Mehdi Ben Barka: Moroccan Light, African Leader, and World Revolutionary

Mehdi Ben Barka
Mehdi Ben Barka

After “Les Immortels” by Franklin Boukaka, it is only normal that I would talk about Mehdi Ben Barka himself, and why he brought so much hope to people in Morocco, Africa, and the entire world.  Yes, his work encompassed all the oppressed people of the globe.

Mehdi Ben Barka was a Moroccan politician born in January of 1920 in Rabat, Morocco.  Although from a middle class background, Ben Barka was among the first to attend the French school (which was mostly for rich people), as he was always the best and brightest in his class.  He was the first Moroccan to receive a degree in mathematics in an official French school in 1950.  He then taught mathematics in a local Lycée (high school), and at the Royal College, where young Hassan II was one of his students.  Working in parallel, Mehdi got involved in politics, and worked to challenge the French “Protectorate” on Morocco.  In 1943, he got involved in the creation of the National Istiqlal Party.  In 1955, Mehdi took part in negociations which culminated with the return of Sultan Mohammed V, who had been exiled by the French authorities to Madagascar.  In 1956, Ben Barka’s other negociations culminated with the end of the French protectorate on Morocco.  From 1956 to 1959, Mehdi Ben Barka was president of the consultative assembly of Morocco.  In 1959, Mehdi broke off from the National Istiqlal Party after clashes with conservative opponents, and found l’Union Nationale des Forces Populaires – National Union of Popular Forces (UNPF).

King Hassan II
King Hassan II

The future King Hassan II, then chief of the army, wanting to inherit his father’s trone as soon as possible, called for repression against subversion, against any opposition in the land.  This forced Ben Barka to go on exile in Paris, as Ben Barka was King Hassan II’s principal opponent.  After King Mohammed V’s death in 1961, Hassan II ascended to the throne, and claimed to want to make peace with his main opponent.  Ben Barka returned from exile in May 1962.  On 16 November 1962, Mehdi escaped an attack on his life (car accident, where his car was forced into a ravine by a police car), which had been fomented by the services of General Mohamed Oufkir and colonel Ahmed Dlimi.  In June of 1963, Ben Barka was accused of plotting against the monarchy, and once again forced into exile; this was plot by King Hassan II, to dissolve the UNFP, the main opposition to his reign.  On 22 November 1963, Ben Barka is sentenced to death in absentia, for conspiracy and attempt to assassinate the king.  Some think that this was also caused by Ben Barka’s calling upon Moroccan soldiers to refuse to fight Algeria in the 1963 Sand War.  Ben Barka first went on exile in Algiers, Algeria, where he met with Che Guevara, Amilcar Cabral, and Malcolm X.  Then he went to Cairo, Rome, Geneva (where he escaped several attacks on his life), and Havana, trying to unite the revolutionary movements of the Third World for the Tricontinental Conference to be held in January 1966 in Havana.  As the leader of the Tricontinental, Ben Barka was seen as a major figure in the Third World movement, and supported revolutionary, and anti-colonial actions in various states, thus provoking the anger of the United States and France.  Just before his death, he was preparing the first Tricontinental Conference scheduled to take place in Havana, Cuba, from 3 -13 January 1966.

Mehdi Ben Barka during an address
Mehdi Ben Barka during an address

On October 29, 1965, Mehdi Ben Barka was abducted (“disappeared”)  in Paris by French police officers.  He was never to be seen again.  On Dec. 29, 1975, Time magazine published an article called “The Murder of Mehdi Ben Barka”, stating that three Moroccan agents were responsible for the death of Ben Barka, one of them former Interior Minister Mohammed Oufkir.  Speculation persists as to CIA involvement.  French intelligence agents and the Israeli Mossad were also involved, according to the article.  Many believe that the abduction and removal of Mehdi Ben Barka on that cold day of October 29, 1965, was to give a blow to the impetus of the Tricontinental Conference,which was going to have effects on liberation movements across the globe, and thus hurt imperialist powers (US, France, UK, Portugal, Spain…).

