We live in a world of pairs. Two eyes. Duology. Dark and light. Fidel Castro’s death at 90 proved this point. Even his funeral tomorrow is surrounded by two divergent views. I was not living in the West when Fidel Castro was a big hero in Africa, over 40 years ago. I was not aware of how hated he was here.
This week? So much “rubbishing” of his legacy continues pouring throughout the media. Even the American leaders have proved the twin view. President Obama acknowledged his influence while the President-elect Donald Trump called him a dictator. Our earth has this endless, differing double outlook.
According to media reports, Obama’s efforts to break the blockade against this biggest Caribbean island have been appreciated by ordinary Cubans. A few days ago, BBC correspondent Will Grant reported his astonishment at how young Cubans wanted to keep the Castro legacy. Grant, who has been living in the country for a year, said the death of Castro might have been a “time to turn the page around”, (i.e. change policies) but the youth “respect what he did.”
Important statement. Respect what he did.
And what is that? Founders of nations are usually highly regarded. We have our own Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s Father of the Nation. Equally badly spoken by some. But what are the benefits of having such leaders like Castro and Mwalimu Nyerere? Why are Tanzanians speaking so well of Mwalimu—17 years after his demise in London? Why?
You have to dig deep and reflect identity. The US was founded by George Washington. Their capital government city is named after him. Modern China was established by Chairman Mao Tse Tung. These individuals fought tooth and nail to bring their new nations. Fidel Castro, his brother Raul (current President), Argentinean doctor Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos and Juan Almeida Bosque led the struggle to oust dictator Fulgencio Baptista from 1956 to 1959.
It has been documented how Batista turned Cuba into an American brothel, latrine and circus. Their battles ushered a new type of rule in the northern hemisphere. Fidel Castro introduced socialism. This is opposite to what the whole Western culture is. Whoever brings in something different from the norm becomes a pariah, an enemy, a dictator, and so on.
Now here is my take. Much has been said about the failures of Castro and the Cuban Revolution.
The exiled Cubans (mostly in the US) have been vocal against Castro. An ex bodyguard’s book on Castro has been causing a rumble. Human rights and persecution of homosexuals. During the weekend two conservative London papers: Daily Mail and Sunday Times dedicated observations about Fidel Castro’s character and his many women.
Does this impress (or distress) an African or a Latin American? You tell me. Every individual is a product of their culture. Why would these women want to be with him if he was Mr Evil? Tell us. I spoke to a couple of young Tanzanians (and Europeans under 25s) who have one thing in common. Most never heard of the man or cared less. Fidel is mostly a champion for the over-40s.
In 1977 I saw Fidel Castro at a very close range in Dar es Salaam. 1977 was historical. CCM came to being. Angola invaded by South Africa’s apartheid troops. We of the press flocked to the airport to welcome a leader who was helping us liberate the Continent. Our winner.
As he walked around saying hello to the newly formed CCM Cabinet, a young attractive white woman was pushed away by secret services. The scuffle, it was whispered, was a plot to kill El Commandante. Castro survived over 600 attempts, including this one in Dar es Salaam.
How can we not admire him? He is ours. How many genuine heroes have we got? And do we care when they say he had nine children by several women? Is that news in Africa?
Cuban soldiers fought alongside Africans to get rid of colonial invaders in Angola. Cuban folks accompanied Che Guevara in the Congo rebel movement against the brutal regime of Mobutu Sese Seko in 1966.
Hardworking Cuban doctors have been in Tanzania and other African and Latin American countries for several decades. I have worked with Cuban musicians. Amazing discipline. Once I showed a Cuban musician the Tanzanian drumming rhythm Mawindi (from Singida). Next morning he knocked at my door with a bag full of fish. “Gracias companero,” said the brother.
Cubans are the most endearing people I have ever met. When hurricanes occur in the Caribbean we often hear of deaths and destruction. From Haiti, Grenada to Jamaica. But we are never told of hurricanes and havoc in Cuba. Ever wonder why they do not report on this impressive government’s management of her people’s safety?