By Dibussi Tande
'the majority of them... when they returned to Africa shamefully betrayed the noble ideals which they defended... in Paris'. They joined the ranks of the bourgeoisie and adopted the motto FVVA (Femmes, Villas, Voitures, Argent). Only a few militants like Osende Afana practised what they had preached and died for the causes in which they believed: that of revolution." Gonidec, African Politics. p. 73
On March 15, 1966 Osende Afana, one of the last of the “intellectual revolutionaries” died in Ndélélé subdivision deep in the dreaded Djoum forest in what is today Kadey division in the East Province of Cameroon. The circumstances of his death are still unclear to this day but what is known is that he was tracked down by Ahmadou Ahidjo’s security forces, ambushed, killed and then beheaded. While his headless body was buried in an unmarked grave, legend has it that his head was taken to Yaounde and put on display for some members of the Ahidjo regime as a “war trophy”.
The death of Osende Afana, one of the most influential but least known historic leaders of the cameroon nationalist resistance was another watershed in the nationalist struggle against the French-backed Ahidjo regime. It also closed the chapter on the brief and improbable life of one of the continent’s leading intellectuals who could have had a chair in any top ranking French university if only he had been willing to make compromises and become a systems man like many of his contemporaries, but who abandoned academic robes for military fatigues in a revolutionary war in the jungles of Eastern Cameroon.
So how did the 36-year old Osende Afana, Cameroun’s first PhD in Economics, one of the precursors of African economic nationalism, along side Amilcar Cabral, Antar Diop, etc, end up being hunted down and slaughtered like a wild animal deep in the forests of Djoum? This is his story:
Early Interest in the Politics of Liberation
Born in 1930, the young Osende became interested in politics at a very tender age. In 1947, for example, when he was barely 17 years old, he made the case for independence before visiting United Nations Visiting Mission to the French Cameroons as a representative of the Association des etudiants camerounais (see the 1947 edition of the Yearbook of the United Nations). After he was dismissed from the Grand Seminary for insurbodination, Osende Afana moved to lycée général Leclerc in Yaoundé where he was actively involved in student politics. Upon graduation, he left for the Université de Toulouse in France where he ultimately obtained a doctorate in economics. It was at Toulouse that he went into full bloom politically; he formally joined the UPC and helped found the Toulouse branch of the nationalist movement, along with a local chapter of the Association des etudiants camerounais (AEC).
Student Activist Extraordinaire
In 1954 Osende Afana represented the AEC in the radical Federation of Students from Black Africa in France - Fédération des étudiants d'Afrique noire en France (FEANF). Created in December 1950 during the Bordeaux congress of the African student associations of Bordeaux, Montpellier, Paris and Toulouse, FEANF quickly became a thorn in the flesh of the French government. The association was at the forefront of the clarion call for immediate and unconditional independence for African countries still under the yoke of colonial rule. Even after the indepence, FEANF continued its fight and was, according to Gonidec, “accused of systematially disparaging African governments and propagating the 'inoperative concepts' of neo-colonialism and imperialism”. During its 8th Congress in 1957, FEANF formally adopted a series of resolutions that called for the total independence of Africa. This historic congress was chaired by none other than Osende Afana, then Vice-President in charge of communications.
By 1958, France began to openly discuss the possibility of granting independence to its African colonies. At the same time the French began a frenzied search for the “right people” to groom for an eventual take-over of positions of power in various African states upon their departure. Members of FEANF and other student associations whose formed the elite of the soon-to-be-independent African states were suddenly confronted with a dilemma – either harken to the call of pseudo-independence being offered by France or keep fighting for real and unconditional independence – a dilemma that would continue long after the flurry of independence in the early 1960s. As Godinec points out in African Politics (page 73 - 74):
During struggles for national liberation, it is easier for intellectuals to lean on the side of (political) revolution, because the aim is to destroy a system which blocks their chances of acceding to jobs at higher levels...
After independence, the situation becomes more complex. It is no longer merely a matter of replacing European rulers by African rulers, but of radically transforming society. Faced with this problem, intellectuals do not show evidence of the same cohesion, and finally split into three groups, adopting different class positions.
