Mar
24

Patrice Lumumba

Ohio University Press has a series of "Short Histories of Africa". I recently decided to pick up most of the collection for potential use as reading materials for classes. This post covers "Patrice Lumumba" (2014) by Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja. This is a great summary, but might have since been overshadowed by a book published the year after this one Death in the Congo (2015). Nonetheless, like other biographies in this series, it focuses on the full picture of the person, whereas that other book is more focused on his killing. A few notes:

"Responding to demands by educated Africans for special recognition of their elite status, the Belgians took steps toward granting to Congolese évolués the status of honorary Europeans and exempting them from racist regulations applying to Africans. Following the example set by France, in 1892 the Leopoldian regime had already adopted legislation providing for assimilating a select group of Africans to European status, but this was never put into practice … A carte du mérite civique (civil merit card) was introduced in 1948, only to be quickly superseded in importance in 1952 by a new status called immatriculation (matriculation), for those Africans deemed sufficiently "evolved" culturally and otherwise to be treated like Europeans." (p. 44-45)

"This chapter intends to show that if the cold war provided the ideological pretext or justification for his political and physical elimination by a coalition of Western interests, the major reason for his assassination lies in the Western-backed counterrevolution against the national liberation struggle in Central and Southern Africa." (p. 101)

"At the very time that African countries were achieving their independence from European colonial rule, this counterrevolution against national liberation was rearing its ugly head from the Congo basin all the way to the Cape of Good Hope, with mining companies, white settlers, and their backers in the Western establishment waging a vigorous campaign to preserve European interests and white supremacy in Central and Southern Africa." (p. 105)

"For Washington and its Cassandras, nonalignment was a dirty word and leaders like Lumumba who espoused it were either "communist sympathizers" or naïve about the communist threat. Using this cold war discourse as a rationalization of their hostility to independent-minded leaders, U.S. policy makers thus agreed with Belgium that Lumumba had to be removed from power. The question was "how to do it," and the answer was "by all means necessary," including hired killers, corrupt politicians, and the United Nations." (p. 108-109)

"It should be noted that UN troops stood by as Lumumba was tortured by his captors at Ilebo and in Kinshasa, on December 2, 1960, and at the Lubumbashi airport on January 17, 1961. When this is added to decisions taken by the secretary-general and his executive assistant mentioned above, it is evident that for the plot against Lumumba to succeed, the support, or at the very least the apparent neutrality, of the UN Secretariat was indispensable. At every critical juncture in Lumumba's drama, UN officials and troops were involved, by acts of commission or omission. Thus, even if the United Nations was not directly involved in Lumumba's assassination as Belgium and the United States were, it was nevertheless an accessory before the fact." (p. 129) 

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Mar
21

Frantz Fanon

Ohio University Press has a series of "Short Histories of Africa". I recently decided to pick up most of the collection for potential use as reading materials for classes. This post covers "Frantz Fanon: Toward a Revolutionary Humanism" (2015) by Christopher J. Lee. Unlike other books in this series, this book delves into quite a lot of detail in analyzing the writing (three full chapters). This might have been intentional, as an attempt to find a niche for a biography that has seen an increase of interest and scholarship of recent. As a support for students reading those works, this would be a useful companion for contextualization. A couple of (brief) notes:

"Violence remains the most controversial issue regarding Fanon— an intrinsic, yet polarizing, dimension of his work that has strengthened his critics and been an inconvenient topic for his admirers. It arguably explains the greater popularity of Black Skin, White Masks over The Wretched of the Earth – the latter outlining his argument for violent struggle." (p. 31)

"Violence was therefore not random, but the product of certain conditions. Or, as the critic Barbara Harlow has written, it is only random when history is disregarded. Violence continues to be an important issue to debate vis-à-vis Fanon. Indeed, it must be debated, given the strong moral reasons and considerable successes of peaceful forms of political struggle and self-determination. But, in doing so, it is important to grasp the nuanced, even pragmatic, ways in which he understood it. Confronted with a decision between continued colonial dehumanization or actively resisting it, violence as an action taken remained a necessary cost for Fanon, if true and complete liberation, in all its dimensions, was to be achieved." (p. 174) 

