Category: Africa

20190409_214533On February 13, 1961, United Nations Ambassador Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965) placed a call to President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) and informed him that Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961), the first Prime Minister of the Independent Democratic Republic of the Congo, had been murdered a month earlier.  The moment that Kennedy took the call was captured by a photographer and the image shows him with his hand covering his face in shock.   The picture truly does speak a thousand words and Kennedy’s dismay resonated with millions of people around the world.

To a growing following, Lumumba represented hope for a new course to be charted by the continent of Africa. The Congo would lead the way and help other African nations achieve independence and change the world. As the leader of the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC), he stood at the front of the growing movement for independence which occurred on June 30, 1960.  Nearly immediately after his historic election as Prime Minister, his enemies began plotting his elimination.  Brussels became increasingly alarmed as its grip over the Congo became weaker with each day that passed.  And before long, the decision to remove Lumumba became a priority for Belgium and other nations afraid of the rising Congolese star.   In less than one year,  he was dead and all hopes for a new Congo were shattered beyond repair.  There are some people in the Congo who have never moved on from his murder.  To this day, Lumumba remains a martyr in the African struggle for liberation from imperialism.

The first question to be answered is why was the Congo such a desirable location? Leo Zeilig has the answer to that question and many others.  He explores the Congo’s past and in particular the actions of Henry Morton Stanley (1841-1904) and Dunlop Rubber.  Their actions set the stage for the brutal Belgian occupation that ruled the Congo with an iron grip. Racism was a founding principle and enforced through strict segregation.  It was into this world that Lumumba was born on July 2, 1925 in Onalua, located in the territory of Katako-Kombe.  From the beginning, his life was anything but ordinary.

Zeilig did a masterful job at presenting Lumumba’s story so that we can see his development into an adolescent and then young man, forced to navigate a racist society whose goal was to reap enormous profits at the expense of Congolese men and women, often viewed by their occupiers as “savages”.   Lumumba’s path to politics took many turns along the way and his personal life nearly rivaled his political life in intrigue. Zeilig pulls no punches, revealing any facades and clarifying any myths that might exist. Several wives, multiple children and a burning passion for knowledge were just some of the many sides to Lumumba’s life.

The book picks up speed after the election and granting of independence.  Unsurprisingly, the Congo was plagued by tribal divisions which would later become problematic for any chance of unity.  Those familiar with the events of that time will know very well the names of Joseph Kasa Vubu (1915-1969) and Moise Tshombe (1919-1969).   Each would play a role in the removal of Lumumba and what is revealed will surely leave the reader in shock.  Behind the facade of a coalition government, a deadly game of chess ensued, pitting critical figures against each other as the country slipped closer and closer to all out civil war in the wake of the Belgian exodus.  Zeilig covers all angles and puts the pieces together as multiple nations soon join in the call for Lumumba’s removal.  It is hard to put into the words how much of a threat he truly was to western powers.   But Lumumba made several missteps along the way that helped open the door for the actions that resulted in his demise.

Suspense builds in the story and the effort to removal Lumumba kicks into high gear. The young leader is not unaware of opposing forces but believes he has the will of people behind him.  One of the true ironies of his tragic story is that his fate was partly a result of the simmering Cold War between Washington and Moscow.  His efforts at diplomacy are eerily similar to those of Ho Chih Minh and other revolutionary leaders who reached out to Washington and received no response.  We can only ask what if questions today and ponder how things might have turned out different had President Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969) given Lumumba the courtesy of a meeting.  The actions of Washington pushed many nations toward the Soviet Union, which welcomed the new allies as it attempted to expand its reach beyond the Soviet Republics. In hindsight, we can see with clarity the many errors made by all involved as they sought to outsmart each other in a game of cat and mouse that could have reached catastrophic levels.

The author builds the tension just right as the pending doom in Lumumba’s life steadily approaches.  I could not help feel overcome by a feeling of dread as I read through the sections leading up to the assassination.  The writing was on the wall and I felt myself wanting to tell Lumumba to move faster and leave even quicker.  However, his fate came to pass on January 17, 1961 in the town of Elisabethville.  Unbeknownst at the time, his savage death was a premonition of the future chaos that engulfed the continent and highlighted that moment as the day when the Congo was lost.

