Castro’s legacy in Africa (part 2): Ole Gjerstad on Cuba’s support to anti-imperialist struggles

ole-gjerstad-225x300(photo credit:

In this second part of Amandla’s look at the life of Fidel Castro and his role on the African continent, Amandla regular Doug Miller talks to Montreal anthropologist, writer, radio broadcaster and filmmaker Ole Gjerstad who was a witness of the Cuban presence in Angola.

Gjerstad offers a rare first-hand look at the Cuban presence in Africa and how Castro contributed to the liberation struggles on the continent.

Also be sure to check out part 1


Reportage sur la campagne électorale en RDC (Congo)

Quelques jours de campagne électorale ont suffit pour métamorphoser le paysage urbain de la République Démocratique du Congo. Les portraits des innombrables candidats tapissent les carrosseries d’automobiles et les murs des commerces. Des bruyantes parades de supporters déambulent les rues, des masses de chandails et casquettes à l’effigie des candidats sont distribués. On se rassemble pour débattre et festoyer, l’heure est à la politique. Jean-Philippe Marquis est au Katanga, au sud-est du Congo-Kinshasa et discute des élections avec la population de la ville de Lubumbashi.

Barrick Gold force le report du lancement du livre NOIR CANADA

Le lancement de NOIR CANADA, Pillage, corruption et criminalité en Afrique été ajourné à cause d’une mise en demeure de la part de la société minière canadienne Barrick Gold. Cette dernière, sans avoir lu l’ouvrage, menace d’intenter une poursuite judiciaire en diffamation contre les auteurs du Collectif Ressources d’Afrique, l’éditeur Écosociété et les membres de son conseil d’administration. Le but de Barrick Gold semble d’empêcher la parution de l’ouvrage et, par conséquent, d’éviter la diffusion d’informations, pourtant déjà disponibles dans plusieurs autres sources, auprès du public. On comprendra que les moyens financiers de la puissante société aurifère, en comparaison avec ceux des chercheurs et artisans qui ont préparé cet ouvrage, lui permettent de procéder par intimidation.


The Angolan control of the two Congos/ Le contrôle de l’Angola sur les deux Congos

(Lien en anglais/ link in english)

Voici un article paru dans le journal Daily Nation de Nairobi (Kenya). Il est écrit par Gitau Warigi. Il traite de la toute puissante armée angolaise qui a influencé les événements politiques récents en République du Congo et en République démocratique du Congo. Il faut savoir que l’Angola dispose de l’enclave du Cabinda, un territoire coincé entre les deux Congo, mais que le régime de Luanda tient à garder libre de l’influence déstabilisatrice qu’auraient ses voisins. Donc, quoi de mieux que d’intervenir chez ces voisins afin d’atteindre cet objectif… Nous présentons ici l’article (voir plus bas).

Here is an article written by Gitau Warigi in the Daily Nation of Nairobi (Kenya). It talks about the importance of the angolan army in the recent political events in the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo. We post the full article here.

Gitau Warigi:


A joke by a Kenyan expatriate working with the United Nations in Kinshasa is typical of how foreigners there view the Congolese.

According to the joke, when the usual hustlers and small-time traders and beggars accost you in your car as you are caught up in a traffic intersection, just switch on the pulsating rhumba of Kofi Olomide or some such musician on your car stereo, and the street hustlers will instantly forget what they accosted you for and start dancing. Then you can easily drive away.

At one level, the joke is a statement about the powerful influence of Congolese music in Africa, which is a compelling fact of life whether you live in Nairobi or Luanda or Lusaka or Abidjan.

But it is also a none-too-flattering aspersion on the supposedly hopeless hold music has on the Congolese, which presumably “explains” their lousy record as fighters in defending their terribly resource-rich country from covetous neighbours.

Another cruel joke has it that when Rwandan forces invaded for the second time in 1998, many Congolese picked up their guitars hoping to lull the invaders away from Kinshasa. That was not true, of course, but one cannot miss the crushing condescension.

There has always been something of a misconception that the Rwandans singlehandedly overthrew dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. The truth of the matter is that securing Kinshasa, which is in the western Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), was the work of Angolan forces.

Angola [see national flag on the right] in reality is the superpower in that area of the continent. Outside South Africa, Angola has perhaps the most mechanised and best equipped Army in sub-Saharan Africa. It is also extremely battle-hardened through fighting Unita rebels and at one time the apartheid-era South African forces.Angolan Flag

Second Invasion

It is actually the Angolans who intervened to defeat the Rwandese in their second Congolese invasion and who have, apparently, sustained the Kabila regime (both father’s and son’s) ever since.

When heavy fighting erupted in Kinshasa last March between the government soldiers of President Joseph Kabila and his main rival Jean-Pierre Bemba, a rumour swept through the 7-millionman city that Kabila prevailed only because of Angolan intervention.

What is certain is that, according to one Francois Charlier of the UN mission in Kinshasa, the large UN peacekeeping mission in the country, which goes under the acronym MONUC, kept out of it all. However, they did give Bemba’s fighters temporary refuge.

The tale of the DRC and its smaller namesake to the north, Congo-Brazzaville, is one of near-failed States which are dotted with murderous militias and which, when you think of it, probably ended up endowed with too much natural wealth for their own good.

The DRC has the minerals while Congo-B has the oil but neither country can show much for its riches. A favourite cliche is that you dig a hole anywhere there, and you will come up with gold or ruby or titanium or whatever else you fancy.

