CASTRO! Through the scope of a college campus journalist : Tiamiyu Oladipo
In 1988, I was approached by a fellow college freshman at the great Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife Nigeria, about doing a story on Cuba and Fidel Castro. He learnt that I belonged to a tiny group of students who started a new campus magazine known as Unique, it was the first glossy cover and the only investigative journal of its kind in Nigerian university campuses. He claimed that he ran into a gentleman from the Cuban embassy in Lagos who wanted to know if he could start a student association that promotes the good work Cuba was doing in Africa. He was also aware that the magazine was mentored by the founders of Newswatch, the most respected news magazine in Nigeria at the time. He figured Unique might make his association national.
Every socially conscious college student in Africa knew the role of Cuba and Castro in the struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa. In those days, the Nigerian college student had a romantic fascination with socialism as a gateway to communism. Every student government body was headed by eloquently persuasive leaders who saw social distinctions typified by capitalism as the main ailment of the society. We didn’t know better. We lived under the jackboots of succeeding military dictatorships interspersed with occasional tastes of pseudo-democratic elections. The point is, Castro loomed large beyond the understandings of the average American who wondered why the rest of the world dared to think different in most issues.
For most of the apartheid years, South Africa was bordered by countries that were under the thumb of the racist regime. Namibia for example was colonised by this same South African government, Zimbabwe was a British colony known as Southern Rhodesia and later became an independent Rhodesia under the minority white rule who sympathize with their friends in the south. This was before the ascension of Mugabe. Mozambique and Botswana were too poor to worth it. Black South Africa was occupied and surrounded. Looking beyond their abject horizons, Mandela and his group saw Britain and the United States, the two countries that could influence the apartheid regime but did nothing. Nothing.
In August of 1975, South African troup marched into Angola with the sole objective of widening what the apartheid regime saw as a “buffer zone” between itself and the surrounding undesirable blacks. CIA documents later showed a strong material support from the United States government. Kissinger lied! The arrival of the Cuban troop, with the support of the then USSR, halted the march in the decisive Battle of Cuito Cuanavale. This led to significant sequential events that culminated in the fall of the apartheid regime. In his 1991 speech in Havana, Mandela thanked the Cubans and pronounced that, “the defeat of the racist army at Cuito Cuanavale has made it possible for me to be here today!”
A Yoruba saying goes, “a person that saved your life is greater than the one who made you rich”. We appreciated Fidel Castro and the pivotal role he played in Africa. He sinned by betting on unworkable ideology and he was too stubborn to know it. His intolerance for dissent may be seen through the lense of a leader who the United States overtly and continually attempted to assassinate within 2 years in office. He sinned by letting the United States and the USSR use his country as a cold war theater. Despite his sins, a poll conducted by the opposition in Cuba last year showed a 44% favorability of Fidel Castro (53% among people in their 60s), higher than what we score the US congress.
We Africans will not forget the leader and the people of a small island nation with a population the size of Ohio. As Madiba said, we will not forget the defeat of the apartheid army at Cuito Cuanavale and how it changed Africa. We will not forget that the powerful United States and Britain did nothing and actively perpetuated the suppression and persecution of a race. The American airwaves are dominated by opinionists who masquerade as journalists so, the coming days will be filled with aspersions and one-sided stories about Castro. Yes he probably did more good beyond his borders, this is the part of the story you will not hear. America will continue to absolve herself of any misdeeds in the history of Cuba, so it goes.
The inaugural issue of Unique had no story about Cuba or Castro, but my research introduced me to the man and his impact in history. It is the unlikely story of Africa and it’s relationship with a small nation thousands of miles away. Buenas noches Comandante Fidel Castro!