Indeed Mehdi Ben Barka was a true hero, some refer to him as the Moroccan Che Guevara…  To many, he was hope itself… His charisma, and his work went beyond Morocco’s borders and blessed the entire globe, countries which were oppressed by imperialist powers and which over 50 years later are still suffering from neo-colonialism, and ferocious capitalism/imperialism.  You can read more on how the French government is still stalling on the “Ben Barka affair” at the Guardian, and check out this interview of Bachir Ben Barka, Mehdi’s son, who was aged 15 at the time of his father’s abduction.  Watch this really good documentary below which details the life of Mehdi Ben Barka.  50 years after his disappearance, the “Ben Barka affair” still remains an open dossier.  One can only sing, like Franklin Boukaka, ‘Mehdi nzela na yo na bato nyonso’ … Mehdi your work is that of humanity! So long brother, your work and vision will keep guiding us. ‘Oh O Mehdi Ben Barka, Mehdi nzela na yo na bato nyonso.’

Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer, the Embodiment of Algerian Resistance against French Colonization

Lalla Fadhma N'Soumer (19th century)
Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer (19th century)

Today’s post will be dedicated to a great resistant and leader of Africa, the great Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer (also known as Lalla Fatma N’Soumer), an important figure of resistance against French invasion in Algeria.  Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer has been seen as the embodiment of the Algerian struggle.  The war of colonization in Algeria was one of the most brutal and repressive in Africa; it is said that Algeria lost 1/3 of its population between 1830 and 1872.  The war was quite atrocious, and very often we are told of the courage and charisma of leaders such as the emir Abdel Kader, but often in history books, the names of heroines like Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer are forgotten or simply erased.

Fadhma N'Soumer
Fadhma N’Soumer

Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer was born in Werja, a village near Ain El Hammam in 1830, the year French occupation started in Algeria.  She was from KabylieLalla, the female equivalent of sidi, is an honorific reserved for women of high rank, or who are venerated as saints.  Her real name was Fadhma Nat Si Hmed.  The title, N’Soumer, was given to her because of her piety and strength and because she lived in the village of Soumer.  Fadhma was the daughter of cheikh Ali Ben Aissi, who headed a Qur’anic school, which was linked with the Zawyia Rahmaniya of Sidi Mohamed Ibn Abderrahmane Abu Qabrein.  Young Fadhma was extremely gifted, and memorized the Qur’an simply by listening to her father’s disciples when they chanted the various surats.  After her father’s death, Fadhma directed the Qur’anic school with her brother Si Mohand Tayeb.  She took special care of the children and the poor.  She was known for her great piety, notable wisdom, piercing intelligence, and had an excellent reputation throughout the Kabylie region.

Battle of Somah in 1836 (by Horace Vernet)
Battle of Somah in 1836 (by Horace Vernet)

Fadhma was only 16 when the French occupied Kabylie.  In 1847, she joined the resistance leaders of the region: Si Mohamed El-Hachemi and Mohamed El Amdjed Ibn Abdelmalek (nicknamed Bou-Baghla).  Bou-Baghla was probably an ex-lieutenant in the army of Emir Abdelkader, defeated for the last time by the French in 1847.  Refusing to surrender, Bou Baghla retreated to Kabylie.  From there, he began a war against the French armies and their allies, often employing guerilla tactics.  He was a relentless fighter, very eloquent, and very religious.  Fadhma and Bou-Baghla were kindred spirits fighting for the freedom of their people.  After Bou-Baghla’s death in 1854, Fadhma was given command of combat by the great council of combatants and important figures of the Kabylie’s tribes.

She led a strong resistance against Marshal Jacques Louis Randon’s 13,000-strong French army.  She gave them a lesson of courage, and determination.  Armed with an unshakable faith, Fadhma threw herself in bloody battles to push back the enemy.  During the battle of Tachekkirt, led by Bou-Baghla at the time, Randon was captured, but managed to escape later.  During the famous battle of Oued Sebaou, Fadhma was only 24 years old, and headed an army of men and women; she took control, and led her people to victory, a victory heralded throughouth Kabylie. The mosques, zawiyas, and Qur’anic schools sang praises in honor of the heroine of the Djurdjura.

