Stay Up, Zimbabwe: Pan-Africanism, Caribbean Solidarity, and Dignity

The Independence of What?

In early August, Jamaica commemorated its 50th anniversary of Independence. At the very end of this month, Trinidad & Tobago will also mark its 50th anniversary of independence. Both “celebrations” were first made possible by Jamaica disrupting the West Indies Federation by dropping out in 1962 and choosing to take its path as a solitary state, with Trinidad & Tobago refusing to carry on the Federation in its absence, scattering all in its wake to swim in a sea patrolled by powerful foreign interests, namely the U.S. and Europe. Suddenly, regional integration was turned into a dream that was lost, to be sought in bits and pieces after, with all sorts of obstacles raised to make a new federation in the future seem “impossible,” even as it was routinely very “possible” to enter into treaties and trade agreements with the U.S., or to negotiate the terms of dependency on European importation of bananas.

This did not mean that Caribbean nationals would remain, in their minds and actions, imprisoned within the boundaries of their respective individual states. Fifty years have passed with all sorts of connections, affinities, and affiliations formed, reformed, or extended as part of a Caribbean quest for a deeper independence that goes beyond technocracy and states’ policy “instruments” and “modalities”. Unlike the official Independence, that comes with anniversaries, there has been this ongoing rebellion against slavery, racism, and colonial rule of Africans, anywhere–independence is therefore firmly rooted in dignity, and about renewing connections that are treated just as if they were family ties: “blood is thicker than water,” and apparently much thicker than the water that “divides” individual Caribbean states from each other and from Africa. Ideas that were adapted from biblical learnings, and pushed up from below, such as redemption, added to ideas of unity and fighting for freedom and equality, were all tied together by either implicit or explicit ideas of dignity. In other cases, the ideas of dignity were inspired by socialist principles of solidarity and control over one’s own labour. This then is the fifth in my series of six promised installments on dignity.

“How good and pleasant it would be,
Before God and Man,
To see the unification of all Africans”

When returning to Libya on February 10, 2009, met by a mass welcome that also included the diplomatic corps and more importantly a gathering of “the traditional African tribal kings,” Muammar Gaddafi had some thoughts to share with his audience, having humbly accepted his election as the new Chairman of the African Union. Gaddafi, “noted the significant African populations of some countries in the Caribbean and South America asserting they should also find a way to join the new united Africa” (U.S. Embassy Cable)–I removed the caution quotes that the U.S. Embassy inappropriately placed around African. Gaddafi was being neither “overly ambitious” nor “crazy” as his Western detractors and their various mimic men have been wont to say: instead, Gaddafi was merely acknowledging a reality that had long begun to take shape, where Caribbean actors were prominent in the modern political struggles of many African states, present in some of the leading revolutions for independence. Gaddafi’s idea for an expanded African Union is still an excellent one, recognizing the dignity inherent in the collective, transcontinental struggle for African independence.

The Caribbean in Africa

Lennox Ballah

It also seemed as if the launch of individualized state Independence had failed as a containment strategy, instead unleashing new visions and energies that spanned and transcended the Caribbean itself. I do not mean to totally disregard the symbols and surviving institutions of forms of state-driven regional integration–as a matter of fact, a good part of my own education was formed by it. Having studied for three years at the Institute of International Relations on Trinidad’s St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies, itself a regional institution with the two other main campuses in Mona, Jamaica, and Cave Hill, Barbados (plus numerous branches across the region), I personally benefitted from that history of attempted/stalled integration, in the company of classmates from across the Caribbean. And even as a state-dominated Institute, it was at IIR that I encountered some individuals with much teach about those other forms of independence, that deep independence that I referred to above. One of these was Lennox Fitzroy Ballah who passed on in 2003 (more about him here, here and there), a former professor of mine who taught International Diplomacy. An eloquent man, with deeply penetrating eyes that blazed like headlamps, a very charming and humorous man, he was a favourite with the post-graduate students there. Here and there, now and again, Ballah revealed aspects of his career that seem to have passed from view, and yet represent very important currents in modern Caribbean history. He is most frequently remembered now as an eminent authority on the Law of the Sea, as a diligent delegate to the UN convention on the Law of the Sea, and as a judge and then the President of the Council of the UN’s International Seabed Authority. Some also remember him as the former Director of the Institute of Marine Affairs in Trinidad. A few mentions remain of his service as the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Going further back, into the early 1960s, one can read that he was also the First Secretary of the Permanent Mission of Trinidad and Tobago to the United Nations. Before that even, we learn that he was a Senior House Master and teacher at Apam Secondary School, in Ghana (1958–1962). And that’s where matters become more even more interesting, because here was a lone Trinidadian, leaving the confines of the state-nation, and exposing himself, involving himself, in West Africa–but not just West Africa. None of the published obituaries and profiles make any mention of what Lennox Ballah used to fondly recall, which was his work with the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) of Namibia, soon after it was founded and which he proudly supported–a guerilla movement of national liberation. Beyond Ghana, a special place at the heart of some famous Trinidadians’ visions of Pan-Africanism and anti-colonialism, Ballah went and placed himself on the front line against South Africa. And that’s merely one story, encountered almost by accident.

