Pilgrimage to Algeria: the Mecca of African Liberation, By Owei Lakemfa

That country, from its independence on July 5, 1962, opened its borders to all liberation fighters in Africa, giving them international security cover, military training, arms, funds and passports. From Nelson Mandela, Agostinho Neto of Angola, Mozambique’s Samora Machel, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe to Amilcar Cabral of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, all major liberation fighters flocked to Algeria.

Dr. Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini Zuma, 67, is the Chairperson of the African Union Commission and a leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC). She was Minister of Health under President Nelson Mandela, and then Minister of Home Affairs. She married incumbent South African President Jacob Zuma. She is one of the best known South Africans, and many speculate she wants to take a shot at the country’s presidency. Yet she carries, with pride, an Algerian passport!

For African liberation fighters like Zuma, it is an honour to carry an Algerian passport. That country, from its independence on July 5, 1962, opened its borders to all liberation fighters in Africa, giving them international security cover, military training, arms, funds and passports. From Nelson Mandela, Agostinho Neto of Angola, Mozambique’s Samora Machel, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe to Amilcar Cabral of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, all major liberation fighters flocked to Algeria. Preceding them was Franz Fanon, the medical doctor from Martinique in the Caribbean who authored famous liberation books like The Wretched of the Earth, Black Skin, White Masks, A Dying Colonialism and Towards the African Revolution. Fanon died an Algerian.

Amilcar Cabral, the Prophet of African liberation in 1969, said at The First Pan-African Festival held in Algiers: “Pick a pen and take note: the Muslims make the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Christians to the Vatican and the national liberation movements to Algiers!” With that, Algeria became known and generally accepted as the Mecca of African Liberation struggles.

As I write, no other country has done more for the on-going liberation of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara) from Moroccan occupation, than Algeria. The latter took the unprecedented step, forty years ago, of giving a large portion of its 159,000 square kilometre Tindouf Province to Saharawi refugees. Tindouf, with some 60,0000 Saharawi refugees, also hosts that country’s exiled Government.

When the Algerians, three weeks ago, held an international symposium on “Algeria’s contribution to the decolonisation of Africa”, I felt honoured to have been invited. It was my fifth visit to the country and I looked forward to meeting people who sacrificed for the liberation of the continent, and was not disappointed. We flowed from all parts of the continent, including Congo Democratic Republic, Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Cape Verde and Botswana. Participants included Theo-Ben Gurirab, ex-Namibian Prime Minister and former President of the United Nations General Assembly; Amara Essy, ex-Cote d’Voire Foreign Minister and former Secretary General of the African Union; Abdelhakim Gamal Abdelnasser, son of legendary revolutionary, Abdel Nasser of Egypt; Mrs. Maria Eugenia Neto, widow of President Agostinho Neto of Angola. There were daughters of African liberation including Irene Alexandra da Silva Neto, daughter of Neto; Boshigo Ntsi Rosinah Matlou, daughter of Jonas Matlou, ANC leader who opened missions in various countries and Dr. Sibusiso Mkwananzi, grand daughter of South African journalist-turned guerrilla fighter, Robert Resha.

…Ramtane Lamamra, who opened the conference, said Algeria remains true to its principles of freedom for all peoples, which was why it sheltered the Portuguese rebels who eventually overthrew dictatorship in their country in 1974. These principles, he said, also explain Algeria’s solid support for Palestinian and Saharawi independence.

There were also several fighters trained in Algeria, and people inspired by the November 1, 1954 to March 18, 1962 Algerian Revolution, in which 500,000 French troops could not stop the revolution to topple 130 years of French rule. The French had declared Algeria part of France and had, in desperation, drowned the country in rivers of blood, killing some 1.5 million Algerians.

We were three from Nigeria: Senator Shehu Sani, retired Ambassador Browson Dede and I. Dede, 77, who had joined the Nigeria Foreign Service in 1964 and spent thirteen years at the AU, told the conference: “We must build the African economy; we must integrate. I don’t know anywhere in the world where you produce goods and you cannot say how much you will sell it.” He recalled being part of the delegation that visited former President Julius Nyerere to wind up the AU African Liberation Committee. The sage had told them that it was better to replace it with an AU Economic Liberation Committee. Nyerere, he said was right as Africa is in dire need of economic liberation.

Algerian Minister of State, Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Ramtane Lamamra, who opened the conference, said Algeria remains true to its principles of freedom for all peoples, which was why it sheltered the Portuguese rebels who eventually overthrew dictatorship in their country in 1974. These principles, he said, also explain Algeria’s solid support for Palestinian and Saharawi independence.

Mrs. Neto relieved the Angolan war of independence: “Angola will never forget the help Algeria rendered us in fighting the Apartheid and Mobutu armies and mercenaries who tried to take the capital, Luanda. We cannot forget Fidel Castro who helped us secure our independence… We were about declaring independence when those forces advanced on Luanda. But we were able to hold out with weapons sent us by Algeria and the help of Cuba.”

Mr. Abdelnasser said: “The Algerian Revolution was a good lesson to Egypt; it was based on the same principle as ours. Egypt will not forget France invading us; they wanted to stop the Egyptian revolution. We will not forget the role Algeria played after the 1967 war when our aircrafts were destroyed. I hope that Egypt will return to those days (The Nasser period). Egypt is an African country; the Nile comes from Africa; our lives are tied to Africa.” He advocated for an Africa based on social justice and that serves the people and guarantee them a better future. “We should not give room for our enemies to divide Africa. They used to send armies to occupy our continent, now they don’t need any armies because they can use our people. We need to unite.”

We ended the two-day meeting committing ourselves to the liberation of Palestine and Western Sahara, pledging to enhance Pan Africanism, and ensuring that Africa speaks for herself.

Mr. Essy praised Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for his decisive leadership style that has ensured Algeria’s leading role in Africa. He recalled that it was under Bouteflika’s chairmanship of the UN General Assembly that Apartheid South Africa was expelled from the United Nations.

Mr. Jackou Sanoussi Tambary, Special Adviser to the President of Niger Republic with the rank of Minister, was a student in France when the Algerian armed struggle broke. He became a volunteer campaigner for Algeria. He said on one occasion, he persuaded a lady to support the Algerian struggle rather than France. He did not only succeed, but she also ended up marrying her.

Mohammed Bounaama, former Algerian National Library Conservator, said, “There are two major crimes in the world; the crime against human rights and crimes against memory; genocide and memorycide”. He informed that as part of its struggles to conserve its history, the country has, through diplomatic means, been able to retrieve some of its archives from France.

We ended the two-day meeting committing ourselves to the liberation of Palestine and Western Sahara, pledging to enhance Pan Africanism, and ensuring that Africa speaks for herself.

Owei Lakemfa, former Secretary General of African Workers is a Human Rights activist, journalist and author.

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