PROBABLY more than in any other period during the Nigerian civil war, the year 1968 witnessed the fiercest
and deadliest military engagements between the Federal Army and the secessionist forces. It was also a year of intense diplomatic
efforts to end the conflict.
And probably no single group caused so much devastation as did the Egyptian
pilots in their indiscriminate bombings of civilian centres in Biafra when they went on bombing missions on behalf of the
federal forces. As William Norris, a British journalist who covered the war, reported in his eyewitness account in the Sunday Times of London, 28 April 1968:
“I have seen things in Biafra this week which no man should have to see. Sights to scorch the mind
and sicken the conscience. I have seen children roasted alive, young girls torn in two by shrapnel, pregnant women eviscerated,
and old men blown to fragments. I have seen these things and I have seen their cause: high-flying Russian Ilyushin jets operated
by Federal Nigeria, dropping their bombs on civilian centres throughout Biafra.”
All the main towns in the secessionist region were bombed by Egyptian pilots flying Nigerian war planes.
They included Aba, Abakaliki, Afikpo, Arochuku, Awgu, Bonny, Brass, Degema, Ikot Ekpene, Itu, Okigwi, Onitsha, Opobo, Oron,
Owerri, Port Harcourt, Umuahia, and Uyo. Schools and hospitals and other places where civilians sought refuge were also bombed.
So were numerous villages across Biafra.
President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania was said to have asked President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt to withdraw
his pilots in order to stop the bombing of Biafra:
“The Biafrans hoped that President Nyerere's close friendship with
President Nasser - whom he had visited in March (1968) - would influence him to withdraw Egyptian pilots flying MIGS. According
to a Biafran radio anouncement, such a request was in fact made by the Tanzanian Government.” - (Africa Contemporary Record, p. 220. See also the Biafran paper, The
Mirror, April-May 1968).
A few months earlier when federal troops took back Benin from the Biafrains, the secessionist forces did
not entirely lose out. It is true that with the loss of Benin, Ojukwu failed in a major strategic gamble to outmanoeuvre the
federal army. But he was able to seize and carry away a substantial amount of money from the Mid-West when Biafran troops
accupied the region from September to October 1967. The Biafrans took at least £2 million (2 million pounds) from the Benin
branch of the Federal Central Bank.
The money, together with an even bigger amount of £37 million which had been seized from branches of the
same bank at Enugu and Port Harcourt, gave the Biafran government substantial foreign exchange resources which they used to
help finance their war effort and put up stiff resistance against the federal forces although the Biafran troops were confined
to a very small area with millions of people. And Ojukwu himself kept the spirits high among his besieged brethren:
“With the crucial assistance of a mobile transmitting station still
using the signal of Radio Enugu, Biafra's charismatic leader welded the 8 million Ibos into a defiant and unyielding people
of immense fortitude, sagacity nd resourcefulness.” - (Africa
Contemporary Record, p. 553).
Ojukwu's speeches had tremendous emotional impact on his beleaguered compatriots. And cries of "genocide"
and dire warnings about the extreme cruelty of the federal troops were some of the most powerful battle cries coming out of
Radio Enugu to mobilize and sustain resistance among the Igbos against their enemies.
Ojukwu himself and others repeatedly invoked those themes and images, warning their people in no uncertain
terms what would happen if Biafra lost the war: total extermination of the Igbo. Therefore fighting was the only alternative
they had left, they were told. And the invocation of such apocalyptic themes worked:
“In the eyes of many of them, the 'Muslim hordes' - as the Biafran radio described the Federal forces
- were bent on the elimination of the 'Christian Ibo,' encouraging the belief that there was more than a political issue at
stake. 'Holy Archangel Michael' Colonel Ojukwu postulated in one midnight broadcast, 'defend us in battle.'” - (Ibid.).
The response from his people was overwhelming. They were solidly behind
their leader. On 28 September 1967, General Gowon in a nationwide broadcast, appealed to the Igbo to overthrow Ojukwu "who
is the only barrier between peace and the people of Nigeria," as he put it (Gowon, Africa Contemporary Record, p. 553).
But his appeal fell on deaf ears. And that strengthened Ojukwu's resolve to accept nothing less than full
independence for Biafra during several but unsuccessful peace talks arranged by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in
different capital: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Kinshasa, Congo Democratic Republic; Kampala, Uganda; and Niamey, Niger. The OAU
summit held in Algiers, capital of Algeria, in September 1968 also made strenuous efforts to arrange peace talks between the
two parties. But they kept on fighting.
And in spite of the iron-will of the Igbos to resist and continue fighting, what happened on the battlefield
was a different matter. They had a number of brilliant victories which defied the odds against them. But cumulatively, they
were gradually losing the war, as one town after another under their control fell to federal troops.
Towards the end of 1967, the secessionist forces suffered a stunning defeat. In eary October, the Biafrain
capital Enugu was captured by federal troops. Shortly thereafter, another major city, Calabar, also fell.
The battle for Onitsha, one of the major cities in the whole country, was one of the bloodiest. Federal
troops made a sustained effort to try and capture it. But they were beaten back and suffered heavy casualties, inflicted on
them by the much smaller Biafran army which had been underrated since the outbreak of the war. Finally Onitsha fell on 22
May 1968 after months of bloody fighting on Biafran soil.
Port Harcourt, a major port city and oil terminal, was blockaded by federal forces, effectively denying
Biafrans access to the sea; they had already lost Calabar, another important port city. But during the last two months of
1967, the push into Biafran territory by federal troops was halted when the secessionist forces fought them to a stalemate.
It was a major setback for the superior federal forces, and the outcome of the war became unpredictable.
Earlier attempts to end the conflict failed because of the uncompromising positions taken by both sides.
During the OAU summit in mid-September 1967 in Kinshasa, Congo Democratic Republic, when Biafran troops were still in control
of the Mid-West, the African heads of state and government agreed to send the president of Cameroon, the Congo Democratic
Republic, Ghana, Liberia, Niger and the Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie, to Lagos to confer with Gowon on ways of ending
However, the OAU handicapped itself when in its resolution at the Kinshasa
conference, it said it regarded "the situation as an internal affair" (Africa
Contemporary Record, p. 554).
If that was indeed true, then what happened to the 6 million Jews in Nazi Germany was also "an internal
affair" - and Hitler was right; and the massacre of the Igbos in Northern Nigeria was also justified on grounds of ethnic
When an entire segment of society faces extermination from war or other man-induced catastrophes such as
starvation and famine, or is targeted for unjust treatment, the matter ceases to be an internal affair of any country - it
becomes the concern for all mankind. That is the kind of criterion the OAU employed in the case of apartheid South Africa.
There was no reason why it could not apply it in the case of Nigeria where Igbos faced annihilation, mainly
from starvation, although the federal forces also sometimes deliberately used hunger as a very effective weapon to try and
starve the Igbos into submission.
The OAU also avoided direct involvement in the Nigerian conflict by invoking its charter in "adherence to
the principle of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member-states," as the Kinshasa resolution also
The result of such non-interference was the near-extermination of the Igbos in the late sixties, the slaughter
of more than 300,000 people in Uganda during the seventies, and the massacre of about one million Tutsis and 130,000 moderate
Hutus by Hutu extremists in Rwanda in 1994.
Had half a million - let alone a whole million - black people been massacred by whites in South Africa during
the apartheid era, it is highly unlikely that the independent African countries would have simply dismissed that as South
Africa's internal affairs. They probably would have declared war on South Africa, come what may.
While the OAU unequally supported Gowon's policy of "one Nigeria," the
Biafrans also articulated their position in explicit and equally uncompromising terms. According to the Biafran newspaper
The Mirror, Enugu, Biafra, September 1967:
“Two conditions must be fulfilled before Biafra can submit to the peace talks. Firstly, all mercenaries
now fighting for Gowon should be expelled; secondly, Biafra should be accorded the status of a Sovereign State.”
In the eyes of many people, the Biafrans had earned their independence because of the enormous sacrifices
they had made. tens of thousands of their people were massacred in Northern Nigeria; more than 2 million of them were expelled
from the same region and forced to leave other parts of Nigeria - or they would have faced more massacres and possible extermination
if they insisted on staying; and now millions of them - almost the entire Igbo population - were facing annihilation, mostly
from starvation, in the tiny area to which they were confined by the advancing federal forces.
Yet even all those massacres and mass expulsions of Eastern Nigerians from Northern Nigeria did not attract
international attention or win any sympathy for the victims of the atrocities. In fact the exodus was hardly noticed at all.
But it was heart-rending.
The London Observer, 16 October 1966, described the scene in Eastern Nigeria
within two weeks of this mass return as "reminiscent of the in-gathering of exiles into Israel after the end of the last war.
The parallel is not fanciful." And as Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien who led the UN forces in the Congo against the secessionists
in Katanga Province only a few years earlier stated in The
New York Review of Books, 21
“If this movement had taken place across international frontiers, it would have attracted world-wide
attention. Because it was within the geographical unit called Nigeria, it drew no public comment and won no world sympathy.”
When the conflict escalated into full-scale war after the expulsion of Eastern Nigerians from the Northern
Region, it then started getting world-wide coverage in the print and the electronic media. And the victims of the war won
a lot of sympathy from around the world.
But that was not enough to induce the Nigerian government to stop the war. It was determined to crush the
secessionists for a number of reasons - save the federation, punish them, make them suffer, set an example for others not
to emulate them, and probably even more.
A Swiss correspondent, Dr. Edmond C. Schwarzenbach, interviewed one Nigerian
commissioner in the federal government whom he descibed as "one of the most impressive in the present military regime in Lagos."
He said it was an interview which provided him with a "significant insight into the political aims of the Federal Government.
And he went on to say in the Swiss Review of Africa, February 1968:
“The (Nigerian) war aim and 'solution'...of the entire problem was to 'discriminate against the Ibos
in the future in their own interest.'
Such discrimination would include above all the detachment of those oil-rich territories in the Eastern
Region which were not inhabited by them at the beginning of the colonial period, on the lines of the projected twelve-state
In addition, the Ibos' movement would be restricted, to prevent their renewed penetration into other parts
of the country. Leaving them any access to the sea, the Commissioner declared, was quite out of the question.
And because both parties to the conflict were diametrically opposed on the fundamental question of sovereignty
for Biafra, the federal military government was determined to keep on fighting as long as the secessionists insisted that
they had the right to have their own independent state. And the Biafrans maintained that position. They wanted nothing short
As the war raged on, the Organization of African Unity was also running on a parallel track to pursue the
peace process. The African heads of state who constituted the OAU Consultative Commission went on a peace mission to Lagos
and met with Gowon on 23 November 1967. But Gowon offered on compromise.
He told the six heads of state that before a cease-fire could be declared by his government, the secessionists
must lay down their arms; Ojukwu and his colleagues must be replaced by new leaders; and these leaders must accept the new
structure of the federation based on the newly-created 12 states which replaced the four regions - North, East, West, and
Mid-West. A communique issued after the meeting stated:
“The Consultative Mission agreed that, as a basis for return to
peace and normal conditions in Nigeria, the secessionists should renounce secession and accept the present administrative
structure of the Federation of Nigeria....” - (OAU Consultative Commission and the Nigerian Federal Military Government
in a joint communique, Lagos, November 1967; quoted in Africa
Contemporary Record, op.cit.,
The Ghanaian military head of state, Lieutenant-General Joseph Ankrah, was asked to deliver the text of
the resolution to the Biafran leaders and report back to the OAU Consultative Commission; he first tried to contact Colonel
Ojukwu by radio telephone but was unable to do so.
On 24 November 1967, the same day the communique was issued in Lagos by the OAU peace mission, the Biafran
leaders issued a statement commenting adversely on the brevity of the consultations and on the fact that the six African heads
of state who went to see Gowon had consulted with only one party to the conflict.
The Biafran statement went on to say that the OAU Consultative Commission
had "condoned genocide and had proved itself a rubber stamp, merely endorsing Gowon warning that their own countries would
disintegrate if they did not rally to his support" (The
Mirror, Enugu, Biafra, 23 November
1967; Africa Contemporary Record, p. 554).
At the beginning of 1968, Gowon still believed that the civil war could be ended only f Ojukwu was out of
the way and other Igbo leaders took his place. He was strongly convinced, for whatever reason, that these leaders would be
much more receptive to his peace proposals than Ojukwu was. yet, collectively, Gowon's proposals amounted only to one thing:
an uncompromising demand for renunciation of Biafra's claim to sovereign status, hence an unconditional surrender by the secessionists.
At a press conference in Lagos on 5 January 1968, Gowon named several Igbo leaders whom he said he believed
he would be able to negotiate with and end the war. They included Nigeria's first president, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who also
supported Biafra's secession.
Gowon said he believed that together with such leaders "who would discuss
in good faith and keep agreements, effective arrangements could be negotiated to ensure that the territorial integrity of
Nigeria is preserved while the safety and livelihood of all its citizens are guaranteed" (Gowon, Africa Contemporary Record, p. 555).
He appealed to them to come forward and start negotiating with the federal government. But like his first
appeal to the Igbos the year before on 28 September 1967 to overthrow Ojukwu, this one also fell on deaf ears.
However, some people noticed a slight change in Biafra's position following a broadcast by Ojukwu on 15
Feruary 1968. The Commonwealth Secretariat in London saw this change, however slight, as an opportunity to renew peace talks.
In his broadcast from Biafran territory, Ojukwu emphatically stated:
“Any peace plan which does not guarantee Biafrans security inside and outside our borders will clearly
be unacceptable to Biafrans.
The challenge to those working on a peace plan is to find a formula which will enable Biafra to live peacefully,
not in Nigeria, but with Nigeria.” - (Ojukwu, ibid.).
The key component of what was called a "Commonwealth initiative" to end the war was a proposal to send a
multinational peace-keeping force to oversee the transition from a cease-fire to a peaceful settlement under a new constitution.
However, neither Biafra nor the Nigerian federal military government endorsed it.
Then at the end of March 1968, the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church sought ways to
help end the conflict. The interest of the Roman Catholic Church was even greater for another reason: most of the Biafrans,
hence the vast majority of the war victims, were Catholic.
In a joint statement, the two church organizations appealed to "the governments
and international organizations that are able to act effectively in this field to act so as to bring about a denial of any
outside military assistance to the two parties, and immediate cessation of hostilities, so that necessary guarantees be given
to both sides in laying down their arms in order to open negotiations" (Africa Contemporary Record,
The biggest supplier of weapons to the Nigeria was Britain which, as the former colonial power, had been
the traditional source of arms for that country.
Besides Britain, the Soviet Union also played a big role in supporting the Nigerian federal government by
supplying MIGs which wreaked havoc across Biafra when they were flowing by Egyptian pilots, dropping bombs on towns and many
other places where the people had sought refuge.
Nigerian officials had their own interpretation of the statement from the World Council of Churches and
the Roman Catholic Church. They saw it as an attempt by Christian churches to drive a wedge between Northern Nigerians, who
were mostly Muslim, and their southern counterparts who were predominantly Christian.
In a nationwide broadcast on 31 March 1968, Gowon said he was disturbed that the Vatican and the World Council
of Churches had called for a cease-fire and cessation of hostilities before Biafrans had accepted the new federal structure
of 12 states as the basis for negotiations. Yet that was the very same condition which was totally unacceptable to the Biafrans,
since it would mean renunciation of their sovereignty.
Therefore Gowon himself offered nothing new in terms of peace proposals. He knew Biafrans would not accept
renunciation of their sovereign status as a precondition for negotiations. His uncompromising stand meant only one thing:
total war against Biafra until the secessionists capitulated to federal might on the battlefield.
Just two weeks later, after Gowon addressed the nation in a radio broadcast at the end of March, Tanzania
recognized Biafra as an independent state. Tanzanian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Chediel Mgonja announced on April
13th that Tanzania had officially recognized the "State of Biafra."
He explained that Tanzania had done so because there was no longer any basis for unity between the 12 million
Igbos as well as other easterners and the rest of the Nigerians. He went on to say that when an entire people are rejected
by their fellow countrymen, they have the right to have their own country.
Mgonja's statement drew a sharp and swift response from the Nigerian federal government. Nigeria immediately
broke diplomatic relations with Tanzania and issued this statement:
“The Nigerian Government regards this as a hostile act by a country it had sincerely treated as a
friend. In Tanzania's hour of need in 1964 when the Tanzanian army mutinied against the Nyerere regime, Nigeria readily responded
to President Nyerere's desperate appeal for Nigerian troops to save him, restore law and order and preserve the territorial
integrity of Tanzania.” - (Ibid., p.556).
After Tanzania became the first country torecognize Biafra as an independent nation, there was some concern
in Lagos that others would follow Nyerere's example and give full recognition t the secessionist region as a sovereign entity.
The Nigerian federal government tried to avert that by exploring other possibilities for a peaceful settlement
of the conflict.
Nigeria's External Affairs Commissioner Dr. Okio Arikpo told a press
conference in Lagos on April 18th - five days after Tanzania recognized Biafra - that despite the military advantage federal
forces had over Biafra, the federal government was still interested in holding peace talks "at any time and any venue acceptable
to both sides" (Africa Contemporary Record, ibid.).
Yet he at the same time precluded any possibility of such peaceful resolution of the conflict when he insisted
that fighting would stop only when the rebels had renounced secession and accepted the new federal structure of 12 states.
That is something Biafrans would never do unless they were forced to do so by losing the war. Their unwillingness
to do that was deeply rooted in fear for their safety and security. And it was the main reason Tanzania recognized Biafra
to the consternation of the Nigerian federal authorities.
Towards the end of April 1968, not long after Tanzania recognized Biafra as an independent state, both sides
- Nigeria dn Biafra - outlined their negotiating terms for peace talks scheduled before the end of the month. The talks were
to be held on April 26th, coincidentally, on the fourth anniversary of the union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar which formed Tanzania.
And it may not have been a coincidence. If Nigerian officials are the ones who proposed the date (April
26th) for the peace talks, they may have intended to send a strong signal to Tanzania as a country which recognized the secessionist
region of Eastern Nigeria while its union - of Tanganyika and Zanzibar - could also face secessionist threats especially from
the former island nation.
Whatever the case, the peace talks did not take place until May. A communique was issued by the Commonwealth
Secretariat stating that a peace conference would be held in Kampala, Uganda.
But while the preliminary talks in preparation for the peace conference were taking place, full-scale war
between the two sides was also going on. On 20 May 1968, federal troops captured Port Harcourt, a vital link to the outside
world for Biafra and one of the major port cities in Nigeria. The government hoped that the capture of this important city
on Biafran territory would demonstrate to the Biafran negotiatiors how vulnerable their secessionist forces were to federal
military might; and that once they understood the precariousness of their military situation, they might soften their negotiating
position and compromise on a number of vital issues. But exactly the opposite happened.
The Biafrans remained adamant in their position, their spirits buoyed by Zambia's recognition of Biafra
on the same day Pot Harcourt was captured. Zambia's official recognition of the break-away region came only a few days after
Gabon recognized it on May 8th and Ivory Coast on May 10th.
However, Zambia's recognition of Biafra just before the peace talks did not turn the Nigerian government
against the peace process; it may in fact have helped to facilitate it, if Nigerian leaders thought even more countries might
recognize Biafra should the federal government decide not to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict.
The peace conference in Kampala opened on May 23rd just three days after Zambia became the fourth African
country to recognize Biafra. At the opening session, the leader of the Nigerian delegation Chief Anthony Enahoro said he would
later on put forward "concrete and sincere suggestions" which would satisfy both sides. These proposals would include arrangements
for restoring law and order, and guarantees for the security of lives and property for all Nigerians including the secessionists.
He went on to say that the federal government had already formed committees, headed by Igbos, to secure properties left behind
by Igbos who fled back to their home region from Northern Nigeria and other parts of the country before the war started.
Enahoro added that the properties had not been destroyed, an assurance that was not very convincing especially
with regard to Northern Nigeria where there was large-scale violence against the Igbos and evidence that Igbo properties had
been looted and destroyed while both the Northern Nigerian authorities and the federal government itself looked the other
way; the same way they did when tens of thousands of Igbos were being massacred in that region, in many cases at the instigation
of and in connivance with Northern Nigerian leaders.
However, he went on to say that in Lagos and its surrounding areas, 50,000 Igbos went on with their normal
lives, working or just taking care of their families at home or going to school, without any problems from fellow Nigerians.
Proposals for a ceasefire offered by the Nigerian federal government were totally unacceptable to Biafran
leaders. They included stipulations that federal authorities would administer the former Biafran areas and that law and order
would be the responsibility of the federal government. They amounted to a demand for total renunciation of secession by Biafra.
It was an explicit demand federal officials had always insisted on from the beginning but which was out of the question as
far as Biafrans were concerned.
To "soften" its hardline position, the federal government said instead
of renouncing secession, Biafran leaders should simply say that they recognized the need for one Nigeria. That was only a
semantic game. It amounted to the same thing: renunciation of secession which, to the Biafrans, was non-negotiable. Sir Louis
Mbanefo, leader of the Biafran delegation to the Kampala peace talks, denounced Nigeria's terms for a ceasefire as no more
than "a programme of arrangements for a Biafran surrender" (Africa
Contemporary Record, p.558).
After he made that statement, Sir Louis did not take part in any formal negotiations for the rest of the
year. And the Kampala peace talks failed to resolve the conflict.
There was fear that the failure of the Kampala peace talks, and the capture of Port Harcourt only a few
days earlier, would lead to even more fierce fighting as federal troops continued to tighten the noose around millions of
Igbos trapped in an area which had shrunk to an even smaller area than the 70-mile by 100-mile area they were confined to
by September 1967.
Their suffering was severe enough, and it became even more intense with the advance of Nigerian troops on
their tiny and barren territory. And malnutrition, starvation and disease continued to take their toll, claiming countless
lives. The British government also came under increasing pressure and criticism from the public because of its continuing
supply of arms to the federal army which were being used to kill the Igbos.
Concern in Lagos that such strong public criticism might force Britain
to stop supplying Nigeria with weapons prompted Chief Anthony Enahoro to issue a warning on 12 June 1968 that if the British
did that, they would accomplish exactly the opposite. Cessation of arms supplies would only prolong the war, and the British
would also jeopardize their interests in Nigeria. He added that "a stoppage would also encourage rebel intransigents - they
would be more reluctant to talk realistically about peace than they have been" (Africa Contemporary Record, p. 559).
The British House of Commons - Parliament - held a debate on the Nigerian civil war on the same day that
Enahoro made his statement in Lagos. He spoke shortly before the debate started, obviously as a warning to the British not
to stop supplying Nigeria with weapons. The British Foreign Secretary, Michael Stewart, said during the debate that Britain
would not cut off arms supplies because Nigeria only intended to use the weapons to preserve its territorial integrity, and
not to slaughter or starve the Igbos; an argument that was not very convincing, if at all.
As fighting continued, the OAU Consultative Commission again tried to resolve the crisis. The six presidents
who constituted the commission met in Niamey, capital of Niger, on 15 July 1968. They heard a statement from Gowon and then
decided to invite Ojukwu to Niamey to continue exploring possibilities for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. In his statement,
“The rebel leaders and their foreign backers are playing politics with the whole question of human
suffering in the war zones and trying to exploit the sufferings of our countrymen to their diplomatic and military advantage.
Once the rebellion is ended by negotiations or otherwise, we will heal our wounds and care for the hungry and needy in the
If the rebel leaders persist in their contemptuous attitude to the conference
table, the Federal Government will have no choice but to take over the remaining rebel-held areas....(In military terms, the
rebellion) is virtually suppressed already....What the Federal Government is determined to prevent is any diplomatic manoeuvre
which will enable the rebel leaders to sustain the rebellion and secession which they have lost in the battlefield.”