At different times, different African nations have been at the centre of attention in Caribbean popular discourse, expressed through reggae and calypso, or in the alternative publications of Caribbean intellectuals spread far and wide. Within the last century, first it was Italy’s war against Ethiopia that galvanized attention in the Caribbean. My friend and colleague in anthropology at the University of South Florida, Kevin Yelvington, studied the political impact of the Italian war against Ethiopia in the 1930s as experienced by Trinidadians (see Yelvington, 1999 as one example in addition to five others in his CV). As Yelvington explained, “black Trinidadians saw themselves caught up in the military, economic, moral, and cultural conflict that occupied the world’s stage almost until World War II, and…Trinidadians cultivated the symbols associated with a war on the other side of the world in order to address burning issues of local importance” (1999, p. 189). I don’t need to remind readers of how much Ethiopia weighed in the philosophy of Marcus Garvey and the theology of Rastafari.

George Padmore

Later, Ghana occupied the attention of some prominent Trinidadian intellectuals, like the Pan-Africanist and Marxist George Padmore, who was closely tied to Ghana’s first leader after independence, that is, the even better known Pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah. The Secretariat of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) itself celebrates Padmore’s history: “Padmore was hailed at his funeral rites in Ghana in October 1959 as the father of African emancipation. A great revolutionary who at the height of his glory stood on the reviewing stand in Moscow’s Square as the May Day parade marched past. Stalin and Molotov were some of the big Soviet names that stood shoulder to shoulder with him on the platform”. Padmore, and his International African Services Bureau, is thus credited with helping to inspire the ideas formulated for Ghana’s independence movement: “It was under the auspices of Padmore’s African Bureau that Nkrumah went to the Gold Coast and launched his Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party’s historic political campaign that culminated in the declaration of independence of Ghana in March 1957, the first British African colony to achieve that status”. At his funeral in Ghana, Nkrumah said of Padmore: “There existed between us that rare affinity for which one searches for so long but seldom finds in another human being. We became friends at the moment of our meeting and our friendship developed into that indescribable relationship that exists between two brothers”. Ghana’s independence was also proudly celebrated by Trinidadian calypso icon, Lord Kitchener in his song “Birth of Ghana”:

“This day will never be forgotten,
the 6th of March, 1957,
When the Gold Coast successfully,
Gained its Independence officially….

“Dr. Nkrumah went out his way,
To make the Gold Coast what it is today.
He endeavoured continually,
To bring us freedom and liberty….

“The Doctor began as agitator,
Then he became popular leader,
He continued to go further,
And now he’s Ghana’s Prime Minister….

“The national flag is a lovely scene,
With beautiful colours: red, gold and green,
And a Black Star in the centre,
Representing the freedom of Africa….

“Congratulation from Haile Selassie,
Was proudly received by everybody.
He particularly comment(ed),
on the Doctor’s move to self-government”.

“Kwame Nkrumah, the then Prime Minister of Ghana, hosted the All-African People’s Conference in December of 1958 in Accra, Ghana. The event was organized by George Padmore, Nkrumah’s advisor on African affairs. The summit attracted over 60 nationalist movements from throughout Africa” (source). For a copy of the Resolution that came out of that conference, click here.

