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By Serginho Roosblad

In the past decade the international media first focused on China’s economic boom, which was then followed by the ‘Africa is rising’ narrative. The latter partly as a result of China’s investments. Many have wondered whether China’s interest in Africa would trigger a new wave of colonialism and exploitation of mineral resources, needed to keep Chinese factories going.
On regular occasions one would find media analyses of the China-Africa romance (like here, here and here). And like a mother not too happy with her daughter’s choice of partner, the experts tended to be wary of the authenticity of the cute new couple. Even when South Africa became the ‘S’ in BRICS, the rest of the world (read: the West) had its doubts. Was South Africa ready to play with the big boys?
As it now turns out, what the West, and Europe in particular, have been afraid of all the time is how much the “Old World” would lose because of the new relations between China and the African continent. A documentary on Dutch public television by broadcaster VPRO, that premiered recently, painfully shows the consequences for Europe now that it virtually has closed its borders, while China is welcoming African migrants with open arms.
The 45-minute documentary entitled “Zwart geld: De toekomst komt uit Afrika” – “Black money: The future comes from Africa” (one could question the title) examines two things.
First, we see how migrants live in ‘Nigeria Town’ in the Chinese city Guangzhou.
Four Africans – three Nigerian men and one Mozambican woman – serve as living examples how life is like after having roamed across the globe in the hope to find employment or to do business. (Usually the latter.) It’s intriguing to watch the easiness with which the main subjects go about their daily life and interact with their Chinese business partners; there seem to be no signs of racism, a subject that inevitably needed to be covered by the filmmakers. It’s a totally different picture of the loneliness and hardships endured by African immigrants who came to Europe as seen for example in the documentary series Surprising Europe.
African migrants in China are far better off as we learn that one can make $5,000 a week in China, that an individual can make it in China and that on a daily basis twenty to thirty million dollar is sent from China to Nigeria in cash.
The second narrative of the documentary focuses on the losses for Europe as a result of the economic romance. This time no European experts, but South African economist Ian Goldin and Cameroonian historian Achille Mbembe. Goldin, the former Director of Development Policy at the World Bank and now Director at the Oxford Martin School paints a clear picture for Europe: “I predict that in 2030, Europe will be saying desperately: ‘we want more Africans’.” A pretty grim picture for those political leaders in Europe who in recent years have been working hard to build the European fortress.
A lot of the analysis and facts Goldin presents about the economic dawn of Europe are not new. However the connection he draws between the liberal economic policies that have enabled free flow of people and goods in Europe for the economic good of the continent and the liberal politicians that have drafted these policies while also being the ones responsible for the strict immigration laws might be the most interesting.
As the main focus of the documentary is on the economic consequences (positive for Africa and China, negative for Europe), Mbembe seems to be given an appreciative nod rather than adding something substantial. His role here is merely to question “Why is Europe unable to understand that the world we live in is a totally different world. And that the future of the world more and more won’t be decided in the West.”


Martin Luther King III: Shoes Too Big To Walk In

Martin Luther King III is the eldest son of Mrs Coretta Scott King and the great African-American civil rights icon, Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Like his father, Luther King III is a human rights campaigner and community activist. The 55-year-old is currently involved in global humanitarian work and was in Liverpool in October to participate in the annual Slavery Remembrance Day where he gave a rousing speech. 

Mercy Eze interviewed him.

Martin Luther King III: Shoes Too Big To Walk In

 Q: The former US president, Bill Clinton, once described your father’s legacy as a “terrible burden to inherit”. What are the challenges you face, living in the huge shadow of Martin Luther King Jr?

A: Well, I have been living my life promoting the message of non-violence. While continuing to play my part in building on the good causes my father started, I never pretend or see myself as a replacement of him. My task has always been to further the work of my father and my mother in services to humanity. I do that through public speaking, teaching, and spreading the message of non-violence; and making the necessary efforts towards communicating the message of peace and unity all over the world. I believe that the more people understand this message, the more they embrace it.

Q: You appear to differ from the views of the leaders of the African Diaspora who are agitating for reparations for slavery. Why?

A: I don’t think that reparations are the ultimate way to go about it. Instead, I think there are a lot of things we have to take time to actually document properly in order to know what reparations are all about, and what necessarily should be the actual context. One form of pursuing reparations will be by cancelling all the huge debts of the African countries from where the slaves came from in the first place. Debt cancellation will also be another road to rebuilding the damage or making up for the damage that had been made. That may not cover everything in totality, but it will be a beginning of the start, and a way of reducing the gap.