- (Africa Contemporary Record, ibid., p. 560).
On the secessionists' demand that a ceasefire must be accompanied by the withdrawal of federal troops from
their territory, Gowon said accession to such a demand would be tantamount to recognition of Biafra as an independent state.
And that was totally out of the question.
The war continued, with the federal government using its military might to try to force the secessionists
to surrender unconditionally. The OAU also continued to pursue the peace process but did not make any progress because of
the federal government's refusal to negotiate with the secessionists without pre-conditions, especially its insistence that
Biafra must renounce its secession before serious negotiations could take place.
Prospects for a peaceful resolution of the conflict were almost totally destroyed when France recognized
Biafra on 1 August 1968. It was the fifth country to do so and the only non-African country which accorded the secessionist
region such recognition. In an official statement on France's recognition of Biafra as a sovereign entity, the French Minister
of Information, Joel de Tatule, stated:
“The bloodshed and suffering that the Biafran people have endured for more than a year demonstrate
their determination to affirm themselves as a people.
Loyal to its principles, the French Government considers, consequently, that the present conflict should
be settled on the basis of the rights of peoples to self-determination and should comprise the setting in motion of the appropriate
international procedures.” - (Ibid., p. 562).
During the peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in August 1968, the leader f the Biafran delegation Dr.
Eni Njoku promised that Biafra would accept a plebiscite in the "contested regions of Biafra" and Nigeria to determine whether
or not members of ethnic minorities wanted to be part of Biafra. But the federal government, which had all along contended
that the minority groups in the former Eastern Region had been forced by the Igbos to join Biafra, refused to hold the plebiscite.
Federal officials were probably worried about the outcome, since there was a high probability that the Biafrans
would be vindicated in their claim that the ethnic minorities, although probably not all of them, had indeed willingly joined
the Igbos to establish Biafra as an independent nation.
And that seemed to be the case, at least during the early part of the war up to 1968 and may be even beyond
that date. That is why Ojukwu, confident of the outcome, asked for a plebiscite when he addressed the OAU in Addis Ababa on
August 5th that year. Otherwise he would not have done that, risking his credibility, if he thought that the ethnic minorities
would vote against Biafra.
The minority groups in the former Eastern Region which chose to join Biafra were probably aware that assurances
by Nigerian leaders that the government would implement the principle of Nigerian federalism under which ethnic minorities
would enjoy protection was no more than lip service, given their history in the past at the hands of the Hausa-Fulani who
had dominated the federation since independence.
Had a plebiscite been conducted to determine the wishes of the minority
groups in Eastern Nigeria, Biafra would have survived as a viable sovereign entity provided the federal government conceded
that right to the Biafrans to rule themselves in their own country; a concession which would have been a fulfillment of the
demand made by the government itself that "if seven million Ibos are entitled to self-determination, equally so are five million
Efiks, Ibibios, Ekois and Ijaws," as Chief Enahoro stated in his address to the OAU in Addis Ababa in August 1968 (Africa Contemporary Record, p. 684).
Yet, the federal government refused to allow a plebiscite to establish that, denying the minority groups
the very democratic right - to determine their own destiny - it claimed they were entitled to, which it also claimed was being
denied to them by the Igbos, although many of them joined Biafra willingly. A plebiscite would have conclusively shown whether
or not the minority groups in Biafra had indeed joined the Igbos willingly to establish the independent state of Biafra.
But since that option was rejected by the federal government, as much as it rejected Biafra's claim to sovereign
status, continuation of the war was the only alternative left, short of unconditional surrender by the secessionist forces.
The Addis Ababa peace talks under the auspices of the OAU were adjourned indefinitely on 9 September 1968
without reaching any agreement on how to end the devastating conflict. And the odds were overwhelmingly against the Biafrans.
Outnumbered and outgunned, their defeat seemed inevitable. And unable to win official recognition from most countries around
the world, they had also lost the diplomatic contest in the international arena. Worst of all, they got little support from
their own continent where other African countries did not collectively bring enough pressure to bear upon Nigeria for her
to unilaterally cease fire against a people who were already outgunned, and find a peaceful solution to the conflict even
it meant forming a loose federation or a confederation - and then gradually work towards establishing a strong central government
with the consent of all the parties concerned.
When it became obvious that the Addis Ababa peace talks were going nowhere,
General Gowon ordered his field commanders to launch a "final offensive" on 24 August 1968. He felt that his assurance on
June 6th that that the federal army and air force would not "drive into the heart of the East-Central state unless all appeals
to end the Nigerian crisis fail," had been met (Africa Contemporary
Record, p. 564).
The East-Central state was the Igbo heartland; it was almost entirely Igbo, unlike the other two states
in the former Eastern Region which were not entirely Igbo but had substantial Igbo populations.
Gowon's ultimatum placed the blame for continuation of the war entirely in the hands of the secessionists.
He took full advantage of Biafra's military weakness, and only unconditional surrender by the Igbos would save them from annihilation.
But they were not willing to do that and faced the prospect of extermination from a combination of factors: starvation and
disease, and attack by the federal forces.
By September 1968, the "final offensive" against Biafra had gained momentum. The Federal Second Division
under Colonel I.B.M. Haruna had by then taken positions and linked up along the Onitsha-Enugu Road with the First Division
operating from Enugu, the former Biafran capital which was captured by federal troops - almost exactly a year earlier in early
October 1967 just three months after the war started. The Second Division, which also penetrated the east and captured Onitsha,
Enugu and other parts of Biafra, was then led by Colonel Murtala Muhammad before he was succeeded by Colonel Haruna.
This joint operation by the two divisions led to an escalation of the conflict which triggered an unexpected
strong military response from the Biafran forces. After they seized the Onitsha-Enugu Road, federal military convoys were
now able to move freely along this vital supply link so critical to logistical support for the federal troops advancing on
Biafran-held territory. But even with the capture of this main artery, the road was subjected to periodic and sometimes sustained
attacks by Biafran troops.
On the southern front, the Third Division of Marine Commandos led by the legendary "Black Scorpion" Colonel
Benjamin Adenkule had seized Aba, an important rail and road link located midway between Port Harcourt and Umuahia southeast
of Onitsha. Aba became the new Biafran capital in October 1967 after Enugu fell to sustained federal bombardment during that
After Colonel Adenkule captured Aba, the Biafrans moved their capital further north on the same road to
Umuahia, another important road and railway terminal south of Okigwi. Despite the loss of Aba, Biafrans scored one of their
major victories in the war in the same month they lost their capital. Ojukwu himself went to the war front and led the offensive:
“Following an attack led personally by Colonel Ojukwu at the end of September (1968) on the strategic
town of Oguta, which commands the Uli-Ihiala airstrip, the Biafrans pushed the frontier back some 13 miles to the Niger River.
The airstrip, which was under constant Federal artillery fire at the end of September, was reported safe on 26 October.
During October the Biafran fire power changed significantly as a considerable increase of military supplies,
allegedly from France, were flown in via Libreville, Gabon.
The Biafrans had succeeded in taking the northern suburbs of Owerri which
fell to federal forces on 16 September. On the northern front the Biafrans maintained pressure on Onitsha, cutting the road
from Umuahia - the Biafran headquarters - Onitsha, and the road from Onitsha to Abagana, which was held by Federal forces.
An international observer confirmed the Biafran claim to have regained Okigwi. No further substantial gains were made by either
side by the end of 1968.” - (Africa Contemporary Record, p. 564).
On 16 September 1968, Biafra suffered yet another blow when African heads of state and government passed
a resolution at the OAU summit in Algiers, Algeria, which did not recognize its sovereign status but, instead, supported the
Nigerian federal government's position on the conflict. Nigerian leaders said they would be willing to participate in peace
talks with the Biafrans only if they were conducted in compliance with that resolution.
The resolution was supported by 33 countries. Rwanda and Botswana abstained from voting, and the four countries
which recognized Biafra - Tanzania, Zambia, Ivory Coast, and Gabon - voted against it.
The resolution was based on a draft prepared by Cameroon, Congo Democratic Republic (Kinshasa), Ghana, Liberia,
Niger, and Ethiopia - the six members of the OAU Consultative Commission on the Nigerian conflict under the chairmanship of
Emperor Haile Selassie. And it is understandable why the Nigerian federal government was willing to participate in renewed
peace talks - provided they were based on the Algerian resolution.
Most of the African heads of state and government sided with Nigeria, a stand clearly reflected by the wording
of the resolution. The resolution:
“appeals to the secessionist leaders to co-operate with the Federal
authorities in order to restore peace and unity in Nigeria...(and) calls upon all member States of the United Nations and
the OAU to refrain from any action detrimental to the peace, unity and territorial integrity of Nigeria...." - (Africa Contemporary Record, p. 620).
At a plenary meeting, Tanzania, Zambia, Ivory Coast, and Gabon urged the OAU to demand an immediate ceasefire,
followed by renewed peace talks to be attended by both parties to the conflict. The proposal was opposed by many speakers.
Instead, they all supported the majority view that the war was Nigeria's internal affair and that Nigeria's territorial integrity
must be maintained at all costs.
As 1968 came to an end, there was still no hope for a negotiated settlement of the conflict. Even an appeal
by Emperor Haile Selassie to the Nigerian government to grant a seven-day truce over Christmas was rejected. Instead, Nigerian
federal officials proposed a one-day truce on both - the Christian and Muslim annual festivals.
They were determined not to give Biafran forces any respite from the war. Even provision of relief supplies
to the war victims was interrupted by the federal government. A visit to the newly independent Republic of Equatorial Guinea
- which won independence from Spain on 12 October 1968 - by a Nigerian federal delegation brought all mercy flights from the
island of Fernando Po (later renamed Bioko) to a halt on December 21st. There were hardliners in Lagos who didn't mind starving
However, following international protests and appeals to the Nigerian federal government, the embargo on
these flights was lifted on December 23rd. Yet, the interruption provided a strong case for Biafrans who contended that the
Nigerian government was indeed determined to starve them to death in pursuit of its policy of "genocide" against the Igbos;
and that it would have do so had it not been for the intervention by the international community on their behalf.
On 28 December 1968, the United States announced that it was assigning four C97-G Strato-Freighters to join
the international airlift of relief supplies to the war victims in both Biafra and Nigeria. The planes were made available
to the International Red Cross, and another four to American voluntary relief organizations.
The eight planes and others from other countries were to airlift food and medical supplies from Fernando
Po in Equatorial Guinea, and from another island, São Tomé, which was then part of the Portuguese African island colony of
São Tomé and Principe located in the Atlantic Ocean southwest of Fernando Po and northwest of the coast of Gabon. The international
relief effort was an enormous task without precedent in the history of the Red Cross:
“Red Cross statistics put the (number of) displaced persons in Biafra's non-combat areas at a minimum
of 4.5 million. Since July (1968), the Red Cross had brought 4,633 tons of supplies into Biafra with up to 4,000 tons still
stockpiled in Santa Isabel (capital of the island of Fernando Po). It was the greatest single action that the Red Cross had
ever carried out in its one hundred years of existence.” - (Ibid., p. 565).
The war dragged on. It was also a conflict which attracted strange bedfellows who were ideologically opposed
to each other, yet united in their support for one side or the other. For example, Britain and the Soviet Union supported
Nigeria. France and the People's Republic of China supported Biafra. Among the African countries, two ultra-conservative and
capitalist-oriented states which were also some of the strongest French allies - Ivory Coast and Gabon - supported Biafra.
At the other end of the ideological spectrum were two socialist-oriented and militant states, Tanzania and Zambia, which supported
Biafra. Tanzania also served as a conduit for weapons from China to Biafra and would have played an even bigger role had she
shared a common border with Biafra.
The secret supply of arms to Biafra was facilitated by Portugal and Spain whose intervention on Biafra's
side made the alliance of Biafra's supporters look even more strange. For example, what did Tanzania have in common with Portugal
and Spain? In fact, Tanzania was at war with Portugal in Mozambique where she supported the guerilla fighers of FRELIMO fighting
for independence. And all the other African countries were in a state of war with Portugal because of her colonial presence
in Angola, Mozambique and Portuguese Guinea (renamed Guinea-Bissau by the freedom fighters in that colony).
As if that was not strange enough, here was another team of Biafran supporters
who had nothing in common with Tanzania and Zambia, two of the four strong African supporters of Biafra: in the early stages
of the war, some of the weapons going to Biafra came from white-ruled Rhodesia via Angola, a Portuguese colony, and then flown
directly from there to the secessionist region. And "when, in desperation, Biafra began to recruit a mercenary force towards
the latter part of 1967, it introduced into the conflict the white mercenaries who had for so long held the Congo to ransom"
(Africa Contemporary Record, p. 566). Some of them were South African mercenaries led by the
highly notorious "Mad" Mike Hoare who wreaked so much havoc in the Congo during the sixties.
They all had different reasons for supporting Biafra or Federal Nigeria,
a subject I have also addressed in one of my books, Ethnic
Politics in Kenya and Nigeria: A Comparative Study, as others have elsewhere.
And it is obvious why Biafrans were fighting. They wanted to have their own country where they could be
safe and secure.
Another African country that was sympathetic towards the Biafran cause
was Tunisia. However, the Arab North African country withheld recognition for the sake of African solidarity with Nigeria
based on Africa's determination to maintain the territorial integrity of its countries - no matter what the cost and even
if it means exterminating an entire group of people. But Tunisia's reservations about the inviolability of this principle
and her sympathy for Biafra were clearly expressed in the official press - which reflected government thinking - in May 1968
that recognition of Biafra by four African countries was a "protest against massacre" (Africa Contemporary Record, p. 114).
Uganda under Dr. Milton Obote came close to recognizing Biafra but backtracked
when Obote became actively involved in the peace talks between Nigerian and Biafran representatives held in Kampala, Uganda.
But before then, "it was expected that Uganda would follow the example of Tanzania and Zambia in recognizing the breakaway
Republic of Biafra" (Africa Contemporary Record, pp. 236 - 237).
Therefore support for Nigeria among other African countries was not automatic and could not be taken for
granted in all cases. And it is very much possible that even some of the countries which - out of African solidarity - refused
to recognize Biafra as an independent state sympathized with her cause because of the injustices which had been perpetrated
against Eastern Nigerians especially in Northern Nigeria and the suffering they had endured throughout the ordeal. It was
a horrendous tragedy.
Among the African countries which recognized Biafra as a sovereign entity, Tanzania set a precedent that
was followed by others even if for their own reasons. But as the first country to recognize Biafra, and because of President
Nyerere's stature on the continent and in the international arena, it came to occupy a central role in the debate over the
Nigeria-Biafra conflict. Nyerere also became the most prominent, and most articulate, spokesman for the Biafran cause among
all the leaders whose countries recognized Biafra as a sovereign entity.
Tanzania's recognition of Biafra ignited considerable debate over the merits and demerits of the principles
enunciated in the OAU Charter defending the sanctity of the borders inherited at independence; maintaining the territorial
integrity of African countries ; and non-interference in the internal affairs of another state or other states.
But, as experience would show even in the following years after the Nigerian civil war, it was clear that
Tanzania under Nyerere pursued an activist foreign policy and placed a high premium on moral principles even at the expense
of the principles enshrined in the OAU Charter and to which the country subscribed. It was, in fact, one of the 32 founding
members of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1963.
Tanzania under Nyerere was not only the first African country to recognize Biafra; it also became the first
African country to capture the capital of another African country. It was also the first African country to overthrow a government
of another African country - of Idi Amini in 1979 - it saw as a threat to its own security and an embarrassment to the rest
Tanzania also intervened militarily in the Comoros and in the Seychelles in the seventies and eighties to
restore constitutional government and law and order at the invitation of the leaders of the two island nations.
It also, under Nyerere, sent troops to fight in liberation wars in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia;
and fought alongside Cuban and Angolan troops and others from other African countries against apartheid South Africa when
that country invaded Angola in the seventies.
So, Tanzania's recognition of Biafra was only among the first in a series of policy initiatives by Nyerere
in a Pan-African context which he found to be necessary for different reasons, in different contexts, if Africans were to
remain true to the ideals and principles they claimed to uphold; among them safety and security, and justice and equality
for all the people; and the liberation of Africa from colonial powers and white minority regimes on the continent.
Although some people differed with Nyerere when he recognized Biafra as an independent state, few questioned
his commitment to the ideal of African unity and to the principles collectively espoused by African leaders under the auspices
of the Organization of African Unity. He was so committed that even his fellow African heads of state and government and other
leaders nicknamed him "Africa's minister of foreign affairs."
He was not only a staunch supporter of African unity but lived up to his commitment to this Pan-African
He was the first East African leader to call for federation and even offered to delay independence for Tanganyika
in order for the three East African countries of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika to attain sovereign status on the same day
and form an East African federation.
He also engineered the first union of two independent states, Tanganyika and Zanzibar - and the only one
on the entire continent - which led to the creation of Tanzania, one of the most stable and peaceful countries in Africa.
Yet, under his leadership, Tanzania also was the first African country to recognize the secessionist region
of Eastern Nigeria as the independent Republic of Biafra, a move his critics denounced as anti-Pan-African by one of the strongest
advocates of African unity.
Only three other African countries recognized Biafra. They were Ivory Coast, Zambia, and Gabon. And one
non-African country, France, also recognized Biafra as an independent state.
Yet, Nyerere’s decision to recognize Biafra, which he himself admitted had been made with great reluctance,
was based on moral grounds. The people of Eastern Nigeria, especially the Igbos, no longer felt secure within the Nigerian
federation after tens of thousands of them had been massacred by their fellow countrymen, especially in Northern Nigeria,
while the authorities did nothing to stop the pogroms. Therefore to protect themselves, they decided to withdraw from the
federation and establish their own independent state.
Unity is based on the willingness of the people to be part of the union, and on the willingness of the government
to be fair to all its citizens. A government which refuses to protect some of its citizens cannot claim to be fair and has
abdicated its responsibility. Therefore the people who have been rejected have the right to choose the type of government
they want to live under, and in their own independent state where they can be guaranteed protection and feel secure. That
was the case for Biafra.
Critics of Biafra’s secession tried to draw parallels between Biafra and Katanga. But there were fundamental
differences between the two. The secession of Eastern Nigeria was in response to the pogroms in Northern Nigeria and other
parts of the federation, but mostly in the north, which claimed and estimated 30,000 - 50,000 lives in about three months
in 1966. It was not foreign-inspired to break up Nigeria.
By contrast, Katanga’s secession was engineered by Western powers to secure their political and economic
interests by detaching the mineral-rich province from the rest of the Congo which they feared could be ruled by a staunchly
pro-African nationalist government that would threaten their interests. Moise Tshombe, the Katangese leader and Western puppet,
was a traitor.
Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Biafran leader, was an African patriot trying to save his people
from oppression and possible extermination by other Nigerians who hated the Igbos reminiscent of the plight of the Jews under
Hitler in Nazi Germany; not all Nigerians hated the Igbos but many of them did, and they hated them enough to massacre them,
thus justifying the Igbos' imperative need to have their own country where they would be safe and secure and away from the
people who did not want to live with them.
And it is important to remember that the anti-Igbo sentiments in the Northern Regional Assembly in February-March
1964, as we learntearlier, were expressed almost two years before the Igbo-led military coup of January 15, 1966, which triggered
the massacre of tens of thousands of Igbos and other Eastern Nigerians in Northern Nigeria in the following months.
The anti-Igbo venom spewed in the Northern Legislative Assembly had also been preceded by the massacre of
hundreds of Igbos in Jos in 1945 and in Kano in 1953.
Therefore, there was a history of anti-Igbo hysteria in Northern Nigeria, and even in other parts of the
country, long before the 1966 military coup; a history which puts in proper perspective the secession of the Eastern Region
as an inevitable response to the cumulative impact of Igbophobia on the people of Eastern Nigeria that had infected large
segments of the federation.
It is also in this context that Tanzania’s recognition of Biafra should be looked at, in order to
understand why the government of Tanzania reached this momentous decision. As President Julius Nyerere stated in recognizing
“The Declaration of Independence by Biafra on the 30th May, 1967 came after two military coups d’etat
- January and July 1966 - and two pogroms against the Ibo people. These pogroms, which also took place in 1966, resulted in
the death of about 30,000 men, women, and children, and made two million people flee from their homes in other parts of Nigeria
to their tribal homeland in Eastern Nigeria.
These events have been interspersed and followed by official discussions about a new constitution for Nigeria,
and also by continued personal attacks on individual Ibos who have remained outside the Eastern Region.
The basic case for Biafra’s secession from the Nigerian Federation is that people from the Eastern
Region can no longer feel safe in other parts of the Federation. They are not accepted as citizens of Nigeria by other citizens
of Nigeria. Not only is it impossible for Ibos and people of related tribes to live in assurance of personal safety if they
work outside Biafra; it would also be impossible for any representative of these people to move freely and without fear in
any other part of the Federation of Nigeria.
These fears are genuine and deep-seated; nor can anyone say they are groundless. The rights and wrongs of
the original coup d’etat, the rights and wrongs of the attitudes taken by different groups in the politics of pre- and
post-coup Nigeria, are all irrelevant to the fear which the Ibo people feel.
And the people of Eastern Nigeria can point to too many bereaved homes, too many maimed people, for anyone
to deny the reasonable grounds for their fears. It is these fears, which are the root cause both for the secession, and for
the fanaticism with which the people of Eastern Nigeria have defended the country they declared to be independent.
Fears such as now exist among the Ibo people, do not disappear because someone says they are unjustified,
or says that the rest of Nigeria does not want to exterminate Ibos. Such words have even less effect when the speakers have
made no attempt to bring the perpetrators of crimes to justice, and when troops under the control of the Federal Nigerian
authorities continue to ill-treat, or allow others to ill-treat, any Ibo who comes within their power. The only way to remove
the Easterners’ fear is for the Nigerian authorities to accept its existence, to acknowledge the reason fir it, and
then talk on terms of equality with those involved about the way forward.
When people have reason to be afraid you cannot reassure them through the barrel of a gun; your only hope
is to talk as one man to another, or as one group to another. It is no use the Federal authorities demanding that the persecuted
should come as a supplicant for mercy, by first renouncing their secession from the political unit. For the secession was
declared because the Ibo people felt it to be there only defence against extermination.
In their minds, therefore, a demand that they should renounce secession before talks begin is equivalent
to a demand that they should announce their willingness to be exterminated. If they are wrong in this belief, they have to
be convinced. And they can only be convinced by talks leading to new institutional arrangements, which take account of their
The people of Biafra have announced their willingness to talk to the Nigerian authorities without any conditions.
They cannot renounce their secession before talks, but they do not demand that Nigerians should recognize it; they ask for
talks without conditions.
But the Federal authorities have refused to talk except on the basis of Biafran surrender. And as the Biafrans
believe they will be massacred if they surrender, the Federal authorities are really refusing to talk at all. For human beings
do not voluntarily walk towards what they believe to be certain death. The Federal Government argues that in demanding the
renunciation of secession before talks, and indeed in its entire ‘police action,’ it is defending the territorial
integrity of Nigeria. On this ground it argues also that it has the right to demand support from all other governments, and
especially other African governments. For every state, and every state authority, has a duty to defend the sovereignty and
integrity of its nation; this is a central part of the function of a national government.
Africa accepts the validity of this point, for African states have more reason than most to fear the effects
of disintegration. It is on these grounds that Africa has watched the massacre of tens of thousands of people, has watched
millions being made into refugees, watched the employment of mercenaries by both sides in the current civil war, and has accepted
repeated rebuffs of its offers to help by mediation or conciliation.
But for how long should this continue? Africa fought for freedom on the grounds of individual liberty and
equality, and on the grounds that every people must have the right to determine for themselves the conditions under which
they would be governed. We accepted the boundaries we inherited from colonialism, and within them we each worked out for ourselves
the constitutional and other arrangements, which we felt to be appropriate to the most essential function of a state - that
is the safeguarding of life and liberty for its inhabitants.
