United Kingdom—It was about 11am UK time when I turned my data on and the phone vibrated to deliver a WhatsApp group message that Fidel Castro was no more! I was sincerely hurt but it later got worse when I saw some Cuban-Americans dancing to the same news! It’s understandable and normal that reactions to Fidel’s death elicited mixed feelings. Not all people, Cubans or others, believed in his course! Some saw him as an oppressor, others had tepid feelings towards him and yet some (like me) were his avid admirers.

In my opinion, Fidel remains a revolutionary and icon against blatant imperialism and racism, a benefactor of liberty for Africans and advocate for other subaltern groups. He may have suppressed some Cubans in the course of his revolutionary ambitions, but Comrade Fidel was neither Lenin nor Stalin like some want us to believe. And if anything, which revolution has ever been quenched from rose water? Even the Glorious, American and French Revolutions never materialized from mere talk, rivers of blood flowed, necessarily or not! But Cuba today, thanks to Castro’s egalitarian vision, has some basic public amenities which even the US cannot dream of having in several decades coming, and African nations can learn something from this.

The reason I woke up that late is that I went to the City of Manchester to apply for a VISA to an African country. Quite laughable and sad but not today’s topic. During my trip I marveled at the magnificent UK cities, highways and the obvious top quality life; but also internally reflected on how different things were back home in Sub-Saharan Africa where I personally had a first-hand experience with penury.

Close to six decades after colonialism, African economies within this region exhibit the worst statistics globally in many human development indicators. Why are Africans still abject poor and worst governed globally? Why are Africans still landless in their own countries? What happened to the promises (or rhetoric?) of the “independence” years? Why are ujinga, ugonjwa na umaskini still elusive despite the MDGs, SDGs and our various versions “plans of action” and “vision twenty-somethings?” No target has never been met and when time elapses we reschedule through rebranding.

Methinks our economic development models are not working properly due to two setbacks: a) unconscious leadership which has undermined b) our economic and political freedom. But today I will only comment on the unconscious and thus failed African leadership.

Achebe once reasonably remarked that the “trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership”, an observation that applies to the entire Africa. Most African leaders have declined to sacrifice personal ambitions for the greater good of their societies, instead preferring to be coopted in the shameful exploitation of their own hapless people. Why can’t they learn from the likes of Fidel Castro on this? Self-sacrifice is driven by a serious commitment to ethics in whatever one does or aspires to do, a virtue quite remarkable in Castro’s vision for Cuba however oppressively he pursued it.

Castro openly stated that he was inspired largely by the selflessness in the Cuban anti-imperialist Jose Marti. While Marti may have been too idealistic in his views, he bequeathed Castro with a personal commitment to shun unnecessary personal ambitions, more so when fighting against a serious plight for a helpless majority of people. When your personal ambitions overshadow the plight of a majority of the downtrodden people, that becomes sacrilege against your society and not merely a betrayal.

Near all post-colonial African leaders have failed in this regard by turning against their people when most needed, more so on land matters. Most accepted independence constitutions that they knew would not offer redress to their people, more so on the land question in former settler colonies. If one would reason that African leaders at this time were being strategic and focused on independence, why did they not address these sensitive issues in the post-colonial era? It’s because they are steeped into their materialistic and personality cult ambitions at the expense of their people’s plight and which has in turn failed to cultivate a sense of unity of purpose against foreign influences.

Materialism among African leaders has served to impoverish African people. Most post-colonial African leaders have turned into comprador bourgeois merely gatekeeping for foreign interests and reaping massively too in the process. It’s shameful how most were rewarded with massive titles which they shared with their retinue at the expense of indigent natives who were previously evicted from these lands. So many Kenyans and South Africans remain not only landless but hopeless and hapless since there is no credible chance for redress in the near future. This is despite the fact that the Kenyatta, Moi and some minority settler families own vast tracks of land.

The kleptocracy that was Mobutu’s Zaire is something hard to forget, more so the collusion of France in the filth. Yet Castro, born to a landed emigrant family from Spain, chose to forego his middle class trappings to fight for Cuban autonomy.

Furthermore, unlike other Communist leaders like Stalin or Mao Zedong, Castro shunned monuments of himself and declined to have even his image or name in the local currency or public institutions, an indication he made clear when he ordered that Enzo Gallo Chiapardi’s monument of him next to the Columbia military base be torn down just shortly after the 1959 revolution. He instead preferred to venerate others like Marti and Che Guevara. Yet African leaders seemed obsessed with this habit, naming public assets like among others universities, major city highways, roads, streets, and parks after the first families as Kenyattas, Mois, Nkrumahs, Nyereres and others.

These failures of personal ambitions in Africa have made it hard for African leaders to unite against foreign imperialist pressures and thus vulnerable to manipulation or possible dethronement, more so during the Cold War. When the OAU rallied African leaders against the “immoral sovereignty” of the minority apartheid-regime in South Africa, the personal interests of certain leaders like Kenyatta could not allow them to abide by the resolutions thereby weakening the African resolve.