Q: Nearly 45 years after your father’s tragic exit, the widely held view is that much of his dream is not fulfilled; for instance, the questions about citizenship, housing, healthcare, etc. What do you say?

A: I certainly do not believe that all my father’s dreams have been fulfilled. Yes, half of them have been fulfilled, but we still fight to eradicate racism and poverty. And we have to work along this line every day. However, I strongly believe we will make it. We will surely overcome it all. One of the most important things is for us to unite against using prejudice to oppress the people.

Q: In recent decades, many African-Americans have been eager to trace their roots back to Africa. But the core issue is that most of them do not even know where they came from, coupled with the lack of an existing “reintegration package” that facilitates their full settlement. What can the Luther King Foundation do in this regard?

A: At the moment, I don’t have a direct answer to that. Actually what I believe should happen is dialogue. As long as we have dialogue, people will be open and will engage in a peaceful process towards a solution. It is not an easy thing. There are many people who cannot understand where they came from. We are on a mission of creating a link for the black communities in the USA to strongly connect with the mother continent.

How Amin’s commander betrayed Ugandan fighters to Tanzanians

Amin (L) checks out a gun before the Tanzanian forces attacked Uganda.

Amin (L) checks out a gun before the Tanzanian forces attacked Uganda.

By Idi Amin Jr.


April 11 marked 34 years since Idi Amin was overthrown by a combined force of Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) and Ugandan exile groups. In this second part of a seriesof articles in the following weeks, Amin’s son Jaffar Rembo Amin, recounts the events that went on around his father as he desperately tried to stem the tide.

I will never forget the time when my siblings and I were with dad in the room as he took a call related to the hostility that was going on between Uganda and Tanzania. We were giving dad the usual massage that day when he picked up the phone then slammed it down. He looked at me while I worked the sole of his 14 inch feet and said, “They have attacked me again; The Tanzanians. It is a big force this time”.

After that momentous phone call and on our outing to Cape Town View, Munyonyo, a long convoy of fancy cars brought the high command up to the resort for a meeting with dad. It was his style to have his children around him at his most trying of hours for he should have loaded us onto the ubiquitous (Nissan Civillian) omni-bus which used to transport the majority of his children to and from State House, Entebbe. However, at this moment he kept us around.

Dad had the best Strike Force Protection Unit but having his children around him during times of war while on holiday seemed to be a comfort to him as is normal with any parent. There were rumours of a coup and the agenda from the delegation of high ranking officers was to ask him to step down.

Family man

Whitaker as General Idi Amin in The Last King ...

Forest Whitaker as General Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dad normally took us to Munyonyo during our school holidays and this was the last school holiday I spent with him before I joined Primary Six in 1979 at Kabale Preparatory School. It was a very tense time indeed and I realised that something was wrong because there were hordes of soldiers around whom I did not recognise – body guards and drivers of each individual Battalion and Brigade Commander. The High Command Council was trying to convince dad tostand down and he said, “How can you ask me to do this?”

The situation worsened, for from then on, dad relied on Non-Commissioned Officers and a sprinkling of Majors, Captains and his Crack Marines at Bugolobi, Moroto and the Uganda Airforce.

After the confrontation with the high command at Cape Town View, Munyonyo, dad’s looming defeat was becoming obvious when suspicion around a so-called “friendly fire” was determined as the cause of death of the valiant Christian, Lt. Col. Godwin Sule, at the frontline. He was one of the contingents of Anyanya troops who served the 2nd Republic of Uganda with diligence and care. After the so-called “friendly fire” incident, the regular soldiers lost morale. This at a time TPDF invaders had suffered a resounding setback at Rakai.

It was therefore a mystery for the then Chief of Staff to issue a “Part One Order”, requesting all Battalions to withdraw 50 miles from Rakai into the swampy plains of Lukaya away from their resounding scene of victory. Normally an army would have consolidated their positions before retreating but they didn’t, which lends credibility to allegations that dad’s army had been infiltrated by the enemy. Moreover coordinates given to the Air Force pilots were “erroneously” targeting Uganda Army positions and not TPDF positions and the “error” was allegedly originating from Lt. Col. Yorecam and others.

Apparently, Isaac Maliyamungu, Yusuf Gowa (Gowan), Lt. Col. Yorecam, Brig. Gen. Taban Lupayi, a Sudanese Christian and a Muganda head of Military Logistics, were accused of having received dollars as part of a plot to defeat dad’s army from “within”. It was alleged that the logistics personnel would “erroneously” re-route mortar shells to artillery gunners while artillery shells were sent to battle tank positions all in an effort to stall the war efforts and eventually defeat dad.

