With Fidel Castro gone, Africa’s liberation leaders lose a loyal friend and a hero of the people.
When Africa was a battleground between the Cold War powers, Cuba emerged as a friend of liberation movements. Cuba’s involvement in Africa went beyond the ideological standoff between right and left to a real helping hand: sending soldiers, doctors and teachers when post-colonial Africa was perhaps at its most vulnerable.
Some critics saw Castro’s role on the continent as a shrewd power play. An independent, post-colonial Africa with socialist leanings would have fortified Cuba and the power bloc led by the Soviet Union. Many African nations formed part of the Non-Aligned Movement in a bid to remain above the fray of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union.
In Castro, nonetheless, African activists found a leader willing to share flaming rhetoric as well as practical guidance to freedom at a time when Africans had few political allies. Those liberation leaders became the founding fathers of modern Africa, and they never forgot Cuba’s help.
In grainy black and white images, Castro is seen smiling with Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Angola’s Augustinho Neto and Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere. Castro’s influence can be seen in Mozambican independence leader Samora Machel’s army fatigues and vociferous speeches. Cuba also became home to young African activists in exile.
In his own country, and to many in the West, Castro’s regime was a repressive, single-minded pursuit of a communist revolution, no matter the human cost, even while acknowledging his dynamic impact on the course of history over the last six decades. Many Africans, however, look to his leadership as one that sought equality and development, and they joined Castro in blaming sanctions for Cuba’s difficulties.
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