Even the lone voices of Nkrumah and Nyerere against Western imperialism could not have any considerable impact since they were drowned by the betrayals in the actions of their peers. Interestingly, the African Union that Gadaffi passionately propped up failed to even save his life after the continent’s leaders backtracked on the plan. Unity cannot thrive in African leadership when every leader prefers to do things their way even in situations where obviously coming together is most beneficial. Even the monster of ICC remains no exception.

Yet Castro remained quite steadfast in his anti-Western imperialism stance, even as some of his friendly regimes collapsed alongside the Berlin Wall; thus earning him more veneration even from his nemeses. Furthermore, even as some African leaders declined to indulge in the revolutionary struggles in the continent’s late colonial outposts, Castro contributed massively to realize freedom for black South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe, Zaire among others. Later on he offered technical aid in terms of medics to African societies and elsewhere too, actions which remain hallmarks of his vision for a fair world for many. There is a lot African leaders can learn from Castro’s conscious and visionary personality.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Our fellow Scribe, Seth Ouma, joins Grandmother Africa with this insightful addition to Madi and Jehuti’s earlier essays: this is about what African leaders, and those who aspire to become leaders on our dear continent, can learn from the lived experiences of Fidel Castro (RIP).

    No doubt, the dignity of Castro astounds even the worst among us, but what Ouma hopes to do in this essay is to cast a man in the correct and appropriate light as to be worthy of his cause and place in history to warrant the continued remembrance among those who dare to “step in his shoes” as we march onward fighting the neo-imperialisms of our times.

    Enjoy!

  2. A very welcome contribution from our newly enlisted Grandmother Africa Scribe, Oxbridge (Decolonising?) student Seth Ouma, to lessons from the lived experience of Comrade Fidel Fidel Castro Ruz; for the attention of all who can dare to strive to live according to the tenets Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah long ago stipulated for himself and his fellow Pan-Afrikan Compatriots of “The Circle” desirous of following his footsteps in the virtuous making of the Pan-Afrikan Revolution for Global Justice: “Service, Sacrifice and Suffering”!

  3. While reading this article one thing that stood out for me that I never thought of previously is you never heard statements of wealth amassed by the Castro brothers. This stands in contrast to so many other leaders. It’s is a great point that whatever Cuba may have been it’s revolution is no different than the American or the French which underlines the weakness in peoples’ ability to reason for themselves. Castro and Cuba’s commitment to healthcare not for the purposes of getting rich but to truly heal reveals an imperative that puts people before personal enrichment. Cuba’s doctors, it’s creation of doctors and its training and humanitarian projects world wide leave a legacy that reveals the trite and greed ridden efforts of the Clintons, the Red Cross and so many others who done so little with so much.

    I would be remiss if I didn’t point out however that we must all not for get that the West did in fact kill Africa’s best leaders just as during Obama’s administration the reports were declassified that the US government was dumping drugs in the Black communities here in the US. It’s important to always recall and retell these things because it’s not that many haven’t tried and it’s not that the Black community is lacking. We are in a war with a depraved and souless strain of humanity that kills, steals and rigs all while going on the world stage and blaming if not outright mocking its victims. I bring this up because it’s important to understand their methods and reasoning.

    All this time the West has been selling its way and its lifestyle trying to convince the world that its the best and all else is a failure. In the same way they killed Africa’s best leaders and funded and protected villainous and trifling ones, all the while pointing to Africa as though some cautionary tale, Africa starved countries like Cuba and Zimbabwe because they didn’t want them to be successful. Sure look at the crippling sanctions against Cuba, Russia and Zimbabwe yet they always take to the media extolling the supposed failures of these countries, which is really attacking the model that the country represents, most times never mentioning the sanctions.

    The moment a nation such as China has a successful model that counters Western ideology leaders of other countries may start to send their fresh young minds to that country and stop trying to copy the West. This is what they fear the most. They don’t want you to know that your countries failure was masterminded by them, they instead want you to believe its because you’re not enough like them but to keep trying. If nothing else Fidel Castro’s example is that there are other ways as the Cuban people’s lives may not be full of things but they are happy and potentially whole which stands not in contrast but in defiance of all the West would have you believe.

  4. Akosua, Kofi and Michael I thank you all for opening a critique of my article. Michael’s perspectives are particularly very challenging and I quite agree with them. Africa did have true leaders but who were assassinated or sabotaged-the best examples are Sankara and Nyerere, respectively. Sankara and Lumumba were not so much inclined to pursue the personality cult that other equally good leaders like Nyerere and Nkrumah failed on. Its a sad history, of how our people have been deprived of focused leadership.

