By Owei Lakemfa
African leaders including former Presidents Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Sam Nujoma of Namibia, Pedro Pires of Cape Verde, and Cuban solidarity movements in 23 African countries were on Thursday, October 7, 2021 engaged in conversations with Cubans on their collective past and future.
It was not the usual intercontinental summit of states or institutions where deals are struck, diplomatic commitments made or aid promised. They were discussions among peoples with a shared ancestry, a common past and who foresee a better future based on their unity.
The date chosen was forty-eight hours before the ‘Day of the Heroic Guerrilla.’ This refers to the Argentine-born medical doctor-turned Cuban national hero and symbol of international solidarity, Ernesto Che Guevera.
He had left his country to spread the message of hope and liberation among the hopeless, the hapless and the wretched of the earth. Along with Fidel Castro, Che fought in the triumphant Cuban Revolution, waged an armed struggle alongside Laurent-Desire Kabila in the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC in an effort to unseat the puppet Joseph Mobutu Seseseko regime before being ambushed and captured in the jungles of Bolivia.
Although a Prisoner of War, he was summarily executed on October 9, 1967 in an attempt to kill a myth, but ironically, this created the myth and legend that is Che Guevera. The Afro-Cuban international conversations held virtually as the biennial conference slated for Maputo, Mozambique could not hold due to COVID-19.
A star contributor in the conversations was Father Michael Lapsley, 72, a Che-like international figure who at 24, left his original New Zealand home for Apartheid South Africa, made so much contribution in the liberation struggle, that within three years, was sent into exile.
But in exile, the Anglican priest became so effective in the international anti-Apartheid movement that even when that evil system was being dismantled with the unbanning of the liberation movements and release of their symbol, Nelson Mandela on February 11, 1990, the Apostles of Apartheid still wanted Lapsley dead.
Three months after the release of Mandela, the Apartheid regime sent Lapsley a parcel bomb in Zimbabwe in which he lost both hands, one eye with severe burns. The Father who had written that he was introduced to: “Cuba in gospel terms as providing good news for poor people” said when he was bombed, Cuba offered him free medical care. Partly in appreciation, when he returned to South Africa in 1992, he founded the Friends of Cuba Society, FOCUS.
Lapsley speaking from Cape Town last week as President of FOCUS, told the Cubans: “Since the triumph of the revolution in 1959, you taught the world the meaning of solidarity. You taught us that solidarity is not about giving people the leftovers when you become rich, but sharing what you have however that may be.” Lapsley said Cuba can play a central role in vaccinating the entire African continent against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Former President Nujoma relived the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola where Cuban troops defeated the Apartheid army. That forced the Apartheid regime to accept independence for Namibia on March 21, 1990 and South Africa four years later.
Cecilia Muezile, Secretary General of the Namibia-Cuban Solidarity added that struggles of the Cuban people have “inspired millions of oppressed people throughout the world to stand up for their freedom.”
His Excellency Pedro Pires, Prime Minister of Cape Verde for fifteen years from 1975 and President for a decade from 2001, emphasised that “Africans in general have a duty standing with Cuba” for not just assisting in the liberation struggles, but also training cadres for post-independence Africa. He said he personally disagrees with the suffocating blockade against Cuba.
Imani Na Umoja, of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, PAIGC said: “When Africa called, Cuba responded and when Cuba calls Africa responds! Revolutionary Solidarity!
The worst crime in the world is ungratefulness.” In recalling the role Cuba played in the liberation and development of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, he said: “Our children went to Cuba with only their bags and returned as trained cadres: doctors, nurses, lab technicians, teachers, agricultural and agronomic engineers, sports and physical education specialists, among other professionals.”
The Nigeria Movement of Solidarity with Cuba which includes the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC; the Trade Union Congress, TUC; the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU; the Joint Action Forum (Civil Society Coalition) made a written presentation titled “We must not tire, we cannot be defeated!”
In the address, presented by its Co-ordinator, Abiodun Aremu, the Nigerians affirmed that: “the relationship between Nigeria and Cuba is symbiotic and deeply rooted in shared historical and cultural heritage. It is not possible to speak of Cuba and the Cuban without reference to the tremendous influences of African, especially, Nigerian cultures.
Hence, at these times of the tightening of the criminal US Blockade against Cuba with over 243 punitive economic, financial and commercial measures, targeted at crippling the Cuban people, we the Nigeria Movement cannot be indifferent.
We are resolved to stand with Cuba as a duty to defend the Cuban people and the unparalleled gains of the Cuban Revolution. We declare to the whole world that Cuba is never, and will never be alone!”
Kesselee K. Kanneh, President of the Liberia-Cuba Friendship Association said Che Guevara is in the heart of the peoples of Africa. South African, Moeketsi Sekhokoane said: “We as Africans like our respective governments, people and the world at large have categorically rejected the injustice, inhumane and diabolic economic blockade of the USA towards Cuba and its people.
We call upon President Joe Biden and the USA Congress to immediately lift this blockade during these difficult times of COVID-19 and at all times. Cuba medically is assisting many countries and is also assisting in other spheres of our lives. Like our Father President Nelson Mandela said, it helped Africa including in Angola militarily against apartheid racists with no monetary interests at all and suffering more than 2000 casualties.”
The Cuban side included the indomitable internationalist, Victor Dreke, who with Che Guevera, fought in the Congo and participated in the liberation wars in Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde under the alias “Commandante Moya.”
The Cubans were led by Fernando Gonzalez Llort, the President of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, ICAP. He thanked Africans for their unshaken solidarity with the Cuban people which he says is manifested in the annual vote by all African countries at the United Nations for Cuba, against the American sanctions and embargo. Gonzalez who spent fifteen years in an American prison in Arizona for monitoring the US-based anti-Cuban terrorists, assured that Cuba will never surrender to “imperialists.”
*Owei Lakemfa, journalist, labour activist and public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja