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As a founding member of the Pan-African Liberation Organization, Obi Egbuna has devoted his life to the struggle to unify the African continent and the African Diaspora. His activities have led him to split his time between the U.S. and Zimbabwe. I was interested in finding out more about the Pan-African Liberation Organization and its role in the movement, and contacted Mr. Egbuna. This interview took place shortly before his return to Zimbabwe.
Q: You are a founding member of the Pan-African Liberation Organization (PALO). Tell us something about PALO: its history, its philosophy, and its goals for the future.
Egbuna: The organization was founded on April 1, 1991, 31 years after the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which is why we strategically picked that particular date. The original name was the Pan African Student Youth United Front. The year before, we had created a student umbrella organization called the United Pan African Front with students from the University of Maryland/College Park, George Washington University, Howard University, Catholic University, American University, and the University of the District of Columbia. We felt at that point that the student/youth movement in the African community needed to put immense pressure on our traditional organizations like the National Council of Negro Women, Nation of Islam, NAACP, All African People’s Revolutionary Party, etc. to form an African United Front.
We felt it was mainly because of the tendency to embrace capitalist models of leadership that was the root cause for the delay in the establishment of a functional and productive United Front representing the broadest spectrum of our organized formations. Our main philosophical influences are Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah and Ahmed Seku Ture. Our main objective is One Unified African People at home and abroad and One Unified Socialist African Continent. Our goals for the future are to identify the issues with the most potential to unite us worldwide, and right now our work around the issues of Zimbabwe and Cuba in particular represent our practical expression of what we believe in theory.
Q: We live in a unipolar world in which the West did much to promote the breakup of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia into a number of smaller, weaker, and therefore more easily controlled nations. A united socialist Africa would have immense significance not only for the people of Africa but the world as well. But rallying support for the cause in the face of Western hostility presents special problems. You allude in your last answer to the first practical steps toward achieving that goal. Please tell us more about your work in support of pan-African liberation. I understand, for instance, that some time ago you moved to Zimbabwe in order to more effectively put your ideals into action.
Egbuna: This is an important question to address. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the overthrow of Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah and the Convention Peoples Party in Ghana (February 24th 1966), the 30th anniversary of the Soweto uprising (June 16th 1976), and the 40th anniversary of SNCC’s resurrection of Frederick Douglass’ slogan “Black Power.” As African people we approach Zimbabwe in the context of honoring our historical responsibility to defend liberated and sovereign territory on our beloved mother continent. For progressive and revolutionary forces in African communities worldwide, Zimbabwe means what Cuba and Venezuela mean to Latin American anti-imperialist resistance, or what Palestine means to Arab and Muslim forces opposed to imperialist domination.
We’ve worked with our comrades in Zimbabwe for four years at a very intense level through the diplomatic corps in the U.S. (the embassy in Washington and the UN Mission in New York City). In 2003 we had the honor and privilege of chatting with President Mugabe at the UN while he was participating in the UN general assembly. He thanked us for the work we had done up to that point and urged us to intensify everything we were doing. The previous Zimbabwean ambassador to the U.S., Dr. Simbi Mubako, recommended that we go to Zimbabwe and spend extended time on the ground.
At that point, however we felt we hadn’t done enough on behalf of the government, party and people. In PALO we believe in working first and traveling later. This way our beloved comrades will be familiar with the track record of labor done on their behalf. We also decided that as Africans the concept of splash delegations has gotten us nowhere. What I mean by splash delegations is when national spokespeople in our community travel abroad mainly to countries on U.S. imperialism’s radar screen (in Africa, Asia, and Latin America). Then after receiving red carpet treatment and promising the heads of state everything under the sun, they return to the U.S. only to hold a press conference highlighting their visit and two or three months later we forget why they went in the first place. This approach undermines crucial relationships that Africans in the U.S. must build and maintain with our comrades in every corner of the world.
We felt that we needed to work in Zimbabwe like Kwame Ture and Shirley Graham DuBois did in Guinea, Frantz Fanon did in Algeria, Julian Mayfield and W.E.B. DuBois did in Ghana, and lastly how Che Guevara did in Cuba and how Eugene Godfried and Assata Shakur are presently doing in Cuba. I was in Zimbabwe from April to September working with ZANU-PF on the party side and also on the Government side, mainly through the Ministry of Information and Publicity. But I’m also working with the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Ministry of Education Sports and Culture, and the National HIV Aids Council. I went to Zimbabwe also for the purpose of bridging the gap between the Cuban solidarity work being done by Africans in the U.S. and those in Southern Africa, which is the hub of Cuban solidarity on the Continent. I’m a member of the Zimbabwe-Cuba Friendship Association and working to rebuild the Zimbabwe Palestinian Friendship organization. I’ll be returning to Zimbabwe in November and remaining there until February to continue the work on the ground that will result in an increase of genuine uncompromising support for President Mugabe and ZANU-PF.
Q: I’ve heard from a number of people who have informed me that Zimbabwe’s land reform has won wide popular support throughout Africa. Do you think that land reform has the potential to act as a catalyst for positive change throughout the continent of Africa? Could this also be a rallying point for building a movement for the political and economic unification of Africa?