    But its also critical to note that these frustrations were possible because African leaders never united. They were pursuing material wealth and personality cults (however relatively) to the extent that uniting to face a common enemy in the form of external meddling was not possible. In the OAU Summit of 1987, Sankara made a very serious speech in which he stated that African economies could’t pay back unfairly accrued debts but that it requires unity to undertake such a risk. He even made fun that if only Burkina Faso would fail to pay the debt then he would not attend the next OAU Summit-insinuating he would be assassinated or overthrown. Well, you know what happened afterwards. Other African leaders looked at him with such pessimistic face as he delivered the speech, perhaps even thinking he was mad.

    And cases still abound where African leaders simply and selfishly so, declined to have a common stand on issues critical to the continent. Why would Kenyatta decline to cooperate with the ANC to assist his fellow downtrodden race get freedom? Even we would say it was external meddling in Kenyan affairs, how not so was it the case in Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, et cetera? And if all these other African states would have a common stand against the apartheid regime but only Kenya and Lesotho decline to support, what does it tell us? External meddling is an issue but personal interests of African leaders was also to blame. Overall, this failure to focus on the greater good for their peoples but instead prioritize personal gain is what actually made them soft spots for external meddling and thus independence was eroded. And the collateral consequence is that where African leaders tried to establish that autonomy (Nkrumah, Nyerere, Machel and Sankara) it could not work because they were mere lonely islands of defiance against a sea of co-option in the exploitation of their economies and therefore people!

    A

    • You make great points but in my opinion its why we can’t afford to let them off the hook for what they did to our people. If African people regardless of country are aware of all the deeds of the West then they wouldn’t be surprised at their treatment when they are in those countries. To me one of the things driving radicalization is the fact that on one hand you have people leaving a country because of whatever despot/idiot is running the country. They don’t know that one this guy is funded and protected by the very Western countries that they see as a savior. So not knowing the deeds of the West in their country or Africa as a whole, they go to France, Britain or the US believe that the madman they left at home was all they had to fear only to find, isolation, ridicule and rejection in Western cities they risked their lives to get to. If you knew that it was Western policy killing your good leaders and leaving you with these fools, you wouldn’t be hurt and dejected by what you find in West. Ideally you would say you know it is better for us to rise up and take our country because there is no other alternative good available to us.

      If you juxtapose this with people in Iran, Russia and China who know the deeds of the West and take it personally then you see why their leaders have such high approval ratings despite every Western effort. Even the people of Cuba saw that Fidel was fighting for a Cuba that served their interest versus a US lap dog and while they may tire of the inconvenience their knowledge of the truth is what gets them through and places the blame of their situation squarely at the feet of the West. I started taking Mandarin and started watching a lot of Chinese cinema. I have seen that they remind themselves of the Britain introducing them to poppy at gun point and the devastation it caused repeatedly in every few movies. Could that be why when you talk to the average Chinese citizen they will tell you that they want a Chinese company to be as successful as Google or Apple vs. say India where they are thrilled just to sit at the table and run the backend of Western technology companies. Even Iranian people are proud of their heritage and lay the blame for all that’s happened to them at the feet of the West.

      Thus your children must be born and stoked in all the ills that the West has lauded against people that look like us. Look at our brothers in West Papua who look just like us and are being killed off because of the gold mine they have. Same thing with Haiti which likely has some of the largest mineral deposits in this hemisphere. Black people must be able to properly identify potential friends and enemies and the only way you can do that is to pursue an agenda that is wholly African/Black. You can’t really hide in China or Iran because those people pursue wholly Chinese and Iranian agenda. The moment you start talking about trying to get along, it is now easy to identify you because they aren’t pursuing get along agendas. They are pursuing agendas that are designed to take care specifically of their countries and their peoples.

      Yet this isn’t hatred. A healthy understanding of the misdeed committed against your people and countries helps you know that help can not and will not come from without but can only come from within. Also when you understand how thoroughly the West has been assisted by your own then you begin to formulate ways to identify and deal with these people but you can only do so by steeping your peoples in the truth. A truth which rightly helps you understand that trusting the minds of your best and brightest to the hands of your enemy is folly. Letting the West off the hook for past misdeeds doesn’t just let them off the hook but it also makes your countrymen who rightly warn about the perils of dealing with the West to look crazy vs. sage.

  5. I would delete my last post and just say this. Too many of the countries and people that look up to the West are the ones that look up to the West the most. Francophone countries come to mind of course. Castro was the embodiment of his country’s memory and its guiding principles. This is it should be when African peoples worldwide suddenly come face to face with Western opulence: In a market there is a poor family shopping and they come across a rich family. The poor child looks at the rich child’s family almost jealously. Just then the mother of the poor child seeing his stair tells her child that is the family he’s been warned about. Suddenly there is anger in the child’s eyes and he says “Mother those are our diamonds that woman is wearing and it’s her husband who has stolen oil and gold from our village.” The mother responds, “Yes son those are the people we’ve warned you about.” The child spares one more fierce stare towards the wealthy family of thieves quietly promising himself that he will right this injustice. When Africa’s children who typically view the West as something to be desire and emulated realize that Western wealth has been stolen from them particularly things will quickly change I am certain.

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