I had always wondered what happened to his children and Zeilig followed up with them as he researched this book.   Their experience during and after his death, adds another level of tragedy to an already gripping story.   They join the long list of victims who have suffered following the murder of the person who Zeilig rightfully calls Africa’s lost leader. Lumumba’s story is told beautifully by Zeilig and stands out as a firm biography.  This is the life and death of the late Patrice Émery Lumumba.

ISBN-10: 190579102X
ISBN-13: 978-1905791026

Africa Biographies

diop.jpegThere are many questions about the origin of man, the human race has yet to find conclusive answers for.  We know that ancient civilizations existed and flourished before some  mysteriously ceased to exist.  Relics, structures and writings have survived giving us clues about their lives. Of all of the ancient civilizations, the most inspiring and sought after remains Ancient Egypt.  The pyramids and Sphinx are marvels that have puzzled engineers for thousands of years.  Without the benefit of blueprints, we can only offer guesses as to how and why the structures were created.  But from the temples, mummies and monuments that have survived, it is evidently clear that ingenuity was one of its greatest traits.  Africa has been cited as the cradle of civilization, serving as the home to the oldest tribes known to man. The Christian Bible and Hollywood have done their part in bringing the stories to life, and in the process put Ancient Egypt on center stage.  The Pharaoh Ramses II in The Ten Commandments, beautifully played by the great Yul Brynner, has become a commonly accepted image of the real life Ramses II.  But how accurate was Brynner to his real life counterpart?  And what did the Ancient Egyptians look like?  It is tempting to think of them based on those we see in Egypt today.  But we should know that history often includes many surprising facts, some which we may have never guessed without revisiting the past.   Cheikh Anta Diop (1923-1986), of Diourbel, Senegal, was a noted historian and anthropologist, who studied the origin of the human race and in his eye-opening account, he seeks to find the truth about the role of Black Africans in the origin of civilization.

Any reader considering this book must be able to clear his/her mind of images today of the continent of Africa.  Not only are the images typically disheartening, but they have no resemblance to the time period of which Diop is speaking.  Here we go back in time thousands of years when Egypt was the most powerful nation of earth and home to  knowledge sought by truth seekers from afar.  Among these was Herodotus, credited as the first historian of the modern world.  The famed scholar recorded a journal of his travels and with regards to the Egyptians, made note of their negro appearance.  But Diop does not stop there and revisits the words of other scholars who visited the ancient kingdom and saw with their own eyes, the Egyptians and Ethiopians described by many of them as Negroes.

Some may be asking what is the point of proving that the Egyptians were negro?  That is a very good question and I do believe the book speaks for itself.  But I will say that the reason is that for thousands of years, the negro has been viewed as substandard and Africa has historically been viewed as a land of savages that needed “culture”.   Those who study history will readily know how imperialism wreaked havoc across the continent as tribes were decimated while Christianity and Islam fought for converts.  The late Harry S.  Truman once said “the only new thing in this world is the history you do not yet know”.  True words indeed.  What is key to keep mind while reading this book is that history has for too long, been written to make those of color look inferior.  But truth typically reveals much different pictures.  For those readers who are African or Black American, you may find this book hits close to home.  Personally, it confirmed many things I learned in high school regarding African culture.  But sadly, across most history textbooks, you will be hard pressed to find these facts.   Every Easter, The Ten Commandments  is played on television. The film is a cinematic masterpiece regardless of what one believes about Christ, and the performances by Charlton Heston (1923-2008) and Yul Brynner (1920-1985) made the film legendary.  But the film ignores the truth about the Ancient Egyptians and the role of Africans in the origin of civilization.  The revelations in the book in no way seek to negate the contributions to society of Ancient Greece, Germany, the Sumerians or Mesopotamia.  But the crux is that nearly all of these societies took their cues from the Egyptians who were much different from what many of us have believed for thousands of years as history was redacted or re-written.