Egbuna: With the death of Yasser Arafat, President Mugabe has emerged as the international spokesperson for land reclamation worldwide. It begins with Africa. If you remember, the youth league of the ANC was the first entity on the other side of the Limpopo River to endorse the land reclamation program in Zimbabwe. This was crucial because even after international support for the Palestinian question and reparations for slavery at the United Nations Conference Against Racism, Xenophobia and Other Related Intolerances, held in Durban, South Africa, this still didn’t translate into an intensification of the struggle for land reclamation in South Africa, where 83% of the land remains in the hands of whites.
The President of Cote D’Ivoire sent an envoy to Zimbabwe three years back, seeking consultation and advice from President Mugabe about how they could reclaim their land. We also see how the courageous vision of Zimbabwe helped spark this issue next door in Namibia, where 44% of the land was still in the hands of whites there. We can also look at the Harare agricultural festival, which was opened by Botswana’s President Festus Mogae, who reaffirmed his support for the land program in Zimbabwe and denounced the illegal sanctions. Zambia’s President, who was also in attendance, stressed the same points. President Mugabe received recognition in April from Malawi’s President Mutharika, who named a road in his honor despite a threat by the European Union to pull out of a project to rebuild roads in the country unless Mugabe wasn’t uninvited. This, however, didn’t budge President Mutharika one bit. We then have to look outside of Africa. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela said at the UN Food and Poverty Organization meeting last year in Rome that Zimbabwe was the model for his agrarian reform program.
It was comical to see Chirac in France praise Comrade Evo Morales in Bolivia for the program he decided to embark on against the ruling elite in Bolivia, knowing that the reason the European Union is trying to force an illegal imperialist-driven regime change in Zimbabwe is because of the uncompromising stand of President Mugabe and ZANU-PF on the issue of land.
I just had a great dialogue with WaBun-Inini (aka Vernon Bellecourt), a principal spokesperson for the American Indian Movement/International Indian Treaty Council. He’s in the process of drafting a statement of support for President Mugabe and ZANU-PF. I feel great about this because WaBun-Inini defends Libya with more courage and passion than most Africans in the U.S. He went to jail for defying Ronald Reagan’s travel ban on Libya in 1987. Many forget or overlook that the U.S. is a settler colony. So their arrogance towards a people who have endured slavery and colonialism and who are reclaiming what is rightfully theirs is expected and resisted, like in the case of Zimbabwe.
I also have to mention that I was pleased that International A.N.S.W.E.R. arranged for me to read the Zimbabwe-Cuba Friendship Association’s (ZIMCUFA) statement on the Cuban Five at the rally they sponsored in support of the five patriots, in front of the FBI building and the Department of Justice. I had been out of the states for six months and they needed a new updated photograph of me on U.S. soil anyway. I’m sure the US embassy in Zimbabwe has plenty of me in Harare. I think this was a special act on A.N.S.W.E.R.’s part, because many entities external to the African community don’t appear to respect the role Zimbabwe plays in the anti-imperialist movement. Many of them are quicker to talk about forces in Latin America and the Caribbean only because of their geographical proximity to Latin America and more recently the Middle East, which is really North Africa.
It appears that resistance in sub-Saharan Africa is the dark side of the moon for them, so maybe by showing Zimbabwe’s relationship to Cuba through the issue of the five or by having them see that Southern Africa is the driving force for Cuban solidarity on the continent of Africa, they can come to recognize the importance of this issue. This is evident when we highlight the 36,000 troops from Cuba who, for 14 years, fought in Angola, winning a decisive victory at Cuito Cuanavale; or the fact that Mugabe and Mandela are recipients of the Jose Marti Order, Cuba’s highest honor (Mugabe in 1985 and Mandela in 1991). Since Hugo Chavez has emerged as the darling of these circles, they also have to see who his favorite African president is. Mugabe received a replica of Simon Bolivar’s sword in 2003 and we are grateful to Comrade Chavez for that. This trip in Zimbabwe we will also highlight the history of the Zimbabwe Palestinian Friendship organization to show that link to those who are part of the anti-Zionist efforts within U.S. borders.
Q: How may interested individuals go about contacting and joining the Pan-African Liberation Organization? What type of work can sympathetic people residing in the U.S. do in support of PALO’s goals?
Egbuna: People interested in joining our ranks can reach out to us by emailing email@example.com. We’re in the process of developing a web page to be a catalyst in helping our recruitment efforts. Individuals from the African community can join us if they support our objectives and don’t belong to an organization already. Organizations that are interested in collaborating on some of the projects we’re working on, in particular the work around Zimbabwe or the Cuban Health Care Pilot Project, are more than welcome to link up with us. The more organized resistance we have in the never-ending struggle for our liberation, human dignity, and humanity as a whole, the better.
|Obi Egbuna writes for The Herald. He is a member of the Pan-African Liberation Organization and the Zimbabwe-Cuba Friendship Association.
The Herald can be read at:
The Pan-African Liberation Organization can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gregory Elich is the author of Strange Liberators: Militarism, Mayhem, and the Pursuit of Profit.