When the Federation of Nigeria became independent in 1960, the same policy was adopted by all its peoples.
They accepted the Federal structure which had been established under the colonial system, and declared their intention to
work together. Indeed, the Southern States of the Federation - which include Biafra - delayed their own demands for independence
until the North was ready to join them.
At the insistence of the North also, the original suggestion of the National Council of Nigeria and the
Cameroons (NCNC) that Nigeria should be broken up into many small states with a strong center, was abandoned. The South accepted
a structure, which virtually allowed the more populous North to dominate the rest.
But the constitution of the Federation of Nigeria was broken in January, 1966, by the first military coup.
All hope of its resuscitation was removed by the second coup, and even more by the pogroms of September and October, 1966.
These events altered the whole basis of the society; after them it was impossible for political and economic relations between
the different parts of the old Federation to be restored.
That meant that Nigerian unity could only be salvaged from the wreck of inter-tribal violence and fear by
a constitution drawn up in the light of what happened, and which was generally acceptable to all the major elements of the
society under the new circumstances. A completely new start had to be made, for the basis of the state had been dissolved
in the complete breakdown of law and order, and the inter-tribal violence, which existed.
The necessity for a new start by agreement was accepted by a conference of military leaders from all parts
of the Federation, in Aburi, Ghana, in January 1967.
There is a certain difference of opinion about some of the things, which were agreed upon at the conference.
But there is no dispute about the fact that everyone joined in a declaration renouncing the use of force as a means of settling
the crisis in Nigeria. Nor does anyone dispute that it was agreed that a new constitution was to be worked out by agreement,
and that in the meantime there would be a repeal of all military decrees issued since January 1966, which reduced the power
of the Regions.
There was also agreement about rehabilitation payments for those who had been forced to flee from their
homes, and about members of the armed forces being stationed in their home Regions.
The Aburi Conference could have provided the new start, which was necessary if the unity of Nigeria was
to be maintained. But before the end of the same month, Gowon was restating his commitment to the creation of new states,
and his determination to oppose any form of confederation. And on the last day of January, the Federal military authorities
were already giving administrative reasons for the delay in the implementation of the Agreements reached at Aburi.
It was in the middle of March before a constitutional decree was issued which was supposed to regularize
the position in accordance with the decisions taken there. But unfortunately this Decree also included a new clause - which
had not been agreed upon - and which gave the Federal authorities reserved powers over the Regions, and thus completely nullified
the whole operation. Nor had any payment been made by the Federal Government to back up the monetary commitment for rehabilitation,
which it had accepted in the Ghana meeting. In short, the necessity for an arrangement, which would take account of the fears
created during 1966 was accepted at Aburi, and renounced thereafter by the Federal authorities.
Yet they now claim to be defending the integrity of the country in which they failed to guarantee the most
elementary safety of the twelve million people of Eastern Nigeria. These people had been massacred in other parts of Nigeria
without the Federal authorities apparently having neither the will nor the power to protect them. When they retreated to their
homeland they were expected to accept the domination of the same people who instigated, or allowed, their persecution in the
country which they are being told is theirs - i.e., Nigeria.
Surely, when a whole people is rejected by the majority of the state in which they live, they must have
the right to live under a different kind of arrangement which does secure their existence. States are made to serve people;
governments are established to protect the citizens of a state against external enemies and internal wrongdoers.
It is on those grounds that people surrender their right and power of self-defence to the government of
the state in which they live. But when the machinery of the state, and the powers of the government, are turned against a
whole group of society on grounds of racial, tribal, or religious prejudice, then the victims have the right to take back
the powers they have surrendered, and defend themselves.
For while people have a duty to defend the integrity of their state, and even to die in its defence, this
duty stems from the fact that it is theirs, and that it is important to their well-being and to the future of their children.
When the state ceases to stand for honour, the protection, and the well-being of all its citizens, then it is no longer the
instrument of those it has rejected. In such a case the people have the right to create another instrument for their protection
- in other words, to create another state.
This right cannot be abrogated by constitutions, or by outsiders. The basis of statehood, and of unity can
only be general acceptance by the participants. When more than twelve million people have become convinced that they are rejected,
and that there is no longer any basis for unity between them and other groups of people, then that unity has ceased to exist.
You cannot kill thousands of people, and keep on killing more, in the name of unity. There is no unity between the dead and
those who killed them; and there is no unity in slavery or domination.
Africa needs unity. We need unity over the whole continent, and in the meantime we need unity within the
existing states of Africa. It is a tragedy when we experience a setback to our goal of unity. But the basis of our need for
unity, and the reason for our desire for it, is the greater well-being, and the greater security, of the people of Africa.
Unity by conquest is impossible. It is not practicable; and even if military might could force the acceptance of a particular
authority, the purpose of unity would have been destroyed. For the purpose of unity, its justification is the service of all
the people who are united together. The general consent of all the people involved is the only basis on which unity in Africa
can be maintained or extended.
The fact that the Federation of Nigeria was created in 1960 with the consent of all the people does not
alter that fact. That Federation, and the basis of consent, has since been destroyed. Nor is this the first time the world
has seen a reduction in political unity.
We have seen the creation of the Mali Federation, the creation of a union between Egypt and Syria, and the
establishment of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. And we have also seen the dissolution of all these attempts at
unity, and the consequent recognition of the separate nations, which were once involved.
The world has also seen the creation of India and Pakistan out of what was once the Indian Empire. We have
all recognized both of these nation states and done our best to help them deal with the millions of people made homeless by
the conflict and division. None of these things mean that we like these examples of greater disunity. They mean that we recognize
that in all these cases the people are unwilling to remain in one political unit.
Tanzania recognizes Senegal, Mali, Egypt, Syria, Malawi, Zambia, Pakistan and India. What right have we
to refuse, in the name of unity, to recognize Biafra? For years the people of that state struggled to maintain unity with
the other people in the Federation of Nigeria; even after the pogroms of 1966 they tried to work out a new form of unity which
would guarantee their safety; they have demonstrated by ten months of bitter fighting that they have decided upon a new political
organization and are willing to defend it.
The world has taken it upon itself to utter many ill-informed criticisms of the Jews of Europe for going
to their deaths without any concerted struggle. But out of sympathy for the suffering of these people, and in recognition
of the world’s failure to take action at the appropriate time, the United Nations established the state of Israel in
a territory, which belonged to the Arabs for thousands of years. It was felt that only by the establishment of a Jewish homeland,
and a Jewish national state, could Jews be expected to live in the world under conditions of human equality.
Tanzania has recognized the state of Israel and will continue to do so because of its belief that every
people must have some place in the world where they are not liable to be rejected by their fellow citizens. But the Biafrans
have now suffered the same kind of rejection within their state that the Jews of Germany experienced. Fortunately, they already
had a homeland. They have retreated to it for their own protection, and for the same reason - after all other efforts had
failed - they have declared it to be an independent state.
In the light of these circumstances, Tanzania feels obliged to recognize the setback to African unity, which
has occurred. We therefore recognize the state of Biafra as an independent sovereign entity, and as a member of the community
of nations. Only by this act of recognition can we remain true to our conviction that the purpose of society, and of all political
organization, is the service of man.”
The preceding statement by President Julius Nyerere was issued by the
government of Tanzania on April 13, 1968, the day Tanzania recognized Biafra. It was also published in the ruling-party’s
(TANU’s) daily newspaper, The Nationalist, whose editor during that time was Benjamin Mkapa who
later became president of Tanzania from 1995 - 2005, and the country’s third head of state since independence in 1961.
The statement was also published in another daily newspaper, the privately-owned
Standard, whose editorial staff I joined in June 1969 when I was a 19-year-old high school student
in Form V (standard 13, what Americans would call grade 13).
and The Nationalist were also the country’s two major newspapers and some of the largest and most influential in East Africa.
President Nyerere also explained Tanzania’s position on Biafra in another statement, which was substantively
the same as the preceding one, but with other nuances to his central argument.
The statement was published in a British newspaper in a country that
was the biggest arms supplier to the Nigerian federal military government during its war against Biafra, and played a critical
role in sustaining the conflict and wreaking havoc across the secessionist region, as much as Soviet-supplied MIGs flown by
Egyptian pilots did. As Nyerere stated in “Why We Recognised Biafra,” in The Observer,
London, April 28, 1968:
“Leaders of Tanzania have probably talked more about the need for African unity than those of any
other country. Giving formal recognition to even greater disunity in Africa was therefore a very difficult decision to make.
Our reluctance to do so was compounded by our understanding of the problems of unity - of which we have
some experience - and of the problems of Nigeria. For we have had very good relations with the Federation of Nigeria, even
to the extent that when we needed help from Africa we asked it of the Federation.
But unity can only be based on the general consent of the people involved. The people must feel that this
state, or this nation, is theirs; and they must be willing to have their quarrels in that context. Once a large number of
the people of any such political unit stop believing that the state is theirs, and that the government is their instrument,
then the unit is no longer viable. It will not receive the loyalty of its citizens.
For the citizen’s duty to serve, and if necessary to die for, his country stems from the fact that
it is his and that its government is the instrument of himself and his fellow citizens. The duty stems, in other words, from
the common denominator of accepted statehood, and from the state government’s responsibility to protect all the citizens
and serve them all. For states, and governments, exist for men and for the service of man. They exist for the citizens’
protection, their welfare, and the future well-being of their children. There is no other justification for states and governments
In Nigeria this consciousness of a common citizenship was destroyed by the events of 1966, and in particular
by the pogroms in which 30,000 Eastern Nigerians were murdered, many more injured, and about two million forced to flee from
the North of their country. It is these pogroms, and the apparent inability or unwillingness of the authorities to protect
the victims, which underlies the Easterners’ conviction that they have been rejected by other Nigerians and abandoned
by the Federal Government.
Whether the Easterners are correct in their belief that they have been rejected is a matter for argument.
But they do have this belief. And if they are wrong, they have to be convinced that they are wrong. They will not convinced
by being shot. Nor will their acceptance as part of the Federation be demonstrated by the use of Federal power to bomb schools
and hospitals in the areas to which people have fled from persecution.
In Britain, in 1950, the Stone of Scone was stolen from Westminster Abbey by Scottish Nationalists while
I was still a student at Edinburgh. That act did not represent a wish by the majority of the Scottish people to govern themselves.
But if, for some peculiar reason, that vast majority of the Scottish people decided that Scotland should secede from the United
Kingdom, would the Government in London order the bombing of Edinburgh, and in pursuing the Scots into the Highlands, kill
the civilians they overtook? Certainly the Union Government would not do this; it would argue with the Scots, and try to reach
As President of Tanzania it is my duty to safeguard the integrity of the United Republic. But if the mass
of the people of Zanzibar should, without external manipulation, and for some reason of their own, decide that the Union was
prejudicial to their existence, I could not advocate bombing them into submission. To do so would not be to defend the Union.
The Union would have ceased to exist when the consent of its constituent members was withdrawn.
I would certainly be one of those working hard to prevent secession, or to reduce its disintegrating effects.
But I could not support a war on the people whom I have sworn to serve - especially not if the secession is preceded by a
rejection of Zanzibaris by Tanganyikans.
Similarly, if we had succeeded in the 1963 attempt to form an East African Federation, or if we should do
so in the future, Tanzania would be overjoyed. But if at some time thereafter the vast majority of the people of any one of
the countries should decide - and persist in a decision - to withdraw from the Federation, the other two countries could not
wage war against the people who wished to secede. Such a decision would mark a failure by the Federation. That would be tragic;
but it would not justify mass killings.
The Biafrans now feel that they cannot live under conditions of personal security in the present Nigerian
Federation. As they were unable to achieve an agreement on a new form of association, they have therefore claimed the right
to govern themselves. The Biafrans are not claiming the right to govern anyone else. They have not said that they must govern
the Federation as the only way of protecting themselves. They have simply withdrawn their consent to the system under which
they used to be governed.
Biafra is not now operating under the control of a democratic government, any more than Nigeria is. But
the mass support for the establishment and defence of Biafra is obvious. This is not a case of a few leaders declaring secession
for their own private glory. Indeed, by the Aburi Agreement the leaders of Biafra showed a greater reluctance to give up hope
of some form of unity with Nigeria than the masses possessed. But the agreement was not implemented.
Tanzania would still like to see some form of co-operation or unity between all the peoples of Nigeria and
But whether this happens, to what extent, and in what fields, can only be decided by agreement among all
the peoples involved. It is not for Tanzania to say.
We in this country believe that unity is vital for the future of Africa. But it must be a unity which serves
the people, and which is freely determined upon by the people.
For 10 months we have accepted the Federal Government’s legal right to our support in a ‘police
action to defend the integrity of the State.’ On that basis we have watched a civil war result in the death of about
100,000 people, and the employment of mercenaries by both sides. We have watched the Federal Government reject the advice
of Africa to talk instead of demanding surrender before talks could begin. Everything combined gradually to force us to the
conclusion that Nigerian unity did not exist.
Tanzania deeply regrets that the will for unity in Nigeria has been destroyed over the past two years. But
we are convinced that Nigerian unity cannot be maintained by force any more than unity in East Africa could be created by
one state conquering another.
It seemed to us that by refusing to recognise the existence of Biafra we were tacitly supporting a war against
the people of Eastern Nigeria - and a war conducted in the name of unity. We could not continue doing this any longer.”
The secession of Eastern Nigeria should be looked at in the context of Nigerian history where secessionist sentiments
are nothing new; nor are they in a number of other African countries. Northern Nigerians wanted to secede in 1950, then in
1953 and at different times throughout the fifties. They also tried to secede in 1966.
Western Nigerians also tried to secede in 1953, 1954 and even wanted the federation dissolved in 1966 when
they proposed during the constitutional talks that year that Nigeria should be a commonwealth of sovereign entities.
Eastern Nigerians, victims of brutal massacres and traumatized by this experience, felt they had no alternative
but to secede from the macro-nation of Nigeria composed of ethnic entities many of which were agitating for their own autonomous
ethno-states even if they did not demand full independence; and some of which were big and viable enough to constitute sovereign
The declaration of independence by the Eastern Region should also be looked at in the African context as
a whole where the countries are a product of European whims and caprice, created by the colonial powers when they drew arbitrary
boundaries cutting across ethno-regional, cultural and linguistic groups, and lumping together groups which had never even
known each other and some of which had been enemies for years.
There were cases in which fundamental differences made national integration virtually impossible. Sudan
is a typical example, north versus south, a dichotomy defined by race and religion; Nigeria is another study case, characterized
by the same divide, north versus south, but for historical, cultural, and religious reasons and not necessarily racial as
in the case of Sudan or Chad. And there are other cases.
That is where the concept of ethno-states comes into the picture, with all that it entails if fully implemented.
The idea of establishing independent ethno-states is probably very appealing to oppressed ethnic groups,
but terrifying to African countries almost all of which are multi-ethnic societies. It may even be argued that they are multi-national
states, if ethnic groups are considered to be nations, or micro-nations.
Yet, in spite of this complex configuration of African nations or ethno-polities - characterized by ethnic
diversity - built into the very architecture of national identities, the continent has not experienced major secessionist
movements in the last 40 years or so since independence, except Katanga and Biafra.
That is because, despite the tenuous bonds of national unity among the different tribes or ethnic and racial
groups in a given country, there is still some acceptance of the idea of a common national identity among the majority of
the people, largely forged by a common history of colonial experience; the coercive power of the state to maintain national
unity and territorial integrity at all costs; the capacity of the one-party system - the most dominant political institution
across the continent for decades during the post-colonial era - to embrace all ethnic groups by eschewing divisive politics
typical of multiparty democracy in the African context; and by the cultivation of a personality cult - Nkrumah, Sekou Toure,
Kenyatta, Mobutu, Banda - or the existence of a popular charismatic leader such as Nyerere who serves as a rallying point
for the masses and the entire nation to forge a common identity and achieve national unity.
That is why even in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country which has virtually ceased to exist and
function as a state and as a nation, the people across this vast expanse of territory still identify themselves as Congolese
- thanks to the enduring legacy of Patrice Lumumba, and a common history of suffering probably more than anything else, infused
with a dose of Pan-African solidarity. And there has been no major secessionist threat since the sixties when Katanga, and
then South Kasai Province led by Albert Kalonji, declared independence.
Even the different rebel groups which in the late 1990s and beyond virtually
carved up the Congo into fiefdoms dominated by warlords, plundering the nation’s resources, did not say they wanted
to break up the country into independent states; although their control of at least the entire eastern half of Congo by the
late nineties and during the following years amounted to de
facto partition, hence secession
- in the practical, even if not in the legal, sense - from the central government in Kinshasa.
And tragically, Congo is only one example of the collapse of institutional authority and erosion of political
legitimacy across the continent.
What is needed in Africa, where - because of bad leadership - failed states are the norm rather than the
exception, is an alternative configuration that will facilitate the establishment of institutional authority in many areas
where the state is unable to function, or where it has abdicated responsibility.
In many parts of the continent, people rely on foreign-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and
civic institutions to provide them with goods and services - which they can’t get on their own - more than they do on
the government. But one thing these organizations and civic institutions have not been able to provide is security. And it
is this lack of security, especially for entire groups some of which have been targeted for ethnic cleansing, that can be
a very powerful motivation for secession in a number of African countries.
The Igbos of Nigeria could have had all the goods and services they wanted and needed. But without security,
all those would have meant absolutely nothing to them in terms of survival as a people. Theirs may have been a case of self-determination
based on ethnicity, but precisely because they were targeted as an ethnic group.
Yet, the independent Republic of Biafra they established also included other ethnic groups in the former
Eastern Nigeria. The ethnicity of these other groups was also grounds for secession from the Nigerian federation after they
were also targeted for elimination in the pogroms directed against all easterners by their fellow countrymen in Northern Nigeria.
And in response to the charge by the federal government that the Igbos had forced minority groups to become
part of Biafra, Biafran leader Odumegwu Ojukwu asked the federal authorities to conduct an internationally-supervised plebiscite
if they sincerely believed that the minorities had been coerced into joining Biafra. But the Nigerian federal government refused
to do so, thus losing its credibility. As he stated in his speech to the OAU summit on the Nigerian civil war in Addis Ababa,
Ethiopia, on August 5, 1968:
“The Nigerian Army has occupied some non-Igbo areas of Biafra. But this cannot be regarded as a settlement
of the 'minority question.' This is why we have suggested a plebiscite.
Under adequate international supervision, the people of these areas should be given a chance to choose whether
they want to belong to Nigeria or to Biafra.
Plebiscites have been used in the Southern Cameroons, in Togo, in Mid-Western
Nigeria - and by the British recently in Gibraltar - to determine what grouping is most acceptable to the people of disputed
areas. If Nigeria believes that she is really defending the true wishes of the minorities, she should accept our proposal
for a plebiscite in the disputed areas of Nigeria and Biafra.” - (Ojukwu, Africa Contemporary Record, p. 668).
By refusing to hold a plebiscite, the Nigerian federal government not only lost credibility on the disputed
issue of minority rights but strengthened Biafra's case for self-determination. And ironically, the federal authorities tried
to play the same ethnic card they claimed the Igbos were using in their attempt to establish an independent state. Yet they
only ended up causing embarrassment for themselves.
But, besides its tragic aspect where ethnicity is seen as a liability
and is used by some people to discriminate against some groups and even target them for extermination, ethnicity also has
positive attributes which cannot be overlooked and must be acknowledged as an enduring feature of the African political landscape,
and not the ugly phenomenon it is portrayed to be. As Professor Christopher Clepham states in his essay, “Rethinking
the African State,” in Africa Security Review:
“Ethnicity, quite regardless of arcane academic debates over its ‘primordial’ or ‘constructed’
character, has likewise developed into an enduring feature of African life, and provides a ready basis for the consolidation
of political identities....
Critical to the relationship between ethnicity and statehood is not just
the existence of an ethnic identity as such, but more importantly the substantive content
of this identity in terms of shared attitudes toward issues of political authority and control that it embodies.... The decay
of viable and effective states has created massive political violence.” - (Christopher Clapham, “Rethinking African
States,” in Africa Security Review, Vol. 10, No. 3, 2001. See also Sam G. Amoo, “The
Challenge of Ethnicity and Conflicts in Africa: The Need for A New Paradigm,” United Nations Development Programme (UNDP),
New York, January 1997).
Although the Nigerian federal state was not weak when the Igbos were being massacred in Northern Nigeria
and other parts of the country, it was an accomplice to their persecution because of its unwillingness to stop the massacres
and provide security to the victims.
It was this total disregard for their lives by federal and Northern Nigerian authorities which forced them
to withdraw from the federation. They felt that the only way they could be safe and secure was by establishing their own independent
state, in their home region, under their own government.
And it is in this overall context that the secession of Eastern Nigeria must be looked at, in order to understand
why Tanzania recognized Biafra, a decision President Nyerere admitted was a painful one to make, yet necessary if we were
to remain true to our conviction that “there is no other justification for states and governments except man.”
The secession of Biafra and subsequent civil war was a horrendous tragedy. But it also had an important
lesson for Africa, especially for countries facing major secessionist threats; for example the Oromo Liberation Front in Ethiopia,
which is fighting to establish its own autonomous or independent state whose jurisdictional boundaries coincide with the ethnic
identity of the people who seek self-determination or want to secede. The Oromo, like other Ethiopians, live in a country,
which, at least in theory, has acknowledged the imperative need for ethnic confederalism as the basis for national unity.
Yet, true unity cannot be achieved by force, and Africa may have to concede the legitimacy of major secessionist
movements as one of the ways to resolve conflicts on the continent and guarantee equality and justice for oppressed and neglected
Such a concession is a first step towards conflict resolution, which entails: conflict management, containment,
reduction, and finally, resolution. One of the best ways to resolve conflict is to address the grievances of the people who
want to secede, and therefore prevent secession.
Trying to force them to remain in a country from which they want to secede will only exacerbate and perpetuate
conflict and lead to national instability.
But secessionist movements can be robbed of momentum if the regions, which want to secede, are granted extensive
autonomy enabling them to rule themselves while remaining an integral part of the nation they want to break away from. Such
extensive devolution of power can be achieved under federation or confederation far better than it can under a unitary state
whose very nature is to centralize power, while assigning a peripheral role to its constituent units.
However, the right to self-determination, hence secession, must also be enshrined in the constitution of
every African country as a bargaining tool for oppressed groups to extract genuine concessions from the central government,
short of secession.
Therefore the intent here is not to
encourage secession, but to discourage secession in African countries. Paradoxically, the right to secede serves to neutralize
the very tendency it seems to encourage. More often than not, people want to secede, not just because they want to separate;
they want to secede because they are ignored, oppressed, exploited, and even rejected by their government and by their fellow
countrymen. And usually, there is a long record of historical injustices which serves as a catalyst for secessionist movements,
fueled by contemporary oppression.
In Nigeria, had the grievances of the Igbos - who had also been the victims of earlier massacres in Jos
in 1945 and in Kano in 1953 - been addressed during those critical months in 1966 when their people were being systematically
slaughtered in Northern Nigeria, and even in many parts of Western Nigeria, it is highly probable that they would not have
seceded; especially if the federal government had agreed to extensive devolution of power to the regions under genuine federalism
or even confederalism, as it did in the Aburi Agreements. But those grievances were never addressed, forcing Eastern Nigerians
The Nigerian military head of state, General Yakubu Gowon, even reneged on his promise to implement the
Aburi Agreements agreed upon by all the military governors, and Gowon himself, at a meeting in Aburi, Ghana, in January 1967,
which could have prevented Biafra’s secession and the subsequent civil war, had they been fulfilled.
