How do We Continue the Fight when the Head has been Cut Off?

Patrice Lumumba

As we celebrate the independence of the Democratic Republic of Congo from Belgium, I cannot help but think of Patrice Lumumba, gone too soon, assassinated by the imperialist forces that were Belgium, the CIA and more. As I think about him, I cannot help but think of Amilcar Cabral, killed for his fight for the independence of his country, or Thomas Sankara the legendary President of the Faso… and then I think about how long it took for Burkina Faso to wake up from its slumber after Sankara’s murder: 27 years! Samora Machel, Modibo Keita, Kwame Nkrumah, Ruben Um Nyobe, Felix Moumie, Sylvanus Olympio, Ernest Ouandie, Barthelemy Boganda, Mehdi Ben Barka, Muammar Kadhafi, … the list is so long…The question is great: How do we continue the fight when the head has been cut off? How do we continue fighting when the leader has been killed, or incapacitated, or as in some cases has been corrupted or coerced or turned over by the enemies?

A recent case has had my head spinning with this fundamental question: how do we keep going when the movement has been decapitated? Or when the leader is no longer fit to lead? I do not claim to have the answers as this is a crucial question, but it is worth pondering.

Thomas Sankara

I recently read “The Cost of Sugar” by Cynthia McLeod, where she talks about the fight of the Maroons or Boni or Alukus of Surinam for freedom. Surinam was a Dutch colony, and so the Dutch crown sent troops to fight the rebellious slaves; they also hired local slaves to whom they promised liberty and land in return for fighting the Maroons. The Maroons never gave up! They were well organized, even though they had very little and were under-armed, and lived in the bush. Their leaders were very often killed, but they kept the fight… they were fighting for their freedom: men, women, and even children contributed to the fight. Yes… they terrorized the planters for many years, they were defeated, and fled to neighboring French Guyana, but kept the fight. Why? Because the prize of freedom is too great to lay on the shoulders of one man, one leader, or a few… the fight must continue in spite of some men (betrayers and others)… we do not follow men, we follow ideas… we are not fighting for men, we are fighting for our right to dignity, our right to humanity, our liberty.

Amilcar Cabral on a stamp with the flag of Guinea Bissau
Amilcar Cabral on a stamp with the flag of Guinea Bissau

We have to keep the fight. Yes, it is okay to cry, it is okay to fall, feel discouraged, but we have to rise up, and keep up the fight. We might be disappointed by the so-called leaders who may turn their backs on us and betray us [“The Cancer of Betrayal” by Amilcar Cabral, J.J. Rawlings in His Own Words: African Identity, Betrayal, and More], or we might get discouraged when our leaders and hopes have been killed, but we have to keep the fight. We rise up! Dust off ourselves, and keep on fighting! The enemy will try many tactics to distract us from our goals, because the enemy lives on our ignorance, the enemy flourishes on our divisions, our disappointments, and discouragements. We cannot afford to cry too long! When a leader no longer matches our ideals, we put him to the side and keep on fighting. We are not fighting for ourselves, we are fighting for our ancestors who died fighting, we are fighting for our children who should not be beggars on their own lands while the enemy feasts on it. We fight because it is more than just us. Dignity, freedom, is a divine right, and it is ours… we need to claim it!

It took 100 years for China to reclaim Hong Kong and Macao from the British… China was able to do so because its leaders kept telling them how Great Britain made them sign treacherous treaties and stole their lands, they did not hide it from their people like many African leaders do [Did You Know about the 999-year Lease granted to Europeans in Kenya ?]. As a result, 100 years later, the Chinese leaders went to the British, and said “time is up, give us back our lands”. The leaders who were forced to sign these treaties 100 years prior were no longer alive, but the history, the preparation, the muscling up, the battle continued!… so we have to plan over decades, generations, to ensure continuity in the battle, implying education, real knowledge of our history (our triumphs as well as our defeats and the causes), the stakes, and keeping a living memory of our history. It may take years, decades, even a century like China with Macao, but we have to grow, know, and muscle up… we cannot keep crying.

Why the name: Tripoli?

Tripoli, capital of Libya (Source: scoopempire.com)
Tripoli, capital of Libya (Source: scoopempire.com)

I always wondered why the capital of Libya was named Tripoli.  The name did not sound so ‘Arabic’ or ‘Berber’ to me… and I always thought that maybe the name had some Italian origin, since Libya was once part of the Roman empire, and later in the 19th/20th centuries an Italian colony.

Tripoli, or Tarabulus in Arabic, is known as Tripoli-of-the-West, to distinguish it from its ancient Phoenician sister city of Tripoli in Lebanon which means Levantine Tripoli or Tripoli of the East.  Tripoli, Libya, is affectionately called the Mermaid of the Mediterranean (arusat-el-bahr: bride of the sea) describing its turquoise waters and its whitewashed buildings.  In reality, Tripoli is a Greek name which means “Three Cities(Tria for three, Polis for city) in reference to the Libyan province of Tripolitaine encompassing the three cities of Oea (modern-day Tripoli), Leptis Magna, and Sabratha.

Map of Tripoli
Map of Tripoli

Tripoli is located in the north west of the country.  It extends to the edges of the desert, on a rocky piece of land jutting out into the Mediterranean sea, forming a bay.  Tripoli was founded in the 7th century BC, by the Phoenicians, who gave it the Libyco-Berber name Oea (or Wy’t), probably built upon a native Berber town.  The Phoenicians were probably attracted to the site by its natural harbor, flanked on the western shore by the small, easily defensible peninsula, on which they established their colony.  The city was then taken by the rulers of Cyrenaica (a Greek colony on the North African shore, east of Tripoli, halfway to Egypt), although the Carthaginians later wrested it from the Greeks.  Around the 2nd century BC, Tripoli belonged to the Romans, who included it in their province of Africa, and gave it the name of Regio Syrtica.  Around the beginning of the 3rd century AD, it became known as the Regio Tripolitana, meaning “region of the three cities“, namely Oea, Sabratha and Leptis Magna.  It was later raised to the rank of a separate province by Septimius Severus, who was a native of Leptis Magna. Tripoli was later conquered by Muslim dynasties around the 8th century AD; it was temporarily part of the Berber Almohad empire and of the Hafsids kingdom.  Tripoli was included in the Ottoman Empire between the 16th and 19th centuries AD.

Jamahiriya Museum in Tripoli (Source: Tripadvisor.com)
Jamahiriya Museum in Tripoli (Source: Tripadvisor.com)

With a population over 1.68 million (census before the 2011 NATO attacks on Libya) Tripoli is the largest city, the principal port, and the biggest industrial and commercial city of Libya.  It is the heart of government and that of the prestigious university of Tripoli.  Due to its long historical importance, Tripoli has a lot of archaelogical sites.  Many of these sites (which were already derelict) were bombed by the NATO forces during their intervention in Libya 2011 against the government of Muammar Gaddafi.

True, the city today is very far from its splendid and beautiful self.  Tripoli is healing its wounds today, which may take years or decades to heal, but I thought you would enjoy watching this 2010 video of Tripoli, the Mermaid of the Mediterranean!