9 October marks the 50th anniversary of Ernesto Che Guevara ‘s assassination. As many in countries around the world celebrate the life of this great man who gave his life selflessly to liberate the masses from imperialism, a look at his impact in Africa is on the order.
Even though Che Guevara’s expedition in Congo (modern-day Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)) resulted in failure, what it showed was an example of the solidarity of ‘third-world’ countries against Western imperialism.
The Argentine-born guerilla “spent a while with us in the forest, but he found that our leaders lacked political maturity and he preferred to go,” Shibunda said of Che’s seven-month adventure with the Simba (“Lion” in Swahili) rebels in South Kivu province. Yet he was growing disillusioned, finding that Simba forces lacked revolutionary fervor. As a military mission, the Cuban adventure in eastern Congo was, as Che Guevara himself admitted in his diary, a failure. Their plan had not taken into account the fact that the level of political organization in the Congolese rebellion was extremely weak; that Guevara and his comrades knew almost nothing about the African society they were presuming to mould; or that the pro-Western regime had the help of powerful white mercenaries in the region.
“I was a simple soldier” in 1965, General Lwendema Dunia, now in his 80s, says in a hut in South Kivu’s capital Bukavu, recalling how Che “taught us how to make a revolution. He gave us military training and taught us politics.” But “once we started to take from the people and trample on revolutionary ideals… they left,” he said.
By October 1965, Che wrote to Fidel Castro: “It’s not really weapons that are lacking here… Indeed, there are too many armed men and what is lacking are soldiers.”
“When Che Guevara left, there was a great battle,” Shibunda adds.
Truth be told, Che’s work in Congo marked a decisive moment in Cuba’s great relationship with Africa. Although the Congo’s mission had been a failure, it marked the turning point for great Cuban victories in Africa, where Cuba helped Amilcar Cabral and Guinea Bissau achieve independence, Angola of Agostino Neto as well, and provided support to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, and independence in Mozambique. So like they say, sometimes, in order to achieve greatness, you have to fall… so sad that Che Guevara never lived to reap the fruits of his hard work in Africa.