Other examples of Caribbean solidarity and engagement with African struggles have continued to accumulate, some of them spectacular, some of them of an almost everyday sort that pass without much mention. Spectacular was everything around Cuba’s internationalism and engagement in Angola particularly from 1987 to 1991, fighting apartheid South Africa’s military forces head on, and defeating them quite soundly. I am referring to all of the events that are generally summarized under The Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988, and what came immediately after as a result: South African withdrawal from Angola; the liberation of Namibia and its achievement of independence; and, the crumbling of South Africa‘s white minority ruled system of apartheid. Here was Cuba, an island in the Caribbean, sending its forces and projecting power to another continent, and acting decisively to rout imperialist powers. Here too was Cuba, an island that had received nearly 10% of all African slaves ever sent to the Americas as a whole, with a large part of its own African population with ancestral origins in Angola, active in the fight against white racists. South Africa had invaded Angola, and the UN Security Council merely passed a resolution asking it to withdraw, but imposed no sanctions or any other coercive measures, and Cuba was one of the very few that was willing to go to the lengths it did to protect Angola. In total Cuba sent over 55,000 of its own soldiers, but when added to doctors, teachers, technical assistants, and other workers, it amounted to over 400,000 Cubans who had been sent to Angola between 1975 and 1991; in total, up to 5% of Cuba’s population had served in Angola (George, 2006, p. 143). Even a skeptical writer such as Edward George concluded about these young Cuban internationalists, “it is clear that all those who served in Angola were motivated by strong ideological beliefs” and that many were keen to emulate Ché Guevara (2006, p. 146).

Nor was the fight to defend Angola the only time that Cuba took part in struggles on the African continent. As Fidel Castro commented a few years ago:

“I don’t think that Cuba’s heroic solidarity with our sister nations in Africa has been well enough recognized. That glorious page of our revolutionary history deserves to be known, even if only to encourage the hundreds of thousands of women and men who are internationalist combatants; [it should] be written, as an example for present and future generations. Nor, in my opinion, are people sufficiently knowledgeable about the history of Europe’s imperialist and neocolonial looting and pillaging of Africa, with, of course, the full support of the United States and NATO”. (Ramonet & Castro, 2008, p. 308)

Among Cuba’s internationalist engagements in Africa, Cuba sent weapons to Algeria in 1961 to aid the Algerians in their war for independence from France, a shipment that included “cannons, 105-mm howitzers and lots of ammunition,” and brought back orphaned children to Cuba (Ramonet & Castro, 2008, p. 310); there was the first action to support Angola from 1975 to 1976; then there was Ethiopia in 1977; in the Congo, Cuba aided Patrice Lumumba and as Fidel Castro recalled in a recent biography, “There was a very important job that needed to be done in Africa–support the guerrilla movement in the eastern part of the Belgian Congo against Moises Tshombé, Mobutu, and all those European mercenaries” (Ramonet & Castro, 2008, p. 298). Cuba sent Ché Guevara and eventually hundreds of its best troops to the Belgian Congo starting in April of 1965. Ché Guevara’s determined internationalism that found him engaged in several revolutionary struggles around the world in a very short time, created something even larger than Cuban solidarity with African comrades–as Fidel Castro put it, “Ché is an example. An indestructible moral force. His cause, his ideas, in this age of the fight against neoliberal globalization, are triumphing,” adding that Ché’s great legacy is “his moral values, his conscience,” and that “Ché symbolized the highest human values” (Ramonet & Castro, 2008, p. 307).

Ché Guevara and comrades in the eastern Belgian Congo in 1965

See more historical photographs at the bottom of the page.

South Africa under apartheid, and then led by revolutionary hero Nelson Mandela, was very prominent in Anglophone Caribbean popular culture. I still remember this calypso, with a strongly political message, that also managed to become a dance hit, and I recall crowds exuberantly singing this song word for word…Bally’s “Shaka, Shaka!”:

“…tell me when you hitting one,
Better you hit all and done….

“Now when I look at South Africa,
And the pain my race go through,
Lion smitten by the bogus massa,
Deep inside I burn,
…because I know they hit me too.

“Shaka, Shaka!
Tell them when they lash my brother,
Tell them, tell them,
That they hittin’ all ah we!
Shaka, Shaka!
When they make we children suffer,
Tell them, tell them,
They’ll answer to all ah we!
For we are family,
One blood! One soul!
To see our people free,
One task! One goal!”

Besides everything else that could be said of this beautiful song from the late 1980s, is the strong sense of dignity that underpins the meaning of the song that stands out for me, with its reference to family, blood, to a plural and transcontinental sense of oneness, to identifying with the pain of self-others and not being able to tolerate any more of it. “We are family, one blood, one soul.” The Mighty Sparrow (conflicted as he may be with his political sympathies for the U.S.) also had memorable words in one of his songs about South Africa: “Isolate, South Africa. Annihilate, South Africa. Eliminate, South Africa. Disintegrate, South Africa”. Other memorable ones from the period were Peter Tosh’s “Apartheid”–“Africa is for black man, remember”–and the Mighty Diamonds’ “Soweto”, among many others.

Zimbabwe: Dignity in Struggle

The blood metaphor, the Caribbean identifying with Africa, the unity in struggle for freedom against colonialism and racism, also appear as prominent themes in two songs that may soon regain prominence, referring to Zimbabwe. The first one below does in fact seem to still be a hit, continuing to be performed at concerts, and continuing to get a lot of attention.

