Thursday, 31 January 2013

‘The Cancer of Betrayal,’ Coup in Guinea Bissau and Remembering Amilcar Cabral

For my father now in his protracted sleep

I sometimes try to make connections between seemingly disparate things. I’ve been thinking about what is significant to me about January and ended up with a list of birthdays that might have relevance to one another. My father’s – 14th; father in law’s 9th, both best friends’ father’s 8th and 7th, sister’s 4th and today my sister in law’s. There was nothing remarkable about this. So I pressed for something else and recalled that Ahmed Sékou Touré who was President of Guinea between 1958 and 1984 was also born on January 9th. But it was January 20th that made me pause – the date Amilcar Cabral (Abel Djassi)was killed in Guinea (Conakry) where his Revolutionary Party the African Party for the Independence of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) had their headquarters. This was 1973. Later that year Guinea Bissau was declared independent following decisive armed struggle against the Portuguese. Until the coup on 12 April 2012 the PAIGC had legitimately held power since then. Guinea Bissau – with a relatively small landmass compared to many African countries - represents something massive – a revolutionary state that came to power following armed struggle against the military might of a European (Portuguese) colonial power. For this Cabral is internationally respected as one of Africa’s great revolutionaries.

January now became about Cabral, and his legacy. After the Coup questions have been asked about what happened in Guinea Bissau, how has it been possible for the revolution there to be betrayed? Or put another way “what is the underlying cause for the situation in Guinea?” Briefly, days before the run-off elections (supposed to take place on 29 April 2012) an armed group of soldiers brandishing AK47s captured a number of PAIGC party members, including its President and leading candidate Carlos Gomes Junior; violently beating them and ultimately impeding the democratic process. It was a contemptible act because it was not conducted in the interests of the people – as is the way of revolutions - but converges with other reactionary and terrorist tactics to destabilise African countries. Coups and proxy wars are tactics used repeatedly by imperialism preceding their planned ‘interventions’ – let’s just call it ‘invasions’ as we’re now plainly witnessing in Mali.

In attempting to answer the question about what happened to the revolution in Guinea Bissau, it has been remarked that the situation there is no different from elsewhere in Africa. Something is rotting its progress. We must be clear what that “something” is. And when we speak about Africa and revolution we must accept that there is no simple answer to questions about what went wrong. This brings me to the disease of “cancer” for which there has been surmountable research but only few kinds have found cure. In my tenuous effort to make some links between those birthdays above I found myself thinking about my father – who they said died of prostate cancer. I was about eight and it was the first time I had heard both words. Though I didn’t know what they meant I knew this was the reason my father was dead. Cancer invades the body, debilitates its host, sapping vital energy until so weakened it dies. Cancer is a virile enemy, loyal unto itself, extending its life by feeding on the body. So how can the body defend itself against it?

Some point to healthy living, eating the right kinds of food, even having the right mental frame of mind since a healthy psychological disposition should transmit through the body, radiating the cells with positive energy. A nice thought – but it’s surely not that simple. Often we plaster one area of the body only to find another needing equal attention. Cancer betrays the entire body – though it may only attack one part – at any one time. True it’s vital to have all the cells of the body in the best working order – they must feel part of one solid unit – one body, one concentrated mass. Any part that’s contaminated, or attempts to heal itself in isolation will impact the whole.

Thus we find in Guinea Bissau and other “mini-states” the kind of isolation that makes probable what Cabral referred to as the “cancer of betrayal.” This was from his speech “Homage to Kwame Nkrumah” delivered in May 1971: "let no one come and tell us that Nkrumah died from cancer of the throat or any other sickness…Nkrumah was killed by the cancer of betrayal, which we must tear out by the roots in Africa, if we really want to liquidate imperialist domination definitively on this continent" (in Unity and Struggle, 117).

It’s startling then that Cabral was shot nearly two years later by a member of his own party, Innocencio Kani. The association with the Portuguese secret police (PIDE, like the USA’s Central Intelligence Agency) as an instrument of the colonial enemy is indisputable. For me it doesn’t matter that the intention, as the evidence tells us, was not for Kani to kill Cabral but rather to destabilise progress so far made by the PAIGC and ultimately seize power. That power would have been controlled – as is the case now – by reactionaries, virile cancerous elements. Portugal would have been spared the shame of defeat having neutralised (apparently the real intention) the PAIGC leadership. What matters is how it was possible for him to do it.

There is, therefore, a troubling question about his assassination: how was Cabral as the leader of a revolution in this vulnerable position? This despite the forewarning in his “Homage to Nkrumah” when he called for “reinforced vigilance” against infiltration – and not merely from imperialist forces: for he uses an African proverb to remind us that “rice only cooks inside the pot.” Revolutions are never free of forces determined to interrupt their progress. Just as a coin has two faces, Cabral tells us “all of life’s realities have two aspects: positive and negative.” A progressive revolutionary party is positive; uses the “positive action” (a term/strategy he credits to Nkrumah) to realise its objectives. Any such action – like Africans working together to eradicate imperialism “opposes and is opposed by negative action and vice versa” (Unity and Struggle, 116). Further, the progress of revolutions are impacted by “class struggle, social structure, the role of the party and other institutions including the armed forces.” Cabral relates this to the betrayal of Ghana in its efforts under Nkrumah to establish a “newly independent state.” This is pertinent for our reading of the situation in Guinea Bissau albeit so many years following the revolution. To this must be added the development of a contingent of Cadres/leaders who aren't simply taking up but actively and creatively weaving the revolutionary mantle in the event that either of them should fall.

