My life before the mid- to late-eighties was a kid’s life, occupied with school, experimenting with alcohol, weed, *** fumbling. Positively boring. And then I met Marx at University - and Sanjan. It was not his given name, just what he was known as, among campus revolutionaries and admirers beyond. His nom de guerre.
I was a boy, a “boy revo”; he was my senior and he was good: he could speak with passion, an orator; his commanding prose made me want to write. I loved him. I would have introduced him to my sister had I one.
They were members of a club formed to study Colonel Gaddafy’s theses on revolution, the Green Book Study Group. It was an open secret on campus that Sanjan and co had a relationship with the “Leader”. The mystique of Sanjan became boundless. They would jet off to Libya for weeks. On their return, they were looked on as kings.
And then we challenged the government. Violent student demonstrations. Tear gas and paramilitary AK 47s were deployed, the principal’s Merc Molotov-cocktailed. I was lucky to get off lightly; others were expelled, many put in jail to get their head straight. The University was shut down for a spell.
It was no surprise several years later to learn that the “Leader” was bankrolling Charles Taylor’s armed insurgency in neighbouring Liberia. But Taylor was fighting against one of the most ruthless and corrupt American proxies in the region. I was against both US hegemony and its support for Sergeant Samuel Doe. So, that was okay.
Sierra Leone’s one-party dictatorship was hated, so it was okay, again, for Gaddafy-blessed Foday Sankoh’s Revolutionary United Front to launch their insurgency from their base in neighbouring Liberia with Taylor’s very active support. Especially as the Sierra Leone government, fearful of the chaos in Liberia spilling over, was virulently anti-Taylor.
REIGN OF TERROR, RAPING, AMPUTATING LIMBS, PILLAGING
But then young military officers took power in Sierra Leone, removing at a stroke the raison d’etre of the RUF. But the killing continued nonetheless. That is the point at which I began to lose faith in “the struggle”. And then they began their reign of terror, raping, amputating limbs, and pillaging. I do not know whether the “Leader” was still supporting Sankoh at this point, but I do know that Taylor was. So, by extension, he might have been.
So, where do I stand now, when Taylor has been indicted for his role in the RUF atrocities and some want Gaddafy to meet a similar fate?
Many people get “wiser” as they get older. However, I am sorry to say, that glib get-out does not apply here. I was all for it at the time. With hindsight, with all that’s gone on, with thousands of people dead or maimed, it is easy for me to say that none of it should have happened. But I would be playing into the hands of the reactionary cabal who would want Africa to remain as we are - the exploitees of a neocolonialist international order of things that condemns our people to perpetual poverty, even as they mouth their platitudes about debt relief, aid and their new favourite catchphrase: make poverty history.
ERNESTO CHE GUEVARA
This is the most difficult article I have ever had to write. This is simply because it has forced me to dig deep into myself and become more intimate with my convictions than ever before in my life.
Don’t get me wrong, the killing and other human rights abuses committed were wrong and will ever remain so. But you will not get me to say that the principle of liberating the people through armed struggle is wrong under any circumstances. What was wrong in this case is that the leaders of this so-called revolution were not disciplined enough, did not have the true interests of the people at heart. They killed the people they were supposed to be fighting for.
Ernesto Che Guevara himself, who has achieved iconic status all these years after he was assassinated by pro-American forces, was not only a believer, but also an active participant in African and international revolution. Famously, before his death, he travelled to Central Africa to make his contribution to the struggle of the Congolese people.
The struggle for a Union of African States, despite the best efforts of the forces of neo-colonialism and imperialism, continues. It may only be raging in the hearts of a relative handful of committed people, but it is ever-present; it cannot be snuffed out.
I am not that naïve to believe that the Libyan leader’s contribution to Africa’s struggle for independence, self-reliance and unity is done out of the sheer love. He expects dividends, maybe even the presidency of such a union. Even though he has reined himself in in a bid to prevent the Americans doing a Hussein on him, he may still have those ambitions.
What I do know is that he backed the wrong horses and he lost, with the result that thousands of innocent people and lives were destroyed, with the result that many are now calling for his head. And, for that, he should answer. His support for Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Blaise Campaore in Burkina Faso - the man who murdered that Sun of Africa Thomas Sankara - also puts his judgement in question.
PERPETUAL INTERNATIONAL UNDERDOGS
Be that as it may, it remains clear to this writer, given the strength and resoluteness of the forces that would want to keep us perpetual international underdogs, that only through radical change of the status quo on the continent will Africa rise to its full potential.
This is not to say that such a change has to come through violent means. It simply means that I have no faith in the leaders that neocolonialist-imposed Western-style democracy produces in our countries. If a different style of leader, committed to challenging the status quo of underdevelopment and poverty, is to emerge then we may have to look elsewhere.
“No single part of Africa can be safe, or free to develop fully and independently, while any part remains unliberated, or while Africa's vast economic resources continue to be exploited by imperialist and neo-colonialist interests. Unless Africa is politically united, under an All-African Union Government, there can be no solution to our political and economic problems, " Nkrumah wrote.
THEY SHOULD ANSWER FOR IT
Apologists for the status quo in Africa would try to “blacken” me as an unreconstructed so-and-so, a supporter of terrorism, but that is the price we have to pay if we are to stand up for our ideals. The question here is not whether we win the approval of the paternalists who love us more than ourselves, but one of trying to chart a course that delivers the PanAfrican ideal - whether they like it or not.
As to the question of the rights and wrongs of Gaddafy, Taylor and co, it holds without question that their revolution went very awry. They should answer for it. And I would like to see them in the dock, alongside George P(erpetual) W(ar) Bush and Tony B-Liar for their mass-murder of Iraqis. And I thought I could write and article without mentioning Bush-Blair!