Nyerere Day – Tanzania

October 14.

Julius Nyerere was born in 1922 just east of Lake Victoria in what was then Tanganyika. He herded sheep and “led a typical tribal life” in the village where his father was chief of a small tribe.

He began school at age 12 and studied to be a teacher at Makerere University in Uganda. After teaching for three years he received a scholarship to the University of Edinburgh.

He taught English, Swahili, and history in Dar es Salaam, and was elected head of the Tanganyika African Association, which he had helped to form as an undergraduate at Makerere.

Under his leadership TAA transformed into the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) a political force dedicated to Tanganyikan independence. As his reputation grew colonial leaders pressured him to choose between teaching and politics. Though he chose politics, his supporters would call him Mwalimu, or “teacher,” for the rest of his life.

Nyerere traveled to New York to speak to the United Nations on Tanganyikan independence on behalf of the TANU, which became the most powerful political coalition in the country. In the late 1950s, Tanganyika won independence and Nyerere was elected its first president.

As President, Nyerere helped unite Zanzibar and Tanganyika, forming Tanzania. He was controversial in the West for increasingly distancing himself and the country from European governments and leaning more toward Communist China. For instance, his transformed the age-old African concept of Ujamaa (Familyhood) into an economic policy, melding socialism with traditional tribal government.

“Nyerere reasoned that political independence would have to be followed by quick material development, which, in turn, rested heavily on Western aid. What Nyerere did not wish to import from the West was the individualistic, self-seeking, acquisitive character of its capitalism…”

An African Voice – Robert William July

A few years before his death he gave an interview to Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

CHG: You mentioned the one-party rule in your country where you were president for four terms during which time you promoted the principle of “Ujamaa,” socialism, and you have acknowledged that it was a miserable failure…

NYERERE: Where did you get the idea that I thought “Ujamaa” was a miserable failure?

CHG: Well, I read that you said socialism was a failure…

NYERERE: A bunch of countries were in economic shambles at the end of the 70s. They are not socialists…You have to take in the values of socialism which we were trying to build in Tanzania in any society.

CHG: And those values are what?

NYERERE: And those values are values of justice, a respect for human beings, a development which is people-centered, development where you care about people. You can say ‘leave the development of a country to something called the market,’ which has no heart at all since capitalism is completely ruthless. Who is going to help the poor? And the majority of the people in our countries are poor. Who is going to stand for them? Not the market. So I’m not regretting that I tried to build a country based on those principles…Whether you call them socialism or not…what gave capitalism a human face was the kind of values I was trying to sell in my country.

In a time when so many of his contemporaries clung to power until losing it by coup, Nyerere chose to step down in 1985.

He died of leukemia on October 14, 1999. Today, on the anniversary of his death, the people of Tanzania remember Nyerere, his extraordinary leadership, and the principles on which Tanzania was founded.

Eid al-Adha

October 5-6 (+/- 1), 2014

The Muslim prophet Ibrahim (Abraham in Judeo-Christian tradition) is one of the most remarkable figures in religious history. He is the father of three great religions, the first to believe in one God, and his tales are recounted by all three faiths.

Eid al-Adha, the holiest feast of the Muslim calendar, marks the end of the annual pilgrimage (Hajj.) Eid Al-Adha begins on the tenth day of Dhu’l-Hijja and lasts four days.

It commemorates an event roughly three thousand years ago, when the prophet Ibrahim took his son Ishmael/Ismail to be sacrificed at the command of the Lord. But before Ibrahim could go through with the act God gave Ibrahim a ram to be sacrificed in the place of his son.

There are two major distinctions between the this and the Judeo-Christian version as written in Genesis.

First, in Genesis the son to be sacrificed is not Ishmael, but Isaac.

And second, in the Qur’an Ishmael is aware of his father’s intentions and agrees to be sacrificed. Thus, Eid al-Adha remembers not only Ibrahim’s sacrifice, but Ishmael’s as well.

Arguably the figure of Ibrahim is more prominent in the Islamic faith than in either Judaism or Christianity. Even though he lived twenty-five hundred years before the Prophet Muhammad, Ibrahim is said to have lived a life consistent with Muhammad’s teachings. In addition to nearly sacrificing Ishmael, Ibrahim also broke ties with his own father Azar, an idolator who refused to follow the teachings of the one true God.

Traditionally Eid al-Adha was been celebrated through the sacrifice of an animal such as a sheep, goat, camel or cow. (In recent years the practice has become more controversial. Animal sacrifice is not one of the five pillars of Islam and Muhammad himself did not eat much meat.) The meat of the animal was split into three parts. One part for themselves and family, one part for friends and neighbors, and one part for the poor.