And the Biafran leader, Colonel Ojukwu, was explicit in his condemnation of Gowon for refusing to implement
the Aburi Agreements which granted more autonomy to the regions and rescinded any decrees which curtailed the power of regional
governments and other institutions of authority to manage their affairs.
It was a betrayal of trust on the part of Gowon, and nothing was done through the years after the civil
war to seriously address the grievances of the Igbos. As Ojukwu said in an interview with the BBC, 13 January 2000: Nothing
had really changed since the war. The cause of the war was never addressed:
“None of the problems that led to the war have been solved yet. They are still there. We have a situation
creeping towards the type of situation that saw the beginning of the war....
At 33 I reacted as a brilliant 33-year-old. At 66 it is my hope that if I had to face this I should also
confront it as a brilliant 66-year-old.
Responsibility for what went on - how can I feel responsible in a situation in which I put myself out and
saved the people from genocide? No, I don’t feel responsible at all. I did the best I could.”
He articulated a sentiment shared by many Igbos and even by members of other groups who feel that they are marginalized
in a federation still dominated by northerners.
Ojukwu’s candour on this incendiary subject on a number of occasions prompted a sharp response from
President Obasanjo who accused the former Biafran leader of again fomenting trouble and threatening secession, and warned
that secessionists would pay dearly as they did in the last war (July 1967 - January 1970), and probably even more so.
In fact, it was Obsanjo himself, then a senior army officer in the federal offensive against Biafra, who
accepted the surrender of the Biafran forces after they capitulated to federal might on January 15, 1970.
Although the Igbos suffered tremendously during the war, the majority of them continued to support Ojukwu
because they believed that they had no other choice besides continued domination and oppression at the hands of the Hausa-Fulani,
their nemesis, who were determined to control the federation perpetually.
Even today, hatred of the Igbos is an enduring obsession among a large number of them, and with it potential
for ethnic cleansing, not only of the Igbos but other groups as well, in different parts of the giant federation.
The war itself remains a contentious issue in Nigeria and elsewhere, especially in other African countries
where secession is a potential threat that could galvanize some groups to demand their own independent states, as happened
in Casamance Province in Senegal, Cabinda in Angola, Caprivi Strip in Namibia, Anjouan and Moheli islands in the Comoros,
Bioko island in Equatorial guinea, and in Nigeria itself, especially in the Niger Delta, in Yorubaland in the west as well
as in the former short-lived independent Republic of Biafra in the east.
Although Biafrans lost the war because they were outgunned, they are still fighting another war on a different
front, for inclusion in the Nigerian polity as equal members of society instead of being treated as traitors and outcasts
because they fought for an independent homeland.
They are also fighting against distortion of history about what really
happened and what the war was all about. As Ojukwu said about the conflict and the distortion of historical facts about the
war in an interview with Paul Odili of the Vanguard, Lagos, Nigeria, November 4, 2001, entitled “Ojukwu
at 68 on State of the Nation: Why We Can’t Have Peace Now”:
“It is clear to me that many things are going on particularly in the recent interventions, by some
of the ex-military officers, that Nigeria is not yet ready for the truth....They know that the distortions are deliberate....
Let me ask you, who mounted the coup of 1966? Clearly, it was Ifeajuna, but for their own reasons, some
northern officers are insisting that it was Chukwuma Nzeogwu; against all the facts. Let me ask you again, who was the rebel
in the crisis that befell Nigeria in 1966? Everybody knows actually that the rebel was Gowon. But no, they prefer to say that
it was Ojukwu. How could it be me? I was a loyalist serving the army in Kano.
On the radio, I heard my name (that I had been) appointed governor of the East, by somebody who was legitimately
appointed head of state. By the way, if Ironsi was not legitimately appointed head of state, then Gowon’s appointment
under Ironsi would have been illegal too. But I continued the task assigned to me legitimately.
The fact that Gowon decided to assume the position of head of state was a major departure from both military
discipline and accepted norm. Now, everybody knows that. Gowon knows that, Danjuma knows that, Obasanjo knows that. So, why
I rejected the coup; that is an honourable act. And it is for that reason
that I keep telling people that Gowon will go down in the Guinness
Book of Records as the man who
perhaps mounted the longest coup ever. In that actually, the war could be looked at as Gowon consolidating the coup, which
You see, Gowon mounted a counter-coup...and never got complete control of Nigeria. He then proceeded to
force the entirety of Nigeria to go under his command. I refused, and my refusal got to a point that he thought he should
now fight me. And he never got control of Nigeria until he won that war. So it was a continuation of his coup actually.”
In the same interview, Ojukwu was also asked: “When Gowon maintained his position, you initiated the MidWest
invasion?” To which he responded:
“Absolute lie. I was in Enugu and it is on record that Gowon ordered the troops into the East. They
had a two-prong entry. One from Nsukka and one from Afikpo axis. The war had been (going) on for months, before I mounted
an attempt at capturing Lagos or destablising Lagos through the Mid-West.
How can that be that I took the initiative? I suppose your answer should be that I should stay in the East
and do nothing. Again that is part of the lie.
Everywhere you go, they say Ojukwu waged, mounted, declared war against Nigeria. But it is a lie. I had
the opportunity of declaring war. I had the opportunities of doing so many things, check.... Gowon is a liar....
He had already prior to that (declaration of independence by Biafra) committed certain acts that were tantamount
to acts of war. How do you stay in Nigeria, if you were under a total blockade? Tell me....
There is no way Nigeria can move forward in peace and harmony, without some restructuring. There is no way
we can all feel part of Nigeria, if we do not go through a quasi re-negotiation of Nigeria, and our Nigerianness.
In saying this, I want to make it clear, because I am the most misunderstood Nigerian. Nigeria itself, there
is nothing wrong with it, nothing. It is our position in Nigeria that we do not like. There is nothing wrong with Nigeria;
it is what we suffer in Nigeria that we can’t accept. There is nothing wrong with Nigeria; there is nothing wrong with
What we continue to oppose is the oppression in Nigeria of Ndigbo, that’s all. So, as far as I am
concerned, a national conference is to make us feel better in Nigeria. Restructuring is to make Ndigbo feel part of Nigeria.
That is how Ndigbo look at it....
I cannot help being sentimental about a Nigeria that has done me no good.”
That probably sums up the way many Igbos feel, although one cannot be sure exactly how many. But it is a collective
sentiment shared by a significant number of Igbos as demonstrated by their continued support of the ideals which inspired
the emergence of Biafra on the international scene; they even had an office in Washington D.C. in the 1990s and beyond which
some people - supporters and detractors - erroneously called “an embassy,” as if Biafra were a legal sovereign
entity recognized by the United States and other countries, a far cry from reality.
However, this collective sentiment of Igbo nationhood, and marginalization in the Nigerian context, is a
sentiment articulated by a man - Ojukwu - who is one of the most influential Igbo leaders in modern times and who continues
to command allegiance among his people across the spectrum decades after the war when emerged on the international scene as
their saviour, leading his troops against the federal army.
It was David against Goliath. And besides the differences in the interpretation of what actually happened
- Biafra’s versus Nigeria’s and vice versa - what Ojkwu said clearly shows that bitter memories of the war continue
to poison relations between many Igbos and the rest of the Nigerians because of the injustices that were never corrected and
which continue to be perpetrated against them as one of the most marginalized groups in the country; in spite of their high
qualifications in many fields and their status as an integral part of the nation like the rest of their fellow countrymen.
Had the cause of the war been addressed, and had the grievances of the secessionists been redressed through
the years since the end of the war, the Igbos would not be marginalized as they are today. And the Nigerian federation would
be much stronger than it is now, and even more so if all the other groups shunted to the periphery of the mainstream were
Interestingly enough, the situation is analogous to that of Tanzania, the first country to recognize Biafra,
where secessionist sentiments in the former island nation of Zanzibar have grown stronger in recent years because of what
many Zanzibaris consider to be their marginalized status in the union. Whether Zanzibar really plays a marginal role in the
conduct of union affairs, as a junior and not as an equal partner as a former independent nation, is highly debatable. But
many Zanzibaris, rightly or wrongly, believe that.
And they have other complaints, chief among them - restoration of their sovereign status that ended when
the union was consummated in April 1964. There is no question that if their grievances are not addressed, the union of Tanzania
may face very serious problems in the coming years, even if it does not break up.
Should Zanzibar be allowed to secede? It depends on what the people want; a point also underscored by President
Nyerere, the architect of the Tanganyika-Zanzibar union, when he explained why Tanzania recognized Biafra, as we learned earlier:
“As President of Tanzania it is my duty to safeguard the integrity of the United Republic. But if
the mass of the people of Zanzibar should, without external manipulation, and for some reason of their own, decide that the
Union was prejudicial to their existence, I could not advocate bombing them into submission. To do so would not be to defend
the Union. The Union would have ceased to exist when the consent of its constituent members was withdrawn.”
If a referendum were held in the former island nation and the majority of the people in Zanzibar voted to
dissolve ties with Tanganyika and return to the status quo ante, that would be the end not only of the union but of any hope
of even forming a confederation under which members enjoy far greater autonomy than they do under federation.
As a Tanzanian myself and strong believer in African unity, I don’t want to see the union dissolved
anymore than I would like to see any other African country break up. But there are cases when such dissolution of ties may
If people are abused, oppressed, and discriminated against by their fellow countrymen, that’s grounds
for secession, unless the injustices are stopped. Otherwise there is no reason why they should not be allowed to secede and
establish their own independent state - if that is the only way they can live in peace and security in their own country.
If you don’t want them to secede, stop oppressing them and denying them equal rights. And if the right
to self-determination has to be enshrined in the constitution of every African country as one of the best ways to guarantee
equal treatment of oppressed groups, by threatening secession, so be it: “Treat us fairly. Otherwise we are gone.”
Therefore, in a paradoxical way, the right to secession may not only prevent secession. It can also help
maintain and strengthen unity by using the threat of secession to demand and get justice and equal treatment from the government
which has failed or refuses to protect oppressed groups who have also been rejected by their fellow citizens. And it will
enable all citizens to hold their leaders accountable for their actions. Otherwise they will have nobody left to lead.
But unlike Biafra, the case of Zanzibar presents a unique problem for Tanzania because there are many people
in the former island nation who want to maintain the union. The secessionists on the islands - of Pemba and Zanzibar, but
especially Pemba - are not motivated by any genuine desire to correct whatever injustices may exist, but to restore historical
ties with the Gulf States, especially Oman, reminiscent of the era when the islands were an integral part of the Arab world
and Zanzibar the seat of the sultan of Oman.
Also, Islamic fundamentalists want to turn Zanzibar into a theocratic state and use it as an operational
base from which they will be able - or try - to export their radical ideology to the mainland in a country which is constitutionally
a secular state. And contrary to what the agitators say, the majority of Zanzibaris - most of whom are Muslim - are not Islamic
fundamentalists and, therefore, do not support the agenda for a theocratic state based on a radical interpretation of the
Yet, secessionist sentiments may continue to grow on the isles if the islanders are not granted far greater
autonomy than they now enjoy.
Tanzania may have to learn a lesson from one of the neighboring countries, the island nation of the Comoros,
which also has had historical ties with Zanzibar for a long time. In fact, many Zanzibaris are of Comorian origin, as are
many Tanzanians on the mainland. And Kiswahili, Tanzania’s national language, is also spoken in the Comoros where the
overwhelming majority of the people are Muslim just like those in Zanzibar.
Two islands, Anjouan and Moheli, seceded from the Comoros in 1997. Federal troops failed to suppress the
insurgency. The Comoros, a federation of three islands, was left with one island, Grande Comoro, which is also the largest
and the seat of the federal capital.
In 2001, the federal government and the secessionist islands agreed to hold a referendum on a new constitution
which would give extensive autonomy to all the islands in the federation. An overwhelming majority of the people, at least
75 percent, approved the constitution, and the secessionists rejoined the union.
Extensive devolution of power saved the federation, although in some cases, it can be recipe for disaster,
fueling secessionist movements if not carefully managed within well-prescribed limits. But such extensive autonomy, short
of sovereign status, may also dampen and neutralize secessionists sentiments and tendencies in Zanzibar and strengthen the
union of Tanzania.
It also could have saved Nigeria from exploding into civil war in the sixties, thus preventing the secession
of Biafra and its aftermath including loss of at least one million lives, had the federal authorities implemented the Aburi
Agreements to transform the highly centralized Nigerian federation into a confederation; a transformation that would have
assured Igbos and other easterners that they would be guaranteed security in their own autonomous region, under their own
jurisdiction, but without attaining full sovereign status.
It is a tragic irony that more than 40 years after independence, African countries have not yet adequately
addressed the question of ethnicity in a continent whose very traditional societies, the building blocks of African nations,
are ethnic entities.
Ethnic differences and loyalties are always and will always be exploited by unscrupulous politicians to
promote their own partisan interests. Yet, ethnic groups have an enormous potential to serve as a solid foundation for stable
nations, provided all the tribes and other groups in every African country, including racial minorities - Arab, Asian, European
- in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, are treated equal and have equal access to power and the nation’s resources.
It is denial of such equality, and exclusion of some groups from participation in the political and economic
arena, that has served as a lightning rod in many conflicts ignited across the continent. As Dr. Sam Amoo, a Ghanaian scholar
and United Nations specialist in conflict resolution, states in “The Challenges of Ethnicity and Conflict in Africa:
The Need for a New Paradigm”:
“Conflicts arise from dysfunctional governance or socio-political systems that deny or suppress the
satisfaction of a group’s ontological needs, such as the universal needs for identity, recognition, security, dignity
This denial generates conflict, which can only be resolved through alterations in norms, structures, institutions
and policies. The causes and remedies of conflicts in Africa therefore essentially relate to the socio-political structures
of the particular state....
Sources of conflicts in Africa are located in basic human needs for group - ethnic - identity, security,
recognition, participation and autonomy, as well as in the circumstances, policies and institutions of political and economic
systems that attempt to deny or suppress such basic needs.”
The significance of ethnicity in African life across the spectrum cannot be ignored or underestimated. Attempts
to ignore it, or gloss over it, have only exacerbated conflicts where they already exist, and generated new ones where there
Like the English, the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh in the United Kingdom, African ethnic groups are not
going to disappear, and would be a tragic loss if they did. That is because they are Africa itself. They constitute the African
organic entity and the spirit that animates its very being. They are natural entities, not artificial constructs like the
countries across the continent created by the colonialists.
The Kikuyu, the Luo, the Kamba and others existed before Kenya was created; the Ewe and the Ashanti before
the Gold Coast, now Ghana; the Igbo, the Yoruba, the Hausa, the Fulani, the Ijaw, the Tiv and the rest of the ethnic groups
in Nigeria and other African countries - they all existed, at different levels of social and political organization, long
before Europeans came and created the countries we have in Africa today. Europeans did not teach us our customs and traditions.
Nor did they teach us or invent or create our languages.
Instead, they tried to destroy all that, one way or another, and exploited ethnic differences to consolidate
their hegemonic control over Africa.
The question is how all these groups can be harmonized as corporate entities, functioning smoothly as interlocking
units that constitute an interdependent whole, without tearing African countries and the continent apart. And this requires
a new - yet old, traditional - approach to nation-building and conflict resolution in Africa.
Therefore, there is a need for a paradigm shift in Africa; one that incorporates into its analytical framework
the salience and primacy of ethnicity as an organizing concept, but one that does not nullify the legitimacy of the nation-state;
one that also sees ethnicity as a basis for nation-building, and for power and resource allocation where it has generated
and has the potential to generate conflict; and as a mechanism for conflict resolution through consensus building within a
specific ethno-polity and across ethnic lines, with primary emphasis on the use of traditional institutions of authority as
the key players in resolving conflicts.
If Africa takes this approach, she may be on her way towards reducing and ending civil wars and other conflicts
which have devastated the continent for years, as hundreds of millions of her people continue to suffer, and look helpless,
in a world which couldn’t care less if they vanished today from the face of the earth.
In the Nigerian civil war, the Igbos would have suffered even more casualties - far more than the 1 to 2
million who had already died, mostly from starvation - had they not capitulated to federal might after fighting a brutal war
for almost three years to sustain their short-lived independent Republic of Biafra. It was an unnecessary war, which could
have been avoided. But after it started and kept on going, recognition of Biafra by Tanzania became a moral imperative. And
President Nyerere made that clear.
Denying Biafra recognition would have been tantamount to sanctioning genocide against a people whose only
crime was their desire, and right, to be safe and free in their own homeland.
In a very tragic way, most African leaders sanctioned the massacre of the Igbos and other easterners - but
mostly Igbos - when they refused to take a firm stand against the Nigerian federal authorities who continued to wage war against
Biafra even after the "contested" minority areas of non-Igbo ethnic groups (which the federal government erroneously claimed
had been forcibly incorporated into Biafra), and the oil fields, had been "liberated" from the secessionist forces; and after
they had captured most of the Biafran territory in a brutal military campaign which verged on genocide.
Even from the beginning of the war, most African countries supported the Nigerian federal government when
they contended that this was a matter of "internal affairs" which could and should be resolved by the Nigerians themselves
- which was tantamount to sanctioning a war of genocide against the Igbos; and when they invoked two of the most sacred principles
of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), but in a perverted way.
Those principles were non-interference in the internal affairs of another state - no matter what the cost
even if it meant extermination of an entire group of people; and maintaining the territorial integrity of a member state,
again at whatever cost and by any means necessary: the end justifies the means.
Had African leaders taken an uncompromising stand on the war and told the Nigerian government that there
would be a price to pay if it continued to wage war against a large segment of its own population, instead of negotiating
an end to the conflict and seriously taking into account the fears and concerns of the Igbos; this catastrophe would have
The Nigerian federal government should have been told in no uncertain terms by other African leaders that
they would recognize Biafra if the federal authorities did not stop trying to bomb and starve the Biafrans into submission.
Threats of recognition of Biafra by them as a sovereign entity would have been a powerful bargaining tool
to extract meaningful concessions from the Nigerian federal government which could have been accepted by the secessionists
on the basis of mutual compromise; provided the Biafrans were guaranteed security in their own homeland under a different
political system, probably a confederation.
President Nyerere took his fellow African leaders to task for not being
honest and for refusing to confront the issue and putting the secession of Biafra in its proper context. As he stated in his
pamphlet, The Nigeria-Biafra Crisis, which was labelled "For Private Circulation Only" -
later declassified - published on September 4, 1969, and circulated among African heads of state and government just before
the OAU summit on the Nigerian civil war was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from September 6 - 10, the same year:
“In arguments about the Nigeria/Biafra conflict, there has been a great deal of talk about the principles
of national integrity and of self-determination; many analogies have been drawn with other conflicts in the world, and particularly
in Africa; and finally, there has been a considerable amount of discussion about the role of the OAU and other international
organizations in relation to the present conflict.
It is my purpose to discuss some of these problems and to examine the lessons which are, and which I believe
should be, drawn from the analogies.
Let me look first at the analogies and their relevance to the principles which are under discussion.
The British give three reasons for their opposition to the demand for the incorporation of Gibraltar into
the Spanish State. First is the Treaty of Utrecht 1713 - to which the Gibraltarians were not a party; second is the opposition
of the Gibraltarians; and third is the dictatorship in Spain.
It is the second reason which Britain mostly uses to justify her position, and indeed it is the more important
one. For if the Gibraltarians wished, they could say: 'To hell with the Treaty of Utrecht: we were not a party to it anyway.'
If, after that, the territory were incorporated, Britain would not be able to do anything about it, unless she was to come
out openly in favour of imperialism.
Yet I believe that Britain is simply using the fact of the Gibraltarians' opposition to incorporation, just
as she is using the legalities of the Treaty. When Britain feels that it is in her interests to come to terms with Spain,
I doubt that either the Treaty or the Gibraltarians' feelings will prevail - indeed this doubt is buttressed by the fact that
Britain will not accept the 'integration with Britain' policy.
But this is not the point I want to argue. My point is that two quite separate arguments are used by Britain
in this dispute: one, an imperialist Treaty between several powers, including Britain and Spain; and two, the feelings of
a group of people who were the object of that Treaty.
In the political climate of the modern world, the opposition of the Gibraltarians is the more important
matter for winning world support for Britain's cause. But the Treaty argument also has an importance.
Look now at the analogy with the Nigeria/Biafra issue.
Britain appears to be arguing that she is helping Nigeria to stop the Ibos from unilaterally breaking the
"Treaty" under which all the peoples of Nigeria agreed to accept independence as a single Federation. In this case, in other
words, she is leaving out the question of self-determination, although it is the main plank of her argument on the Gibraltar
But in the case of Nigeria and Biafra, the issue is not some minor, technical issue about the legalities
or morality of a Treaty. It is an issue of life and death, involving a massacre by one party to that Treaty of more people
among another party to the Treaty than all the inhabitants of Gibraltar.
After the failure of several serious attempts to secure reassurance for the resultant fears, the People
who had been the victims decided to break away to form their own State. If the principle of self-determination is relevant
in the case of Gibraltar - as it is - then surely it is relevant under these circumstances? But the rest of Nigeria objects,
and says: 'These Ibos must remain part of Nigeria.' Surely we should be saying to Nigeria: 'Get their consent.' Instead, what
we are saying is: 'Shoot and starve them into submission.'
It may be argued that all those involved in a Treaty should be consulted about any change in it, and that
therefore in this case the Nigerians should be consulted as well as the Biafrans. That is not actually my argument, but let
us look at it in these two cases.
Consult the People of Spain about the incorporation of Gibraltar: I do not know what their verdict would
be. Consult the People of Britain: they will vote against Spain - not because of the Treaty of Utrecht but because the Gibraltarians
do not want to be part of Spain. They would vote, I hope - indeed I am sure - in support of the self-determination of the
people of Gibraltar as it has been so freely expressed, not for Spain's claims.
Then ask the Nigerians about the forcible incorporation of the Ibos. At worst their answer would be equivalent
to that of the Spanish Government, and of their own Government now: 'Keep them part of Nigeria, even against their will.'
Ask the people of Britain about this issue: in this case I am not sure what their verdict might be, in spite of the clear
determination of the 8 million Biafrans to be left alone.
But neither is (British Prime Minister Harold) Wilson sure, so we shall never know. What we do know is that
the 29,000 Gibraltarians have been asked their opinion about the dispute in which they are invloved, and they have given their
answer. The 8 million Biafrans have not been asked, and will not be asked their opinion on their conflict; but they have given
their answer nevertheless - with their blood.
Britain invokes the principle of self-determination in the case of Gibraltar, because it serves her interests
to do so. She must justify her stand on some acceptable principle - international law, plus self-determination - because she
still wants the Rock.
Nevertheless, the principles she advances are valid. I am not going to say that they are not valid because
they are advanced by Britain. In the case of Nigeria, Britain invokes a different principle - the principle of territorial
integrity - because it suits her own interests to do so.
The choice of principle is the result of a decision taken on the basis of British interests, not because
one principle is more valid than another. If British interests had been different, we would have self-determination being
advanced as a reason for supporting Biafra.
If the dictatorship of General Franco is an additional reason for supporting the Gibraltarians, one may
rightly ask for similar consideration to be given to the people of Biafra. They object to incorporation because before secession
30,000 Easterners were massacred without anyone being punished; and the same regime threatens them with complete extermination
through starvation unless they surrender.
Are not such actions, and the attitudes they reveal, at least as good a reason as Franco's dictatorship
for the Biafrans' opposition to being incorporated into Nigeria? Have the Gibraltarians so much reason to fear General Franco?
The American Civil War
What, then, about the analogy which is sometimes drawn to the American Civil War?
Like the Nigerian Civil War, it was about secession. Like that in Nigeria it caused very dreadful suffering.
