceful settlement, notably the offer of good offices made by the Moroccan and Tunisian Heads of State;
‘Considering that the present situation in Algeria constitutes a threat to international peace and the security of Africa in particular;
‘1. Recognises the right of the Algerian people to independence and self-determination;
‘2. Deplores the grave extent of hostilities and bloodshed resulting from the continuance of the war in Algeria;
‘3. Urges France (a) to recognise the right of the people of Algeria to independence and self-determination; (b) to put an end to the hostilities and to withdraw all her troops from Algeria;
(c) to enter into immediate peaceful negotiation with the Algerian Liberation Front with a view to reaching a final and just settlement;
‘4. Appeals to all peace-loving nations to exercise pressure on France to adopt a policy which is in conformity with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations;
‘5. Appeals to the friends and allies of France to refrain from helping France, whether directly or indirectly, in her military operations in Algeria;
‘6. Affirms its determination to make every possible effort to help the Algerian people towards the attainment of independence;
‘7. Recommends that the representatives of the Independent African States at the United Nations be instructed by their various Governments to consult each other constantly and acquaint members of the United Nations with the true state of affairs in Algeria, and solicit their support for a just and peaceful settlement, and to recommend to the Independent African States, measures which may from time to time become necessary to be taken, and in particular, find ways and means whereby the Independent African States may enlighten world opinion on the Algerian situation, including the appointment of a mission … to tour the capitals of the world to enlist the support of Governments.’
This was a total identification of the independent African States with the Algerian struggle. It led, within two years, of Ghana (for instance) defying all threats from France itself and the pleas of France’s allies in NATO, especially Britain – and indeed the opposition of some of its own rather cautious diplomats trained at the Foreign Office in London and attached to British embassies abroad for practical experience – allowing an embassy of ‘the Algerian Government in exile’ to be opened in Accra. Who was to be Algeria’s first Ambassador to Ghana? Who but – Frantz Fanon?
But even before he obtained full diplomatic recognition status in Ghana, there was another objective that Fanon took it upon himself to accomplish. This was to make the case for legitimising violent struggle, before the larger constituency of African liberation movements. Nkrumah and Padmore had planned a second conference, the All-African People’s Conference, to follow the Conference of Independent African States from 5 to 13 December 1958,that is precisely eight months after the first Accra Conference. The conference opened in an environment of optimism such as only the success of the earlier Accra Conference could engender. Symbolically, a person from Kenya, a country engaged in an armed insurrection that had preceded what was taking place in Algeria, was elected its chairman. He was called Tom Mboya and he uttered a sentence that will live for ever in African history: ‘If the imperialists scrambled for Africa in 1884-85, we are now asking them to “scram from Africa”.’
Apart from Independence Day – 6 March 1957 – I cannot recall a day that excited Ghanaians more than the day the All-African People’s Conference opened in Accra, 5 December 1958.
Accra Community Centre, the venue of the conference, was decorated brightly with flags and bunting. Behind the dais where the top delegates sat, was a magnificent piece of art-work, showing a mighty, strong-muscled African, breaking the chains that bound him. In bold letters were the words, ‘Africans, you have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a continent to regain.’
As a reporter at the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, I had been assigned to go to the airport on occasion to meet arriving delegates and report anything they might want to say. Most said nothing, for they knew that their colonial masters monitored their movements and seized upon any statements they made while abroad, to persecute them. I did meet Patrice Lumumba from what was then called ‘Belgian Congo’; Kenneth Kaunda from ‘Northern Rhodesia’ (now Zambia); Julius Nyerere from ‘Tanganyika’ (now Tanzania). Two friends I had met at the Afro-Asian Writers’ Conference in Tashkent – Mario de Andrade and Viriato Cruz from Angola – also turned up. As did Ezekiel Mphahlele from South Africa, whose name was familiar to me from Drum Magazine.
For Frantz Fanon, the All-African People’s Conference was a traumatic event. He sat down and listened to speech after speech from well-meaning would-be liberators of Africa who could not hide the fact that their education and political consciousness had been largely shaped by missionaries and all sorts of do-gooders, many of whom were pacifists or closet pacifists. The speech by Ghana’s leader, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, must have depressed him more than most of the others, for Nkrumah was, at that time, under the influence of the Gandhian philosophy of satyagraha – which he sprinkled with his own notion that ‘The African Personality’ contained an inherent moral superiority that could be harnessed to break the will of imperialism.
Yet at this stage, the Algerian revolution had been going on for a full four years. Not only that, it was only eight months previously that Fanon – backed by Egypt and Tunisia – had persuaded the Conference of Independent African States to devote a fairly forthright resolution to the Algerian question.
Fanon’s speech to the All-African People’s Conference took attendees by storm. For once, he eschewed his usual dispassionate and largely intellectual modus of discourse and embarked on an emotional denunciation of violence on the part of the colonialists; a violence, which, he pointed out, made it impossible for their victims not to adopt violence in defending themselves. To condemn violence in such a situation was to delegitimise the right of the oppressed to defend themselves, he emphasised.
He vividly described some of the atrocities the French had committed in Algeria. Were the heroes who tried to save the Algerian population from French barbarities wrong, he demanded.