Some of them rally to the cause of the minority dominant classes who wield the power of the State and who are the allies of imperialism.
The Second group of intellectuals is constituted by those who are apparently revolutionaries because they believe that progress can result from the partial substitution of private (especially foreign)capitalims with state capitalism...
Lastly, there are the truly revolutionary intellectuals. They are those who havng realized that they cannot constitute an independent political force, have decided, as Franz Fanon puts it, to plunge into the mass of the people, to listen to the voice of the exploited people and to awake their political awareness. 'This involves the difficult but not impossible task of freeing oneself from boutgeois ideologies and attitudes, impregnation with which it the result of colonialist education and propaganda.
The Revolutionary Option
For Osende Afana, there was no dilemma; he would continue the revolution. So in 1958 he left France clandestinely and headed for Cario, Egypt, where the Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC) had set up its headquarters in exile. Osende Afana later explained that the choice to leave France and abandon his dreams of a teaching job in a French university was an easy one:
"I would not have had the courage to look at myself in the mirror every morning. I love Cameroon and I my heart bleeds when I see her being exploited in the worst possible manner. Even the most prestigious economic chair in the world cannot stop that bleeding. The land of our ancestors deserves better than the scaliwags at its head”.
Osende Afana soon became one of the closest collaborators and advisers to the historic leaders of the UPC in exile - Félix-Roland Moumié, Ernest Ouandié and Abel Kingué – and was a member of the UPC delegation that went to the United Nations to defend the case for immediate independence for Cameroon. He was also the UPC representative at the Permanent Secretariat of the Afro-Asian Peoples' Solidarity Organization (AAPSO), which was headquartered in Cairo.
An unapologetic panafricanist who strongly believed in the resolutions of the Bandung non-aligned conference particularly its endorsement of South-South cooperation, Osende Afana worked hard at the AAPSO to establish a credible and mutually beneficial framework for Afro-Asian relations [See for example, Osende Afana, "Consolidating Afro-Asian Solidarity," 1960].
By the time UPC leadership moved the party’s headquarters to Conakry in Guinea, he had become an indispensable piece in the UPC edifice.
Pan Africanism and Economic Nationalism
Osende Afana was among the select group of African intellectuals who realized early on that political independence was meaningless if it was not accompanied by economic independence would Hence, he advocated for a new economic models that were not subject to foreign control. It was in this context that he warned against the dangers of foreign aid. [see for example, Afana Osende, "Les dangers de l'aide exterieure", Revolution Africaine, No. 12, Alger, 1963].
This was a view shared by Mamadou Dia who argued that:
African Intellectuals would be wrong to think that they can discard or toy with Economic Sciences in order to achieve their cultural objectives. That would be tantamount to ignoring one of the fundamental tenets of Negro-African culture and resigning oneself to half-culture which will not stand the test of time or the assimilationist tendencies of other cultures because it has no root. The African man of culture cannot, under pain of serious mutilation, ignore the relationship that exists between the evolution of economic structures and that of the various phases of civilization (…). He cannot but realize that the genius of each people marks with an indelible seal not only his works of art, his philosophy but also his economy, i.e. his grip on the reality. (see Elikia Mbokolo)
Alongside other African revolutionary intellectuals such as Majhemout Diop of Senegal, Amilcar Cabral of Guinea-Bissau or Issa Shivji of Tanzania, Osende Afana sought to establish the « reality of social classes and the class struggle in Africa ». In was in this context that he developed his “theory of accelerated growth of the African economies”, which he expounded in his groundbreaking highly-acclaimed publication, l’économie de l’ouest africain, perspectives de développement (1966), which Gonidec summarizes thus:
On a purely theoretical level, some Africans have tried to gain acceptance of a conception of transition to socialism close to either the new democracy or national (or revolutionary) democracy. The former trend may be illustrated by the work of Osende Afana, Osende Afana, former leader of the FEANF and a UPC militant, killed in the Cameroon resistance. Here we find a marxist analysis of African societies: the existence of social classes and the reality of the class struggle, and the setting of imperialism against the African people as the main contradiction. The remedies draw their inspiration from Chinese methods; compulsory planning, nationalization of all key sectors of the national economy, self-reliance, the necessity of a proletarian party, and the creation of a united front - a 'dictatorship of all revolutionary classes combined, led by the proletariat'. (p. 137).