But we do justify wars, or condemn them, because of what they are about. And in America, the South was not
trying to break away because Southerners had been rejected in the North, and had been massacred in their thousands with the
connivance or the assistance of the forces of law and order. The Southern States were not swarming with millions of refugees
who had fled from the North, leaving their property behind, in order to save their skins.
Of course it is true that Lincoln fought to save the Union. But he believed, even before the war, that the
Union could not last half free, half slave. He was concerned to make it what it had proclaimed itself to be - a society of
free and equal men.
Had there been a Lincoln in Nigeria, he would have fought the prejudices which led to that inordinate and
almost pathological hatred of the Ibos which made secession inevitable and justifiable.
Katanga as a Comparison
A politically more serious comparison, however, is made between the secession of Biafra and that of Katanga.
Tanzania, in particular, is accused of the most blatant inconsistency because it opposed Katanga and recognizes Biafra.
I know that there are similarities between Katanga and Biafra. But these similarities can be grouped into
those which are superficial and irrelevant and those which are real and crucial.
An examination of the real and crucial similarities reveals some apparently unnoticed facts.
First, let me acknowledge the similarities which are advanced by the opponents of Biafra, but which I believe
to be superficial and irrelevant to the main issue.
Katanga was part of a United Congo; Katanga decided to secede; the Centre objected; a war then broke out
between secessionist Katanga and the Centre. (Notice that I am not trying to say "why" Katanga decided to secede; I am merely
stating the fact of secession). Similarly, Biafra - or the Eastern Region of Nigeria - was part of a federated Nigeria; Biafra
decided to secede; the Centre objected; (this is not quite correct, but I must admit a few similarities); a war broke out
between secessionist Biafra and the Centre.
Now, for a different and more fundamental group of similarities. Katanga
had vast copper resources; the former colonial power was very much interested in this vast amount of wealth; her economic
interests were threatened by Lumumba at the Centre; when war broke out between Katanga and the Centre, Belgium supported one
side in an effort to safeguard her economic interests; she joined the
side supported by the copper companies.
No need to go further.
Now, for the conflict in Nigeria. Biafra had vital oil resources; the
former colonial power was vitally interested in this vast amount of oil; her interests were threatened in the conflict; (the
really vital matter was the threat, not whether the threat came from the Centre or the periphery; this is only important in
deciding who is going to be ally and who enemy); but in this case, due to relations between the British and the Ibos, the
threat came from the secessionists. When war broke out between Biafra and the Centre, Britain, like Belgium, was on the same side as the Foreign Companies - in this case the Oil Companies.
Let those who love the superficial similarities of secession have the courage and honesty to accept this
unpleasant fact also. In Katanga, Belgium and the Copper Companies were on one side; in Nigeria, Britain and the Oil Companies
are on one side. This is the one constant and crucial factor in both cases, around which everything else can be variable.
In both cases, the former colonial power and the vested economic interests are on one side. Tshombe was
a stooge of the Copper Interests. They filled his coffers with their vast financial resources. Ojukwu is not a stooge of these
interests; they refuse to pay him a penny from the wealth they derive from Biafran oil.
This vital contrast is the corollary to the decision to support the Centre instead of secession. In the
one case it was the Centre under Lumumba which was the threat to the economic interests if the Congo remained united; and
therefore it was the Centre which had to be starved of Revenue. In the other case it was a separate Ibo state which was the
threat, and it was Biafra, therefore, which had to be strangled.
Is this really so difficult to see? Only great simplicity - or even extreme naivety - could lead anyone
to accept that Britain is defending the unity of Nigeria, or African Unity in general. She is defending her own economic interests.
That may be natural and even understandable, but it is as well that it should be understood and not camouflaged by talk of
a particular principle.
The Netherlands decision to stop the supply of arms to Nigeria after the capture of Port Harcourt and its
oil-rich surrounding areas is a reflection of her assessment that the oil supplies were then assured. But the British wish
to be more certain. I am told that Britain expects to get 25 per cent of her oil supply from Nigeria by 1972. With her traditional
Middle East suppliers being (in her view) unreliable, this is a very serious matter indeed for industrial Britain.
From Britain's point of view, what is vital is her oil interests; as she decides on her own policy, this
is what the war is about. The Biafrans are fighting a most unequal war, and if they go on fighting, God alone knows what their
end will be. Completely blockaded as they are, Nigeria no longer needs to shoot them into submission. Starvation and disease
can fight for Nigeria, and Britain can go on explaining to the world that this is inevitable and justifiable because it is
part of warfare.
Those who want peace before the Biafrans are wiped out must convince the British of one of two things. They
have to be convinced that, in their present helpless position, the Biafrans are no longer a threat to British interests. And
truly, the Biafrans know how weak they are; they are less interested in the oil than in their lives. This is the relatively
easier thing to try and convince the British. The more difficult one is to try and convince Britain that her oil interests
would be safe in an independent Biafra. But how could they know that Russia would not help Federal Nigeria to win total victory
against the Biafrans? And if that happened, where would Britain be?
These are the vital issues, and those who are saying that the OAU can solve this problem are being fooled,
or are conveniently fooling themselves.
Britain is the vital force in this conflict; more important even than Federal Nigeria.
The Biafrans believe they are fighting for their very survival; they are fighting to live in freedom and
security. The Nigerian people are not quite sure what they are fighting for. Some of their leaders hate the Ibos; some may
have ambitions of being Lincolns; some may even believe that they can force others into a United Nigeria and still have a
meaningful nation. But that is all.
Without Britain's military and - in particular - her diplomatic support, the Nigerians would have no hope
of winning against the Biafrans. The Soviet Union would not have been able to help them secure victory. Indeed, without Britain,
the Soviet Union would have become a huge diplomatic embarrassment to the Nigerians; (and Nigeria would have become a wee
embarrassment to Russia). For if Russia had supported Lagos and Britain did not, most of the Western world would have been
anti-Lagos; and since there is so much popular sympathy for Biafra in many Western countries, it is hard to think of a reason
which would have prevented Western Governments from supporting Biafra. After all, they would be fighting against communism.
Under these circumstances it would not have mattered whether African Heads of Government had continued to
fear the effect of an example of successful secession; the Western powers, the only ones who have real power in Africa, would
be fearing a different example, and one more vital to their own interests.
But if this argument is not convincing, those who believe that there is a direct and valid comparison between
Katanga and Biafra must be able to answer some few questions.
Which tribe in Katanga is the equivalent of the Ibos? Azikiwe, an Ibo at the Centre, was trying hard, under
very difficult circumstances, to co-operate with the dominant North to build a United Nigeria: who was his equivalent in the
Congo? The Ibos, because of their education, industry, enterprise (and consequent arrogance?) were almost universally hated
in Nigeria. Who in Katanga represented this educated, industrous, enterprising, arrogant and almost universally hated People?
Who in the Congo represented the 30,000 massacred Easterners? Who in Katanga represented the 1.5 or 2 million
refugees? What in the Congo represented the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), a party led mainly by Ibos
it is true, but one which was nevertheless truly aimed at Nigerian Unity?
Who in the Congo was the equivalent of the Sardauna of Sokoto, so powerful that he did not even bother to
go to the Centre but governed the Federation through lieutenants while he himself governed the vital North? What in Katanga
was the equivalent of the Northern People's Congress (NPC)?
Or again, who is Biafra's Tshombe? Who in Biafra represents the Copper Companies? Africa appealed to the
United Nations to support Patrice Lumumba; why are we not appealing to the United Nations to support General Gowon, who in
this analogy would be Nigeria's Lumumba?
Perhaps the true answer is that it is not necessary; he already has strong support. But why is not necessary?
Because the Ibos are simply fighting for their own survival and therefore have no strong supporter. That is their strength
and weakness: it is the major difference between Katanga and Biafra.
In the one case, foreign economic interest was on the side of the secessionists and that made them very
strong; in the other case, foreign economic interest is on the side of the Federalists, and makes them too very strong. They
can even quote the OAU Charter on non-interference in the internal affairs of a member state. The devil can quote Scripture
- when it suits him. In the one case, a despicable African stooge allowed himself to be used as a tool of foreign economic
interests; in the other case, a brave African people are fighting against immense odds purely and simply for their own survival
and their own self-respect and dignity. How does this analogy stand up to examination?
The break-up of Nigeria is a terrible thing. But it is less terrible than that cruel war. Thousands of people
are being shot, bombed, or seeing their homes and livelihood destroyed; millions, including the children of Africa, are starving
to death. (It is estimated that possibly more people have died in this war in the last two years (since 1967) than in Vietnam
in the last ten years). We are told that nothing can be done about this. It is said that the sufferings of the Biafrans in
the war are regrettable, but that starvation is a legitimate war weapon against an enemy.
Yet by this statement you have said that these people, the Nigerians and the Biafrans, are enemies, just
as Britons and Germans in Hitler's war were enemies. If that is the case, is it rational to imagine that, once a Federal victory
is obtained, they can immediately be equal members of one society, working together without fear? Or is the logic of being
enemies not a logic which leads to conquest and domination when one side is victorious?
We are told that Ojukwu should end the terrible sufferings of his people by surrender. We are told that
he should reason thus: 'The Nigerians are stronger than we are and they have stronger friends than we could ever hope to get.
If we go on resisting, a combination of bombing, starvation and the inevitable epidemics, would exterminate us.' Perhaps he
should add, kindly: 'Even if the Nigerians never intended to exterminate us.'
He should then convince the Biafran people about the wisdom of surrendering and then duly send the appropriate
notice to the Nigerians. When the Federal Government gets this note, they presumably say: 'At last you have come to your senses.
As you rightly say, we never intended to exterminate you; but had you gone on resisting we would have continued the bombing
and the blockade and the result would have been exactly the same as if we had intended to exterminate you.' Perhaps they would
add, kindly: 'But, of course, the fault would have been yours.' Then the Biafrans surrender and all is well.
Historically and logically, however, surrender on such terms as these - with the alternative being extermination
- is for the purpose of creating empires.
Surrender to an implacable enemy on his own terms, with the only condition being that you should not be
killed, cannot lead to any kind of friendship, or even toleration. If it is a battalion which surrenders, the soldiers become
prisoners-of-war; if it is a People, they become a colony, or an occupied territory, or something like that. Those who surrender
cannot become an integral part of the conqueror's territory because they did not do so of their own free will; they did so
as the only alternative to death.
The Internal Domino Theory
The argument is being advanced that if Biafra is allowed to exist, Nigeria cannot exist. Nigerian leaders
themselves have advanced this argument. If the Ibos are allowed to go, so the argument runs, Nigeria will break up completely,
for the others will also go.
To deal with this argument seriously, let us assume the worst: let us assume that, if the Biafrans leave
the Federation, all the others will also secede and set themselves up as separate States. What this argument amounts to is
that only two things bind the Hausa and the Yorubas (these being the major elements) together. These two facts are, firstly,
the recent historical accident that all (plus the Ibos) were conquered by, and then governed by, the British; and secondly,
the more recent historical fact that, when the British left, they left these Peoples as one Nation.
If these accidents of history were in fact the only reason for Nigeria, and if there is no feeling of mutual
benefit arising from the political unity, then the secession of the Biafrans would certainly and inevitably lead to the break-up
of the Federation as the Yorubas - and the Hausas? - secede.
In using this argument, therefore, we are in effect saying: 'The Yorubas, the Hausas (and the others) cannot
remain together without the Ibos; we want the Yorubas and the Hausas to remain together; therefore we must forcibly prevent
the Ibos from breaking away - even if this attempt to prevent them, together with their stubborn resistance, may lead to their
This is an extremely logical and nice argument. But it must be directed to people other than the Biafrans.
They cannot be asked to sacrifice their freedom in order that two Peoples, who are not otherwise willing to attempt the building
of a nation together, may carry on a precarious united existence.
It is bad enough to force the Biafrans to make immense sacrifices for their own freedom; it would be worse
than absurd to expect them to surrender the freedom for which they are dying in order to maintain a precarious unity among
other Peoples - whose own commitment to that unity must be very slight if this argument has any validity at all.
In fact, the argument 'If you allow the Ibos to go, the others will also go,' inevitably provokes the question:
'Who are these others, and where will they go?' For properly considered, this argument is an Imperialist argument. I can well
imagine Winston Churchill saying: 'If I allow India to go, the others will go, and I was not appointed the King's First Minister
in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.'
But how can this kind of thing be said of Nigeria - most all by Nigerians? Who in the Nigerian issue represents
Churchill? And who represents the 'Others' who would break away if the Ibos are allowed to go? And who is the imperialist
metropolitan power in Nigeria?
Those who advance this argument assume the Hausas to be the Churchill and the 'Others' to be the Yorubas
in particular, and also the smaller groups. They assume that the Hausas would like to complete their conquest of the South,
which was interrupted by the British, and are saying that the only way the Hausas will be able to continue to dominate the
Yorubas and the smaller ethnic groups is if they succeed in dominating the Ibos.
If this is the basis of the argument, and if it stated the actual position, I would be amazed at Africa's
reaction to an African Imperialism abetted and supported by British Imperialism. Indeed, it would be very shameful if Africa,
which is still groaning from the yoke of European Imperialism, was to make a cynical distinction between that and an internal
African Imperialism. Such an argument must be rejected by the whole of Africa. Not only would it make nonsense of the principles
we have been proclaiming; it is also an insult to the people of Nigeria - the Hausas, the Yorubas, and the others.
Let us reject the Internal Domino Theory in relation to the Nigerian question. For it assumes that the people
now in the Federation of Nigeria are, and wish to be, imperialists. I cannot believe that.
I still believe that they are capable of recognizing the tragedy which has caused one part of the Federation
to break away, and of acknowledging that very different tactics are necessary if the old Nigeria is ever to re-created. For
surely they could decide to leave the Biafrans to go their own way and, by the kind of Nigeria which they create, to show
the Biafrans what they are losing by remaining separated from their brethren. For if the other peoples of Nigeria decide to
work together, they will continue to be a strong and powerful force in Africa; they really have the opportunity to build a
good nation of which every Nigerian - indeed every African - can be proud.
Then it may be that at some time in the future the Biafrans will wish to rejoin the peoples from whom they
now wish to part; if this happens, it will be the accession of a free people to a large and free political unit. For if the
secession of Biafra is a setback to African Unity - as of course it is - no one is suggesting that we should consequently
stop working for African Unity on the basis of willing commitment.
Why then are we suggesting that our Nigerian brethren have a different conception of unity, and that they
want a unity of conquest only? I am not making such an argument: I am saying that, although our Nigerian brothers want to
maintain one Nigeria, including Biafra, on the basis of equality of citizenship, they are wrong in thinking that this can
be done now. I refuse to impute bad motives to General Gowon; I believe he is mistaken in his judgment and that Africa must
not make the same mistake.
The African Domino Theory
There is another Domino Theory which relates to the rest of Africa. We are told that, if we allow 'tribalism'
to break up Nigeria, no African country would be safe; for every African nation consists of tribes which find themselves in
the same country by an accident of history and by the grace of the Imperialists.
I fully accept the danger of tribalism in Africa. When we started TANU (Tanganyika African National Union)
in 1954, the first of the objectives of our Party was preparation for independence, and the second was 'to fight against tribalism.'
We have not completely succeeded in eradicating tribalism from our society; indeed I was recently forced to remind our people
of this objective, and to warn them about certain tendencies.
But the dangers of tribalism are so well-known that, although I would never wish to minimize them, I do
not think it is now necessary to expound them afresh.
There is, however, a different fact which can be equally dangerous. Sometimes, indeed very often, the spectre
of tribalism is raised by the enemies of Africa against Africa. It is dangerous for Africa to accept the argument of tribalism
without examining its relevance in every given case. Indeed to the extent that we need to learn from Nigeria's "tribalism,'
I have a feeling that Africa is being bamboozled or mesmerized into learning the wrong lesson.
But first, what is a Tribe? And how comparable is Nigeria's position to that which exists elsewhere in Africa?
Are the Hausas a tribe? Are the Yorubas a tribe? Are the Ibos a tribe? It may be said that they are not "Nations"; but are
There are Scottish clans, but the Scots are not a Tribe simply because of the fact that they are not a Nation.
The Welsh: are they a Tribe? Are the Protestants of Northern Ireland a tribe?
The Hausas, the Ibos, and the Yorubas, are not Nations in the legal sense; but they are not Tribes either.
Each one of them is a "People" which could easily become a very coherent Nation. Each one of these "Peoples" of Nigeria has
a better chance of forming a really viable and stable Nation than many of the legal Nations of Africa and other parts of the
Indeed, those who glibly compare Nigeria with other African countries show that they did not begin to understand
the immense significance for the rest of Africa of the Nigerian experiment. Nigeria was trying (and if they do not allow themselves
to be convinced by the internal Nigerian Domino Theory, they may continue trying) to build a Nation which incorporates several
Peoples who could have become Nations on their own.
Had Nigeria succeeded (and Nigeria can still succeed if she rejects the argument of all or none), Africa
would have a great example before it. We would be able to say: 'Within Nigeria there are several Peoples, each conscious of
itself and conscious of its ability to be a Nation on its own. If they have nevertheless succeeded in submerging their natural
unity into a larger artificial unity, for the greater benefit of them all, then the rest of Africa can submerge its smaller
artificial units into that greater artificiality (indeed that more natural unit of all Africa) which holds greater promise
for all the peoples of Africa.'
In other words, any success in Nigeria - even if partial - is a demonstration of the practicability of our
declared aim of African Unity - even though a Nigerian failure would not make this aim impossible of achievement. This, I
repeat, is Nigeria's real significance to Africa.
No other political unit in our continent has the same significance for Africa; not even the Sudan, although
the two cases are similar in one respect.
Both have a basic problem of "Peoples" in the sense that the North of Sudan is different from the South,
racially, religiously, culturally, and socially - although the one "People" of the South are divided into several different
tribes. The Sudan's problem, therefore, is very serious - just as Nigeria's problem is.
But fortunately for Sudan, and for Africa, Southern Sudan is not blessed (or cursed) with immense mineral
wealth. As a result, foreign economic interests are not involved in this conflict (until years later when oil was discovered
in significant quantities in the South after Nyerere wrote this pamphlet).
However agonising the problem may be for the authorities in Khartoum - and for the people of the country
- the former Colonial Power is most unlikely to pour arms into the Sudan to help maintain Sudanese unity. It is also unlikely
to intervene in support of any attempt at secession. This situation will continue irrespective of the ideological leanings
of the Government in Khartoum, and irrespective of what Russia does. In this case Sudanese leaders, and African leaders, have
a real chance of solving the problem provided we do not make the same mistake as we made in Nigeria and act as if there is
no genuine problem to be solved.
The solution, as the present Government in the Sudan has rightly foreseen, lies in a constitution which
recognizes both the unity of the Sudan, and the legitimate interests of the South. This is what Eastern Nigeria was asking
for before it seceded; this is what the Aburi Agreement was all about. It was the refusal, by Lagos, to accept this necessity
that finally led to secession and the present situation.
The fact is that the Peoples of Nigeria have less in common, historically, linguistically, culturally, and
as regards religion, than the Peoples of Scandinavia. The only thing that the Peoples of Nigeria hve in common is that they
are all Africans and all have been under British rule for a few decades - and Britain governed them virtually separately.
It would be infinitely easier for the Peoples of Scandinavia to form one nation than for the Peoples of Nigeria. Those who
do not see this do not understand Nigeria's significance for Africa.
One final point must be made about this tragedy. In spite of attempts on both sides of the quarrel to bring
in religion, the conflict between Nigeria and Biafra is not a religious one. Yet if it were, that would be simply an additional
complication: it would not justify the war. In fact, however, there are Christians and Muslims on both sides: religion cuts
across the divisions between the Peoples.
The True Lesson for Africa
I said earlier that Africa is learning the wrong lesson from the Nigerian tragedy. We are saying that if
Biafra is allowed to secede, every country in Africa is going to have its own Biafra. But what we are doing is looking at
results without looking at the cause of those results, and then saying that the same results will happen elsewhere without
there having been any causes. That is nonsense.
But there is a very serious lesson to be learned from the present tragedy. We should learn that where in
any African state there is a dominant group, whether that group is ethnic, religious or otherwise, it must wield its power
and influence on behalf of all the elements which go to form that country. In particular, it should be very solicitous of
the interests of the minorities, because they are the ones which need the protection of the State. If a dominant group does
not act in this protective manner, then civil strife and consequent Biafras become inevitable. That is the lesson Africa should
learn from the Nigerian tragedy.
We African leaders had a golden opportunity at the OAU Summit Conference in Kinshasa (in September 1967),
but we missed it because we were confused by the tribal domino theory. At that time the whole of Africa, including those countries
which now recognize Biafra, supported the territorial integrity of Nigeria. Yet I believe that all States had some sympathy
for the Easterners, who had already experienced a massacre of some 30,000 of their brethren, and who were trying to absorb
nearly 2 million refugees in the Eastern Region.
Previous to secession the Ibos were simply asking for a loosening of the constitutional structure so as
to maintain the Unity of Nigeria and still meet the understandable fears of the Peoples from that Region. Africa should have
accepted the legitimacy of this demand. Since we were all supporting Nigeria in its main objective of maintaining national
unity, we should have used our moral strength to urge Nigeria to listen to those demands.
We should have pointed out that under the circumstances of the two coups and the massacres, what they were
asking for was not only understandable but was also justifiable. Since we were supporting the Nigerian authorities in their
efforts to keep Nigeria one, and since by that support we were rejecting any claim by the East to secede, we were in a very
strong position. We did not have to worry about Domino Theories and the Charter of the OAU. But we were so obsessed, bewitched
and terrified by the Domino Theory that we did not dare raise a voice for the Ibos even when we all supported the Federal
That opportunity was lost. But we must not therefore even appear to acquiesce in the present situation of
war and suffering. The least we can do is now ask our brethren in both Nigeria and Biafra to stop fighting and to begin talking
about their future relations.
It is being said that the situation has changed from what it was two years ago, and that Biafrans need no
longer fear for their future. If that is the case, we should ask Nigeria to convince the Biafrans of it at a conference table.
You cannot convince people that they are safe while you are shooting and starving them.
The OAU was established by the Heads of African States. But it is intended to serve the Peoples of Africa.
The OAU is not a trade union of African Heads of State. Therefore, if it is to retain the respect and support of the People
of Africa, it must be concerned about the lives of the People of Africa.
We must not just concern ourselves with our own survival as Heads of State; we must even be more concerned
about peace and justice in Africa than we are about the sanctity of the boundaries we inherited. For the importance of these
lies in the fact that their acceptance is the basis for peace and justice in our continent, and we all have a responsibility
to the whole people of Africa in this regard.
Many African Governments, some of them very good governments, have been overthrown through coups. Some countries
have had more than one coup; but none of them has broken up. Only the Nigerian Federation is in danger, and this from the
effects of a failure to meet the legitimate interests of the Easterners, not directly because of the coups. And the fall of
African Governments, however regrettable, is not the same thing as the disintegration of African countries.
We must not be like the French monarch who said: L'etat c'est Moi - 'I am the State.' The OAU must sometimes
raise a voice against those regimes
in Africa, including independent Africa, who oppress the Peoples of Africa. In some countries in Africa it might be the only
voice that can speak on behalf of the people. If we dare not do that, even in private, we shall deserve the scorn of those
who accuse us of double standards.
In this connection we could learn a good lesson from our former masters. For European Governments are not
often very polite to European regimes which fail to show respect for basic human rights within their own countries.
Europeans do care about what happens to Europeans. (Sometimes, as in the case of Stanleyville, we are reminded
of that fact rather unpleasantly). I think that is a lesson worth learning.
