Was Fidel Castro a friend to Africans?

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The Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro passed away on Friday 25th November. I am not going to provide an account of the Cuban Revolution, rather I just wanted to pay a brief, but heartfelt tribute to Castro, without deifying him or pretending that he was perfect, which is a common tendency when people write about people they admire. Why do I admire Castro? Is it because I am a Communist or Marxist revolutionary? No, certainly not. I admire him because he was one of the few true friends, in terms of significant political leaders, that Afrika has had during the 20th century. Whilst some of the Afrikan leaders of the ‘frontline states’, during the apartheid era in South Africa,  either sat passively by or in some cases, actively co-operated with the apartheid regime, such as the arrogant neo-colonial lackey Dr Hastings Banda who “… was careful never to appear radical in front of the former colonial masters and pleased the British government by maintaining trade and contact with South Africa, condemning his fellow African leaders more than he did apartheid.”  http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/obituary-dr-hastings-banda-1296534.html  Fidel Castro put Cuban forces into battle against colonial regimes in South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique and Angola. Much Cuban blood was shed on the battlefields of Southern Africa in aid of Afrikan liberation.
A great example is the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale. “The battle of Cuito Cuanavale and the Cuban intervention in Angola is one of the turning points in Southern African History. It led to the movement of powerful Cuban armed force, into the west, towards the Namibian border. The fighting in the south western part of Angola led to the withdrawal of the South African, ANC and Cuban presence in Angola, and to the Independence of Namibia.”  http://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/battle-cuito-cuanavale-1988 This battle was hugely significant in that it not only led to the withdrawal of South African troops from Angola and independence of Namibia, but it also destoyed the aura of invincibility surrounding the South African Defence Force (SADF), and was a  significant contributory factor in the release of Nelson Mandela and end of apartheid in South Africa.

You have to put this all into context by remembering that the white world vacillated between overt and covert support for the apartheid regime, as perhaps best exemplified by UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher referring to the Afrikaners as “our kith and kin” during a state visit to the UK by the then South African leader, the despicable war criminal, PW Botha. In global terms Cuba is a small island nation with a small population and which has been under economic and political attack by the United State ever since the revolution in 1959. Over the years there were more than a dozen documented assassination attempts against Castro by various US governments and yet despite living in the shadow of a hugely powerful; hostile neighbour, Castro had the vision and commitment to reach out to African people in Afrika, the Caribbean and other parts of the world and lend direct practical military, economic and medical aid. Just take the example of the massive earthquakes in Haiti where Cuba sent teams of doctors and the US sent in hordes of soldiers. That is a direct legacy of Fidel Castro and also illuminates the Euro-American mindset of always coming to conquer. Cuba even offered to send in medical teams in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina whilst the US government once again sent in teams of soldiers to face down a non-existent threat from the stranded, mostly Afrikan residents of New Orleans. Over the years Cuba has run a program giving free medical training to African-Americans.

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Castro should also be remembered for his strenuous attempts to wipe out racism in Cuba. I should be clear that he did not succeed in this, but it was not for the want of trying. Racism is still alive and kicking in Cuba as you can see by the behavior and attitudes of many of the European Cubans who migrate to the US from the island. Since, as I have mentioned many times before, racism is a normative part of European culture, all Castro could do was to suppress overt manifestations of racism in Cuba, but he could never kill its cultural root. I recall an Afrikan woman telling me of her holiday to Cuba, which took place in the last 10 years, and how she was constantly asked for her ID on the private beach associated with the hotel she was staying in and how it was regularly insinuated that she was a prostitute. You also have all of the skin color and shade issues in Cuba as is found in places such as Jamaica, UK, US etc. as well as the same European beauty ideal.

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Human Rights – We have to speak about human rights because this will be the biggest criticism made of Castro.  Did the Castro government suppress people’s human rights? To my mind the answer is obviously yes, however I think again we have to look at this in context. What do you think is going to happen when you lead a  tiny nation with the most powerful nation on Earth as a very hostile near neighbor which is  making every attempt to not only overthrow your government but also to directly kill you? It would be naive to think that you can have an open society under such abnormal conditions. Just take the failed ‘Bay of Pigs’ invasion in 1961 as an example of US hostility  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-13066561  No one knows for sure how Cuba would have developed if it was not faced with the ongoing US economic embargo designed to impoverish the Cuban people and destabilise the Cuban government.

The Future – With the transition of leadership to Fidel Castro’s brother Raul in 2008, the lifting of the US economic embargo and the flow of US money into Cuba which will become a tidal wave, the future for Cuba is likely to be Back to the Future. Prior to the revolution Cuba was a playground for the rich and famous from the US, a place where the Mafia could launder money and  centre for gambling, drugs and prostitution. I predict that in 5-10 years Cuba will be transformed. There will be huge infrastructure investment in the key tourist areas with hotels, casinos, theme parks etc popping up and a massive spike in property prices in these areas. Cuba will become one of the top holiday destinations for US citizens and will become a hotspot for sex tourism. Some Cubans are going to make  significant amounts of money, whilst the US transnational corporations are going to make a killing. Cuba will become yet another neo-colonial island in the sun.