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Mar
18

Ken Saro-Wiwa

Ohio University Press has a series of "Short Histories of Africa". I recently decided to pick up most of the collection for potential use as reading materials for classes. This post covers "Ken Saro-Wiwa" (2016) by Roy Doron and Toyin Falola. Unlike other books that might gloss over some of the more problematic choices made by Ken Saro-Wiwa, this books claims to present the full, complex picture. In that regard, this is an insightful book, even if might change how some view him and his legacy. The book is also a useful introduction to Nigeria, as well as the biography. A few notes:

"Saro-Wiwa is best known for his activism against the Nigerian state and Shell Oil's destruction of his Ogoni homeland and his defiant stance in the face of his illegal and immoral execution, the man himself was infinitely more complex." (p. 9)

"Ogoni residents refused to cooperate under these terms, stating, "Greater damage was also done to land and soil, drinking water, fishing ground, villages and air." Shell made no move to remove the oil from the infected streams and rivers because this oil was no longer economically viable, and the Nigerian government did not extend any aid to the afflicted areas. It was only thirty years later, in 2000, that a Port Harcourt fined Shell GBP 26 million for the spill." (84-85)

"Indeed, between 1970 and 2000, the Niger Delta and the Ogoni endured unrelenting suffering. The scale and scope of oil spills in the Delta are staggering. Between 1976 and 1996, seven thousand reported spills flooded the region with over two million barrels of oil; 77 percent of the lost oil became immersed in the soil and waterways. These spills were the result of both oil industry negligence and third parties rupturing pipelines to steal oil." (p. 85)

"Saro-Wiwa had to find a way to internationalize his people's predicament in a way that would resonate globally and ensure effective mobilization. His goal was to build an international coalition that would pressure both the Nigerian government and the companies doing business with it. To this end, he connected the environmental catastrophe with the idea of genocide with the claim that the environmental damage was indeed "inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part" (p. 110)

"Saro-Wiwa, acutely aware of the power of language, and of the word genocide in particular, articulated grievances in a new way, driving global activists to confront offending states and forcing a reckoning with any entity, public or private, that collaborated in perpetrating genocide. Thus, Saro-Wiwa not only expanded the definition of genocide in public opinion, if not in international law, he altered the perspective of the global community in a way that directly confronted governments, non-governmental organizations, and corporations to seek justice for the aggrieved parties." (p. 150) 

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Mar
16

Chris Hani

Ohio University Press has a series of "Short Histories of Africa". I recently decided to pick up most of the collection for potential use as reading materials for classes. This post covers "Chris Hani" (2014) by Hugh MacMillan. Like others in this series, this book helps provide accessible and concise materials on leading figures that otherwise are sometimes challenging to find appropriate student readings on. This one fills that gap. In addition to the biography, the book tells a lot of the history of the ANC and uMkhonto we Sizwe. A few notes:

"We must make apartheid expensive and costly in terms of financial resources and in terms of lives. It must be made painful. At the moment it is very sweet for them but it must be made painful and bitter, especially for the whites. It is bitter for the blacks. For the whites it must be made very painful and bitter… apartheid won't just be destroyed through talking, but, since it is a violent system, it will be destroyed by revolutionary violence." (p. 102)

"I am an implacable enemy of oppression. I am a soldier for democracy and justice. Negotiations are a product of all our sacrifices – those who went to jail, those into exile, those in camps in strange countries. What is happening is the fruit of this hard worthwhile labor … We need to build strong grass roots structures. We must build a popular democracy." (p. 126)

"… the ANC will have to fight a new enemy. That enemy would be another struggle to make freedom and democracy worthwhile to ordinary South Africans. Our biggest enemy would be what we do in the field of socio-economic restructuring. Creation of jobs; building houses, schools, medical facilities; overhauling our education; eliminating illiteracy; building a society which cares; and fighting corruption … " (p. 128) 

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