Africa and the rest of the world woke up on Saturday to the news of the death of iconic, firebrand revolutionary figure, and long-time Cuban leader Fidel Castro. The 90-year-old finally succumbed to old age and the effect of years of battling several chronic ailments. His death immediately provoked an outpouring of diverse reactions from all over the world.
While some may choose to remember Castro as a repressive communist who ceaselessly poked his finger in the eye of Western nations, much of Africa will remember him as a revolutionary who committed his entire life to the liberation and emancipation of oppressed people.
African Leaders Honor Castro
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In honor of Castro, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh immediately announced the suspension of his campaign ahead of next Thursday’s presidential election. According to the BBC, Gambia’s Information Minister, Sheriff Bojang, explained that the move was a mark of respect to mourn the death of the former Cuban leader.
In the face of a series of Western sanctions against Gambia, Jammeh managed to forge close links to Castro. Cuba was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with Gambia after Jammeh took power in 1994 following a coup. Cuba provided Gambia with a number of qualified professionals including doctors, technicians, and teachers.
Gambia was only one of several African countries that benefited from close diplomatic and bilateral cooperation with Cuba. Castro was quick to extend a hand to African countries as far back as 1961, when much of the continent was still caught up in the pro-independence struggle.
His idealism and belief in the fundamental freedom and dignity of all humankind irrespective of race, sex, or color would lead him to commit Cuban resources, both human and material, towards Africa’s quest for self-determination and freedom from the exploitation and oppression of Western powers.
Cuban resources were generously deployed to support the liberation struggle in countries like Algeria, where Cuba delivered weapons to help chase out French colonialists. A similar intervention of Cuban forces in Angola, Mozambique, and Namibia would help lead to their independence. The success of Cuban military intervention in Africa helped set the stage for the eventual collapse of the Apartheid regime in South Africa.
In the decades after the drums of war went silent, Cuba under Castro continued to maintain a presence in Africa, with the Cuban government providing vital technical and professional personnel, including world class doctors and teachers that have helped bridge the gap between manpower demand and supply.
Following the news of Castro’s demise, flags were lowered to a half mast in several African countries and a long list of leaders, including President’s Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Jacob Zuma of South Africa, quickly indicated their desire to bid a final farewell at the funeral ceremonies of a man who, despite his many shortcomings, epitomized hope to the oppressed and exploited people of the world.