It was alleged that Lt. Col. Yorecam was found to be giving positions of the Uganda Army troops to the Uganda Air Force leading to consistent “friendly fire” on Uganda Army positions. This he did while also giving coordinates of Uganda Army troops to the TPDF who would continue to bomb the Uganda Army troop formations at the battle front.

Sense of betrayal

African mysticism came to the fore when every time the Uganda Army soldiers changed battle formation, they were met immediately with a barrage of BM21 rocket fire, which was personally manned by one Major Boris of the USSR. The shells were raining in like a scene from a Biblical hail and brimstones until they started believing a gun the soldiers dubbed the “Saba Saba” had a sophisticated roving eye, not realising it was their very own field commander who was directly compromising them from within.

When he was discovered with the very latest coordinates and the very next battle formation coordinates while radioing it out to the TPDF, his very troops waylaid him with lethal vengeance. According to reliable sources, Brigadier General Taban Lupayi, a Sudanese Pojulu could have been implicated in the very same scheme for he put a lot of miles between himself and the war front together with Isaac Maliyamungu, a Zairean Kakwa when the 50 miles withdrawal took effect. The rot had truly set in!

The scene was set for the Uganda Army’s last stand in the marshy plains of Lukaya where the so-called “friendly fire” that killed Godwin Sule occurred. With only three T55 Soviet Battle Tanks and a 106 Jeep, the rest of the Army had withdrawn or been hit on the battle field. The incompetent withdrawal or deliberate ploy to withdraw allowed the invading TPDF to position, strengthen and consolidate their gains on the war front.

English: Uganda's Coat of arms

Uganda’s Coat of arms

As all this was going on, dad did something only he could have done. He drove to the scene of Lt. Col. Godwin Sule’s death and actually waved at the TPDF detachment that was fighting the Ugandan troops. The detachment was a few meters away but instead of firing at dad and killing him, they waved back in excitement like school children – the irony of an unnecessary war between Uganda and Tanzania! The Tanzanian troops clearly saw and knew that it was dad waving at them but they did not shoot him!

After that incident, dad had stormed into Nakasero State Lodge that very night, in the elevated kangaroo-spring Mercedes Benz 200 E series which was a factory prepared rally car, with a string of “Five O Fours” [Peugeot 504s – editor] in tow and the white communication Land Rover at the rear. The vehicles were all covered – actually caked in camouflage river mud as a precaution against reflection. That night, dad alighted with his usual “tearful earthquake” laugh, at the spectacle of not being shot at by the Tanzanians. He had alighted into the welcoming arms of the Nakasero Kabale Preparatory School contingent that was now under the care of his favourite wife, Sarah Kyolaba, whom he married in 1975.

We were amused the next day to hear from the news that “Suicide Sarah” as my stepmother Sarah Kyolaba was referred to, had toured the Frontline with her husband Idi Amin. We rushed to her to confirm the news only for her to deny the news item. “I was here the whole night. That is your father on one of his pranks. He probably went with that new Musoga bride of his – Mama Nabirye.”

Dad married Mama Nabirye, a police officer, soldier and presidential escort in 1978. The incident that involved him driving to the frontline and waving to the Tanzanian soldiers occurred around the time there was the constant boom sound over Kampala in March 1979.

The dice was cast when Lt. Col. Sule was reportedly shot from behind while making a valiant defense in the marshy plains of Lukaya. The second damning order from the Chief of the Defence, Staff Maj. Gen. Yusuf Gowa of the Mijale Kakwa clan near the Aringa border in West Nile nicknamed Gowan, was for soldiers to repatriate their families to safety. Some claim it was a directive from dad following the Cape Town View, Munyonyo showdown during which his senior officers told him to step down. After dad refused to step down, they allegedly said things like, “Let his Strike Force and Marines do the fighting if he does not want to step down”.

This “Part One Order” dealt the last nail in the Uganda Army coffin because suddenly the most amazing logistical operation swung into action for all soldiers hailing from the West Nile District, Jaki County in the Congo, in Kakwa County – Koboko and Southern Sudan. There was total disarray in the whole rank and file of the Uganda Army because of its homogenous composition. The soldiers seemed to melt into the western, eastern northern hinterlands just like a scene from the Second Gulf War when 200,000 strong Republican Guards simply melted away into the hinterlands as the American army attacked Baghdad.

