• Fidel Castro is the one man who history will remember as “the guy who triumphed over colonialism”. Naturally, any anti-colonialist champion would have had “forays” into Africa, a continent the white oppressor exploited to intolerable extents. The involvement of Cuba in Africa started with Algeria in the early 1960s and the country soon became a common feature of all independence struggles. In fact, this might have been the sole reason why Raul Castro was one of five leaders who gave addresses at the Nelson Mandela funeral. Cuba under Fidel Castro was a veritable outpost of African interests and Africa will forever be grateful to the late socialist veteran.

    The Cuba-African partnership is forged

    The late Fidel Castro came into power in January 1959 and at that time, his country had no meaningful relation with Africa. However, as soon as he came into power, Cuba was sending diplomats to Africa, first, the respected Che Guevara and then Raul Castro. After a moving speech that reflected support for the African struggle for independence at the United Nations in 1960, Cuba became a clear ally for African countries. Its military support particularly impacted the African landscape in Algeria which got its independence in 1962. So dangerous to the white man’s colonial edifice was Cuba that when rumors of a goodwill mission to West Africa did the rounds, the United States of America quickly blackmailed Nigeria saying allowing the Cubans to be involved, let alone to open an embassy would “jeopardize U.S. aid” in the area. However, by 1964, Cuba had five embassies in five of the most problematic countries for the West: Ghana, Mali, Algeria, Guinea and Egypt. By 1965, the CIA was well aware that Cuba was training African militia, with no less than 100 Africans having been trained there between 1961 and 1965.

    Castro’s Cuba quickly became an all-weather friend for African countries and in 1991, Nelson Mandela went as far as asking, “What other country has a history of selfless behavior as Cuba has shown for the people of Africa? How many countries benefit from Cuban health care professionals and educators? How many of these volunteers are now in Africa? What country has ever needed help from Cuba and has not received it? How many countries threatened by imperialism or fighting for their freedom have been able to count on the support of Cuba?”

    Mandela spoke after the Cuban intervention in Angola which helped repel South African forces and ultimately helped Namibia get its independence. Interestingly, all this intervention for the freedom of the Africans was taken to be “adventurism” and “militarism” by the imperialists and their alliances. Gordon Adams’ essay, Cuba and Africa: The International Politics of the Liberation Struggle aptly put the Western sentiment in this manner, “Cuban actions have been portrayed as mercenary steps carried out at Soviet request in order to “take advantage” of African conflicts and bring resource-rich Africa under Soviet domination.” He went on to quote U.S. President Carter who had said in June 1978, “I think it’s accurate to say that they take advantage of local disturbances and move in with massive intrusion, both of military weapons, which contribute to further bloodshed among Africans themselves, and when they are permitted by the local governments, they send in large quantities of troops.”

    The United States’ view at this point was to broker deals with Africans in a peaceful context. What he did not realize was that Africans did not owe it to the oppressor to get independence using his terms. Once there was peace, the Europeans would have dragged their feet in implementing reforms and what better motivation than violence which Cuba was all too glad to help with. Africans were violently oppressed by Europeans yet Carter and like-minded men felt they had to remain peaceful. In other words, they had to remain the obedient servants they had always been while the whites sat and decided when they would prefer to give the Africans their independence. This was giving power over the struggle to the adversary and it defies all manner of logic. Castro was there to fuel the right fires in Africa and decades later, some may not know his name but he is the name behind African independence in most countries. He was also a great humanitarian and this culture was sustained even in the Ebola outbreak. At a time when the so-called big countries were folding their hands and tightening border security in their countries, Cuba sent health-workers to Sierra Leone.

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     Cuba sent health workers to fight Ebola in Sierra Leone in 2014 | Image Credit: AFP

    The ties Fidel Castro developed will not be severed easily. As Africa marches on with the fight against white privilege and an unfair global playing field, Castro’s legacy will continue to inspire the struggle for equality in international institutions like the UN. The exploits of the great socialist will be difficult to top! In Mandela’s words, he “destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor”.

    Read more on Fidel Castro’s Cuban mission in Africa in Piero Gleijeses’ book: Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976