Monday 28 September 2020

September 28th 1970: The Death of President Gamal Abdel Nasser

Photograph used on the August 27th 1956 edition cover of Time Magazine. Credit: Ernest Hamlin Baker. 

Gamal Nasser was a colossal figure not only in Egyptian history, but in Arab and global history. Considered by many historians to have been the first undisputed leader of native-stock to rule Egypt since Pharaonic times, he was an important figure in the process of organising decolonised African states, as well as the attempt at creating a non-aligned community of nations.

Among his achievements after leading a group of revolutionary officers in the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952, was the construction of the world-famous Aswan Dam and the introduction of new technology into rural Egypt.

He brought pride to the Arab world when he nationalised the Suez Canal, as well as in the aftermath of invasion of Egypt by France, Britain and Israel in 1956. Under Nasser, Egypt was a secular and socialist state and he clamped down on the Muslim Brotherhood whose leader Sayyid Qutb was executed for plotting to assassinate him.

However, his defining ideology, that of Pan-Arabism never came to fruition. Not only did the Union with Syria as the "United Arab Republic" come apart, but the humiliating defeat of Egypt and other nations by Israel in 1967 marked a historical turning point in which many Arab communities turned away from the ideology of secularism to that of Islamism.

An excerpt from the article which accompanied the aforementioned Time Magazine cover which was entitled “The Counter-Puncher” distilled the way in which Western eyes observed the young leader came from humble origins:

Gamal Abdel Nasser is a tall (6 ft.), hefty Egyptian of 38 who just four years ago was an unknown infantry officer in a beaten and discredited army. Not very long ago, Western leaders (and even Israel’s) saluted him as a genuine, responsible leader at last in the Middle East, a young man whose forceful vision might yet bring tranquillity where there was chaos. Today, having seized control of the world’s most important waterway, he is defiantly whipping up Arab hatred to drive the Western powers from the Middle East. Said one Western expert: “We thought we were dealing with a kitten. In fact it was a leopard.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2020)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Nasser and Black Africa

Gamal Nasser (right) and Kwame Nkrumah at the United Nations General Assembly in September 1960. (Photo: Stan Wayman for Life Magazine).

President Gamal Nasser (1918-1970), the Egyptian leader who as a young army colonel led the Free Officers Movement that overthrew King Farouk, was not only a force for Pan-Arabism, he was also a believer in African unity in which sphere he accepted that the leader should be his friend, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the Ghanaian leader and exponent-in-chief of the Pan-African ideology.

Along with Nkrumah and Ben Bella, the Algerian leader, Nasser was a member of the "Casablanca Bloc" of African nations who wanted a federated African continent, in contrast to the "Monrovia Bloc" who believed in gradual integration. At the conference in which the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was established Nasser called for a total boycott against racial discrimination by "all ways and means." In addressing the issue of past exploitation, Nasser said "we are prepared to forgive the past, but we are not ready to forget." He called on the conference to establish an organisation "to guide a free and united African will."

He got on well with Emperor Haile Selassie with whom he worked closely toward the establishment of the OAU. He acted with kindness and benevolence towards the families of Black African leaders who were placed in difficulties. He ensured that the state took care of Nkrumah's Coptic Christian Egyptian wife, Fathia and her children after the overthrow of Nkrumah in 1966, and earlier on, he gave refuge to the children of Patrice Lumumba who were smuggled out of Congo in an operation by Egyptian Special Forces. Lumumba's widow later joined her children and lived in exile in Egypt until she decided to return to Congo. 

His friendships with Black African leaders were a positive episode in the relationship between the Black African and Arab worlds; a relationship fraught by the legacy of the centuries-long trans-Saharan slave trade. Nasser was a Centrepoint of Afro-Arab solidarity during the era of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism.

Less than 48 hours after his overthrow, Nasser wrote the following in a letter to Nkrumah:

"With feelings of great bitterness and shock, we, in the United Arab Republic, have heard of the sad events to which the people of Ghana were exposed … I agree with you that the forces of colonialism are always trying to undermine the independence of African states, and to draw them again into spheres of influence to continue exploiting their resources and shape their fates. What has happened in Ghana is actually part of this imperialist plan. To face colonialism in the African continent requires of us all continuous efforts and a sustained struggle to liberate it from old colonialism and neo-colonialism. The setback that has occurred in Ghana must act as a driving force for all of us to continue the struggle for the consolidation of the independence of African peoples and their liberation from imperialist forces."

Both men had a similar "weltanschauung". They espoused the philosophy of national emancipation and the ideology of socialism; in Nasser's case "Arab Socialism", and in Nkrumah's "Scientific Socialism".

In 1966, Nasser visited the island of Zanzibar which two years earlier had experienced a bloody revolution in which the Black African population had overthrown their Arab overlords, including the sultan who fled into exile. His visit could be interpreted as a gesture of reconciliation on behalf of the Arab world which for a period of time he appeared to be the leader.

