Libya – Revolution Day?

September 1


With the 2011 revolution overthrowing Muammar Qaddafi, it remains to be seen whether the country will continue to remember September 1 as Revolution Day, marking the day in 1969 that Qaddafi rose to power.

Libya had an extremely rough colonization period under Italy in the early part of the 20th century. In 1951, Libya gained independence as a constitutional monarchy under King Idris.

King Idris held a decidedly pro-Western stance, and ruled the country for nearly two decades. He arranged to transfer power to his son on September 2, 1969. However, on September 1 that year, a coup led by officer Muammar Gaddafi deposed the King and his son, citing how the country’s wealth had managed to fall into the hands of the very few, notably the king’s inner circle. The 27 year-old Gaddafi gained his title: “Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution.”

Gaddafi proposed that Libya would form a new type of government economy, neither capitalist nor socialist, but a third road between the two.

Gaddafi’s government’s links to the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, and its links to terrorist groups and bombings in the 1980s led to increase pressure from the West, and finally to U.S. air strikes in 1986 (which killed Gaddafi’s adopted daughter). In 1988, Libyan intelligence agents were involved in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland. Libya spent the next decade under U.N. sanctions.

In 1999, U.N. sanctions were lifted after Gaddafi extradited Libyans suspected in the bombing. After 9-11, Gaddafi denounced Al-Qaeda; U.S. sanctions were lifted in 2003 when Libya agreed to pay billions of dollars to victims of Pan Am 103 and other bombings.

In terms of GDP per capita, Libya is the second richest nation in Africa. Its official name is the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (Arabic for “state of the masses), and it stands out from all other nations in terms of its flag: it’s the only single-color banner. Green symbolizes both Libya and the Islamic religion.

Over the decades, Libya has moved away from solidarity with the Middle-East and more toward taking a leadership role in the development of Africa.

Gaddafi Losing Grip Over Libya – 2011

Gaddafi Vows to Push African Unity – 2009

Gaddafi and the Libyan Crown Prince, 1992

Women’s Day – Tunisia

August 13

Women’s Day in Tunisia isn’t celebrated on March 8th like much of the rest of the world, but on August 13, in commemoration of the Tunisian Code of Personal Status, enacted on this day in 1956.

The Code and the principles it endorsed sent shock waves across the Islamic world when it was created. Among other things, the Code established judicial divorce proceedings, gave women the right to request divorce, set the minimum age for marriage at 17, abolished polygamy, regulated alimony payments, improved women’s standing in child custody proceedings and inheritance matters, and reduced gender inequality in general.

The Code of Personal Status was one of the first major legislative actions of the new government. Tunisia had only gained independence from France in March of that year.

It’s been said, the Code differs from women’s rights legislation in other nations in that, though supported by active women’s groups such as the National Union of Tunisian Women, the Code was not a reaction to a widespread grass-roots movement, but an action of a reformist government in a recently-independent nation with the purpose of modernizing Tunisian societal structure to enable Tunisia to compete in an industrialized, post-war world.

Chad Independence Day

August 11


Chad was one of 9 African nations to gain independence in August of 1960:

August 1, 1960 – Benin
August 3, 1960 – Niger
August 5, 1960 – Burkina Faso
August 7, 1960 – Cote d’Ivorie
August 11, 1960 – Chad
August 13, 1960 – Central African Republic
August 15, 1960 – Congo, Dem. Rep. of the
August 17, 1960 – Gabon
Sept. 22, 1960 – Mali

Apparently odd-numbered days are much better days to win sovereignty. Mali, being the rebel of the bunch.


Chad gets its name from the Lake on its western border, which provides water for 20 million people in Chad, Niger, Nigeria, and Cameroon. Chad means “lake” so essentially it’s “Lake Lake.”

6,000 years ago Lake Chad covered 150,000 square miles. 50 years ago—when Chad won its independence from France—the lake had shrunk to 10,000 square miles. Now, because of climate change and increased human usage (including irrigation), it’s down to only 500 square miles and disappearing fast. And as you can see from the video, waterfront property is getting harder and harder to find.

Watch Lake Chad disappear in real (sped-up) time! (1963-present)


On the landlocked country’s western border, the heat is on to determine who controls the precious water rights to the shrinking pool. Meanwhile, Chad’s eastern border is home to over a quarter million refugees from the Darfur region, due to the war that has ravaged west Sudan since 2003.

According to the Corruption Perceptions Index, Chad is the 7th most corrupt country in the world. Chad may rank near the bottom of the Human Development Index, but it’s rich in history. In 2002, scientists in Chad unearthed the oldest known hominid skull fossil, dating back some 7 million years.

Toumai, the 7M year-old skull
Toumai, the 7M year-old skull

Women’s Day – South Africa

August 9

South Africa’s Women’s Day recalls the 20,000 woman-strong march in Pretoria on this day in 1956.