Eid al-Adha also recalls the journey of Hajar, mother of Ishmael, and her search for water:

…Prophet Ibrahim brought Lady Hajar and their baby son Ismail, by the command of God, to the deserted uncultivable valley of Makkah where the sacred house, Ka’bah, is now located. Prophet Ibrahim left Lady Hajar and their son alone by the order of God, and Lady Hajar said, “never ever will God neglect us.” Eventually, she ran out of provisions. Shortly thereafter, she ran up and down two hills, Safa and Marwa, seven times looking for water. Finally, a spring of water gushed at her baby’s feet. God had not neglected them. That same water is still gushing (Zamzam Well).

The Big Feast Eid al-Adha – Ahmed Shoker

 animal market - kashgar

Independence Day – Democratic Republic of the Congo

June 30

I ask you to make this June 30, 1960, an illustrious date that you will keep indelibly engraved in your hearts, a date of significance of which you will teach to your children, so that they will make known to their sons and to their grandchildren the glorious history of our fight for liberty.

Patrice Lumumba, first Prime Minister of the Congo, Independence Speech

The people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) respect Lumumba’s wishes on June 30, the anniversary of the country’s independence from Belgium, but it’s a day tinged with sadness, as they also remember the death of the man who guided them to independence.

Lumumba also holds the distinction of being the only world leader we know of to have nearly been killed by toothpaste.

President Eisenhower was not a huge fan of Lumumba back in 1960. Despite being democratically elected, Lumumba had Soviet leanings, and the Congo held resources vital to the West, uranium being chief among them.

The Belgian government had issues with Lumumba as well. His independence speech, at which the Belgian king was present, made it clear that Lumumba would be no puppet ruler, and the Congo would be no colony.

The CIA installed an operative (Larry Devlin) to be prepared to assassinate Lumumba at a moment’s notice. The weapon of choice: a tube of poisonous toothpaste to be planted among the Prime Minister’s toiletries. For whatever reason, the CIA never gave Devlin the order.

Instead, in September 1960, the charismatic Lumumba was deposed in a CIA-supported coup d’état by his former aide, Colonel Joseph Mobutu, and was executed the following January under mysterious circumstances. Mobutu went on to control the country for over 30 years, renamed it Zaire, and embezzled over $5 billion from the nation’s purse. Mobutu lost power in 1997, and the country became the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Patrice Lumumba, USSR stamp, 1961
Patrice Lumumba, USSR stamp, 1961

The battle for power in the DRC since 1997—also known as the African World War—has been cited as the deadliest conflict since World War II.

Egypt – Evacuation Day

June 18

Egypt’s National Day is on July 23: Revolution Day. Revolution Day celebrates the day in 1952 that the Free Officers, led by the future Presidents Naguib and Nassar, forced pro-British Egyptian King Farouk to abdicate in favor of his infant son.

Despite the king’s abdication, the monarchy was not officially abolished that year. It was on June 18, 1953 that the new government declared Egypt a republic, and General Naguib became the republic’s first president.

But today’s holiday, Evacuation Day, celebrates June 18 three years later.

Evacuation Day recalls the day back in 1956 that the last major contingency of British troops left Suez, after a 20-month period of withdrawing personnel, in accordance with a treaty arranged by Nassar and the British government in October 1954.

The Suez Canal was one of the most important feats of engineering of the 19th century. It allowed ships to travel between Europe and Asia without circling the entire continent of Africa. It was built by Egypt and France in the 1860’s. However Egypt incurred significant debt and was forced to sell her shares of the canal to the United Kingdom in 1875.

After attaining part interest in the Canal, Britain became more involved in the Egyptian government’s finances and politics. Finally during World War I, when the Ottoman Empire sided with the Central Powers, Britain declared Egypt a protectorate of the British Empire. Following a strong national movement, Egypt was declared an independent nation in 1922, but Egyptians choose to celebrate the overthrow of the king in 1952 and the evacuation of British troops four years later to mark the true beginning of Egypt’s autonomy.

After Western democracies withdrew funding for the Aswan Dam project, Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal in October 1956, leading to the Suez Crisis between Egypt and France, Britain, and Israel.

Evacuation Day, or Eid al-Galaa, is no longer a national holiday, but has been superseded by other victory days—Egypt’s Armed Forces Day marks the day in 1973 that Egyptian troops crossed back through the Suez Canal six years after the Six-Day War. April 25 celebrates the day in 1982 that Israeli troops pulled out of the Sinai peninsula.

Suez Canal from space

Youth Day – South Africa

June 16

With the coming of summer, many students are struck with a debilitating illness known as cantgotoschoolitis. Symptoms may include inability to pay attention in class, wandering eyes, and an overactive imagination.