That time, an estimated 36,000 to 40,000 Uganda Army soldiers melted away from the battle front, leaving only the bombing sorties by the Air Force to keep the Tanzanians at bay. Amazingly, reconciliation happened between dad and Abiriga 99 whom he had discharged from the army. Dad and Abiriga were able to swing in his Aringa factions into a last ditch effort to defend dad’s regime. The whole high command had dissipated for they must have “signed consent” to the request to ask dad to step down and they must have duly given him the mutiny notice at that very extended Cape Town View meeting, leading to his blanket condemnation of all officers. Dad’s high command from Lieutenant Colonel up to the General was implicated in the request for him to step down.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Entebbe, Ju...

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Entebbe, July 2003 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dad now relied on his Crack Marines and the Air Force while the rest of the battalions went into irreversible implosion, with pockets from Moroto, Mbale and Abiriga 99’s contingent from north western Bunyoro. By this time, dad could only rely on a sprinkling of Majors and other senior officer ranks, Captains and Non-Commissioned Officers to run the last ditch efforts to shore up his regime, which was in decline.

Dad only had the Iraqi trained Marines at his last hour although Taban Lupayi had removed most of his Sudanese contingent during the infamous 50 miles withdrawal. It looked like only the 15,000 new recruits who were passed out at Ngoma just when the Kagera war started in 1978 were being deployed to the war front. The rest were in disarray.

The resounding factor that keeps replaying in all strong man regimes is the high propensity to have a “Republican Guard” like brigade that owes allegiance to the ruler. This recurrent theme in most “Third World” countries played into the familiar process of defeat just like what happened a decade later with the DSP in Mobutu’s Zaire and then the Republican Guards in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Quite often, grudges come to the fore at the final hour of defeat and quite often the regular soldiers leave the so-called elite to “face the music”.

It was recalled by many how the regulars would say, “Let his Marines and Strike Force fight his battle for they always got the best from the rest.” Grudges came to the fore during that time.

Chinua Achebe and Beyond

By Phillip Oduor

When Chinua Achebe passed on last week, world leaders and local literary giants mourned him in ways that a man of his stature truly deserved. They called him “the great father of African literature”, “the godfather of the African novel”, “a humble man”, “a giant” (the first humble giant), “a statesman”, “a dissident”, “a nationalist”, “a warm man”, “a stubborn man”, “a trailblazer” and “an icon”, among many others.

English: Chinua Achebe speaking at Asbury Hall...

English: Chinua Achebe speaking at Asbury Hall, Buffalo, as part of the “Babel: Season 2” series by Just Buffalo Literary Center, Hallwalls, & the International Institute. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Africa loves to heap praise on the dead, but the continent is agreed that Achebe deserved all that pean. On traditional and social media, those who have read his books remembered the man for producing some of the world’s most memorable and engaging titles, from his first major work,Things Fall Apart — which has been translated to about 50 languages and has sold over 10 million copies worldwide — to his last work,There Was a Country, published last year.

Literary critics like to label their subjects as “prolific writers”, but Achebe deserved, nay, earned that accolade. Over time, he wrote essays, poems, commentaries, children’s stories and engaging novels, works that cemented his position as one of the greatest writers of his time. He tackled the issues of Nigeria and Africa in a way that Africans, his biggest audience, understood before the world started to eavesdrop on the party then barged in and grabbed a chair.

But, what made this man special? What was so different in his story-telling to attract the attention of the world? To answer these questions, we have to study his mission, his driving force.

The greatness of Achebe’s works was borne out of the clear mission as to what his writing was to be all about. And it was clear from the start. At a time when African writers pandered to the critics of the West, Achebe was unapologetic over his perceived Afrocentricism, insisting that he wanted “to help my society regain belief in itself and put away the complexes of the years of denigration and self-abasement”.

Coming from a man who had switched from studying medicine to immerse himself in the world of letters, the direction of his writing could only have the outcome and impact that it eventually had in the world.

Right from the start, Achebe wrote to and for his people. He had Africa at the tip of his pen, yet still the wider world listened when he told tales of gods, black magic, and the malevolent forces of men.

New English

His English was ‘New English’, a dialect in harmony with African sensibilities and culture, a medium of delivery bathed in native culture, clothed in native understanding and dried in native perspectives, notwithstanding that it was a European language.

To him, the African story could be told in English, only that the English had to be ancestral. By doing this, he managed to draw readers from all over the world while reinvigorating the pride and hopes of “his people”.

Distribution of Swahili language

Distribution of Swahili language (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This careful play with words was captured by Indian scholar Dr Jayalakshmi Rao in an analysis of Achebe’s works. Dr Rao singled out The Arrow of God for exemplification, citing a paragraph in the book and writing it in “normal English”.