Lalla Fadhma N'Soumer during battle
Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer during battle (in reality, it is said that she never used weapons)

Not willing to accept defeat, Randon asked for reinforcements, with his forces reaching 35,000 men.  He asked the people of Azazga to help him reach Fadhma N’Soumer’s quarters, to end “her legend, and misdeeds.”  The response to his emissary was “Go to the one who sent you, and tell him our ears cannot hear the language of him who asks us to betray.”  Such was the loyalty and respect of the people for Fadhma.  In response, Randon promised the people of Azazga constant exposure to his cannons.  One can only imagine the brutality of the French against the Azazga people, which were later defeated.  Fadhma did not give up, and mobilized her people to “fight for Islam, the land, and liberty. They are our constant, and they are sacred. They can neither be the object of concessions nor haggling.”  Her strong personality and inspirational speeches had a strong influence in all of Kabylie, as shown by the sacrifice and determination of the people during all the battles, especially those of Icherridene and Tachkrit,where the enemy troops were greatly defeated.  The latter took place on July 18 – 19, 1854, and resulted in a heavy death toll (over 800 dead) for the French troops.

Monument celebrating Lalla Fadhma N'Soumer, in Algiers
Monument celebrating Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer, in Algiers

Defeated, Randon finally asked for a ceasefire, which Fadhma N’Soumer agreed to.  She was planning to use the ceasefire period to improve her organization and reinforce her troops.  Fields were plowed and sowed, and arms factories were installed in all corners of the region.  However, just like with Samori Toure, or Behanzin, the French did not respect the ceasefire.  In 1857, after only three years, they broke their word (as always) and launched offensives in all large cities which had been hard to overtake until then.  History will record that the French were always people of no word during the colonization (and even today); they used every sneaky technique they could find to eliminate others… and even with all their ‘superior’ gunpower, and manpower, they could not have won against our great African leaders without using treachery, and treason.

Poem dedicated to Lalla Fadhma N'Soumer (from Poésies populaires de la Kabylie du Jurjura, Paris 1867)
Poem dedicated to Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer (from Poésies populaires de la Kabylie du Jurjura, Paris 1867)

Fadhma N’Soumer, whose influence motivated the freedom fighters, appealed to the people for a last and supreme effort. Surrounded by women of the region, Lalla Fadhma directed the fight and encouraged remaining volunteers.  However, they lost the battle, and Fadhma was arrested on 27 July 1857, in the village of Takhlijt Ath Atsou, near Tirourda.  The French soldiers destroyed her rich library, which contained a rich source of scientific and religious works from the region.  They also spent her fortune, which had been used toward caring for the disciples of her father’s zawiya.  Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer died in 1863, from the hardship of incarceration in Béni Slimane, from the news of her brother’s passing, and the frustration from her inability to act against French aggression on her people.  She was only 33 years old.  The enemy (the French) nicknamed her, the Joan of Ark of the Djurdjura, a comparison that the religious Fadhma never accepted.

To read more about French invasion of Algeria, check out Mediapart.  Watch the video below to learn more about Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer (It has 5 parts, and is very instructive).  Whenever you think of resistance in Africa, please do remember Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer who by her courage, piety, strength, and charisma was able to defeat the mighty French army, and capture a French marshal/general.  Remember that there was a woman who held a rich library of scientific and religious works which was destroyed by the French army (it must have been full of treasures for them to destroy).  Remember that this woman served the people, and love them dearly to sacrifice her life for their freedom.  Remember, yes, that a woman led men and women to battles, and actually won!

Interview de Thomas Sankara par Mongo Beti

Thomas Sankara
Thomas Sankara a Ouagadougou

Je n’ai pu m’empêcher de partager avec vous ce pur joyau d’un autre temps: une interview du President Thomas Sankara par Mongo Beti.  Cette interview n’avait jamais été publiée auparavant, jusqu’à ce que l’épouse de Mongo Beti, Odile Tobner, la mette sur le site de la Société des Amis de Mongo Beti (SAMBE).  En 1985, Mongo Beti eut une entrevue privée avec notre ‘Che’ africain, Thomas Sankara, à la fin de laquelle, il lui envoya d’autres questions auxquelles Thomas répondit.  Ci-dessous, vous trouverez quelques extraits de cet entretien, où j’ai mis les questions de Mongo Beti sous formes de thèmes, et les réponses de Sankara suivent juste après (en bleu).  Pour l’intégrale, prière de visiter SAMBE.


Sur les attaques ennemies:Il y a partout aujourd’hui, aux quatre coins du continent, des N’Krumah, des Lumumba, des Mondlane, etc. Que Sankara soit éliminé aujourd’hui physiquement, il y aura des milliers de Sankara qui relèveront le défi face à l’impérialisme. …Toutefois, pour mille et une raison, notre peuple et la jeunesse révolutionnaire africaine restent attachées à Sankara et ne souhaitent jamais que le moindre malheur lui arrive.

