The feature story in today's issue of Pambazuka Newsis an abridged version of Victoria Brittain's earlier article on the assassination of nationalist leaders in Africa and the Middle East which initially appeared in Race & class, and which I cited at the beginning of the series on Felix Moumie.
Brittain’s article complement's the Felix Moumie story by placing it in a broader context of "current power relations between the Third World in general, and the dominant Western and imperialist powers"; relations which, Brittain argues, are the "product of the war of attrition which the West has waged, particularly by political assassinations, which have robbed Africa and the Middle East of some of their great leaders, and weakened their important political organisations."
According to Brittain,
The use of political assassination against liberation movements has changed the course of history in a number of countries in Africa and continues to devastate the Middle East, writes Victoria Brittain. The current power relations between the Third World and the dominant Western and imperialist powers, are a product of the war of attrition which the West has waged, particularly by political assassinations, which have robbed Africa and the Middle East of some of their great leaders, and weakened their important political organisations.
Referring to influence of nationalists organizations such as the UPC, Brittain writes that
For anyone who did not live the hopeful, febrile, political life in and around the African liberation movements of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, it may be hard to imagine their power over imaginations and political and social aspirations far beyond their own continent – including in Europe and in the US – and the magic of a handful of their leaders.
She goes on to list some examples “of the immense scope of the use of political assassination against the struggle of liberation movements to end colonialism in Africa”, prominent among them, “four related highly professional assassinations, spread over nearly 30 years, mainly unsolved, but all presumed linked to the extreme right and former intelligence services in France.”
“The last gasps of neo-colonialist violence played out here: Ben Barka [Morrocan opposition leader]; Felix Moumie of Cameroon, poisoned in Geneva in 1960 by a French secret service agent; Henri Curiel, the militant anti-imperialist, shot in his apartment building in Paris in May 1978, and Dulcie September, the ANC’s representative in Paris - shot in the back ten years later by a 22 calibre rifle with a silencer – the latter two, soft targets, with no protection, despite numerous death threats.
Charismatic leaders from countries as different as Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Cameroon, and Congo, who each had an influence that went far beyond their own countries, were assassinated in the interests of the colonial powers, even if the assassins themselves were sometimes recruited in local groups funded from the West. Amilcar Cabral, Eduardo Mondlane, Felix Moumie, and Patrice Lumumba, (though the latter was not leading a liberation movement, but was elected head of the post-colonial government less than a year before) were all murdered by the forces or allies of their current or former colonial power, because they threatened its future influence, not to say continuing control, over the economy and ideology in the country in question. Their brutal disappearances from the African political scene had a much bigger impact than their countries’ mainly modest weight would have intimated.
Brittain uses the case of Cameroon and Congo/Zaire to demonstrate the negative effects of the premature deaths of Moumie and Lumumba on their respective countries:
The subsequent histories of the other two countries who lost their key leaders so prematurely in the 1960s – Cameroon and Congo/Zaire –show more dramatic effects. In both, divided, factional, weak governments came to power, open to extreme manipulation by external forces, notably, the US and France in the Cold War period. Though because of the very complex ethnic structures of both Cameroon and Congo, and the size and wealth of the latter, it cannot be certain that either Moumie or Lumumba would necessarily have been successful in holding their countries together, or maintaining the independent anti-imperialist policies they espoused.
But since their violent deaths both have carried mythic status in Africa, and the evocation of their names brings nostalgia for a dream of real independence, of hopes, of justice, which never came.
Brittain concludes her brilliant article by pointing out how political assassinations have contributed in no small way to the current chaos and violence in the Middle East:
The Arab world is neither united nor free, much of it a series of shattered societies, headed by discredited and contested elites. Nothing illustrates this better than the current situation of the US occupation and destruction of a former regional giant - Iraq. Iraq’s great history and civilisation has come to its lowest ebb as one client government, manipulated from Washington, has succeeded another, and a new generation of resistance has been born. The daily diet of suicide bombings, carried out both by Iraqis and by jihadis of other Arab nationalities, has its roots in the depoliticisation imperialism worked so hard to produce in so much of the Third World, most notably by its political assassination policy.
Victoria Brittain’s article is a must read for anyone interested in understanding how things went so wrong…