Among these ‘atrocities’ were ‘The Massacres of May 1945’. These occurred during an attempt by the French in May 1945 to suppress peaceful demonstrations that had been organised in Algerian cities such as Setif. The French had used gun-fire and physical attacks on the peaceful demonstrators. Both the French settlers and the French security forces had taken part in these attacks. In Setif, an Algerian merely carrying the prohibited Algerian flag was shot dead by a policeman. This had touched off riots. To suppress the riots, General Duval, commander of the military division of Constantine province, had called in the French air force and paratroopers. They responded with such extreme violence that 45,000 Algerians were killed within a few days – 45,000!
It was only after this that the Algerians had begun a well-coordinated struggle for independence, which, of course, France tried to quell by employing military repression, collective punishment, torture, and the erection of concentration camps. Yes – ironically, France was erecting concentration camps in Algeria even as the atrocities that took place in Nazi concentration camps in Germany were being exposed to the world.
An International Red Cross Report published only the previous year (1957) had confirmed the widespread use of torture by the French army and police against thousands of Algerians. The torture techniques used by the French, according to the Red Cross, included electric shocks applied to the most sensitive parts of the body; near-drowning in water (a technique now made notorious by the Americans, who call it ‘water-boarding’ and inflict it on al Qaeda suspects in Guantanamo Camp and elsewhere!), sodomy with glass and wooden objects, hanging by the feet and hands, and burning with cigarettes.
Just four months before the Conference, in August 1958, the chief of police in Paris, Maurice Papon, had been applying what he had learnt in Algeria to the Algerian community in France itself – rounding up more than 5,000 Algerian immigrants on suspicion that they supported the FLN’s fighters.
Fanon reported on the Accra Conference and modestly referred to his speech in the FLN publication, El Moudjahid. He emphasised once again that the history of colonialism had demonstrated clearly that, however regrettable the decision to resort to violence might be, its use must remain an option. The Algerians, for instance, had tried the method of nonviolence before. ‘But the French had come to the Casbah, broken down door after door, and slaughtered the head of each household in the middle of the street.’ When the French had done this about 35 consecutive times, the Algerian people were forced to give up non-cooperation as a tool in their struggle for self-determination.
Fanon’s contribution in Accra led to the immense clear-headedness that can be seen in the All-African People’s Conference ‘Resolution on Imperialism and Colonialism.’ It named and shamed the ‘European imperialists’ who had ‘carved out the great bulk of the African continent arbitrarily, to the detriment of the indigenous African peoples — namely: Britain, France, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Portugal.’ In the process of colonisation, [the Resolution stated”> ‘two groups of colonial territories had emerged: (a) Those territories where indigenous Africans were dominated by foreigners who had their seats of authority in foreign lands — for example, French West Africa, French Equatorial Africa, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Belgian Congo, Portuguese Guinea, Basutoland, Swaziland and Bechuanaland. (b) Those where indigenous Africans were dominated and oppressed by foreigners who had settled permanently in Africa, and who regarded Africa as belonging more to them than to the African, e.g. Kenya, Union of South Africa, Algeria, Rhodesia, Angola and Mozambique’.
The Resolution then declared: ‘…It is hereby resolved by the All-African People’s Conference, meeting in Accra 5th to 13th December, 1958, and comprising over 300 delegates representing over 200 million Africans from all parts of Africa as follows:
‘… That the All-African People’s Conference in Accra declares its full support to all fighters for freedom in Africa; to all those who resort to peaceful means of non-violence and civil disobedience, as well as to all those who are compelled to retaliate against violence to attain national independence and freedom for the people. Where such retaliation becomes necessary, the Conference condemns all legislations which consider those who fight for their independence and freedom as ordinary criminals.’
Fanon’s victory in Accra had been total. He had liberated the minds of all African freedom fighters who had previously entertained qualms about the use of violence to liberate their countries.
Within one month, Patrice Lumumba, having gone back home was addressing a huge rally – against Belgian orders – when the police struck. Riots broke out. Violence in retaliation against violence. Within 18 months of the conference, the Congo had become independent. Violent resistance against Portuguese rule, which had begun in Guinea-Bissau in 1956, became intensified as the people of Angola and Mozambique fought for their freedom. By the early 1960s, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana had established guerrilla training camps for African freedom fighters at Obenimase and Achiase, where the instructors included East Germans and Russians. I have personally been told by several African leaders who won their independence by fighting for it with arms, that these Ghana camps were the first place where they and their men received their first training.
Fanon himself died of leukaemia on 6 December 1961. But before he died, he sketched out, in his book ‘The Wretched Of The Earth’, how freedom – which includes the freedom to adopt the methods by which the Europeans had oppressed Africa – could have unexpected consequence for the African people, as they were enslaved by their new bourgeoisies.
To the emerging African leaders whose ascendancy to power he could see giving rise to some of the perplexing contradictions he had observed in Ghana, after he had been appointed the FLN’s ambassador to Ghana in March 1960, he issued the following warning:
‘To take part in the African revolution it is not enough to write a revolutionary song; you must fashion the revolution with the people. And if you fashion it with the people, the songs will come by themselves, and of themselves.’
Alas, Fanon’s warning had not been heeded and a lot of ‘songs’ have been written for the African people by their ‘leaders’, which have turned out to be verbiage of a sort that constitutes a torture to the vocal chords of the people when they try to sing those songs. ‘Authenticite!’ by Mobutu Seseseko! ‘Animation!’ by Gnassingbe Eyadema. And other elements of comic relief, such as Kamuzu Banda’s fly-whisk or Idi Amin’s chestful of medals.
But Africans should not be too despondent about all that. For when an African baby is born, it cries first. Then life begins to help to it break into song, accompanied by drums whose eloquence can never be stifled. So it shall be with African freedom.
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