Fidel Castro and the African connection


TO many of our children and grandchildren, the death of the former Cuban leader Fidel Castro on November 25 2016 at 10.29 pm may come across as one of those ordinary news items which one takes dismissively.
But to those conscious of the history of the developing world, the death of Castro is anything but ordinary.
Because there are many lessons from Havana for most of us today, thanks to the life and leadership role of Castro!
Let us take the issue of statecraft and nation building for instance. One of the most daunting tasks which Africa faces today is how to deconstruct, in a fundamental way, the colonial state which we inherited from European colonisers.
The second task which is related to the first is how to re-construct the African state from bottom up in a way which responds naturally to our own aspirations and dreams as a people.
Put differently, the challenge is how to come up with an appropriate socio-economic cum-legal order which is not a simple carbon-copy of the colonial state which exploited our people before and deformed the lives of many generations across decades.
In many ways, the Cuba of today is a good example of how to do exactly that, courtesy of the progressive vision and courage of Castro and his compatriots.
It is a matter of public record that Castro became a living legend, a larger than life figure mainly because he transformed Cuba from being a playground for rich Americans and the mafiosi (also mafioso) who often frequented Cuba seeking pleasures of the flesh far away from the prying eyes of the North American hordes.
Castro launched the Cuban Revolution in 1958 and started dismantling the neo-colonial state brick-by-brick before building a new society altogether.
He turned Cuba into a revolutionary social model which continues to inspire many in the developing world today.
Instead of Cuba being known as a Casino by the rich, a place where drugs and money-laundering flourished unabated while moral decadence and unbridled corruption reigned supreme under the leadership of Fulgencio Batista, the same Cuba under Castro became known for establishing one of the most advanced medical health care systems in the world.
Sam Jones writes: “The country’s high ratio of doctors-to-patients and its pro-active community centred approach to healthcare has long been the envy of many Western countries, not least the UK, which sent 100 general practitioners and a delegation from the Department of Health in 2000 to discover how Cuba managed care on a far smaller budget.”
In fact, Cuba has pioneered a medical training system which has seen it producing medical doctors and health workers, including pharmacists, nurses and medical technologists, among others, on a scale far disproportionate to its natural resources.
The result is that today, Cuba ‘provides more medical personnel to the developing world than all G8 countries combined’.
And Africa has been one of the major beneficiaries; the latest countries being Liberia, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
All three received more medical personnel from Cuba to fight the spread of the Ebola virus than from any other country in 2014.
In regard to education, Africa has a lot to learn from Cuba.
Before the Cuban revolution led by Castro, the literacy rate in Cuba was very low. After the revolution, the literacy rate of 15-year-olds and those above is now 99,7 percent while that of the UK is 99 percent and that of the US is 97,9 percent.
Although Cuba has natural resources such as nickel, iron, salt and copper, among others, it is still a developing country which belongs to the Third World; it certainly does not have the kind of resources which both the US and UK have at their disposal.
Making most of these achievements more impressive is the fact that Cuba has been all along under economic sanctions imposed by the United States since 1961.
Cuba, as a tiny island barely 90 miles from the US and therefore more vulnerable to pressure, has never succumbed; instead it faced up to the US, insisted on carrying out its revolutionary programmes of development and succeeded against all odds.
It is interesting to note that the US fears Cuba, not because it is a military threat, especially when it is a tiny island barely
43 000 square miles in size and hosting about 11 million people, but more so because revolutionary Cuba has always been an ideological threat to North American capitalism; Cuba has always been a challenge to US hegemony, a possible model for the rest of South America to emulate and therefore a continuing threat to US economic interests, tiny as it is!
The relationship between Cuba and the US is like that between the Biblical David and Goliath.
Hostility towards Cuba is reflected in the nearly 50-year-old economic embargo and the numerous assassination attempts on Castro, 538 of them to date, all of them spearheaded by the CIA.
The irony here is that all these attempts failed. In addition there was the direct military invasion of Cuba by American Special Forces, mercenaries and Cuban exiles in April 1961.
Again Cuba rose to the occasion and routed the invaders in what became known as the Bay of Pigs fiasco!
If a small and poor country such as Cuba can hold its own and sustain its revolutionary programmes notwithstanding the unrelenting hostility of a bully such as the US, surely those African states keen to transform their countries for the benefit of their people can do better.
Why not, when in Cuba’s case American-sponsored adversity seems to have spurred Castro and his compatriots to do the best for their people?
As indicated, Cuba is not a rich country but it has always come to the assistance of those countries struggling to overcome colonialism, especially in Africa.
In 1976 for instance, South Africa, supported by the US and Europe, invaded Angola in order to prevent the liberation movement, MPLA, from gaining total control of the country.
Instead South Africa sought to install a puppet regime in Luanda on behalf of the West. Cuba responded by sending troops and saved the day.
Again in 1988 when Angolan Government troops faced prospects of defeat by the South African army at Cuito Cuanavale, Cuba responded by sending thousands of its best troops and weapons, including a special anti-aircraft unit of women combatants who subsequently cleared the South African air force from the skies of Southern Angola.
The battle which followed pitted Angola, Cuba, SWAPO and ANC, all on one side against South Africa backed by the US and UNITA.
The battle of Cuito Cuanavale turned out to be one of the biggest on African soil since the Second World War. South Africa lost the battle so badly its generals began requesting authority for use of tactical nuclear weapons.
It is this epic battle at Cuito which led to the withdrawal of South African forces from Southern Angola and Namibia, the independence of Namibia itself, unbanning of the ANC in South Africa, the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, among a raft of other developments. The rest is history.
In other words when the final battle to complete the decolonisation process of Africa took place, Cuba was there, in the thick of it, all in the name of revolutionary solidarity with Africa!
When asked the question: What is the secret of Cuba’s approach to national and world challenges, Castro responded thus: “It lies in the fact that human capital can achieve far more than financial capital. Human capital implies not only knowledge but also crucially important-political awareness ,ethics, a sense of solidarity, truly human feelings, a spirit of sacrifice, heroism and the capacity to do a lot with very little.”


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