Article written by Ifayomi Grant

Umoja Karamu- Embrace your Heritage

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Umoja Karamu (oo-MOH-jah kah-RAH-moo) is a celebration of unity within the African-American family, community, and nation. Umoja Karamu is a Swahili term meaning “unity feast.” Many African Americans celebrate this day as an alternative to the national Thanksgiving Day holiday. The unity feast may also be observed during Kwanzaa celebrations in late December.

The concept of African and African-American unity is centuries old. But during the 1960s and 1970s, it was a major focus of black nationalists. During the 1980s and 1990s, Afrocentric scholars such as Ishakamusa Barashango, lecturer, author, and founder of Philadelphia’s Temple of the Black Messiah, drew further attention to the theme.

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Barashango, who died in 2004, argued that African Americans and black people of the diaspora should reject such European-American holidays as Thanksgiving and concentrate instead on understanding Africa’s culture and values that are the distinctive heritage of black people.

In 1971 Brother Edward Simms Jr. of the Temple of the Black Messiah in Philadelphia developed Umoja Karamu to celebrate the African-American family and home. According to Barashango, Simms defined the purpose of Umoja Karamu as “an effort to inject new meaning and solidarity into the Black Family through ceremony and symbol.”

The date for the holiday, the fourth Sunday of November, was established by the Temple of the Black Messiah in Washington, D.C. African Americans in other cities, including Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Chicago, soon followed the example.

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The celebration is based on five periods of African-American life, each represented by a color.

  1. Prior to Slavery – the color black, represents black families before slavery
  2. In Slavery – the color white, symbolizes the scattering blacks families during slavery
  3. Upon Emancipation – the color red, marks blacks’ liberation from slavery
  4. Struggle for Liberation – the color green, significances the struggle for civil rights and equality
  5. Looking to the Future – the color gold, points celebrants to hope for the future

Ana Nzinga Mbande-Queen of Angola

NPG D34632; Ann Zingha by Achille DevÈria, printed by  FranÁois Le Villain, published by  Edward Bull, published by  Edward Churton, after  Unknown artist

In the 16th century, Portuguese slave traders turned to the Congo and southwest Africa, after their stake in the slave trade was threatened by England and France in the northern part of the continent. Their most stubborn opposition came from an unexpected source: an Angolan queen who ruthlessly maneuvered her way into power, fought off the slavers for decades, and, rumor has it, immolated her lovers.

Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba, also known as Nzinga Mbandi, Anna Nzinga, and Rainha Ginga, was born in 1583 to the king of Ndongo, a kingdom of the Mbundu people in modern-day Angola. The story goes that Nzinga was so named because she was born with her mother’s umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, and the Mbundu word for “to twist” is kujinga (an alternate spelling of Nzinga is “Njinga”). This circumstance was believed to indicate that the child would grow to be proud and haughty.

The king, Ngola Kiluanji, allowed Nzinga and his son, Ngola Mbandi, to witness his governance of the kingdom, which included numerous guerrilla raids against Portuguese invaders who were trying to infiltrate the territory. His children, as a result, grew up with a sharp understanding of the horrific implications of Portuguese colonization, which depended on slavery to expand its reach and riches.

According to Joseph C. Miller’s Nzinga of Matamba in a New Perspective, Nzinga first appears in the historical record in 1622, when she arrived in Luanda as the emissary for her brother, the ruler at the time. He had been dedicating all of his efforts and forces to keeping the Portuguese out of the highlands east of Luanda. During her visit, Nzinga converted to Christianity, and was baptized as Ana de Souza, a fact that would help her in her later negotiations with the Portuguese. Within two years of his sister’s visit to Luanda, Ngola Mbandi had died under unknown circumstances, and Nzinga had staked her claim as ruler of the kingdom.

Though Nzinga was about to revolutionize diplomatic relations between the Portuguese and the Mbundu state, she seized her title with great opposition from the internal political factions in the kingdom. The 17th-century Mbundu kingdom was made up of a hierarchy of linked political titleholders each with their own followings. After Ngola Mbandi’s death, the king’s title would normally have gone to the leader with a combination of the most number of followers and the most deft political maneuvering.

“The scant evidence available on Nzinga’s place in this general structure indicates that her claim to the royal title of the ngola a kiluanje violated established Mbundu norms,” writes Miller. “The Mbundu harbored strong feelings against females assuming any political title and explicitly prohibited any woman from assuming the position of the ngola a kiluanje.”

Initially, the Portuguese did not recognize Nzinga as the rightful ruler of the Mbundu people, either; they suspected that she was somehow implicated in her brother’s death and refused to honor her right to succeed him. They instead assumed that the heir apparent to the Mbundu throne was Ngola Mbandi’s son.