The book is not an attempt to disparage other nations.  Diop seeks only to highlight the truth which has been hiding in plain sight.  And the artifacts, hieroglyphics and statues he uses in the book give credence to his words.  Without question, he proves that there was more to the Ancient Egyptians than many have been willing to acknowledge.   It might be worthwhile to brush up on world history, in particular the periods before Christ to keep up with Diop.  His scholar background resulted in the book being on the heavy side with dates and names.  A chart might be necessary for those readers who intend to continue down this path of research.  Nevertheless, any reader can follow along and understand the concept of the book.  Admittedly,  there are many things about Ancient Egypt that we may never answer and Diop does not profess to have all of them.   How and why the pyramids were built is still a mystery.  We may never known how Egyptian architects made exact measurements without the aid of modern technology.   Notably, in our lives today, we have many things that come from them that have been retained over time.   In short, we owe our lives to them for they are our ancestors along with the Aztecs, Mayans and other ancient civilizations that possessed incredible knowledge and customs which still amaze us today.

ISBN-10: 1556520727
ISBN-13: 978-1556520723

Africa

KyembaThe name Idi Amin remains among the most infamous our world has ever known.   Following the overthrow that removed Milton Obote (1925-2005) from power, the late despot ruled Uganda with relentless brutality as he enriched himself at the peril of hundreds of thousands of Ugandans.   In January, 1979, the Ugandan National Liberation Army forced him into exile with the help of the Tanzania People’s Defense Force and former Libyan dictator Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi (1942-2011).   Amin spent the last years of his life in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he died on August 16, 2003.   Today, nearly fifteen years after his death, he is still reviled by those who remember a dark period in the history of Uganda.

Henry Kyemba (1939-) served under Amin in several high positions including Minister of Health.   On a trip to Europe, he defected from Ugandan and was reunited with both of his wives and his children thereafter.  He first wrote this book in 1977, shortly after he made his life changing escape from Amin’s domain.  Twenty years later,  the book was republished with a foreword by Godfrey Lule (Godfrey Binaisa, 1929-2010). This is Kyemba’s account his time serving under Amin and the nightmare that ensued. And what is contained in the pages of this book is a story that is not for the faint at heart and a critical inside look into the reign of the man who dubbed himself “The Last King of Scotland”.  And for those familiar with Amin, the story is still fascinating and at times just mind numbing as Kyemba reveals the insanity that engulfed a doomed regime.

Kyemba begins this story by teaching us about Uganda’s history and the division of tribes that remains in place today.  The names and places come together like a puzzle giving us a large image of the country.  At first it may be challenging to follow along but as the story moves along, the reader will be able to remember the most important.  He continues by introducing us to his life and his role under the administration under Milton Obote who is removed from power early in the story.  From that point on, it is all Amin and the madness that came with him.  Kyemba’s escape is the “happy ending” that can serve to uplift the spirit, but in reality, his heart and the hearts of others who escape Uganda bleed for the thousands who were brutally murdered.

The book is at times, tough to read and Kyemba does not sugar coat anything.  Violence, racism and incompetence combined to for a cesspool  from which many would never recover.  Kyemba also discusses the major events that highlighted Amin’s rule including the death of his wife Kay, whose gruesome demise was documented in the film The Last King of Scotland starring Forest Whitaker, the death of Dora Bloch following the hijacking of Air France Flight 139 from Tel Aviv and the expulsion of Indians and Asians from Ugandan soil.  In each case, Amin’s delusions and failure to grasp the situation, marked yet another tragic point in an already bizarre story.  In one of the most touching moments in the book, Kyemba remarks on Bloch’s death and how it has stayed with him.

An extraordinary amount of courage was required to write a book of this nature.  For Kyemba, Uganda will always be home and his memories will be with him for the rest of his days.  For those of us who did not live under Amin, books like this give us an idea of what life was like under a regime that stood on the verge of spiraling out of control nearly every day.  Amin escaped justice dying in his older years in Saudi Arabia.  For thousands of Ugandans, his ability to avoid punishment and answer for his crimes is one of the true tragedies in the nation’s history. Dictators live in a world removed from reality with their power having blinded them to the reality of their situation. Amin was no different and in fact stood out for his relentless brutality and lack of comprehension of even the most basic government concepts. Kyemba’s story is similar to other survivors of murderous regimes but I assure even the most hardened readers will be moved.  If you are curious about the notorious Idi Amin and his regime, this book will show you a side that needs to be shown.