The first is “Stay Up Zimbabwe” by Trinidad’s Brother Valentino, a best-selling song that when performed as recently as this past December 4, 2011, had these Grenadians cheering and singing as if they were singing about their own nation. Here is a better quality video, with the transcript of the lyrics kindly provided by Guanaguanare’s site.

Woe be unto Rhodesia! Woe be unto South Africa!
You pushing my back against the wall, I calling the tribes of Hannibal
I-man decide to put on his boots and march to defend his roots.

Chorus:
Say I…
Calling them Ju-Ju [Woh ya yaye!]
Calling them Zulu [Woh ya yaye!]
Shouting Ashanti [Woh ya yaye!]
Calling Watusi [Woh ya yaye!]
In South Africa and Rhodesia [Woh ya yaye!]
Blood go run like water [Woh ya yaye!]
Prepare my brother [Woh ya yaye!]
For the bloody river [Woh ya yaye!]
Just remember, brother [Woh ya yaye!]
Blood thicker than water [Woh ya yaye!]
Stay up, Zimbabwe! [Woh ya yaye!]
Stay up, Zimbabwe! [Woh ya yaye!]
Stay up, Zimbabwe! [Woh ya yaye!]
Stay up, Zimbabwe! [Woh ya yaye!]

I know this fight won’t be so easy but you got to get rid of the enemy
If you don’t get rid of the enemy, the enemy shall get rid of thee
My people, you see we have no choice, so Africans hear my voice. Ey!

Chorus

I hear the talk that America supporting white South Africa
But if we have to work voodoo, my people shout in Uhuru
Sound the drums and summon the witch doctors
To deal with them weird characters. Ey!

Chorus

I pay homage to Steve Biko and the children who died in Soweto
To the freedom fighters, I declare, “Africans’ affair is my affair.”
Ian Smith and Botha had to go, the revolution say so.

Chorus

In recent years, developments in Zimbabwe have occupied Trinidadian writers in the nation’s electronic media, especially on Trinicenter, where Zimbabwe remains one of the top menu items. On an affiliated site, Race and History, a “Zimbabwe Watch” page can readily be found. There one can see how the New York Times (see this earlier essay) has been almost two years late in reporting on Zimbabwe’s success in its radical land redistribution program, with this Trinidadian website long beating them to the punch. In yet another affiliated site–Trinicenter is quite massive, with prolific production since the 1990s–Africa Speaks one can find current coverage of Zimbabwe and the rest of the continent.

Then, though some might want to pretend that this does not exist, there was Bob Marley‘s famous revolutionary song, “Zimbabwe”, with words that express everything this essay was meant to convey. The song was also performed by Bob Marley and the Wailers in Zimbabwe itself, on April 18, 1980, at the Independence Concert in Rufaro Stadium, in what was then still called Salisbury, now Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. Bob Marley, invited to perform by officials of Zimbabwe’s new government undertook the trip to Zimbabwe at his own expense–one can read more about that here and/or watch this short documentary. The entire concert performance by Bob Marley in Zimbabwe, which began after the raising of the new flag and the official recognition of independence, consisted of several songs is supposoedly shown here and includes the performance of his Zimbabwe song. I love all of Bob Marley’s songs, but this one has always particularly moved me and I will end the essay with it.

BOB MARLEY LIVE IN ZIMBABWE, APRIL 1980:

Every man gotta right to decide his own destiny,
And in this judgement there is no partiality.
So arm in arms, with arms, we’ll fight this little struggle,
‘Cause that’s the only way we can overcome our little trouble.

Brother, you’re right, you’re right,
You’re right, you’re right, you’re so right!
We gon’ fight (we gon’ fight), we’ll have to fight (we gon’ fight),
We gonna fight (we gon’ fight), fight for our rights!

Natty Dread it in-a (Zimbabwe);
Set it up in (Zimbabwe);
Mash it up-a in-a Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe);
Africans a-liberate (Zimbabwe), yeah.

No more internal power struggle;
We come together to overcome the little trouble.
Soon we’ll find out who is the real revolutionary,
‘Cause I don’t want my people to be contrary.

And, brother, you’re right, you’re right,
You’re right, you’re right, you’re so right!
We’ll ‘ave to fight (we gon’ fight), we gonna fight (we gon’ fight)
We’ll ‘ave to fight (we gon’ fight), fighting for our rights!
Mash it up in-a (Zimbabwe);
Natty trash it in-a (Zimbabwe);
Africans a-liberate Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe);
I’n’I a-liberate Zimbabwe.