Sur la corruption: “Sans être un sociologue averti, ni un historien des sociétés précapitalistes africaines, je ne pourrai pas affirmer que la corruption est propre aux sociétés africaines. C’est un phénomène lié avant tout au système capitaliste, système socio-économique qui ne peut véritablement évoluer sans développer la corruption. Elle est donc incontestablement un héritage maudit de la colonisation. Ainsi, logiquement, pour combattre valablement la colonisation, le colonialisme et même le néocolonialisme, il faut aussi s’attaquer à la corruption.

Alexandre Biyidi Awala, a.k.a. Mongo Beti
Alexandre Biyidi Awala, a.k.a. Mongo Beti

Sur les traditions africaines et la place de la femme (polygamie, excision): “On ne fait pas de révolution pour régresser dans le temps. C’est pour aller toujours de l’avant. La Révolution ne peut qu’étouffer tous les aspects négatifs de nos traditions. C’est cela notre combat contre toutes les forces rétrogrades, toutes les formes d’obscurantisme, combat légitime et indispensable pour libérer la société de toutes les emprises décadentes et de tous les préjugés, dont celui qui consiste à marginaliser la femme ou à la chosifier. … Nous luttons pour l’égalité de l’homme et de la femme, pas d’une égalité mécanique, mathématique, mais en rendant la femme l’égale de l’homme devant la loi et surtout devant le travail salarié. L’émancipation de la femme passe par son instruction et l’obtention d’un pouvoir économique. Ainsi le travail au même titre que l’homme, à tous les niveaux, la même responsabilisation et les mêmes droits et devoirs sont des armes contre l’excision et la polygamie, armes que la femme n’hésitera pas à utiliser pour se libérer elle-même et non par quelqu’un d’autre.”

Sur la cooperation, et la conference au sommet des chefs d’Etats francophones: “Lutter pour son indépendance face au colonialisme ne veut pas dire que l’on se prépare, une fois celle-ci obtenue, à quitter la terre pour aller s’isoler
quelque part dans le cosmos.  Quant aux conférences au sommet des chefs d’État francophones, ils servent, chaque fois que nous avons l’occasion d’y prendre part, de tribune, de tremplin pour notre révolution, pour la faire connaître, de dire ouvertement ce qu’elle pense de ces conférences ou instances politiques. Y participer pour dénoncer ce qui ne va pas dans l’intérêt des peuples africains est une stratégie beaucoup plus payante que les sarcasmes envoyés de l’extérieur.

Sur le franc CFA: “le franc CFA, lié au système monétaire français est une arme de la domination française. L’économie française et, partant, la bourgeoisie capitaliste marchande française bâtit sa fortune sur le dos de nos peuples par le biais de cette liaison, de ce monopole monétaire.

Sur le panafricanisme et Nkrumah: “Tout le monde constate aujourd’hui avec amertume, face aux méfaits et autres exactions de l’impérialisme en Afrique, que N’krumah avait très bien raison d’aller de tous ses voeux à l’unité du continent. Néanmoins l’idée demeure et il nous appartient, il appartient aux patriotes africains, de lutter partout et toujours pour sa concrétisation. Il appartient à tous les peuples panafricanistes de reprendre le flambeau de N’Krumah pour donner espoir à l’Afrique.

Sur le parti unique: “Ce qui est discrédité c’est le parti unique bourgeois, parce que obéissant à une idéologie d’injustice, donnant le premier rôle à une minorité au détriment de la majorité. Un parti unique démocratique, c’est-à-dire un parti du peuple, ne peut en aucun cas être discrédité, parce qu’au service d’un peuple, des intérêts de la majorité. C’est sur une telle base qu’il faut voir la question du parti unique, qui est aussi une vision des masses.

Sur la privatisation de certains secteurs: “La révolution burkinabé considère l’initiative privée comme une dynamique qu’elle prend en compte dans l’étape actuelle de la lutte du peuple burkinabé. … L’État ne peut pas s’engager dans une étatisation tous azimuts, même si le contrôle d’un certain nombre de secteurs vitaux de notre économie s’avère indispensable.

Au camarade Mongo Beti, 3/11/85
La patrie ou la mort, nous vaincrons !