‘You can condemn me but it doesn’t matter: History will acquit me.’ – Fidel Castro
You cannot deny that Fidel Castro divided opinion.
To most, he was a politician, a revolutionary and a warrior. To others he was a dictator and a cold-hearted mercenary. Women saw him as a sex symbol, powerful, rebellious, as well as a commitment-phobe and philanderer; and to our modern youth and millennials, he has come to be a meme and a fashion icon.
But to Africa, Fidel Castro was a friend and an ally.
Pals of the Cuban commander included African leaders such as President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana; Tanzanian leader, Julius Nyerere; the first Angolan president Agostinho Neto; founding President of Namibia Sam Nujoma; and of course, Nelson Mandela.
Didn’t know that he was so close to Africa? Well, here are a few examples of why Fidel Castro will forever be Africa’s bestie:
Castro was pro-active in his aid and assistance to many African countries. He offered his experience and advice. He sent troops, medical aid, doctors and teachers when the continent was getting to grips with its new post-colonial identity.
His willingness to fight for and side-by-side with Africans made both military and liberation movements idolise him. Under his regime, Cuba was an ally to Angola, Namibia, South Africa and organisations that were against colonial powers such as The African National Congress and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) among others.
Castro sent tens of thousands of troops to Angola when the oil giant country became embroiled in a war between Russia and the USA during the Cold War.
During the Ebola crisis, Castro immediately got involved and sent international aid to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea while other countries in the world cowered.
He brought about social and gender equality for women and introduced universal healthcare and free education for all.
The most prominent support from Fidel Castro, however, will forever be his involvement in South Africa. Nelson Mandela spoke openly and fondly about his close relationship with Castro because of his support during the difficult period as Cuba backed the freedom fighters while the Americans backed the apartheid government. Castro trained black African soldiers and sent over 30,000 Cuban soldiers to help fight the South African army as well as sending doctors and nurses to the townships.
Other than his political influence, one cannot forget that this bond has led to a strong link between Africa and Cuba. From artists such as Abdoulaye Konaté who studied in Havana, to the Afro-Cuban jazz harmonies of Maravillas de Mali. (Not forgetting our Chivas-drinking uncles in Togo!)
They say the best friendships are fierce – when you believe in each other, defend each other, and think the other deserves the world. To Africa, Castro was indeed that kind of friend and Uncle Fidel will be truly missed.