The excerpt is a speech by Ezeulu to Oduche: “I want one of my sons to join these people and be my eye there. If there is nothing in it you will come back. If there is something there you will bring home my share. The world is like a mask dancing. If you want to see it well, you must not stand in one place. My spirit tells me that those who do not befriend the white man today will be saying ‘had we known’ tomorrow.”

The regular or normal English version of this conversation, said Rao, would be: “I am sending you as my representative to these people… just to be on the safe side in case there is a new development. One has to move with the times or else one is left behind. I have a hunch that those who fail to come to terms with the White man will one day regret their lack of foresight.”

Through this sort of language, Achebe brought African oral aspects into the novel. He infused in his works African proverbs, similes, metaphors, and images. This is part of what set him apart as an African great man of letters at a time when other writers sought to be more eloquent in English.

But the language did something else as well; it endeared Achebe to his people, who now spread across borders. Today, most people, especially the political leaders of the continent, claim to have a thing or two in common with Achebe. They come from the same continent as him; they come from the same country as him, they went to school in the university he studied, they have visited Boston where he stayed, they have attended conferences that he attended, they have read books that he wrote, they like the music he liked, they think like him….

And it was these same people, the scores who want to claim kinship with Achebe in all these tiny little ways, who were always in his mind when he wrote. He took their political struggles and frustrations and amplified them through his works.

When the White man arrived on the continent full of bravado and silenced the natives, Achebe gave them their tongue back through Things Fall Apart, a novel that made a mockery of the reaction of Africans to the British colonialists in Nigeria.

But the book was not just for the Nigerians; the events there were a carbon copy of what would happen in most African countries later on.

The clash of cultures, the tensions, the confrontations between strong-willed African men like Okonkwo and the White men, and the threat to African cultures was witnessed in Mwanza (Tanzania), Salisbury (now Harare in Zimbabwe) and even at the foothills of Mt Kenya.

In No Longer at Ease, Achebe introduced the major plague that has been the death of many African societies; corruption by those in public service, while A Man of the People called to question the state of African politics. All these were part of Achebe’s larger mission of giving back his people their pride and setting the African society right, but now the great humble giant is gone.

When the tears finally dry up and it dawns on Africans and the world that no more magic will be coming from the trailblazer, people will ask where the next great African novel will come from.

Forget Wole Soyinka (who is also good), our own Ngugi wa Thiong’o (who is equally good), Naruddin Farah (the fiery Somali), or Leila Abouzeid (the elephantess of Morocco). Forget about those, for they have already charted a course for themselves. The continent now looks upon the new generation of writers to carry the mantle into the future.

Are there young African writers who have already placed one or two pieces of work that bear the mark of legends? Is there anyone who has defied the humdrum noise of the machines to break into our technologically mercantile world the same way the older writers — alive or gone — broke into the prejudices against Africa to tell the African story with flair and consistency?

Of course there are, but many will most likely not make it into this list because of the fear that the younger generation of African writers is losing its voice, drowned by what the world wants to hear or read.

Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe (Photo credit: elycefeliz)

Nevertheless, Brian Chikwava from Zimbabwe, Chimamanda Adichie from Nigeria, Niq Mhlongo from South Africa and Binyavanga Wainanina from Kenya come to mind. These four have shown that they have that remarkable touch with the pen, but what only few of them have shown is the magical touch possessed by the great ones who broke out in their 20s… but you never really know. Literature has a knack for surprises, as Achebe’s rise to the top attests.

As his literature flourished, some of his African peers criticised him for some of the choices he made in his writing career.

Ngugi, for instance, felt that Achebe ought to have stuck to writing in his Igbo language. To Ngugi, the fact that Achebe wrote in English was a setback to the development of African languages. Others argued that the man lacked the grace and wit of his countryman, Soyinka.

The intellectual war on which language should be used as the medium in writing stories placed Ngugi on a direct confrontational path with Achebe and others. Ngugi believed that language was used for spiritual division of Africans by the Europeans, and that it “carries culture, and culture carries the entire body of values with which we perceive ourselves and our place in the world”.

In response, Achebe claimed that Ngugi was not being completely honest and was using language to play politics, and that he used English “to infiltrate the ranks of the enemy and destroy him from within”.

Critics and scholars like Obi Wale and Abiola Irele joined Ngugi in his quest for the use of African languages, but challenges, starting from the limited audience of a particular language to political difficulties of privileging one language over another and cross-border linguistic tensions, among others, elbowed native African language from the continent’s literature in favour of, particularly, English and French.

Ngugi has written some of his works in Kikuyu but they have been translated to English for non-Kikuyu speakers.

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