The marchers protested amendments to the Urban Areas Act, which, among other things, reserved urban living spaces for white South Africans, and required black men in cities and towns to carry special passes with them at all times or be subject to arrest. Originally enacted in 1923, the Pass Laws were expanded in the 1950s to require all black South Africans over 16 to carry the pass. Bearers had to have their passes approved each month by their employer–employers who, by South African law, could only be white.

As a gesture of unity against apartheid, tens of thousands of black South African women converged on the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the seat of the South African government, and delivered a petition with 100,000 signatures to the Prime Minister’s door.

The Pass Laws were not repealed until 30 more years of struggle, protest, and bloodshed.

Years later, the song chanted by the women that day, Wathint’ abafazi, wathint imbokodo” (“When you touch a woman, you strike a rock”), has become the motto of the women’s movement in South Africa and continues to be a symbol of women’s strength against racism and sexism.

Women’s anti-Pass Law Campaigns in South Africa

Farmers’ Day – Tanzania

August 8

Today is Farmer’s Day in Tanzania. Held on the eighth day of the eighth month, Nane Nane literally means, you guessed it, “eight-eight.”

Used to be the big holiday in Tanzania was Saba Saba (“seven-seven”) on July 7th, a holiday that commemorated the creation of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) party by Julius Nyerere on July 7, 1954. Nyerere and TANU were instrumental in leading the country to independence in 1961 and in keeping the nation relatively peaceful and stable during its formative years.


When Tanzania became a multi-party state in the 1990s, other political parties challenged the fairness of a national holiday that promoted one party over another. Instead, Nane Nane–honoring the nation’s farmers–was promoted as a national holiday. The International Trade Fair takes place in Dar es Salaam from August 1st to August 8th.

Of course old traditions die hard. In 1994 employees refused to go to work on Saba Saba, citing government calendars which still marked July 7 as a holiday. Finally…

…a compromise position was reached that a single celebration would be held in the capital of Dar es Salaam on Saba Saba Day, but that the rest of the country would hold Nane Nane celebrations.”

Performing the Nation: Swahili Music and Cultural Politics in Tanzania, by Kelly Michelle Askew

Despite the political move, both are still celebrated these days by the people of Dar es Saleem, though Nane Nane may have finally surpassed its predecessor in popularity.


While the populace celebrates the nation’s farmers in Dar es Salaam, politicians and activists in the capital city of Dodoma note that Tanzania is in the middle of food crisis. Food prices have gone up 83 percent over the last three years, while wheat prices have near nearly tripled. 80% of the country’s workforce are employed in agricultural, a field that has endured a roller coaster ride of changes over the last century, first under German and British occupation, then as an independent state adjusting to a changing global marketplace.

Nane Nane: A Bit of History

Hugo the Hippo

Independence Day – Burkina Faso

August 5

Do you do the Ouagadougou?

It’s not the craziest new dance sensation sweeping the nation (though it should be). No, Ouagadougou [pronounced ‘wa-ga-du-gu’] means “place where people get honor and respect.” It was named so by Naba Wubri, a 15th century warrior, but we have the French to thank for its cruel and unusual orthography.

The French captured this capital city and home to the Mossi people in 1896, completing their colonization of the area known as French West Africa. Over the next 50 years the territory merged with and separated from other French territories in West Africa, including Senegal, Nigeria, and the Cote d’Iviore.

In 1958 the self-governing Republic of Upper Volta (today’s Burkina Faso) was formed. President Maurice Yaméogo declared the country’s full independence from France on this day (August 5) in 1960.


Independence Day in Burkino Faso falls just one day after the nation’s Revolution Day, celebrated on August 4.

On August 4, 1983, reformist Thomas Sankara took the reigns of the country, with the help of ally Captain Blaise Compaore, and changed the country’s name from Upper Volta’s to Burkina Faso. It means “land of the men of integrity.”

In its short history as a sovereign nation, Burkina Faso has observed the anniversaries of numerous “Revolution Days”.

Between January 3, 1966 (the coup in which the first president, Yaméogo, was ousted) and October 15, 1987 (Burkina Faso’s last putsch to date), the country had a coup every few years. In 1987, Blaise Campaore overthrew his former ally Thomas Sankara four years after he helped to make him President.

Though implicated in Sankara’s assassination, Compaore has remained president for over 20 years.

Evidently, Campaore knows how to do the Ouagadougou.


1987 Coup

Political Reform in Francophone Africa – by Clark & Gardinier

Egypt’s Revolution Day

July 23

Before the revolution we were a poor people living in a very miserable situation and suffering from imperialism and the occupation by British forces…Everything changed in Egypt after the revolution.

— Ahmed Hamroush, a former leader of the Free Officers Movement

The British government recognized Egypt’s autonomy back in the late 19th century, but only on paper. Even after World War II, Egypt was occupied by British forces, eager to keep a hold of one of the most strategically valuable lands on the planet. Egyptians saw their king as a puppet monarch of the West, and the government as corrupt.