Thus I return to the question of Cabral’s vulnerability – which is shared by all revolutionaries. When I read the account of his killing, I accept that since he was not armed when Kani confronted him, he had no choice but to reason with him – to try to “change his mind” – to re-mind his compatriot that he is a valued grain in that pot of boiling rice. Or put another way – the revolution, in truth Africa – needed him. In our space of distance and hindsight we might think the attempt was futile, but persuasion was Cabral's strength, it was how he had gained on the ground support of ordinary people. I wonder though whether Cabral relaxed, forgot the vigour of his earlier warning about “vigilance” and was thus taken by surprise when he was so close to gaining independence for his beloved people. Was he truly mindful of how readily cancers spread? One of its worst species - the kind one might call “aggressive” stood before him pointing a gun against which he had no defence. This species has something to do with what Cabral saw as the “choice of men in the revolution.”

It is only possible to betray something we have a strong feeling for or belief in. If one loves Africa, believes in unity and solidarity, has an unwavering commitment to the struggle for total liberation what would it take to betray it? Coups are the cancer of imperialism, an aggressive force that has never removed itself from any part of Africa; only entrenched its historical heels, ready to kick at and desecrate peoples and their places. It has instigated every type of economic, social and political destabilisation in order to sustain itself, signing their own concocted self-serving agreements with their trained props. It has rooted itself in every cell of the body we might here call Africa. Imperialism has spawned itself in the form of ECOWAS, African Union, Africom, MOSSAD, NATO, CIA and MI6 – (take some of your own time to look up the abbreviations) - all of them part of one noxious system feeding the peoples in every corner of the world with lies about “interventions.” This calls to my mind the medical intervention that advanced my father’s death. His cancer had been there, couched in his body, causing him severe pain and discomfort but it would not kill him – the doctors in Guyana warned– unless he attempted to have an operation to remove it. Having travelled to America some years later, he ventured to have the operation that cost him his life. It was not, after all, the land of opportunity.

We‘re not duped. Obama’s second term, like his first is marked by deeper aggression of US forces into Africa. It was Hollywood stuff – the mania that saw Africans (black people – if you prefer) jumping up in frenzied celebration of his inauguration on January 21st. He is a mega symbol of distraction – a Jesus come swiftly.On this same day the Guardian reported that Afganistan, Pakistan and the Middle East would no longer be the sole focus on terrorism. Cameron instead is pushing for the focus to be in North Africa. Of course he is. This he says, in a kind of Kipling parlance, is a response to “generational struggle” against “al-Qaida-inspired militants in North Africa.” A few days later the Wall Street Journal (29 January) reported that the US had signed an agreement to establish a military base in Niger, strategically placing itself in a position to launch drones in Algeria to counter terrorist threats to its "national security". Cancers spread. Where next will it attack, what country's leader execute and parade before the world as a macabre spectacle of its anti-humanism? African leaders – unless progressive and for the people are wolves in sheep’s clothing, foolishly “spitting at the sky.” My seemingly random links in January means that I didn't overlook the brutal execution of Patrice Lumumba on 17 January 1961 by the Belgians. For this cancer eliminated many of our revolutionaries, Pan-Africanists and freedom fighters wherever they found themselves in struggle for Africa's liberation and unity. Though tempted to lament, we must hold back the tears because they are not as decisive as bullets and unity in struggle; girded too by culturally specific ideology.

In remembering Cabral something we who regard Africa as primary must also remember is that “so long as imperialism is in existence, an independent African State must be a liberation movement in power or it will not be independent.” We must try like Cabral succeeded in doing to combine theory with practice (Nkrumah’s “thought and action”) toward the building of a unified Africa. One liberated and independent state in Africa is vulnerable to the invading parasitic cancer of betrayal. Coups have their captains like revolutions have their leaders. A single (and iconised)leader adored by the people but unprotected at any time is no adequate strategy of defence and for the enormous task/enemy that continues to face Africans everywhere. Despite the tendency to feel that he was an overwhelming leader Cabral saw himself as a “simple African man, doing [his] duty in [his] own country in the context of [his]time.” Is our time not the last, desperate stage of imperialism when we must carefully watch which way and how fiercely the wind is blowing and yet dare to face forward ever.

Shout Out

Some books of interest:
'Homage to Nkrumah' in Unity and Struggle, Amilcar Cabral
Neo Colonialism The last Stage of Imperialism, Kwame Nkrumah
Strategy and Tactics of the Revolution, Ahmed Sekou Toure
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Walter Rodney
The Political and Social Thought of Kwame Nkrumah, Ama Biney

Monday, 7 January 2013

A Quiet place

Where a single translucent
drifting along
a glassy lake
doesn’t seem

where time is contemplation
not the dash of numbers
speed marching round
wall and wrist

where meditating
and morning
have the same rhythm
and meaning

where bathing is ritual
honouring rivers, seas
and Oschun

Where every room
is sanctuary
furniture free
TVs and screens
not necessary
and the only stair ascended is
from Geb to Ausar

where love is no kind of pain
nor the impetuous gushing of words
but Divine communion
and atonement for nurturing soul

where every birdsong
is the lullaby of a private revolution
in stillness

where breathing is not simply
mechanic, nor convulsed
but the delicate crafting of aliveness

where peace is not an overindulged aspiration
impelled by concocted tyranny
where no one designs hysteria
to veil my will and imagination

A quiet place
where embrace is the shared
heartbeat of a thousand
elevated souls

A quiet place
where I can simply be
and delight in being alone
in the serenity of silence.

By M. Yaa. Asantewa
(January 2013)