Amilcar Cabral: Time for new Icons

Sergei Lavrov emerged from a meeting with Robert Mugabe at his home in Zvimba and declared to the world that Robert Mugabe was a legend. I understand what he meant. There is an old lefties club, as there is for the right wing, of struggle veterans and heroes. When they walk in to a pub, there is always respect for a man or woman who fought in some war, was imprisoned by some regime even if they might now be some mid-level bureaucrat frustrating the hell out of some small business owners.  Africa is not short of icons, all of them deservedly so. Robert Mugabe was an icon and whether we like it or not, still is for some. He was received last week as the “true pride of Africa” by the current Malian leadership and continues to receive spontaneous standing ovations across the continent. His comments on his recent visit to Mali struck a chord with me at the weekend. In nostalgic mood, Mugabe said, “But for some of us, me in particular, Mali, the country of Mobido Keita, is my country  because I also derived inspiration from Mobido Keita as he worked with Kwame Nkhrumah, Sekou Toure and others and he has been my inspirer.” There is a growing disconnect in Africa between the post- independence generation, usually twenty or thirty years in to independence and the nationalist generation that led African countries to majority rule.

The icons of yesteryear, for want of a better term, have done their work. For those that have not tarnished their image, their status must be forever celebrated. Amilcar Cabral is one such icon. He is quoted by intellectuals across the world and I would dearly love to see him being quoted in equal measure by our generation of youngsters who can quote Tupac, Public Enemy and other hard core hip hop artistes without skipping a beat. Let’s dwell on Cabral for a moment because our young people must know his story:

Wikipedia reminds us about the greatness of the man. “From 1963 to his assassination in 1973, Cabral led the PAIGC’s guerrilla movement (in Portuguese Guinea) against the Portuguese government, which evolved into one of the most successful wars of independence in modern African history. The goal of the conflict was to attain independence for both Portuguese Guinea and Cape Verde. Over the course of the conflict, as the movement captured territory from the Portuguese, Cabral became the de facto leader of a large portion of what became Guinea-Bissau. In preparation for the independence war, Cabral set up training camps in Ghana with the permission of Kwame Nkrumah. Cabral trained his lieutenants through various techniques, including mock conversations to provide them with effective communication skills that would aid their efforts to mobilize Guinean tribal chiefs to support the PAIGC. Amílcar Cabral soon realized that the war effort could be sustained only if his troops could be fed and taught to live off the land alongside the larger populace. Being an agronomist, he taught his troops to teach local crop growers better farming techniques, so that they could increase productivity and be able to feed their own family and tribe, as well as the soldiers enlisted in the PAIGC’s military wing. When not fighting, PAIGC soldiers would till and plough the fields alongside the local population. Cabral and the PAIGC also set up a trade-and-barter bazaar system that moved around the country and made staple goods available to the countryside at prices lower than that of colonial store owners. During the war, Cabral also set up a roving hospital and triage station to give medical care to wounded PAIGC’s soldiers and quality-of-life care to the larger populace, relying on medical supplies garnered from the USSR and Sweden. The bazaars and triage stations were at first stationary until they came under frequent attack from Portuguese regime forces. In 1972, Cabral began to form a People’s Assembly in preparation for the independence of Guinea-Bissau, but disgruntled former PAIGC rival Inocêncio Kani, with the help of Portuguese agents operating within the PAIGC, shot and killed him. The Portuguese government’s plan, which eventually went awry, was to enjoin the help of this former rival to arrest Amílcar Cabral and place him under the custody of Portuguese authorities. The assassination took place on 20 January 1973 in Conakry, Guinea. His half-brother, Luís Cabral, became the leader of the Guinea-Bissau branch of the party and would eventually become President of Guinea-Bissau. Other than being a guerrilla leader, Cabral was highly regarded internationally as one of the most prominent African and Marxist thinkers of the 20th century and for his intellectual contributions aimed at formulating a coherent cultural, philosophical and historical theoretical framework to justify and explain independence movements. This is reflected in his various writings and public interventions. None other than Fidel Castro said of him, ‘one of the most lucid and brilliant leaders in Africa, Comrade Amílcar Cabral, who instilled in us tremendous confidence in the future and the success of his struggle for liberation.’”

The South African Sunday Times carried a story this week in which black advocates lamented their financial woes attributing them to racism in briefing assignments. I know that black engineering consulting firms complain about the same thing and I wonder about how widespread in the general economy this allegation is.

The new struggle is economic freedom. Robert Mugabe has, in my view, gone about it the wrong way. The chaotic and violent land reform programme opened the door for sanctions which might not have happened had the matter been handled through an act of parliament and without bloodshed from the get go. The fact of the matter is Zimbabweans have fled their country en masse. There is, therefore, little point about talking about economic freedom in Zimbabwe. Non-Zimbabwean admirers will tell you Mugabe has done it, Zimbabweans will tell you otherwise.

We need new icons. There was a brief spurt in the right direction under Robert Mugabe, before the fist of fury took over, with the setting up of the likes of 20150518_064758National Merchant Bank, Kingdom Bank and Trust Bank. In hospitality and retail, hotels and supermarket chains ran by independent local operators were thriving. Powerful women were making major inroads in Insurance. You could say, with some justifiable pride that Zimbabwe was coming in to its own. We needed the same in manufacturing and mining. Sadly and I stand to be corrected, Zimbabwe has failed to reproduce the likes of James Mushore, Willie Nyemba, Nigel Chanikira and Grace Muradzikwa. I suspect we lost them to the diaspora.  South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma recently, and correctly, called for a new generation of industrialists… Black industrialists. We support that call. African countries will only be stable when the general masses have, at the very least, a decent standard of living. The middle class will grow and be pulled up by a new wave of very successful African businessmen and women. It is the new icon we are looking for and we would like each African country to have a dozen Aliko Dangotes in different fields of endeavour. If our politicians fail us, our new icons must take up the cudgels and create miracles metaphorically along all of the major Africans river as the South Koreans did with their miracle on the Han river. We dare not fail our generation. Amilcar Cabral and his peers delivered political independence. We must work on the next miracle otherwise we will have a false dawn for a long time to come.

2 Responses to "Amilcar Cabral: Time for new Icons"

  1. marothi  May 22, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    I am inpired by the article about Amilcar Cabral; I have to admit that I did not know about him and thanks for the insight shared. I agree with the need for new African icons and pursuing the economic freedom; and my own view is that power or freedom in any form or shape is never given to anyone; it has to be taken – relax as I do not advocate for violence or war.
    I do believe in economic freedom though I have more questions than answers. I see our challenge on how do we go about it, firstly is Africa ready for economic freedom given the petty issues that occupy us like xenophobia in South Africa, recent political instability in Lesotho, riots in Burundi to name a few; do we have unity within and among African countries to take on this challenge to pursue this justified course; is it a priority and are we prepared to sacrifice our comfort (speaking to the middle class) to pursue the course; have we learnt anything from the Zimbabwe experience and are we as Africans sharing this as a common vision to attain economic freedom in our lifetime?

  2. Albert  May 24, 2015 at 10:54 am

    Africa is ready. It is the political will that is lacking.


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