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Jan
27

WHAT FRANTZ FANON MEANT TO AFRICAN LIBERATION (2)

WHAT FRANTZ FANON MEANT TO AFRICAN LIBERATION (2)
 By CAMERON DUODU
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 tosecrecy, as many of the independent Africanstates 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 in the process of 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  toproceed 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 escaped death by inches from 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, 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 had  got to know 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 Convention People’s PartyGhanaian 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 the 1st of 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 situationas a whole; for colonized peoples throughout the world were confronting the dangerous politics of European imperialism.

Brockway poured scorn on the  French attemptto 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. But (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 resistanceto 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 demonization 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 colonized, from the repressive and therefore illegitimate violence of the murderous  colonizer.

 (To be contd)
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