With students yearning so badly to get out of class, it’s hard to believe that on this day in 1976, many young students gave their lives fighting just to receive a fair and equal education.

In 1953, the white Apartheid government of South Africa passed the Bantu Education Act, which created a curriculum intended to reduce the aspirations and self-worth of the country’s black students.

As the Minister of Native Affairs and future Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd explained,

“When I have control of native education I will reform it so that Natives will be taught from childhood to realise that equality with Europeans is not for them…” (Apartheid South Africa, John Allen)

The supposed benefit of the Act was that it increased the number of black students able to attend school; the reality was that it provided no additional resources for the expansion. As a result, by 1975 the government was spending R644 per white student and R42 per black student.

The final straw came in the 1970s when the Apartheid government announced instruction would no longer take place in South Africa’s many native languages, but only in English and Afrikaans.

As one student editorial proclaimed:

“Our parents are prepared to suffer under the white man’s rule. They have been living for years under these laws and they have become immune to them. But we strongly refuse to swallow an education that is designed to make us slaves in the country of our birth.” (South Africa in Contemporary Times)

The conflict came to a head on June 16, 1976 when a group of students held a protest against the educational system in Soweto. When students refused to disperse, police unleashed tear gas. Students responded by throwing rocks; police, by firing bullets. At least 27 students were killed in the massacre, including a 12 year-old boy named Hector Pieterson.

A string of protests and riots engulfed the region. June 1976 is considered one of the most divisive and tragic months in South African history.

After the fall of the Apartheid government in the 1990s, South Africa chose to dedicate June 16 as Youth Day, in memory of those who died in the Soweto Riots, and those who devoted their lives to the long struggle for equal education and the abolition of apartheid.

Boganda Day – Central African Republic

March 29

Flag of the Central African Republic, originally designed by Barthélemy Boganda for the United States of Latin Africa
Flag of the Central African Republic, originally designed by Barthélemy Boganda for the United States of Latin Africa

On March 29 the Central African Republic remembers the amazing life and mysterious death of Barthélemy Boganda.

Though France had abolished slavery in the 19th century, the conditions under which Boganda’s family lived at the time of his birth in 1910 in French Oubangui-Chari were not much better.

His mother was beaten to death by officials of the rubber collecting company that controlled much of the region. He was adopted by Roman Catholic missionaries, and at age 12 he took the name Bathélemy after the Apostle who was believed to have traveled Africa as a a missionary.

He became the first Roman Catholic priest from Oubangui-Chari.Following World War II Boganda ran for National Assembly of France and won.

He spent the rest of his career fighting for racial equality in French-controlled Africa and against French colonialism. He did this by organizing and empowering African teachers, truck drivers, women, and farmers. He founded MESAN – Movement for the Social Evolution of Black Africa, it’s credo: zo kwe zo. Roughly translated: Every human being is a person.

Boganda made enemies in these years, notably the companies that controlled what would later become the Central African Republic. But he had a good friend where it counted — General Charles de Gaulle, who didn’t forget the people of Oubangui-Chari who had supported de Gaulle’s troops early in WWII.

Boganda and De Gaulle
Boganda with Charles de Gaulle

Scandal broke out when the priest Boganda met and married a Frenchwoman, a parliamentary secretary named Michelle Jourdain, and was expelled from the priesthood.

In 1951 he was arrested for “endangering the peace” for intervening in a market dispute, but did not serve time.

Neither did much to harm his public appeal.  He was re-elected twice to the National Assembly, overwhelmingly in 1956.  And in 1957 MESAN won all the seats in Oubangui-Chari’s territorial assembly.

As the tide turned for the independence of French-African colonies, Boganda foresaw the difficulties of a small, independent Oubangui-Chari. Instead he envisioned a United States of Latin Africa, which would unite French, Portuguese and Belgian territories. Opposition between countries and egos proved too great for a unified vision. Still, Boganda was able to negotiate his small nation’s independence from France in 1958, forming the Central African Republic. Soon after, he was elected to become CAR’s first President.

Barthlélemy Boganda
Barthélemy Boganda (1910-1959)

He never took office.

On March 29, 1959, a plane carrying Boganda crashed in Boukpayanga, killing everyone onboard.

According to Wikipedia.org:

“Experts found a trace of explosives in the plane’s wreckage, but revelation of this detail was withheld. Although those responsible for the crash were never identified, people have suspected the French secret service, and even Boganda’s wife, of being involved.”

The year after his death, the Central African Republic became an independent nation.

Battle of Adwa – Ethiopia

March 2


In the 1890s, Italy, once the seat of an Empire that stretched through three continents, held only two small colonies on the Horn of Africa, which it had won with aid from Ethiopia.