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As a result, Nzinga was forced to turn to support from outside the state: from a band of Imbangala warriors who inhabited the borders of the Mbundu kingdom and had expressed hostility against both Mbundu and Portuguese armies in the past. She also offered asylum to slaves escaping from Portuguese territories, eventually recruiting them as manpower.

The Imbangala in particular were crucial to increasing Nzinga’s position in domestic politics. Not only were they notorious for their fierce ways and highly effective war strategies, they did not have the same hierarchical structure as the Mbundu and frequently recognized women under the title of tembanza: a leader in both war and politics. Nzinga manipulated the Imbangala’s readiness to accept a kinless woman as their leader by assuming the tembanza position in a group of Imbangala lead by the kaza, one of the most powerful warlords in the region.

The Mbundu recognized Nzinga’s situation with the kaza as a marriage of sorts, and so did the Portuguese. According to Miller, Nzinga then used the kaza to help her kill her brother’s son, the heir apparent, in an effort to secure her position as the leader of the Mbundu. However, eventually the Imbangala left Nzinga and defected to the Portuguese due to her lack of Imbangala ancestry. By 1629, Nzinga was left without allies, with the Portuguese army in hot pursuit.

She fled to the old Mbundu kingdom of Matamba, a safeground that had in recent years been ravaged by Portuguese and Imbangala raids. In the 16th century, Matamba had flourished under the rule of several queens, although they had long since ceded rule to Nzinga’s father, Ngola Kiluanji, and later her brother. The disarray after his death and the various raids had created a political vacuum which Nzinga was quick to fill, using their willingness to accept female rulers to buttress her position as leader of the Mbundu.

Nzinga increased her wealth, her armies and her power by blocking Portuguese access to slave trade routes and diverting the slaves into Matamba. She continued to resist Portuguese troops well into her 60s, and it is said that she would wear male dress and lead her armies into battle herself.

Legends of Nzinga extend outside of her brilliant military tactics and political strategy. In Philosophy in the Boudoir, the Marquis de Sade wrote that Nzinga “immolated her lovers,” obtaining a large, all-male harem after she became queen and having each man she slept with killed after their carnal encounter. Though there is no way of knowing if there is truth to these rumors, there is no denying Nzinga was a ruthless ruler, unafraid of sacrificing men who came in her way.

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In 1657, at the age of 74, Nzinga entered peace treaty talks with the Portuguese, after having fought and been worn down by colonial and slave raiding attacks for decades. After conceding much of her power, Nzinga devoted her efforts to rebuilding her war-torn nation. Following her death in 1663, the Portuguese lost their most valiant opposition and were able to accelerate their colonial occupation.

As Donald Burness points out in “Nzinga Mbandi” and Angolan Independence, up until the 20th century, not much had been written by African writers on historical African revolutionaries. But during Angola’s fight for independence from the Portuguese in the 1970s, an MPLA leader named Manual Pacavira wrote a novel about Nzinga called Nzinga Mbandi while imprisoned by the Portuguese, drawing many parallels between her fight and the ongoing civil war.

“The spirit of Rainha Ginga is not dead; it serves as a source of inspiration and pride to a people and its leaders who face new challenges and new opportunities,” writes Burness. Angola is now independent, and a statue dedicated to Nzinga in Luanda serves as a tribute to one of the first people to have fought for its freedom.

Article written by Urvija Banjeri

Ebony Obsidian

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Here’s her biography from her website:

Obsidian was born in New Paltz, New York, a small town halfway between Albany and Manhattan. Raised by her Mother and Grandmother, who migrated to the states in the late 80’s after having been displaced refugees in Sudan for several years as a result of the Ethiopian civil war, Obsidian was taught to be resilient in the pursuit of reaching her goals. After graduating High School early, she dove into journalism at Ulster Community College in a nearby town called Stone Ridge.

However, it only took one semester to reveal she was not in fact following her true career goal. Not long after her withdrawal from Ulster she was accepted into The William Esper Studio, a New York based acting conservatory, where she was trained by Bruce McCarty and Suzanne Esper.

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A string of indie projects followed including “Twelve Dollar Words,” which screened at the 2016 Rhode Island International Film Festival “Punkin Pie,” which won the Best Ensemble Cast Award at the Reel Heart Film Festival in Toronto, Canada, and “Where Hearts Lie,” which sold out two theaters at the AMC Empire 25 in Times Square for its premiere in June of 2016. The series “Tough Love,” in which Obsidian stars as Alicia Davis, made a huge splash online in Fall of 2015 averaging over 500,000 views in total from all over the world and a highly anticipated second season which will be released Fall of 2016. black footnotes, by award-winning Director rajendra ramoon maharaj, marked her introduction to the stage. she was cast as eliza one, after eliza ann grier, an emancipated slave who history often forgets as the first african american woman to become a doctor in the state of Georgia.She has always been driven by passion. the passion to cover a story as a journalist morphed into the passion to embody the story itself. with each role she grows, because, well, its personal.