Thus, for example, European Governments do not invade Greece, for they respect the territorial integrity
of fellow European States; but they have not left, and will not leave, the Greek regime in any doubt at all about what they
think of it. Yet what have the Greek Colonels done? They have carried out a military coup against a constitutionally established
government, and are detaining and persecuting the supporters of the constitution - an occurrence so familiar in young Africa
that is hardly considered wrong anymore.
If we do not learn to criticise injustice within our continent, we will soon be tolerating fascism in Africa,
as long as it is practised by African Governments against African Peoples.
Consider what our reaction would have been if the 30,000 Ibos had been massacred by whites in Rhodesia or
South Africa. One can imagine the outcry from Africa. Yet these people are still dead; the colour of those who killed them
is irrelevant. We must ask Nigeria to stop more killing now, and to deal with the problem by argument, not death.
Justice is indivisible. Africa, the OAU, must act accordingly.”
Nyerere became the most eloquent spokesman for the Biafran cause besides the Biafrans themselves.
But even more tragic is the fact that the Nigerian civil war was not the last major conflict in Africa.
It was only one in a series of catastrophes that have befallen the continent since independence in the sixties, mainly because
of the unwillingness of African leaders to address the grievances of some groups and treat them as equal members of society;
and because of their failure to institute mechanisms of conflict management and resolution within their borders and on regional
basis. And Africa has paid a heavy price for that, blood-soaked through the decades in conflicts which could have been avoided.
The Biafrans were ignored and lost about 2 million people within three years since the war began. But they
were also vindicated by history, best summed up in the words of Emperor Haile Selassie when Italy invaded Ethiopia, in his
plea to the League of Nations:
It is us today. It will be you tomorrow.
Wars and other conflicts through the decades have almost destroyed Africa as if nothing was learnt from
the Nigerian civil war, one of the bloodiest conflicts in modern world history.
While Nigeria, was going through that tragedy, the rest of the continent was not spared the agony. It was
a traumatic experience for all Africans. And the year 1968 saw no end to the conflict.
The year 1968 was also one of the saddest moments in American history.
It was a year of assassinations. It was also a year of violence in the streets of America in the form of
One of the biggest tragedies was the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King whose name was indistinguishable
from the civil rights movement. His assassination sent shock waves throughout the world and occurred in the first part of
the year, turning 1968 into a year of mourning in the United States, not only for the death of Dr. King but of other people
He was assassinated on 4 April 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. It was around 6 p.m. when he was standing on
the balcony of the Lorraine Motel together with other civil rights leaders including Andrew Young when he was shot in the
throat. Records show that he was shot at 6.01 p.m.
Reverend Jesse Jackson was on the balcony with Dr King when the single shot rang out and had this to say:
“He had just bent over. I reckon if he had been standing up he would not have been hit in the face.”
Dr. King's assassination sparked off some of the worst riots in the nation's history The riots erupted on
6 April 1968, just two days after he was killed. More than 120 cities were rocked by riots soon after his assassination. And
more riots erupted throughout the year, although not all of them were triggered by his assassination.
Some of the worst riots erupted in Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, Maryland; and Chicago, Illinois. And about
150 smaller riots erupted in more than 100 cities across the United States. Thousands of people were injured and 46 were killed
in the riots which also caused a lot of damage to property. The damage was estimated to be in the millions of dollars.
Dr. King had been invited by the city's striking sanitation workers in Memphis who were demanding better
wages and working conditions to help them by leading a protest march in support of their demands. It was his last march.
And he always knew he was in danger. On 3 April 1968, he gave a speech, "I Have Been to the Mountaintop,"
in which he said, among other things:
“It really doesn't matter what happens now....Some began to...talk about the threats that were out
- what would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers....
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place, but I'm not concerned about that
now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised
Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.
And so I'm happy tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the
glory of the coming of the Lord.”
It was a prophetic speech. It was also his last. The next day, he was dead.
Almost exactly two months after King's assassination, James Earl Ray, a petty thief and burglar who had
served time in jail for his crimes, was captured at London's Heathrow Airport on 8 June 1968 while trying to leave the United
Kingdom on a false Canadian passport in the name of Ramon George Sneyd.
He was quickly extradited to Memphis, Tennessee, and charged with King's murder. On 10 March 1969, he confessed
to the assassination but recanted three days later, insisting that he did not kill Dr. King. He was later, sentenced to 99
years in prison. But the fact that he recanted his testimony only fueled the controversy about King's assassination.
Exactly who pulled the trigger, and who really was behind his assassination even if James Earl Ray was indeed
the man who shot Dr. King, are just some of the issues about King's assassination that have been mired in controversy through
the years since he was killed.
It must have been quite a coincidence that King's assassin ended up getting a room from which he could easily
shoot Dr. King.
Although James Earl Ray was convicted of Dr. King's murder and was sent to prison, many people still harbour
strong suspicion that the federal government, including the FBI, was behind King's assassination. His closest aide, Andrew
Young was one of them.
I remember when Andrew Young spoke in Grand Rapids, Michigan, many years later - not long after Stokely
Carmichael (Kwame Ture) died in Guinea, West Africa, and about whom he also spoke on that day - and bluntly stated: "It does
not take a rocket scientist to figure out that James Earl Ray did not kill Dr. Martin Luther King." It is a sentiment he and
others have expressed on a number of different occasions through the years.
The FBI has always been a prime suspect in Dr. King's assassination because of the dirty campaign it prosecuted
against him for years and even tried to force him to commit suicide. In March 1968 not long before his assassination, the
FBI even had formulated plans to disrupt the Poor People's Campaign Dr. King was to lead with a march on the nation's capital.
It was to be "a multiracial army of the poor" that would descend on Washington - engaging in nonviolent
civil disobedience at the Capitol, if need be - until Congress enacted a poor people's bill of rights. But the march never
took place. Dr. King was assassinated before the Poor People's Campaign culminated in a march on Washington.
There has been speculation about his relentless campaign for racial equality and his strong opposition to
the Vietnam war being some of the reasons the government wanted him killed. And many questions have been raised about his
killer, casting doubts on the government's case that it was James Earl Ray who shot Dr. King.
York Times reporter who was at
the scene said after Dr. King was shot, he saw some city employees cutting the grass and the shrub where some witnesses claimed
the shot came from. And one biographer of the Kennedys claimed in his book that after Dr. King was shot, there was celebration
in the FBI office in Atlanta where one of the agents, after hearing the news, jumped and shouted in the presence of other
agents: "They got the son-of-a-bitch!"
The CIA and the Memphis police were also implicated in the murder from
the beginning. And as Jack E. White wrote - almost 30 years after King's assassination - in Time
magazine, 14 April 1997:
“For years, conspiracy theorists who believe that the U.S. government plotted the murder of Martin
Luther King Jr. have focused on Merrell McCullough, an undercover Memphis, Tennessee, policeman who was seen crouching beside
King’s body moments after the civil rights leader was shot….
Last week Time
confirmed from U.S. government
sources that McCullough has in fact been a CIA agent since at least 1974. McCullough denies being on the intelligence agency’s
payroll at the time of the murder and, for that matter, being part of any assassination conspiracy.”
And there are a lot more questions about Dr. King's assassination which have led many people to believe
that it was a conspiracy, not the work of a single person, and involved people bigger than someone like James Earl Ray who
was no more than a simple street hustler. And he was not a marksman. Yet, some evidence points to someone who was a marksman
as the person who shot Dr. King. Many questions remain unanswered:
“Some have speculated that Ray had been used as a 'patsy' similar to the way that alleged John F.
Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was supposed to have been. Some of the claims used to support this assertion are:
* Ray was a small-time thief and burglar, and had no record of committing violent
crimes with a weapon.
* The weapon that Ray is believed to have used in the assassination (a Remington
Gamemaster Model 760 .30-'06 caliber rifle) had only two of Ray's fingerprints on it.
* According to several fellow prison inmates, Ray had never expressed any political
or racial opinions of any kind, casting doubt on Ray's purported motive for committing the crime.
* The rooming-house bathroom from which Ray is said to have fired the fatal
shots did not have any of his fingerprints at all.
* Ray was believed to have been an average marksman, and it is claimed by many
that Ray had not fired a rifle since his discharge from the United States Army in the late-1940s.
Many suspecting a conspiracy in the assassination point out the two separate ballistic tests conducted on
the Remington Gamemaster had neither conclusively proved Ray had been the killer nor that it had even been the murder weapon.
Moreover, witnesses surrounding King at the moment of his death say the shot came from another location,
from behind thick shrubbery near the rooming house, not from the rooming house itself, shrubbery which had been suddenly and
inexplicably cut away in the days following the assassination.
Also, Ray's petty criminal history had been one of colossal and repeated ineptitude; he'd been quickly and
easily apprehended each time he committed an offense, behavior in sharp contrast to his actions shortly before and after the
shooting; he'd easily managed to secure several different pieces of legitimate identification, using the names and personal
data of living men who all coincidentally looked like and were of about the same age and physical build as Ray; he spent large
sums of cash and traveled overseas without being apprehended at any border crossing, even though he had been a wanted fugitive.
According to Ray, all of this had been accomplished with the aid of the still unidentified 'Raoul.'
Investigative reporter Louis Lomax had also discovered the Missouri Department of Corrections, shortly after
Ray's April 1967 prison escape, had sent the incorrect set of fingerprints to the FBI and had failed to notice or correct
this error. Lomax had been publishing a series of investigative stories on the King assassination for the North American Newspaper
Alliance, stories challenging the official view of the case, and had been reportedly pressured by the FBI to halt his investigation.
According to a former Pemiscot County, Missouri deputy sheriff, Jim Green, who claimed to have been part
of an FBI-led conspiracy to kill King, Ray had been targeted as the patsy for the King assassination shortly before his April
1967 prison escape and had been tracked by the Bureau during his year as a fugitive.
After several trips to and from Canada and Mexico during this time, Ray had gone to Memphis after agreeing
to participate (allegedly controlled by his mysterious benefactor 'Raoul' who reportedly had weeks before while in Birmingham,
Alabama ordered Ray to purchase the Remington Gamemaster rifle) in what he was told was a major bank robbery while King was
in town - since city police resources would be dedicated toward maintaining security for King and his entourage, the intended
bank heist would be much simpler than usual. Green (who, like Ray, had asserted that FBI assistant director Cartha DeLoach
headed the assassination plot) had claimed Ray had been ordered to stay in the rooming house and as a diversion for the purported
bank heist, to then hold up a small diner near the rooming house at approximately 6:00 p.m. on April 4.
King was shot a minute later by a sniper hidden in the shrubbery near the rooming house.
Meanwhile, according to Green, two men, one of them allegedly a Memphis police detective, were waiting to
ambush and kill Ray, while Ray was on his way to the planned diner holdup and then plant the Remington rifle in the trunk
of Ray's pale yellow (not white) 1966 Ford Mustang, effectively framing a dead man.
However, moments before the assassination, Ray had apparently suspected a setup and instead quickly left
town in his Mustang, heading for Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta police found Ray's abandoned Mustang six days after King had been
In 1997, Martin Luther King's son Dexter King met with Ray, and publicly supported Ray's efforts to obtain
In 1999, Coretta Scott King, King's widow (and a civil rights leader herself), along with the rest of King's
family, won a wrongful death civil trial against Loyd Jowers and 'other unknown co-conspirators.' Jowers claimed to have received
$100,000 to arrange King's assassination. The jury of six whites and six blacks found Jowers guilty and that 'governmental
agencies were parties' to the assassination plot. William Pepper represented the King family in the trial.
In 2000, the Department of Justice completed the investigation about Jowers' claims, but did not find evidence
to support the allegations about conspiracy.
The investigation report recommends no further investigation unless some new reliable facts are presented.
Jesse Jackson, who was with King at the time of his death, noted:
'The fact is there were saboteurs to disrupt the march. [And] within our own organization, we found a very
key person who was on the government payroll. So infiltration within, saboteurs from without and the press attacks....
I will never believe that James Earl Ray had the motive, the money and the mobility to have done it himself.
Our government was very involved in setting the stage for and I think the escape route for James Earl Ray'....
On April 6, 2002, The
New York Times reported a church
minister, Rev. Ronald Denton Wilson, claimed his father, Henry Clay Wilson, - not James Earl Ray - assassinated Rev Martin
Luther King Jr. He stated, 'It wasn't a racist thing; he thought Martin Luther King was connected with communism, and he wanted
to get him out of the way'....
Across from the Lorraine Motel, next to the rooming house in which James Earl Ray was staying, was a vacant
fire station. The FBI was assigned to observe King during the appearance he was planning to make on the Lorraine Motel second-floor
balcony later that day, and utilized the fire station as a makeshift base.
Using papered-over windows with peepholes cut into them, the agents watched over the scene until Martin
Luther King was shot.
Immediately following the shooting, all six agents rushed out of the
station and were the first people to administer first-aid to King. Their presence nearby has led to speculation that the FBI
was involved in the assassination.” - (Martin Luther King, Jr., in Wikipedia).
On 27 March 1997, Dr. King's son Dexter went to see James Earl Ray in a small room at the Lois DeBerry Special
Needs Facility where he was staying because of his medical condition but still a prisoner in the state of Missouri where he
was serving his sentence.
In a scene televised nationwide, Dexter asked Ray: "I just want to ask you for the record, did you kill
my father? To which Ray responded: "No, I didn't." And then Dexter told Ray: "I just want you to know that I believe you,
and my family believes you, and we are going to do everything in our power to try and make sure that justice will prevail."
He shook hands with Ray before and after he asked him that question and walked away convinced that James
Earl Ray did not shoot his father. Dexter went to talk to Ray with the support of his family - his mother, a brother and two
sisters - who also believed Dr. King's assassination was a conspiracy involving the government.
And in December 1999, a jury in Memphis, Tennessee, awarded the King family a symbolic $100.00 for the wrongful
death of Dr. King and concluded that his assassination was indeed a conspiracy involving a Memphis bar owner, Lloyd Jowers,
and several co-conspirators.
Yet, in spite of all that, the government's case against James Earl Ray has withstood the test of time,
according to its supporters.
They contend that James Earl Ray was a committed and known racist and fired the single shot from his bathroom
which severed Dr. King's spinal chord and killed him. They also maintain that it was Ray himself who rented a room in a flophouse
across from the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was staying while mediating a sanitation workers' strike and used a rifle with
a sniper scope to shoot him.
But people on the other side are not convinced by any of that. They include not only Andrew Young and Jesse
Jackson, King's aides and both of whom were with Dr. King when he was killed, but others in the civil rights establishment
- black and white - and elsewhere.
Even a federal investigation in 1977-1978 by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, concluded that
"there is a likelihood" that Ray did not act alone in planning the assassination. But it still said he alone pulled the trigger.
James Earl Ray maintained his innocence until his death in prison on 23 April 1998, 30 years after Dr. King
was assassinated in the same month back in 1968.
On 11 April 1968, exactly one week after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, President Lyndon Johnson
signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968 which was a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The 1968 Civil Rights Act expanded on previous acts and prohibited discrimination in the sale, rental, and
financing of housing on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sex, family status, and disability. It also provided
protection for civil rights workers.
Title VIII of the Act is also known as the Fair Housing Act (of 1968). It covers private housing that receives
Federal financial assistance, and State and local government housing.
Also under the law, it is unlawful to discriminate not only in any aspect of selling or renting housing
or to deny a dwelling to a buyer or renter because of the disability of that individual; it is also unlawful to discriminate
against an individual associated with the buyer or renter, or an individual who intends to live in the residence. Other activities
covered include, for example, financing, zoning practices, new construction design, and advertising.
The fair Housing Act explicitly prohibited the following forms of discrimination:
1. Refusal to sell or rent a dwelling to any person because of his race, color, religion or national origin
2. Discrimination against a person in the terms, conditions or privilege of the sale or rental of a dwelling.
3. Advertising the sale or rental of a dwelling indicating preference of discrimination based on race, color,
religion or national origin.
4. Coercing, threatening, intimidating, or interfering with a person's enjoyment or exercise of housing
rights based on discriminatory reasons or retaliating against a person or organization that aids or encourages the exercise
or enjoyment of fair housing rights.
The Fair Housing Act requires owners of housing facilities to make reasonable exceptions in their policies
and operations to afford people with disabilities equal housing opportunities. For example, a landlord with a "no pets" policy
may be required to grant an exception to this rule and allow an individual who is blind to keep a guide dog in the residence.
The Fair Housing Act also requires landlords to allow tenants with disabilities to make reasonable access-related
modifications to their private living space, as well as to common use spaces.
The Act further requires that new multifamily housing with four or more units be designed and built to allow
access for persons with disabilities. This includes accessible common use areas, doors that are wide enough for wheelchairs,
kitchens and bathrooms that allow a person using a wheelchair to manoeuvre, and other adaptable features within the units.
Complaints of Fair Housing Act violations may be filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Dr. King's assassination played a critical role in speeding up passage of this new law. It was also the
last major civil rights legislation in the sixties, preceded by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The 1968 civil rights legislation on fair housing also marked the beginning of the end of the civil rights
movement whose demise was hastened by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King who was the embodiment of the ideals and
aspirations of the entire movement.
It was the year in which the civil rights movement reached its peak after it had won its major civil rights
battles in the legislative chambers. After that, the movement began to decline and, by the early seventies, the civil rights
movements was virtually over.
The early, or "untimely" demise of the civil rights movement may be attributed to a number of factors: the
legislative goals the movement sought to achieve had already been achieved by the end of the sixties, especially by 1968 with
the passage of the Fair Housing Act; the movement relied on personalities, especially on a single individual, Dr. Martin Luther
King, after whose assassination it lost its momentum and slowly began to fade way; and it benefited mainly the middle-class
who no longer had much interest to pursue other goals, especially fighting poverty for the majority of blacks trapped in the
ghettoes and in the rural areas of the south, because those goals were virtually irrelevant to them; unlike the vision Dr.
Martin Luther King had to lead a Poor People's Campaign involving all races. For example, when asked why he wanted to help
whites from places like the Appalachian mountains, he answered: "Are they poor?"
But whatever reasons may be given for the death of the civil rights movement, there is no question that
when Dr. King was assassinated, the movement died with him.
It was a movement driven by personalties more than it was by programmes although the civil rights agenda
was central to the movement; it was also a movement whose vitality depended on the personality and charisma of Dr. Martin
Luther King more than anything else; a point also underscored by Professor John Hope Franklin, an eminent African-American
historian, in a television interview with Gwen Iffil on PBS on 15 June 2006 broadcast nationwide:
“GWEN IFILL: Historian
John Hope Franklin carries his 91 years with grace and vigor, passionate about his research, his writing, and his beloved
The heart of his life story, however, is rooted in his country's struggles with race. From his birth in
a small, black Oklahoma town, through an academic career that took him from Nashville's Fisk University to Harvard, and throughout
a teacher's, writer's and lecturer's life that stretched from Brooklyn College to the University of Chicago, to Duke University
and several other institutions, Franklin has authored 16 books.
Chief among those titles, From Slavery to Freedom, a treatise on African-American history first published in 1947 and, three
million copies later, now in its eighth printing.
From landmark protests in Alabama to landmark research on Brown v. the
Board of Education, Franklin has appeared at many of the nation's racial turning points. In 1995, he was awarded the Presidential
Medal of Freedom. Franklin's latest book is his autobiography, Mirror
Shaping a historian's career
GWEN IFILL: I spoke with him recently in Washington.
Dr. Franklin, thank you for joining us.
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN (Recipient,
Presidential Medal of Freedom): Thank you.
GWEN IFILL: Why did
you become a historian?
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: There
was a professor at Fisk, a young, white professor, only 12 years older than I was, who was chairman of the history department
there and who really excited me in a way that I had never been excited about a subject matter before. He taught history in
a way that was so exciting.
GWEN IFILL: That's
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: Professor
Theodore S. Courier. And when he learned that I had an interest in history, he took an interest in me. And, as a matter of
fact, he was the first white man that ever treated me as a social and intellectual equal, and I was really impressed with
And he began to shape my career in a way that I didn't know it could be shaped, so that I decided to become
a historian then and there, and I've never regretted it.
GWEN IFILL: You've been quoted as saying that you don't consider yourself a black historian but a historian
about African-Americans. What's the distinction?
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: I'm a historian of the American people, all of them, and that's what I think you have to be.
You can't be a historian of blacks without distorting the relationship between blacks and whites; you can't be a historian
on whites without distorting the relationship.
They're all here together; they interact all the times. Sometimes it's not favorable or exciting or good,
but the interaction is there. And you have to take into consideration all these aspects of American history before you can
say that you're really a historian of the United States.
Work on a landmark case
GWEN IFILL: In the
52 years since Brown, since you won the Brown case, essentially, do you feel as if the kind of progress that you had hoped
for at the time has been made?
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: No,
I don't think so. I think if, I may say so, I think there were some of us who, believing that the Supreme Court could legislate,
could lay down the law, could interpret the law, there were some of us who believed that the American people would then obey
And I was one - I remember so well - I was one who was astounded when a great number of the senators said
that they were not going to obey the Supreme Court decision. And this got us off to a start of what they called nullification,
but of disrespect for the law, which I could not understand.
And the breakdown was rather widespread, and I was disappointed. We were celebrating the victory at a time
when many southerners were plotting to nullify the victory as though the Supreme Court had not spoken. I couldn't imagine
that there would be this much disrespect for the law.
GWEN IFILL: Is that
what you meant when you said that you needed to have more than the law on your side in cases like this?
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: Yes,
you need to have more than the law on your side. We had the law on our side now, but we didn't have the American people on
our side, large segments of them. We didn't have the American people.
We didn't have southern whites on our side, and we didn't have large numbers of northern whites on our side,
as we discovered when, for example, the effort to desegregate the schools in the North met with great, great opposition.
GWEN IFILL: Along
the way, there have also been those little indignities, as well, which so many African-Americans would probably find familiar.
There's one that happened the night before you received the Medal of Freedom.
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: Yes.
In anticipation of the receiving of the Medal of Freedom, I was ready to celebrate even the night before, and I invited to
my club in Washington a number of my friends in a private dinner which I was giving.
And then I realized that it was getting a little late, and I thought maybe my guests who had not arrived
might be downstairs wondering where I was, and so I decided to excuse myself and go downstairs to see where they were or if
they had arrived.
And I came down the winding staircase at the Cosmos Club. And at the bottom of the staircase, there was
a white woman with a coat check in her hand. And she saw me, and she said, 'Here, you go and get my coat. It's checked.'
And I was sort of shocked that she would pick me out to go and get her coat. And I said - and I realized
then that she probably thought that I was there to serve. Why should I be in the Cosmos Club if I wasn't there to serve her?
And I pulled her over. I said, 'Lady, now,' as patient as I could, I said, 'Lady, if you would take this
check and give it to one of the attendants here, one of the uniformed attendants, and all of the attendants here are in uniform,
just give it to one of them and perhaps will you get your coat.' And I walked away from her.
Perspective on another leader
GWEN IFILL: I want
to ask you about something else which you mentioned in your book, which I found just got my attention. You were talking about
Martin Luther King, who for so many Americans personifies what the civil rights movement was, beginning, middle and end. But
you wrote that you thought that there was an unfortunate cult of personality that was built up around Dr. King.
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: Yes.
GWEN IFILL: Tell me
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: Well,
that view or that practice is a part of American confusion about what brings about change.
We do need leadership; I'm not questioning that. But when you place all of your stock on a particular person
or even a group of people, then, I think, you are failing to see what the ordinary person's role is in the transformation
of society and the changes that can take place.
If we depend on a person, whether it's Martin Luther King or someone else, to lead us out of the wilderness,
so to speak, our dependence is going to betray us because somewhere along the line we might lose that leader, as we did in
1968 with the assassination of Martin Luther King.
Where would we be then? Where are we now without him? We were stumbling around, fumbling around in the wilderness.