(Brother, you’re right,) you’re right,
You’re right, you’re right, you’re so right!
We gon’ fight (we gon’ fight), we’ll ‘ave to fight (we gon’ fight),
We gonna fight (we gon’ fight), fighting for our rights!

To divide and rule could only tear us apart;
In everyman chest, mm – there beats a heart.
So soon we’ll find out who is the real revolutionaries;
And I don’t want my people to be tricked by mercenaries.

Brother, you’re right, you’re right,
You’re right, you’re right, you’re so right!
We’ll ‘ave to fight (we gon’ fight), we gonna fight (we gon’ fight),
We’ll ‘ave to fight (we gon’ fight), fighting for our rights!

Natty trash it in-a Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe);
Mash it up in-a Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe);
Set it up in-a Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe);
Africans a-liberate Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe);
Africans a-liberate Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe);
Natty dub it in-a Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe).

Set it up in-a Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe);
Africans a-liberate Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe);
Every man got a right to decide his own destiny.

References and Further Reading:

All-African People’s Conference: Resolution on Imperialism and Colonialism, Accra, December 5-13, 1958

Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat: George Padmore

George, Edward. (2006). The Cuban Intervention in Angola, 1965-1991: From Che Guevara to Cuito Cuanavale. New York: Frank Cass.

George Padmore Institute

George Padmore Archive of Articles: Writers Archive, Marxists.org

Gleijeses, Piero. (1996). “Cuba’s First Venture in Africa: Algeria, 1961–1965“. Journal of Latin American Studies, 28 , pp 159-195.

— . (1996). “Truth or Credibility: Castro, Carter, and the Invasions of Shaba“. The International History Review, 18(1), pp. 70-103.

— . (1997). “The First Ambassadors: Cuba’s Contribution to Guinea-Bissau’s War of Independence“. Journal of Latin American Studies, 29(1), pp. 45-88.

— . (2002). Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

— . (2007). “Cuba and the Independence of Namibia“. Cold War History, 7(2), pp. 285-303.

— . (2007). “Cuito Cuanavale Revisited“. Mail & Guardian, July 11.

— . (nd). “Havana’s Policy in Africa, 1959-76: New Evidence from Cuban Archives“. Cold War History Project Bulletin.

International Tribunal for Law of the Sea: Press Release, “Swearing-in of Judge Lennox Fitzroy Ballah,” September 25, 2002

International Tribunal for Law of the Sea: Press Release, April 1, 2003

Lord Kitchener: “Birth of Ghana”

The MiG-23 in Angola

Newsday: Lennox Ballah cremated after funeral service at Trinity Cathedral, Friday, April 4, 2003.

Ngwenya, Ree.(2001). “When Bob Marley Cause Riot Inna Africa“. Rasta Times, September 30.

Ramonet, Ignacio, & Castro, Fidel. (2008). Fidel Castro: My Life: A Spoken Autobiography. New York: Simon & Schuster.

SWAPO: History of SWAPO Party

U.S. Embassy-Tripoli. (2009). “Al-Qadhafi’s African Union: Obstacles To Success, Opportunities For Engagement“. Cable ID 09TRIPOLI134, February 11.

Wikipedia: All-African People’s Conference

Wikipedia: George Padmore

Wikipedia: Lord Kitchener

Yelvington, Kevin A. (1999). “The War in Ethiopia and Trinidad, 1935-1936”. In Bridget Brereton and Kevin A. Yelvington (eds.), The Colonial Caribbean in Transition: Essays on Post-Emancipation Social and Cultural History (pp. 189-225). Gainesville: University Press of Florida and Mona, Jamaica: The Press, the University of the West Indies.

Photographs:

Billboard in Angola showing Agostinho-Neto and Fidel Castro, which reads: “That which is a determining factor for Unity is ideology, not geography”.
Fidel Castro and Agostinho Neto-First President of Angola and leader of the MPLA (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola [Angola Popular Liberation Movement])
Fidel Castro and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana
Fidel Castro and Amilcar Cabral, co-founder of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC)
Fidel Castro and Samora Machel-First President of Mozambique and leader of FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique [Mozambique Liberation Front])
Fidel Castro and Sam Nujoma, the leader of SWAPO and Namibia’s first President.
Fidel Castro greets President Ahmed Sekou Toure of the Republic of Guinea.
Raúl and Fidel Castro with Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia.
Fidel Castro discussing with Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.
Fidel Castro gets a joyful embrace from Nelson Mandela.
Fidel Castro meeting with Malcolm X.