Apparently the amity treaty between Ethiopia and Italy, signed by Menelik II of Ethiopia in 1889, contained a discrepancy in the Amharic and Italian translations, the latter of which established Ethiopia as an Italian protectorate.

Menelik denounced the treaty, prompting Italy to invade. Menelik had built up an arsenal of weapons from Britain and France, and even Italy over the previous years. Menelik appealed to France for support, but France refused to negate Italy’s territorial claims.

Battle of Adwa

It was at the Battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896 that Menelik’s forces of approximately 100,000 met with a surprisingly outnumbered Italian army of 17,000 under Oreste Barratieri. Barratieri had completely underestimated the opposing army’s numbers as well as their armed capabilities. Due to this and tactical mistakes on part of Barratieri, Menelik’s army completely obliterated the Italian forces in one of the most stunning defeats of any European power in Africa. After news of the humiliating battle hit Rome, the Prime Minister was forced to resign, and Italy forsook further territorial ambitions for 4o years.

Ethiopia would not be successfully invaded until 1936 when Benito Mussolini, anxious to prove Italy a superpower to its European neighbors, set his sights on Africa’s yet unconquered nation. Mussolini had seen the League of Nations’ impotence at handling border clashes between Italian Somalia and Ethiopia, and European powers were vying for Italian support against Adolf Hitler and Germany. This time the Italian army was much better equipped and had no qualms in using chemical weapons.

The League of Nations Geneva Protocol (signed by Italy) banned the use of mustard gas, but “on 10 October 1935, Rodolfo Graziani first ordered his troops to employ chemical weapons against Ras Nasibu’s troops at Gorrahei.” Italy continued to do so throughout the Italian-Ethiopian war. British and Ethiopian troops forced Italy out of Ethiopia in 1941. Two years later “London created the United Nations War Crimes Commission, but excluded Ethiopia for fear it would initiate proceedings against Pietro Badoglio,” who, as Italy’s new Prime Minister, had become a valuable asset to the Allies when Italy switched sides.

— (Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia by David Hamilton Shinn and Thomas Ofcansky)

The Battle of Adwa remains to this day a symbol of African resistance against colonialism.

The Battle of Adowa: www.rastaites.com/Ethiopia/adowa.html

Ethiopia Celebrates 112th anniversary of Battle of Adowa Victory

Independence Day – Western Sahara

February 27

Independence does not mean PeaceA common theme in decolonization. When Western powers depart from their former colonies, old claims over the newly-independent territory resurface, and neighboring powers assert that the new nation was a territory prior to its European annexation.

Morocco and Western Sahara are neighbors but their history is like night and day.

Morocco was an independent nation back when America was still a colony of Britain. Morocco was one of the first nations to recognize the fledgling United States in 1777, and the Moroccan-American Friendship Treaty remains the U.S.’s longest unbroken treaty.

Morocco’s colonial days were relatively brief. Morocco’s status as a French protectorate was finalized in 1905, but it became one of the first African nations to gain independence in 1956.

African Nations by Independence, 1950-1993

Western Sahara is another matter. Its borders are disputed even today. The region has been claimed by Morocco, Mauritania, Spain, and France, and wasn’t granted ‘independence’ from Spain until 1975. It wasn’t really independence though. Morocco was granted the top 2/3’s of Western Sahara. Mauritania received the remaining third.  Spain’s formal mandate expired on February 26, 1976.

The following day a political faction known as Polisario announced themselves as the true government-in-exile of the country, occupied by Morocco.

The fighting rages on to this day. Donald MacDonald writes, “Since my visit to the camps in June 1993, the political stalemate has dragged on, “disappearances” of Saharawi citizens have continued, and the refugee camps have been devastated by flooding.”


The Moroccan press claims, “The Shrawis, who arrived in three groups to El Karkrat, fled the Tindouf Camps (southwestern Algeria) where thousands of Moroccan-Sahara natives are held against their will by the Algerian-backed separatist movement Polisario.”

Currently “158,800 Sahrawi refugees live in camps in the Algerian desert where malnutrition is widespread.”


Journalists covering the independence movement in Western Sahara have been assaulted, detained or expelled. One journalist who referred to the Sahrawis (Western Saharans) living in Algeria as “refugees” (rather than as “captives” of the Polisario) was taken to court, fined, and barred from journalism for 10 years.

“Media criticism of the authorities is often quite blunt, but is nevertheless circumscribed by a press law that provides prison terms for libel and for expression critical of “Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or the territorial integrity” of Morocco (a phrase understood to mean Morocco’s claim to the Western Sahara.”