No, I think that we must not place so much emphasis on a person or a leader and think about the responsibility of all of us.
And if we need to keep our counsel and define what our role is, that's all right, but we have a role. Everyone
has a role in improving our society and transforming it. And if we depend on one person or even a small number of people,
then I think we're gambling on an eventuality that might be unfortunate.
GWEN IFILL: Final
question. How far have we come in envisioning a world beyond race?
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: Oh,
I think we've not come very far in envisioning a world beyond race, even a nation beyond race. We're on our way, but we shouldn't
delude ourselves into thinking we're anywhere near the point where blacks and whites can regard themselves as equal in every
We've come some distance, but we have so much farther to go that we should be about the business of trying
to get there.
GWEN IFILL: Dr. John
Hope Franklin, thank you very much.
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN: Thank
As John Hope Franklin, the United States still had a long way to go in the quest for racial equality. One
major problem is that many people, including many blacks, are not fighting for fundamental change as they did in the sixties.
And the majority of whites feel or believe that the struggle for racial equality was won many years ago and the only thing
blacks have to do is take advantage of the opportunities available to them as much as they are to other Americans.
But Dr. King and others knew better than that. He knew the war against racism was not over; the war against
poverty was not over; and true integration had not yet been achieved despite professions of racial equality by many whites.
And had he lived, he would have continued to lead the struggle against racial inequality and other injustices.
Not long after Dr. King was assassinated, the nation was struck by another tragedy. It was also an assassination.
And it occurred almost exactly two months after Dr. King was shot dead on that fateful day in Memphis, Tennessee.
The other assassination took place about 2,000 miles away from where Dr. King was killed. It took place
in California. It was the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy on 6 June 1968. And it shocked the nation and much of the world.
Robert Kennedy had just won the California primary in the quest for the Democratic presidential nomination
when he was killed. He was, at that point, the leading candidate on the Democratic ticket and would probably have won the
nomination of his party as the presidential candidate had he not been assassinated.
He had a strong record as a supporter of civil rights for blacks when he was US Attorney-General under his
brother, President John F. Kennedy and later under President Lyndon Johnson, and had many supporters in the civil rights movement
in his quest for the presidency. As he stated - in an overall context covering the whole nation - in a speech at the University
of Georgia Law School in 1961 which itself had earlier been a segregated institution refusing to admit blacks and became a
target in a campaign to integrate it:
“We will not stand by or be aloof. We will move. I happen to believe that the 1954 Supreme Court school
desegregation decision was right. But my belief does not matter. It is the law. Some of you may believe the decision was wrong.
That does not matter. It is the law.”
He was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shortly after delivering a speech celebrating his victory
and would have been one of the youngest presidents in American history had he won the election a few months later in November
His assassination was not only a devastating blow to his white supporters but to all minorities - not just
African Americans - and to the poor for whom he spoke forcefully in his campaign for justice and equality for all. he spoke
for the underdog, and they believed that he meant what he said. And in many cases, he backed it up with actions, earning him
support and admiration among millions of people especially he ran for president. He was also an eloquent speaker.
Before he was killed, he was in the process of leading the Democratic party in pursuit of a more aggressive
agenda to help the disadvantaged. He was already a US Senator representing the state of New York after winning an election
in November 1964.
He strongly supported anti-poverty programmes, racial integration, voting rights for blacks, increased spending
for education for the poor, health care and employment opportunities for millions of African Americans and other disadvantaged
groups including Native Americans.
He wanted to formulate, expand and implement social development programmes which went beyond the Great Society
programmes pursued by President Johnson and was strongly opposed to the conservative and indifferent attitude of many southern
whites and others elsewhere who did not care about finding solutions to poverty racism and other problems faced by minorities
and the poor.
He was seen as a true icon of American liberalism and his supporters, especially the poor and minorities,
saw him as their best hope among all the presidential contenders before their dreams were shattered by an assassin's bullet
which took away his life at a young age.
He had already won Democratic primaries in three states - Indiana, Nebraska, and South Dakota - and lost
one in Oregon before scoring another victory in California.
His victory in the Golden State - an appropriate name for a state whose modern development was fueled by
gold - was indeed a golden victory. California was the most populous state in the union and had the largest number of delegates
to the Democratic national convention where the party's presidential candidate would be nominated.
After his victory in California, it seemed his nomination was assured, and his presidential ambitions would
be realized in a only a few months.
But it never happened.
After Kennedy addressed his supporters in the early morning hours of
June 5th in a ballroom at the Ambassador Hotel, he left the ballroom
through a service area to greet supporters working in the hotel's kitchen. In a crowded kitchen passageway was Sirhan B. Sirhan,
a 24-year-old Palestinian who fired a .22 calibre revolver directly into the crowd surrounding Kennedy. Six people were wounded,
including Kennedy, who was shot in the head at close range.
Kennedy remained conscious for 20 minutes but died at a hospital in the
early morning hours of June 6th.
He was 42.
But like the other assassinations in that decade - that of his elder brother John and of Martin Luther King
- "Bobby" Kennedy's assassination was also mired in controversy.
Who was behind the assassination? Many people still maintain that Sirhan Sirhan did not act alone. There
are even those who contend that Sirhan did not fire the fatal shot. Almost 40 years after Robert Kennedy's assassination,
the controversy continues. And as his younger brother, US Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy, said at the funeral held at St.
Patrick's Cathedral in New York City on 8 June 1968:
“My brother need not be idolized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered
simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried
to stop it.”
He concluded his euology, paraphrasing his deceased brother Robert, by quoting George Bernard Shaw: "Some
men see things as they are and say 'Why?' - I dream things that never were and say, 'Why not?' "
Robert Kennedy himself, quoting George Bernard Shaw, put it this way: "There are those who look at things
the way they are, and ask why....I dream of things that never were and ask why not."
And as he stated in some of his most famous quotations:
“Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the
wrath of society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential,
vital, quality for those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.”
At the University of California-Berkeley on 22 October 1966, he had this to say:
“Men without hope, resigned to despair and oppression, do not make revolutions. It is when expectation
replaces submission, when despair is touched with the awareness of possibility, that the forces of human desire and the passion
for justice are unloosed.”
And as he said in a speech in South Africa in 1966:
“Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of
events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation....
It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a
man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny
ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current
which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
After his visit to South Africa, he wrote an article for Look magazine in which he stated:
“At the University of Natal in Durban, I was told the church to which most of the white population
belongs teaches apartheid as a moral necessity. A questioner declared that few churches allow black Africans to pray with
the white because the Bible says that is the way it should be, because God created Negroes to serve.
'But suppose God is black,' I replied. 'What if we go to Heaven and we, all our lives, have treated the
Negro as an inferior, and God is there, and we look up and He is not white? What then is our response?' There was no answer.
It was an eloquent voice for the oppressed, silenced by an assassin's bullet.
Robert Kennedy's assassination was the last of the major assassinations in the United States in the sixties.
And, in a poignant way, it also signalled the beginning of the end of that turbulent decade.
The year 1968 was also marked by massive demonstrations against American involvement in Vietnam, the biggest
since the anti-war movement began.
Just two months after Robert Kennedy was assassinated, Democrats held their convention in Chicago from 26
August to 29 August to nominate their presidential candidate - who would have been Robert himself had he not been killed.
The Democratic national convention was emblematic of the sixties. It was marred by chaos and protests typical
of what happened in those turbulent years in the United States.
There were anti-war protesters opposed to American involvement in the Vietnam war. The president was Lyndon
Johnson. He was a Democrat. And the convention was getting ready to nominate a Democratic presidential candidate.
It was a perfect setting for demonstrations against American foreign and domestic policies, especially the
Democratic administration's policies towards Vietnam and its escalation of the conflict. The protesters clashed with the police,
chaos reigned, and the media provided ample coverage of what went on. The anti-war protesters at the Democratic national convention
played a major role to publicize their cause. It was some of the best media coverage the anti-war movement ever had in the
The party was already split over the Vietnam war. And a popular presidential candidate, Robert Kennedy,
had just been assassinated. There was a vacuum at the centre, a void that could not be easily filled in the absence of a popular
candidate who could have united the party behind him and a common agenda which would have brought all the Democratic factions
together under one umbrella.
There was Eugene McCarthy, an anti-war hero whose presidential candidacy attracted tens of thousands of
college students opposed to the Vietnam war and to American involvement in that conflict. He called for an immediate withdrawal
of all American troops from Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia, what was then commonly known as Indochina.
On the other side was Humbert Humphrey, vice president under Lyndon Johnson, who did not advocate total
disengagement from Vietnam but supported Johnson's policies - hence continued American involvement in the war. He went on
to win the presidential nomination for the Democratic party after an acrimonious debate on who should be the standard bearer
for the party in the November 1968 elections. The war became a major issue in the presidential contest.
President Johnson stipulated that a reduction in the number of American troops and United States involvement
in Vietnam must be accompanied by meaningful concessions by the North Vietnamese.
The reciprocal arrangement would be contingent on what was to be agreed upon in the Paris peace talks. Opponents
of the war were totally opposed to such pre-conditions and wanted America to withdraw - now!
Before the war protesters descended on Chicago, Maro Richard J. Daley repeatedly warned, "Law and order
will be maintained," and an 11 p.m. curfew would be imposed. He meant what he said.
The war opponents protested throughout the convention. As time went on, tempers flared and the demonstrators
clashed with the police all around the convention centre. They also had running battles in the streets. There were also clashes
at Lincoln Park and at Grant Park.
Mayor Daley, true to this word, responded accordingly. He took an uncompromising
stand against the protesters, refused to give them permits to hold rallies and organize marches, and authorized the police
to use whatever amount of force they thought was necessary to control and subdue the crowds. It was total chaos short of anarchy.
As Time magazine stated in a report from Chicago, the nation's second-largest city after New York,
in its edition of 6 September 1968 soon after the convention entitled "Dementia in the Second City":
“The assault from the left was furious, flunky and bizarre. Yet the Chicago police department responded
in a way that could only be characterized as sanctioned mayhem. With billy clubs, tear gas and Mace, the blue-shirted, blue-helmeted
cops violated the civil rights of countless innocent citizens and contravened every accepted code of professional police discipline.
No one could accuse the Chicago cops of discrimination. They savagely attacked hippies, yippies, New Leftists,
revolutionaries, dissident Democrats, newsmen, photographers, passers-by, clergymen and at least one cripple. Winston Churchill's
journalist grandson got roughed up. Playboy's Hugh Hefner took a whack on the backside. The police even victimized a member
of the British Parliament, Mrs. Anne Kerr, a vacationing Laborite who was Maced outside the Conrad Hilton and hustled off
to the lockup.
'The force used was the force that was necessary,' insisted Police Superintendent James Conlisk Jr. He could
point to the fortunate fact that no one was killed. He also pointed out - almost with pride - that the casualties included
152 cops. Yet the cops' excesses during the Democratic Convention were not basically Conlisk's doing. Chicago is Mayor Richard
J. Daley's satrapy.
Daley takes a fierce, eccentric pride in Chicago. For 13 years, he has ruled his province like a Chinese
warlord. The last of America's big-city bosses, the jowly, irascible mayor has on the whole been a creative autocrat, lacing
his megalopolis with freeways, pulling in millions of federal spending.
Daley is also something of an original. In a city with as robust a tradition of political corruption as
Boston or New York, he has maintained a pristine record of personal honesty. Yet, like any other expert monarch, he has always
known where and how to tolerate corruption within his realm.
The son of a sheet-metal worker, Daley grew up in the gritty district of Bridgeport, where he continues
to live in a modest bungalow. After starting out as a secretary to the city council at 25, Daley scrambled upward through
the party ranks. Hence his understanding of Chicago's muscles and nerves is deeply intuitive. But it is growing archaic, as
the mayor's lines to the Negro community atrophy and he continues to rule in the personalistic style of a benevolent Irish
despot of the wards.
Daley nonetheless retains formidable influence within the Democratic Party. Thanks to his control of the
state government and delegation, King Richard is one of the most assiduously courted Democratic politicians in the country.
As Robert Kennedy said last spring: 'Dick Daley means the ball game.'
It was through such clout that he secured the Democratic convention for Chicago. However, Lyndon Johnson
and other party leaders are equally to blame. They wanted the convention in Chicago this year in large part because they felt
that it was the one city where the authorities could deal successfully with the planned disruptions. Daley thought so as well.
Some Democratic officials sensed disaster. First an electrical workers' strike ruined prospects for adequate
television coverage of the streets, which Daley might not have wanted anyway. The strike, called 14 weeks before the convention,
also prevented the installation of telephones and seriously impeded the candidates' operations.
Then, nine days before the convention opened, drivers for the city's two major cab companies struck. Racial
violence, which mercifully never erupted, was a real prospect. So were angry demonstrations by the young.
But the mayor had his way with the party. 'Law and order will be maintained,' he repeated ritualistically.
He put his 11,900-man police force on twelve-hour shifts, called up more than 5,000 Illinois National Guard troops. In addition,
some 6,500 federal troops were flown in.
Daley turned Chicago into a bristling army camp, with a posse of more than 23,000 at the ready. The convention
hall was protected by barbed wire and packed with cops and security agents.WELCOME TO PRAGUE said demonstrators' signs.
Daley refused the protesters permission to sleep on the grass of Chicago's Lincoln Park, a 1,185-acre expanse
on the North Side. Critics of the cops pointed out that the site was ideal for the dissidents; it would also have been ideal
for the police, who could have left the kids alone and stood guard on the fringes of the park until the soldiers of dissent
got bored and left or until the convention was over.
It might not have worked out that way, since many of the protesters were fiercely determined to find trouble,
but at least the notion offered a better chance of avoiding violence.
Had Daley been gifted with either humane imagination or a sense of humor, he would have arranged to welcome
the demonstrators, cosset them with amenities like portable toilets, as the Government did during the Washington civil rights
march of 1963. Instead, Daley virtually invited violence.
The police were not unhappy. Daley had prepared them last April, in the wake of the riots following Martin
Luther King's assassination, when he ordered the cops to 'shoot to kill' arsonists and to 'shoot to maim or cripple' looters.
Chicago police theoretically receive regular in-service riot training, but in fact the training consists
largely of reading general departmental orders rather than intensive drilling.
Fortunately, there was no shooting. The demonstrators constantly taunted the police and in some cases deliberately
disobeyed reasonable orders. Most of the provocations were verbal - screams of 'Pig!' and fouler epithets. Many cops seemed
unruffled by the insults.
Policeman John Gruber joked: 'We kind of like the word pig. Some of us answer our officers `Oink, oink,
sir,' just to show it doesn't bother us.' The police reacted more angrily when the demonstrators sang God Bless America or
recited 'I pledge allegiance to the flag.'
In some of the wilder fighting, the demonstrators hurled bricks, bottles and nail-studded gold balls at
the police lines. During the first three days, the cops generally reacted only with tear gas and occasional beatings.
But on Wednesday night, as the convention gathered to nominate Hubert Humphrey, the police had a cathartic
bloodletting. Outraged when the protesters lowered a U.S. flag during a rally in Grant Park beside Lake Michigan, the cops
hurled tear gas into the crowd.
The demonstrators, bent upon parading to the convention hall (Daley had refused a permit), regrouped in
front of the Hilton, where they were surrounded by phalanxes of cops. Police warned the demonstrators to clear the streets,
waited for five minutes for several busloads of reinforcements to arrive. And then the order was given.
Chicago cops are built like beer trucks. They flailed blindly into the crowd of some 3,000, then ranged
onto the sidewalks to attack onlookers. In a pincer movement, they trapped some 150 people against the wall of the hotel.
A window of the Hilton's Haymarket lounge gave way, and about ten of the targets spilled into the lounge after the shards
of glass. A squad of police pursued them inside and beat them.
Two bunny-clad waitresses took one look and capsized in a dead faint. By now the breakdown of police discipline
was complete. Bloodied men and women tried to make their way into the hotel lobby. Upstairs on the 15th floor, aides in the
McCarthy headquarters set up a makeshift hospital.
The onslaught ended half an hour later, with about 200 arrested and hundreds injured. Elsewhere, the confrontation
continued through the night. Then at 5 a.m. on Friday, with the convention ended, eleven policemen swarmed up to the McCarthy
headquarters. They claimed that the volunteers had tossed smoked fish, ashtrays and beer cans at the helmeted cops below.
With neither evidence nor search warrant, they clubbed McCarthy campaign workers. One cop actually broke
his billy club on a volunteer's skull. Daley stood by his angry defense of his cops' conduct against the 'terrorists,' who,
he snarled, 'use the foulest of language that you wouldn't hear in a brothel house.'
The demonstrators had chanted the night before: 'The whole world is watching!' And it was.
Newspapers and television commentators from Moscow to Tokyo reacted with revulsion to the orgy of violence
in America's Second City. Thanks to Mayor Daley, not only Chicago but the rest of the U.S. as well was pictured as a police
state. That impression may be unfair to a handsome and hospitable city, but it will linger long after Dick Daley's reign.
Who Were The Protesters?
They left Chicago more as victors than as victims. Long before the Democratic Convention assembled, the
protest leaders who organized last week's marches and melees realized that they stood no chance of influencing the political
outcome or reforming 'the system.' Thus their strategy became one of calculated provocation.
The aim was to irritate the police and the party bosses so intensely that their reactions would look like
those of mindless brutes and skull-busters. After all the blood, sweat and tear gas, the dissidents had pretty well succeeded
in doing just that.
The strategy had been six months in formulation. Three disparate detachments of the young made up last week's
Army of the Night. There were self-styled 'American revolutionaries' -- among them anarchists and Maoists, hard-core members
of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) - many of them
veterans of the October March on the Pentagon.
There was the Youth International Party (yippies), minions of the absurd whose leaders failed last fall
to levitate the Pentagon but whose antics at least leavened the grim seriousness of the New Leftists with much-needed humor.
And then there were the young McCarthy workers, the 'Clean for Gene' contingent who had shaved bears, lengthened
miniskirts and turned on to political action in the mainstream, only to see the dreams of New Hampshire shattered in the stockyards
In all, about 10,000 demonstrators showed up, a fraction of the horde that had been predicted by their leaders.
According to Chicago police records, 49% of the 650 arrested came from outside Illinois (most from New York and Michigan);
the majority were in their teens and 20s and only 91 prisoners were 30 or above.
In the main, they were tatterdemalion innocents with long hair, granny glasses, and a sense of bewildered
outrage at the war and the nation's political processes. Not so innocently, many were equipped with motorcycle crash helmets,
gas masks (purchasable at $4.98 in North Side army-navy surplus stores), bail money and anti-Mace unguents.
A handful of hard-liners in the 'violence bag' also carried golf balls studded with spikes, javelins made
of snow-fence slats, aerosol cans full of caustic oven-cleaning fluids, ice picks, bricks, bottles, and clay tiles sharpened
to points that would have satisfied a Cro-Magnon bear hunter.
Most of the protest leaders stayed in the background. Mobilization Chairman
David Tyre Dellinger, 53, the shy editor-publisher of Liberation, who led last fall's Pentagon March, studiously avoided
the main confrontation before the Hilton. His chief aide, Tom Hayden, 28, a New Left author who visited Hanoi three years
ago, was so closely tailed by plainclothesmen that he finally donned a yippie-style wig to escape their attentions. Nonetheless,
he was arrested.
Rennie Davis, 28, the clean-cut son of a Truman Administration economic adviser, took a more active part
as one of the Chicago organizers: his aim, he said, was 'to force the police state to become more and more visible, yet somehow
survive in it.' At Grant Park on Wednesday afternoon, he both succeeded and failed.
The police action against the demonstrators triggered the Hilton march, but Rennie - despite his short hair,
scholarly spectacles and button-down collar - was literally busted, and later took nine stitches in his split scalp.
Yippie Guru Abbie Hoffman, 32, cadged dinner from his four police tails, yipped up a storm in Lincoln Park
(where he passed out phone numbers of cops and city officials for telephonic harassment), and was ultimately arrested for
wearing a four- letter word on his forehead.
The most ironic fate of all befell Brillo-bearded Jerry Rubin, 30, a former Berkeley free-speecher and now
a yippie leader. To protect himself from police strong-arm tactics, Rubin hired a husky, sledge-fisted Chicagoan known as
'Big Bob Lavin,' whose beard and bellicosity were matched by his ability at bottle-throwing in confrontations with the cops.
Big Bob was gassed by the police, fought them valiantly, but was finally clubbed into submission - carrying
with him into jail Rubin's tactical diary. Only then was it revealed that Big Bob was really an undercover cop, Robert Pierson,
Chicago police pointed ominously to such entries in Rubin's diary as a hand-drawn map of the Hilton Hotel
area and a reflection that 'we really should attend McCarthy rallies and recruit pro-McCarthys for our marches. This lends
us the respectability of a pro-establishment group.'
Big Bob's duplicity did not faze Rubin, who said, when released on $2,500 bail: 'Well, at least he was a
Chicago was not the end of the road for the militants. Scott Lash, 22, a psychology dropout from the University
of Michigan and a McCarthy worker, observed that the Chicago scene left most of the marchers more frustrated and embittered.
Scuffing his hiking boots and twiddling his granny glasses, Lash lamented at week's end: 'There's going to be a wider division
in the country than ever. There's going to be more violence, both by whites and blacks, and I'm willing to be part of it.
I wouldn't have thought this before the convention.'
Mayor Daley asserted that he had evidence of a Communist conspiracy to disrupt the convention. Actually,
the 'terrorists,' as he called them, made no bones about conspiring to make trouble. But their visible leaders, at least,
were disaffected young Americans who professed as much scorn for Communism as for capitalism.
Foolhardy and arrogant as their tactics often were, the main goal of the protesters was to express their
rejection of both the war and party bossism, and they undeniably made it register in the minds of Democratic leaders. Ironically
- and perhaps significantly - the demonstrators' most effective allies were the police, without whose brutal aid the protest
would not have been so striking.
The Government In Exile
From his bedroom window on the 23rd floor of the Conrad Hilton, Eugene McCarthy viewed the carnage on Michigan
Avenue, turning now and again to the TV screen to watch the dissolution of his own hopes at the convention hall. Only once,
when California's Jesse Unruh, a holdout supporter of Teddy Kennedy, appeared on the screen, did he show anger. And even that
was relatively subdued. 'That doublecrossing son of a bitch,' he growled.
His main concern was with the young people below. 'Oh, Dad,' pleaded his daughter Mary, 'help them!'
That evening he went down to his staff headquarters on the 15th floor, where his doctor, William Davidson,
had opened a makeshift hospital. McCarthy comforted the bruised and bleeding. A girl who had been injured wept hysterically,
and photographers crowded around her.
Only then did McCarthy show the emotion reporters had looked for during nine long months of arduous campaigning.
'Get out of the way, fellows. You don't have to see anything. Get the hell out of the way!'
Shaken, he returned to his suite. In one final gesture, which even he probably knew would be useless, he
sought to end the violence, telephoning his campaign manager at the International Amphitheatre to tell him to withdraw the
name Eugene McCarthy from the balloting. 'It looked,' he remarked later, 'like the convention might break up in chaos. I thought
this might stabilize it.'
By then it was too late. The balloting in the convention hall had already started, and the count - and the
violence below - went on.
Next day, a few hours before Humphrey's acceptance speech, McCarthy crossed the street - still lined with
troops and cops - to speak to a rally of the disaffected in Grant Park. 'I am happy,' he said, 'to be here to address the
government in exile.'
When he said farewell to a group of cheering campaign workers, he added: 'I may be visibly moved. I have
been very careful not to be visibly moved throughout my campaign. If you people keep on this way, I may, as we say, lose my
cool.' Already, some of his followers were wearing black arm bands and a new campaign button. It was blank.