ISBN-10: 0441785344
ISBN-13: 978-0441785346

Africa

Duncan LakiThe death of Idi Amin Dada on August 16, 2003,  caused a stir of emotions in Uganda, the country he once ruled with an iron fist.  His name is infamous and the crimes of his regime are endless.  He ranks high among the worst dictators in world history and is a case study of the rampant abuse of power by a malevolent tyrant.  Actor Forest Whitaker brilliantly played the late dictator in the 2006 film The Last King of Scotland.  The film was fictionalized in part, but Whitaker capture the essence of Amin’s character and his performance was nothing short of phenomenal. The real Idi Amin was far worse as we know and there is a chance that the true number of the crimes committed by him and his henchmen will never be known.  The fates of hundreds of Ugandans remain a mystery with no sense of closure in sight. Nearly four decades have passed since Amin fled into exile but he is a permanent part of Ugandan history.   In this book by journalist Andrew Rice, we take a different look at the Amin regime, not through his life but through the lives of those who served him.  The lives and stories intersect around the murder of Eliphaz Laki,  the former county chief of Ibanda, Mbarara.  In 1972, he was apprehended by Amin’s enforcers, led by Yusuf Gowon, assisted and abetted by Nasur Gille and Mohamed Anyure.  His murder was covered up until his son Duncan returned to his native country in a quest to find his father’s killers.   Duncan emigrated to the United States, settling in New Jersey with his wife.  Their union produced four children and Laki supports his family as a lawyer. But the laws of the United States are different from Uganda as we see in the book.   This is his story and a step back into time as we revisit the Protectorate of Uganda under the all watchful eye of Amin.

Before you open this book, I recommend that you remove any pre-conceived notions about Uganda.  Personally, I found that after reading this book, there was much about the African nation that I did not know.  In contrast to the picture of Africa being a land of savages, the truth is that colonialism, tribalism and corruption combined to eliminate any semblance of a properly functioning society.   As Rice follows Duncan on his mission to bring his father’s killers to justice, the complex web of jealousy and suspicion ignited by Amin’s paranoia becomes evidently clear.  Tragically, what could have been a great country, seemed to regress upon finally gaining its independence. In the book, as each character is introduce, Rice retraces their history, explaining in detail why they’re relevant to the current story.   Expectedly,  former leader Milton Obote appears throughout the story as he and Amin end up on a collision course for control of the country.  The book develops into a history lesson on Ugandan politics and is a social study of the issues that continue to plague it today.  It should be pointed out that the book is not a biography of Amin. In fact, as Rice points out, Amin’s early life is highly obscure and his exact date of birth was never been attained.  The focus instead is on Duncan’s investigation with the help of a local investigator, Alfred Orijado.  Their investigation leads them to the three suspects who are arrested and interrogated before signing confessions explaining their role in Eliphaz Laki’s death.   And similar to the former Nazi officials, the Nuremberg defense once again rears its ugly head.

The trial eventually reveals the many flaws in the Uganda system while highlighting the progress that had been made administratively under the direction of former President Yoweri Museveni.  Along with Amin and Milton Obote, Museveni is a permanent fixture in Ugandan history with the distinction of having served thirty-one years as the ruler of Ugandan.  He has been called a dictator and if he should move to change the law to exempt him from retiring at the mandatory age of seventy-five, the accusations will hold more weight.   Nonetheless, he is a walking piece of history at the age of seventy-one, having witnessed Uganda’s darkest times first hand.  His prominence is slowly slipping as younger Ugandans look towards a brighter future with change in a new direction.

Westerners may find it hard to relate to the events in the book.  For those of us lucky enough to have grown up in the United States, a civil war is unknown to us personally and something we have read about in textbooks.  But for immigrants from Uganda who remember Amin’s reign, the terror remains with them every day reminding them of how tragic their lives once were.  And while the ending is not what the reader may expect, the book is invaluable is showing what life was like in Uganda during that era.  In death, Amin has joined the ranks of Hitler, Stalin, Lenin and other dictators whose dark legacies continue to haunt the nations they once ruled.  Uganda continues to heal and the story of Eliphaz and Duncan Laki, is just one of thousands to be told about the maniacal Idi Amin Dada.

ISBN-10: 0312429738
ISBN-13: 978-0312429737

Africa