While many might be baffled today at the marxist leninist and socialist tendencies of the first generation of African revolutionaries (Neto, Cabral, Toure, and even kenyatta and Nyerere, etc.), Ali Mazrui explains:
After the war, European communist parties continued to play a relatively important role in French-speaking Africa, but less so in English-speaking Africa where the British communist partty, inlike its French counterpart, had not established strong roots... Marxism gained a stronger and more lasting foothold in other parts of Africa. the ....(FEANF) included in its rank, and especially among its cadres, a majority of marxists, like Osende Afana of Cameroon, author of an important work on the economy of West Africa. Through communist study groups founded during the Second World War or soon after, and the General Confederation of Labour, many trade-union cadres became receptive to Marxism and to techniques for organizing the masses. (p.801).
But l’économie de l’ouest africain was not just another publication regurgitating sterile marxist-leninist dogma which would be discredited some three decases later with the fall of the iron curtain. As Nga Ndongo has pointed out, Osende Afana’s work was part of a nationalist economic ‘school’ which offered an uncompromizing – and accurate - critique of imperialism and neocolonialism, sought to demystification of monetary integration and cooperation, and unmasked the nefarious and debilitating effects of foreign debt and investment, among other things.
Most important to some, l’économie de l’ouest africain was also a blueprint for true Pan-Africanism. Afana believed that the creation of a multiplicity of regional organizations in Africa - Maghreb Union, UDEAC, Casablanca groups, Monrovia group, etc - was a threat to African unity and that because of the inward-looking nature of these organizations, Pan-africanism had become a distant and even unattainable dream:
"These regional groups could have set the basis for true african unity. Unfortunately, imperialists... deploy every effort to foil the realisation of the revolutionary unity of our continent. Thus even after the pan african Conference of Independent African Heads of State and Government that held in Addis Ababa in 1963, they continue the work of division under the guise of regional decentralization..."
"At [the continental] level just as at the national level, the fight for unity and the fight against neocolonialism are one and the same fight. Only the liquidation of neocolonialism will make it possible to unite the entire continent under one government at the service of African people. The road to this ultimate goal passes through different phases made up of unity of action, strengthening of cooperation in the areas of politics and organization, and even through progressive regional organizations (p. 197).
Some 40 years later, true African Unity is still a distant dream even after the creation of the African Union (AU) which has so far promised more than it has delivered. As the Elikia Mbokolo has pointed out:
The misfortune of Pan-Africanism lay in the new balance of power between the political leaders and the intellectuals after independence. Until then, there was more than collaboration between the two groups, a veritable osmosis in the sense that the political and intellectual functions were performed by the same movements and, often, by the same people.
Afterwards, in an Africa dominated by “parties-states-nations”, the political leaders appropriated all the powers to themselves and sidelined, sometimes with brutality and violence, the intellectuals from the political scene and from government. Economic thinking, though relevant, novel, bold and brilliant, was thus confined within university walls and nuclei of dissidence, while in the circles of princes there were all kinds of busy and shrewd “advisors” bent on keeping African States in the neo-colonialist structures.
This produced disastrous consequences. Whilst on the political scene the Pan-African ideal was sluggishly moving toward the full emancipation of the continent, the latter was indeed paralysed (S. Amin) from the economic standpoint, incapable or unwilling to map out a development strategy for the entire continent, leaving it to each State to define its short term interests. By hanging onto the European Economic Community, particularly through the Lome Accord, African States found themselves bound hand and foot in traps against which they were warned by the first generations of Pan-African activists like Kwame Nkrumah (Africa must unite, 1963; Neo-Colonialism, 1965).
To be continued: Part II The Death of Osende Afana