In 1952 Lieutenant Colonel Gamal Abd Al-Nasser and General General Mohammad Neguib organized a group of “Free Officers” from the army corps with the intent to free the country from European control.

The revolution took place literally overnight. On the morning of July 23 the Free Officers took over vital government offices, utilities, and media stations, and announced the change of government to the Egyptian people. The coup was extremely well-orchestrated and highly successful thanks largely to Colonel al-Nasser’s planning. He and General Neguib forced King Farouk I to abdicate on July 26.

General Neguib became the first President, and Nasser became the Minister of the Interior, taking over the presidency in 1954.

The July Revolution inspired nations and colonies across Africa and the Arab world to fight for and demand independence from Western powers.

To this day, July 23 is Egypt’s National Holiday.

al-Nasser (left) and Naguib (center) after July Revolution
al-Nasser (left) and Naguib (center) after July Revolution

The July Revolution shall remain till the end of time one of the greatest events in the history of Egypt, which we celebrate its glorious memory every year. We will always renew our honour and pride in a unique national revolution that changed the face of life in Egypt, becoming among the greatest revolutions in the history of mankind. — President Mubarak, 1993

Apathy in Egypt on coup’s Anniversary

2011: Of course, since this entry was written, Egypt has undergone quite a different revolution, making former President Mubarak’s quote above all the more ironic. It remains to seen whether the the Arab Spring of 2011 will inspire  new or additional annual commemorations in the years ahead.








Haile Selassie I – Rasta’s Ras

July 23

Today Rastas around the world praise His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I — who was born this day in 1892, and who led Ethiopia through most of the 20th Century, until his death in 1975.

“Haile Selassie” means “Power of the Trinity”. He was born Tafari Makonnen, the son of an Ethiopian governor and former general, who led troops to victory at the Battle of Adowa in the 1899 Italo-Ethiopian War. After the deaths of his father and brother, the teenage Makonnen became governor in 1911. Then Regent of Ethiopia in 1916, and Emperor in 1930.

In the Rastafarian movement, Haile Selassie is considered to have been a living incarnation of God. His many titles, such as Lion of Judah and “Jah” (from the Hebrew Yahweh), refer to this.

The word Rastafarian itself comes from Haile Selassie’s title Ras, Ethiopian for ‘Prince’, literally, ‘Head’.

In North America and Europe, Haile Selassie’s fame spread via reggae music and Rasta culture. Bob Marley is often pictured wearing the late Emperor’s ring…

Emperor of Ethiopia
His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I: Emperor of Ethiopia

Marley’s song “War” quotes Haile Selassie’s 1963 address to the United Nations…

That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until there are no longer first-class and second class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained;

And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil.

In that speech Haile Selassie also alluded to an address he delivered 27 years earlier to the UN’s forerunner, the defunct League of Nations. It would be remembered as the most moving and prophetic speech in that bodies’ history.

In 1935 Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was determined to conquer Ethiopia to resurrect the glory of the former Roman Empire. Just as Selassie’s father fought against Italy in 1899, Selassie himself now found himself facing a first-world power with far greater resources, manpower, and technology.

The Emperor’s speech began…

“I, Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, am here today to claim that justice which is due to my people, and the assistance promised to it eight months ago, when fifty nations asserted that aggression had been committed in violation of international treaties.

“There is no precedent for a Head of State himself speaking in this assembly. But..there has never before been an example of any Government proceeding to the systematic extermination of a nation by barbarous means, in violation of the most solemn promises made by the nations of the earth that there should not be used against innocent human beings the terrible poison of harmful gases.”

Haile Selassie addresses the League of Nations, 1936

After describing the heinous mustard gas attacks on his people–poisons that had been banned by the League of Nations, the Emperor appealed to the nations that had guaranteed Ethiopia its security…

“In October 1935, the 52 nations who are listening to me today gave me an assurance that the aggressor would not triumph, that the resources of the Covenant would be employed in order to ensure the reign of right and the failure of violence.

“I ask the fifty-two nations not to forget today the policy upon which they embarked eight months ago, and on faith of which I directed the resistance of my people against the aggressor whom they had denounced to the world. Despite the inferiority of my weapons, the complete lack of aircraft, artillery, munitions, hospital services, my confidence in the League was absolute. I thought it to be impossible that fifty-two nations, including the most powerful in the world, should be successfully opposed by a single aggressor. Counting on the faith due to treaties, I had made no preparation for war, and that is the case with certain small countries in Europe.

“…It is not merely a question of the settlement of Italian aggression. It is collective security: it is the very existence of the League of Nations…God and history will remember your judgment.”

His predictions were spot on. Mussolini’s actions–and the League of Nations’ impotence–inspired Adolf Hitler to expand his own German empire. And the League continued to appease the dictators at the expense of the smaller countries of Europe until a full-scale world war was unavoidable.

Haile Selassie’s 1936 speech to the League of Nations

Haile Selassie’s 1963 speech to the UN

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