He was much admired in his day by many African leaders and their people for his stance against colonialism and imperialism. This was reflected in the tributes paid to him after his death at the age of 52. Among them was the young Sam Nujoma, leader of SWAPO (South West African People's Organisation), who was grateful for the support offered by Nasser to his movement. And when expressing on behalf of the Nigerian nation the sense of "grievous loss" felt by Nasser's death, Major General Yakubu Gowon correctly estimated that Nasser would "be difficult to replace in our lifetime."

© Adeyinka Makinde (2020)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Saturday 19 September 2020

Tyron Woodley Versus Colby Covington: As Much a Culture Clash as it is a Confrontation of Mixed Martial Artists

The clash between Tyron Woodley and Colby Covington, two elite fighters of the welterweight division of the U.F.C. has long been anticipated, albeit that the fight has lost a good deal of lustre since Woodley lost his title and Covington lost his title challenge to Kamaru Usman, the man who dethroned Woodley.

Nonetheless, one intriguing aspect of the impending duel is how both men represent something of a culture clash of contemporary America. Woodley, who hails from Ferguson, Missouri, has always been outspoken about racial matters and has consistently supported Black Lives Matter. Covington, on the other hand, has, at least since he re-invented his "persona" a few years back, projected himself as a Trump supporter who is an American patriot in the "Make America Great Again" mould.

It reminds me of how Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier both represented the sharply divided mood in America at the time of their world heavyweight title bout in March 1971. The difference is that both Ali and Frazier were co-opted into representative symbols even though both did not subscribe to either side of the divide.

Ali, who was still a member of the pro-Black Separatist Nation of Islam, did not subscribe to the "Counter-Culture", and Frazier, a non-political man who had migrated to Philadelphia from the Carolinas was no dye-in-the-wood American patriot.

But both Woodley and Covington actively promote the "ideological" causes to which they are associated.

The Woodley-Covington fight, is of course, no way comparable to the magnitude of Ali-Frazier I,  which was described as "The Fight of the Century", the third world heavyweight bout to be so designated during the 20th century; the first two having been Jack Johnson’s fight with Jim Jeffries in 1910, and Joe Louis against Max Schmeling II in 1938. Johnson, a carefree

It is not even close to being the biggest UFC bout this year, although it is a fairly well-anticipated one within the mixed martial arts community, not least because of the personal animus borne by both men to the other.

Woodley, Covington's former mentor, has consistently spoken of being the recipient of a stream of unwarranted barbs issued by the younger man, who has made himself into a figure of hate among many fans. Covington, on the other hand, has constantly referred to Woodley’s discourses on racism as an unjustified form of “race-baiting”.

The winner, it appears will, apart from salvaging his career, be placed in the inevitable position of being vindicated in regard to his position taken in the long standing grudge, while affirming his stance on the cultural divide that is so pervasive in present day America.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2020)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Sunday 13 September 2020

About Wole Soyinka and Francis Oladele ... and Sani Abacha.

Wole Soyinka (left), Nobel Laureate, and Francis Oladele, Pioneer Filmmaker.

Wole Soyinka and Francis Oladele were drawn together as young men due to their respective talents in writing and filmmaking. Oladele co-produced (along with Ola Balogun) the movie version of Soyinka’s Kongi’s Harvest which was directed by Ossie Davis, the well-known Black American actor-director.

There might have been an interregnum in their friendship over the final cut of the movie, but if there had been a breach, both men were eventually reconciled, with Soyinka becoming a regular visitor to Oladele’s country house in Lapiti Estate, Oyo Town. It was there that Soyinka sought refuge while escaping the clutches of the security apparatus of General Sani Abacha, Nigeria’s feared military ruler.

After laying low for a while, Soyinka made his escape across the Nigerian-Benin Republic border, evading the sort of incarceration which had befallen him under the rule of Major General Yakubu Gowon , and, perhaps, a date with death, as was the fate of several who spoke out against the Abacha regime.

The episode is recounted in Soyinka’s 2006 memoir You Must Set Forth at Dawn.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2020)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle and Decolonising the Sandhurst Curriculum

The then Colonel Benjamin Adekunle photographed on October 12th 1970 during an interview at the Nigerian High Commission in London. (Credit: Popperfoto).

The debate about “decolonising” curricula in the academic world over the last few years has intensified with the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States.

But how many people are aware that the late Benjamin Adekunle, the Nigerian Army officer who earned the moniker “The Black Scorpion” during the Nigerian Civil War, attempted to decolonise the curriculum at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst while undergoing officer training there as a cadet?

It cost him.

“At Sandhurst where he admitted to making only one close friendship among the three hundred cadets during his two year stay, his debates with the officer-instructor of the Political Science module; based on Adekunle’s objections at what he felt was the over glorification of Western culture and the denigration of Africa, were considered acts of insubordination.

They led to him receiving sixty-four days of restrictions with hard labour, a punishment record he continued to believe for second year cadets.”

- Excerpt from “About Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle.”

© Adeyinka Makinde (2020).

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Monday 7 September 2020