The two countries are separated by the giant Congo River, and their two capitals – Kinshasa and Brazzaville – face one another across the four-mile expanse of the river. The pre-colonial Bakongo kingdom bestrode both countries across the river and this is what gave the Congos their name.

There are many other things they have in common beyond the shared Congo name. French is the official lingua franca in both countries, though when you cross the river to either country you realise you are in very different territory when you are asked for passports and entry permits.

Militia routed

The DRC and Congo-B relate extremely uneasily. The dynamic at work is one of two unstable neighbours each of who is wary of adding to his own misery by embracing an equally unfortunate kin.

When Bemba’s militia was routed by Kabila in March, a whole brigade or so crossed the river and sought refuge in Congo-B, where the authorities are extremely cagey about the brigade’s whereabouts.

A couple of tank shells landed in Brazzaville as the Kinshasa side sought to pursue the fleeing renegades. Congo-B fumed but did not react, reportedly after getting assurances that the shelling had actually been targetted at the boats the Bemba fighters were crossing to Brazzaville with but the shells ended up getting misdirected to Brazzaville city.

All along, Kabila, who is a Swahili speaker from the east, has suspected the neighbour of supporting his rival Bemba, who has a massive following in Kinshasa even after he was forced into exile in Portugal. Brazzaville on its part believes Kinshasa was not neutral during the insurgencies of 1993 and 1997 that ripped Congo-B apart.

Angola’s interests are much more complex. Its oil-rich enclave called Cabinda which juts out into the Atlantic is sandwiched by the Congos, and for this reason it wants to ensure the regimes in Kinshasa and Brazzaville are amenable to its interests.

Besides, there is the huge Inga dam on the Congo River that supplies a large part of Angola with electricity. However, Angola’s intimate involvement with the conflicts of the Congos are intertwined with its own drawn-out internal conflict with Unita. Mobutu used to support Unita, and Luanda suspected the same with the Ninja militias that oppose Congo-B’s President Denis Sassou-Nguesso.

Sassou-Nguesso is a typical African dictator. A large UNDP entourage of which I was part was kept waiting for about an hour for its scheduled Ethiopian Airlines flight because the “Mighty One” was flying out to some place. Sassou-Nguesso, who is from the poorer northern part of Congo-B, has deep military links.

The political story of Congo-B revolves around three over-arching antagonists: Sassou-Nguesso, Pascal Lissouba, and Bernard Kolelas. Out of the confusion they have created has emerged another depressing reality: a country that is virtually run by heavily-armed militias that owe their loyalties to their respective supremos, not the nation. Sasssou-Nguesso has the Cobras. Kolelas has the Ninjas. And Lissouba has the weaker but still nasty Cocoyes.

Sassou-Nguesso (the outgoing African Union chairman) got into power in 1979 and stayed there right up to 1992, when in the wave of political pluralism he was voted out and Lissouba voted in. But within a year, he was actively subverting Lissouba with his nascent Cobra militia.

At the time, he was supported by Kolelas, then mayor of Brazzaville who later shifted support to Lissouba and became his prime minister before they were ousted by Sassou-Nguesso in the second civil war of 1997. The Cobras’ great enemy, the Ninjas, owe loyalty to Kolelas.

It is doubtful Sassou-Nguesso and his Cobras would have prevailed if it wasn’t for Angolan backing. Luanda detests the Ninjas, who it linked to Unita. The French, too, were on the act, for it is believed they feared that the lucrative oil concession in Congo-B enjoyed by the Total Elf Fina oil company could get uncertain in the Lissouba regime. Other players included Gabon’s President Omar Bongo, who is a son-in-law to Sassou-Nguesso. Angola right now has garrisoned some 1,500 troops in Congo-B to protect Sassou-Nguesso’s regime.

Congo-Brazzaville: Armes légères toujours en circulation/ Congo-Brazzaville: Small Arms still in circulation

Des élections approchent au Congo-Brazzaville mais des armes légères sont toujours en circulation ce qui pourrait avoir un effet néfaste sur les élections de juin et juillet prochains. Il semble que 34 000 armes légères circulent toujours en République du Congo depuis la fin de la guerre civile des années 90.

Here is a news item from IRIN regarding the problem of the circulation of 34000 small arms in Congo-Brazzaville:Small arms

BRAZZAVILE, 2 April 2007 (IRIN) – Large numbers of illegally-held small arms remain in circulation in the Republic of Congo posing a security risk to the central African country which has been plagued by conflicts in the recent past, officials said at a meeting convened to discuss the problem.

“Illegally-held arms remain one of the country’s main problems,” said defence minister Gen. Jacques Yvon Ndolou, at the meeting organised last week by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Association of European Union Parliamentarians.

The meeting was aimed at raising awareness among Congolese members of parliament and government officials of the threats that illegal weapons pose to national security ahead of the country’s legislative elections scheduled for June and July.

UNDP resident representative in Congo, Aurélien Agbenonci, said an estimated 34,000 illegal arms are in still circulation in the country following the civil war in the late 1990s. Remnants of the civil war militias, particularly in southern Pool region, are yet to disarm.

About 10,000 light weapons and munitions have been collected and destroyed with the help of aid donors since 2000, he added.

“We have to combine our efforts and learn from the recent past so that we do not have a re-emergence of conflicts and crises,” said Agbenonci.

The MPs urged political parties and politicians to ensure the elections will be free and fair and held in an atmosphere of peace and security. The first round of polling will be held on 24 June and the second on 22 July.

“We also ask the government to take robust measures to fight anarchic use of arms of any kind and the impunity which promotes insecurity and thwarts the country’s development,” said Philomène Fouty-Soungou, the first secretary of the Senate.