In the end, as at the beginning, the Senator from Minnesota was a mystery - a nearly unfathomable blend
of intellect, humor, humility and arrogance. Always he was his own man. When he was asked whether he would make a good President,
he answered: 'I am willing to be President. I think I would be an adequate resident. I really don't want to let you believe
that I'm carrying the whole burden for the country. I'm kind of an accidental instrument, really.'
Pride and Persuasion
Yet sometimes this understatement became a form of intellectual pride. Persuasion was somehow beneath him.
Talking to delegates uncertain about his position on Vietnam, he would say: 'I've written three books on my positions' or
'I put out a position paper on that last week.'
Though he needed Negro support, he refused to make any special pleas, noting airily that 'when the negroes
know my record, they'll come along.' They never did.
He yearned for the support of Cesar Chavez, a Bobby Kennedy supporter and leader of California migrant workers
who has become a virtual messiah to thousands of Mexican Americans. The Senator did in fact have long talks with Chavez. But
he could not bring himself to ask for the labor leader's help. He only observed mildly that 'we hope you will be with us.'
Chavez sat on the sidelines.
At times, McCarthy could be petty and vindictive. Robert Kennedy could never understand the apparent hatred
McCarthy felt for him - an emotion that seemed to have deeper origins than Bobby's political sin of joining the race after
New Hampshire. The better-educated, McCarthy told an audience in Oregon, preferred him to Kennedy. 'Kennedy plays softball.'
His flair for the malicious aside showed again when he talked about Speechwriter
Richard Goodwin, an early supporter who left him for Bobby, then returned after the assassination, staying on until the last
ballot. 'Dick Goodwin,' said McCarthy, 'has been a good and faithful servant - on and off.'
McCarthy was nevertheless deeply disturbed by the murder in Los Angeles. As for its political repercussions,
he noted last week: 'If Senator Kennedy had not died, we would have this party under control on Vietnam.'
Whatever McCarthy's feelings may have been about Robert Kennedy as a rival, he was willing to give up nine
months of effort for Ted last week. Sounded out by Stephen Smith, Kennedy's brother-in-law, at the height of the Teddy boomlet,
McCarthy offered to throw all his weight to the last surviving brother.
'Smith said Teddy wouldn't go for it if he had to fight with me,' McCarthy recounted. 'I told him he wouldn't
have to fight with me. I told him I was willing to give all the strength I had to Kennedy on the first ballot -- or any ballot.'
McCarthy's gesture was unexpected, and tears came to Steve Smith's eyes.
Looking to 1972
In defeat, McCarthy stuck to his guns. The traditional show of party unity was beyond him - particularly
after what he had seen on Michigan Avenue - and he refused to appear on the convention platform with the winner. He would
not, he said, endorse either Humphrey or Nixon.
'We've forgotten the convention,' he told his supporters. 'We've forgotten the Vice President. We've forgotten
the platform.' For the next two months, he said, he would work for senatorial candidates who supported his view on the war.
In the future, he would work to remold the party.
Indeed, the idea of remaking the party seemed to excite him more than the chance of gaining the presidency.
'We have tested the process and found its weaknesses,' he said. 'We'll make this party in 1972 - perhaps 1970 - quite different
from what we found it in Chicago!'
McCarthy was not boasting idly, and his insurgents were already planning for 1972, many of them hoping for
a Nixon victory this fall to 'purify' the Democratic Party by defeat.
Even while they were losing in Chicago, the McCathyites won concessions, such as abolition of the unit rule,
that will make future conventions more democratic. The party, in any event, cannot ignore the talented young people who have
stormed its fortress.
'People know we have power now,' said Tom Saltonshall, one of the Senator's downy-faced staffers from Massachusetts.
'And we're going to keep using it. We'd be negating everything we've done for the past nine months if we drop out now.'
The New Party
Not everyone, however, believes the Democratic party can be either reformed or purified. Anticipating Humphrey's
convention victory, organizers of an entirely new party - called, unsurprisingly 'the New Party' - have already put their
organization on the ballot in five states: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Oregon.
They claim enough signatures to win places in New York and Tennessee, and are trying as well to go before
the voters in 18 more, including such electoral prizes as California, Ohio and Illinois. (The filing date has already passed
in most other states.)
All that is lacking is a candidate. McCarthy would be the perfect choice, and New Party leaders, mostly
disillusioned Democrats, still have faint hopes of persuading him to bolt the Democrats entirely. He has given them little
In any event, his candidacy would be only symbolic. Even if it won all of its fights and court suits, the
New Party would still be on the ballot in only 25 states with a combined total of 290 electoral votes (270 are needed for
Yet even without McCarthy, the New Party might hurt Humphrey. In a tight election, it might pull enough
liberal Democrats and peace votes away from the Democratic candidate to give the election to Nixon. Even a few thousand votes
could be decisive in California and New York, the centers of the peace movement.
No Democrat in modern times has won election without one of the two most populous states. Actually, however,
the New Party men are looking to future elections, when they hope to displace the Democratic party. 'I think the Democratic
Party is lost,' says Marcus Raskin, a former disarmament aide to President Kennedy who is one of the New Party's chief proponents
and organizers. 'What happened here this week shows that it now represents only the party bosses, the police and the military.'
Though they never came close to Humphrey in the delegate count, neither McCarthy nor South Dakota's George
McGovern, the third candidate, could in fact be called a loser at Chicago. By standing in the national spotlight, Senator
McGovern, who entered the race only 18 days before the nomination, has probably improved his chances for re-election to a
second term this fall.
Not only will his restrained performance as a presidential candidate enhance his reputation in the upper
house (assuming that he is reelected), it will probably also gain him consideration for a spot on some future national ticket.
For his part, McCarthy has forced the retirement of the President, precipitated the de-escalation of the
war, and brought about a re-examination of the American political structure. That may eventually prove more important than
anything he could have done during four years as President.
As leader of the government in exile, he will remain the conscience for millions of Americans and a formidable
figure that the President, whoever he is, cannot ignore.
Who knows? In 1972, Eugene McCarthy may even begin again his lonely, quixotic quest for the White House.
'I am prepared to stay with the issues,' he said, 'so long as I have a constituency - and I still have a constituency.'
Neither Hubert Humphrey nor Richard Nixon is likely to dispute him.”
The chaos in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic national convention exacerbated by police brutality reminiscent
of Gestapo tactics also showed the Democratic party in disarray. Tight security could not save it.
It was a house divided. As Terry Southern, an American writer and university lecturer, described the convention
hall, it was "exactly like approaching a military installation; barbed-wire, checkpoints, the whole bit."
Some of the people who were roughed up by security men in the convention hall on different occasions included
two prominent television journalists working for CBS: Mike Wallace and Dan Rather. Both incidents were broadcast live on television.
Some of the most memorable figures at the 1968 Democratic national convention in Chicago were the Chicago
Seven. They were originally eight and came to be known as the Chicago Eight and were probably the most prominent protesters
at the convention. They were also some of the ring leaders of the protesters who almost disrupted the convention before they
were finally subdued.
On 29 March 1969, the Chicago Eight were indicted by a grand jury - of middle-class and middle-aged white
men and women - and charged with conspiracy, incitement to riot and other offences involving the violent protests which took
place during the Democratic national convention. They were: Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie
Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale.
Early in the trial, Bobby Seale who was the chairman of the Black Panther Party bitterly criticized Judge
Julius Hoffman in court and called him a "fascist dog," a "pig," and a "racist," among other things.
The judge ordered Seale bound and gagged in the courtroom, an incident that was alluded to in Graham Nash's
song, "Chicago", which opened with: "Though your brother's bound and gagged, and they've chained him to a chair." Finally,
Judge Hoffman had Seale tried separately and sentenced him to four years in prison for contempt. The sentence was overturned
After Bobby Seale was separated from the case, the other defendants became the Chicago Seven.
The defendants, particularly Yippies Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, violated courtroom decorum in a trial
that came to be widely publicized, drawing a large number of protesters who supported the defendants.
One day, Hoffman and Rubin appeared in court dressed in judicial robes, mocking the judge and the entire
judicial system. Hoffman also blew kisses at the jury. The trial went on for months.
Many prominent figures from the American left, the counterculture and the liberal establishment were called
to testify. They included Reverend Jesse Jackson, a prominent civil rights leader; Norman Mailer, a celebrated author and
well-known liberal; Professor Timothy Leary, famous for advocating LSD use; folk singers Arlo Guthrie and Phil Ochs; Judy
Collins, Pete Seeger, and "Country Joe" McDonald.
Abbie Hoffman's "respect" for the judicial system reached new heights when, during sentencing, he told the
judge that he should try LSD and offered to set him up with a dealer he said he knew in Florida.
On 18 February 1970, all seven defendants were found not guilty of conspiracy charges. two of them, John
Froines and Lee Weiner, were acquitted of all charges. The remaining five were convicted of crossing state lines with the
intent to incite a riot and were each sentenced to five years' imprisonment and fined $5,000 on 20 February 1970. But all
the convictions were reversed on appeal by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on 21 November 1972.
The appeals court cited bias by Judge Julius Hoffman when he sentenced the accused as one of the main reasons
for reversing the convictions. The higher court also cited Judge Hoffman's refusal to permit defence lawyers to question prospective
jurors regarding cultural bias as another reason for overturning the sentences. And the Justice Department decided not to
re-try the Chicago Seven.
The Chicago Seven trial was one of the most famous trials in the sixties. And Abbie Hoffmann, commenting
on the upcoming Chicago 7 trial, put it succinctly when he said: "It's going to be a combination Scopes trial, revolution
in the streets, Woodstock Festival and People's Park, all rolled into one."
It was. And may be more than that.
The Chicago Seven defendants, together with Bobby Seale who was one of the original eight, went to the Democratic
national convention not only to protest but to question the conscience of the nation on some of the most vital issues during
The stand they took was also a searing indictment against the American leadership which they believed, as
did the other protesters and many of their supporters, had failed to live up to its commitment as an embodiment of the ideals
upon which America was supposedly founded.
The trial also highlighted a conflict of values between the younger and the older generations, and of the
changing times the nation was going through especially during the turbulent sixties which saw the rise of the counterculture
and other protest movements intended to put the nation on the right track towards justice and equality for all.
Almost 40 years later, Bobby Seale was one of the last surviving, leading figures from the sixties who played
a major role in the social and political movements in the United States in those days.
Among the Chicago Eight, later the Chicago Seven, Bobby Seale and Tom Hayden were the most prominent surviving
members of that group when I was writing this in the Fall of 2006.
Abbie Hoffman died in April 1989 supposedly a victim of suicide although many of those who knew him don't
believe that. Jerry Rubin died in November 1994, reportedly after being hit by a car when he was jay walking near the University
of California-Los Angeles (UCLA). David Dellinger, born in August 1915 and the oldest of the Chicago Seven and a veteran of
the civil rights struggle in the south since the 1950s, died in May 2004.
One of their defence lawyers, the nationally renowned William Kunstler who was also a civil rights activist
and known for defending militants and radicals, died in September 1995. Some of the people he defended included Dr. Martin
Luther King, Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Abbie Hoffman, Angela Davis, Jerry Rubin; and Qubilah Shabazz, the daughter
of Malcolm X, among many others.
And among the most prominent leaders of the Black Power movement in the sixties, again it was Bobby Seale
who was the only survivor and still active in various ways as late as 2006. Huey P. Newton was killed in Oakland, California,
in August 1989, in the same city where he and Seale founded the Black Panther Panther 23 years before in October 1966. He
was reportedly shot dead by a drug dealer in the same streets the Black Panthers were so familiar with.
Eldridge Cleaver, the most eloquent spokesman of the Black Panthers, also died in California May 1998. Stokely
Carmichael (Kwame Ture), who once served as prime minister of the Black Panther Party and was identified with the "Black Power"
slogan more than anybody else, died in Guinea, West Africa, in November 1989, where he had lived for 30 years..
And H. Rap Brown, justice minister of the Black Panther Party and one of the most fiery black militant leaders
in the sixties who later changed his name to Jamil Abdullah al-Amin, was sentenced to life imprisonment in Atlanta, Georgia,
in 2002 for reportedly killing a sheriff's deputy and wounding another officer during a shootout. During the turbulent sixties,
he became most famous for saying "Violence is as American as cherry pie"; and "If America don't come around, we're gonna'
burn it down."
Besides Bobby Seale, another prominent former Black Panther who was still politically active in 2006 and
beyond was David Hilliard, a childhood friend of Huey P. Newton in Oakland, California. He was chairman of the Dr. Huey P.
Newton Foundation and kept the Black Panther Party legacy alive, giving lectures on college campuses and elsewhere. He was
also involved in community-related activities to help and benefit people at the grassrots level.
In Autumn 2006, he taught two courses on the Black Panthers at the University
of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, which was also chosen as a repository of some of the Black Panther Party documents
and other material. As he said in an interview in anticipation of his job as a visiting lecturer published in the school's
newspaper, the Daily Lobo, 21 August 2006:
“It's my history. It's my experience. It's my passion. It's what I like doing. I like sharing knowledge.
I couldn't think of a more rewarding and self-gratifying experience than being in the midst of new minds - young people who
are really eager to learn.”
Earlier, he was a guest at the 40th anniversary of the Black Panther Party that was held on campus in February,
and he taught a summer course about the party. The first course he taught in Autumn 2006 focused on the Black Panther Party,
and the second on African-American resistance movements, again with special emphasis on the Black Panther Party. Another former
Black Panther Party leader, Elaine Brown, helped Hilliard when she served as a visiting lecturer several times throughout
the semester. She lectured on women in the Black Panther Party.
Hilliard said he wanted Brown involved in the course because of her experience in political reform. And
Brown said Hilliard has the advantage of teaching the courses because he participated and observed the party from the beginning
when it was formed in October 1966. She went on to say: "It's an incredible thing to have someone who is both an observer
and a participant. It's very difficult to be both an observer and participant. Most of the academics who have attempted to
address the history of the social movements of blacks have been observers."
Hilliard first went to the University of New Mexico to talk about depositing the Black Panther archives.
The archives contained manuscripts, video footage, photos, newspapers, FBI logs, legal transcripts and a library of books.
Elaine Brown said the most powerful piece was audio tapes recorded when Huey P. Newton, the party's co-founder, crafted the
party's vision while in jail, focusing on community programmes, to serve the people directly, more than anything else.
The Black Panther Party archives were to be transferred from Stanford University to the University of New
When Hilliard taught at the University of New Mexico in 2006, that was not the first time he taught at a
college level. He had been a guest lecturer at colleges in California since 1996.
He was also one of the first people to join the Black Panther Party and served as the party's chief of staff.
When Huey P. Newton was arrested in September 1968, Hilliard took over the command of the Black Panther Party and worked closely
with chairman Bobby Seale.
Another prominent black militant from the sixties who was still alive and active in 2006 was Angela Davis,
the most well-known female among black militants in the sixties and seventies. At this writing she was a professor at the
University of California-Santa Cruz and still active in the struggle for racial equality.
Another leading black militant who survived was Elane Brown who, from
1974 to 1977, served as chairman of the Black Panther Party during its last days. As she stated years later in her article
- explaining what the Black Panther Party was all about - entitled, "Black Panther Party Long Victimized by Campaign of Lies,"
in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution,
25 March 2000:
“As a former leading member of the Black Panther Party, I find it alarming that the party, defunct
now for more than a decade, continues to be bastardized in the American press and by law enforcement. Worse, now the party's
name is resurrected to denigrate and condemn one of our finest brothers, the former H. Rap Brown.
Because echoes of the past are eerily present in the current campaign against Al-Amin, I would like to set
the historical record straight on a few relevant matters.
The Black Panther Party came into being to address the suffering of blacks in America. It was a time when
federal troops, particularly in the South, had to be employed to repel racist, police-backed violence against black children
trying to attend school with white children and police attacks on blacks seeking voting rights. In the leadership of the movement
for black civil rights during that bloody time was the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.
As the Black Panther Party began to establish a broader agenda for blacks relating to human rights, focusing
first on the right to be free from police brutality, Brown, a leader in SNCC, was recruited to serve as minister of justice.
The party declared that food, shelter, health care and education were among those basic human rights denied blacks since slavery,
through Jim Crow, institutional racism, lynching and all manner of violence. The party developed programs that would at once
raise consciousness and serve the needs of our people. We established our Free Breakfast for Children Program; then, our free
health clinics; then, liberation schools, free grocery and legal aid and shoe programs.
In 1968 FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover declared the party to be "the single greatest threat to the internal
security of the United States" and pledged to use any means necessary to eliminate the party and its members. In the next
year alone, the FBI used the full weight of its counterintelligence program, known as COINTELPRO, to lay waste to the party,
directing violent, local police raids on party offices, executing assassinations of members and otherwise destroying the lives
of party family members, community and other supporters. In this same time frame, Brown was the target of a crusade to discredit
and destroy him orchestrated by the then-governor of Maryland Spiro Agnew.
Story keeps recurring
The government players may have changed, but the destructive campaign continues. The police case against
Al-Amin today is eerily similar and as suspect as the one in 1967 leveled against Black Panther Party founder Huey Newton.
The underlying allegation against Al-Amin relates to his being stopped while driving in Cobb County -- or,
as it's now said in the vernacular, "driving while black." Police admit he was stopped in May 1999 merely for driving a car
displaying dealership tags. Later, he was charged with theft by receiving -- on the already-questionable assertion that the
car he was driving was stolen -- and the horrible "crime" of driving without proof of insurance. Similarly, NewtonHuey was
stopped by police for an unclear traffic violation on an Oakland, Calif., street. Similarly, this street detention set off
a chain of events that culminated in the shooting death of one of the cops. Three years later Newton was exonerated.
One matter in the current case, however, seems not to be in contention -- that, under cover of night, armed
Fulton County sheriff's deputies were sent out to arrest Al-Amin for failure to appear in court on the Cobb County accusation.
It is bizarre that Sheriff Jackie Barrett accuses Al-Amin of "ambushing" her deputies in these circumstances. Indeed, this
ambush theory becomes Kafkaesque in light of the recent exposure of brutal abuses of power by police nationwide, particularly
against black people and our communities.”
Elaine Brown was an integral part of the movement in the sixties that was committed to bringing about fundamental
change in America for the benefit of all regardless of race. She fought then, and she was still fighting 40 years later. And
there were many others, some dead, some still living. They all came from a period which is "ancient" history to many young
people. But they helped to change America.
The deaths of some of the Chicago Seven and some black militants from the sixties, although at different
times, marked the end of an era. But they were all united by what happened, and by what they did, in the sixties. They were
significant players, major actors in the national drama of the sixties. And the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention was, undoubtedly,
one of the most significant events in that turbulent decade and marked a turning point in American politics and in the history
of the country. They played a central role that was never duplicated in the following years, partly because of changing times.
Another interesting perspective on that turbulent decade, including the
1968 Democratic national convention and the chaos and controversy surrounding it probably best dramatized by the Chicago Seven,
as well as on other events in the sixties, comes from Douglas Linder, a professor of law at the University of Missouri-Kansas.
As he stated in his article "The Chicago Seven" in the Jurist:
“Thirty years ago this month, on February 18, 1970, the jury returned its compromise verdict in the
trial of seven radicals charged with federal crimes in connection with rioting at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
The trial that ended three decades ago had come to symbolize the tensions and conflicting values of a changing time. The trial
may have been - as one observer declared it - 'a monumental non-event,' but what a fascinating non-event it was.
What did it all mean? Was the Chicago Seven Trial merely, as one commentator suggested, 'a monumental non-event'?
Was it, as others argue, an important battle for the hearts and minds of the American people? Or is it best seen as a symbol
of the conflicts of values that characterized the late sixties? These are some of the questions that surround one of the most
unusual courtroom spectacles in American history, the 1969-70 trial of seven radicals accused of conspiring to incite a riot
at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Culturally and politically, 1968 was one of the most turbulent years America has ever seen. As the Vietnam
war became the longest war in U. S. history, American casualties passed the 30,000 mark. When the Viet Cong mounted their
Tet offensive, anti-war protests grew larger and louder on college campuses.
At Columbia, students seized the office of the President and held three persons hostage to protest the school's
ties to the defense Department. Two Jesuit priests, Phil and Daniel Berrigan, burned hundreds of draft records at a Selective
Service center in Maryland. Following the April assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis, riots erupted in 125 cities
leaving 46 dead.
After Senator Eugene McCarthy challenged incumbent President Lyndon Johnson over his support of the war,
Johnson withdrew from the race. Senator Robert Kennedy entered the race after Johnson's withdrawl, only to be shot and killed
on the night in June that he won the California primary.
'Hair,' a controversial new musical about draftees and flower children,
introduced frontal nudity to large audiences. Feminists picketed the Miss America pageant, black students demanded Black Studies
programs, and Eldridge Cleaver published Soul on Ice.
Also in 1968, two groups met to discuss using the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Chicago to
highlight their opposition to the Viet Nam War and establishment values. Although there was some loose coordination between
the two groups, they had different leadership, different agendas, and favored different forms of protest and demonstrations.
The more politically focused of the two groups was the National Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE).
The group more focused on promoting an uninhibited lifestyle was the Youth International Party (YIPPIES).
In addition to these two groups, organizations such as the Black Panther Party and the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference also planned to have representatives in Chicago to press their complaints concerning racism in American
policies and politics.”
There were other important and major events which took place in 1968 and afterwards as the decade was coming
to an end, with protest movements being the most visible symbols of that period.
De-escalation of the war in Vietnam was one of those events and one of the most significant in 1968. The
year witnessed one of the biggest changes in American commitment to the war since the United States got involved in the conflict,
one of the bloodiest since the end of World War II.
The year 1968 was also a turning point in another fundamental respect. The war forced the president of the
United States out of office, changing the course of American history.
College students were some of the biggest opponents of the war, and they played a major role in toppling
the president by their sustained campaign and support for one of the most vocal critics of the war who also ran for president
College campuses had for a long time been a focal point of dissent, and opposition to the war reached its
peak in 1968 among the students across the nation. In the first semester of the 1967-1968 academic year, more than 204 demonstrations
took place on college campuses in different parts of the country. And most of those demonstrations had to do with opposition
to the Vietnam war.
Draft cards were burnt and induction centres were picketed as the opponents of the war chanted, "Hey, hey,
LBJ/How many kids did you kill today?" The burning and bombing of Vietnam villages, roasting entire families alive, shocked
the nation. Even some of the most hardened souls were infuriated by such brutality.
There were even reports of American troops setting huts on fire wth cigarette lighters without showing the
slightest remorse, as children and women screamed for their lives as they burnt to death, prevented from escaping by the soldiers
who surrounded them. It was brutality at its worst.
All this intensified opposition to the war, as students and other young people across the United States
chanted, "Hell no, we won't go," another favourite slogan of the sixties to rally support against American involvement in
the conflict. Thousands of college students said they would rather go to jail or into exile than join the army and go to Vietnam.
And many of them fled the country, seeking asylum in Canada.
The students and other young opponents to the war also got support from their elders including parents.
And in April 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King and 46 professors at Harvard University announced "Vietnam Summer," a nationwide
campaign against the war.
Right from the beginning of the year, it was obvious that things wouldn't
get better for the United States. And it was one of the worst since the country got involved in this conflict thousands of
miles away. It was the year of the Tet Offensive, and much more. As described in "The Long Road Back" in This Fabulous Century: 1960 - 1970 (pp. 43 - 44):
“On the afternoon of Monday, January 29, 1968, as the Tet festival of the New Year dawned in South
Vietnam, the Doves in America received terrible confirmation of all their worst doubts.
The enemy, whom US diplomats and field commanders had reported to be in a state of exhaustion, suddenly
unleashed his greatest offensive of the war.
In 72 shattering hours the Communist forces captured the large city of Hue and fought their way into the
grounds of the supposedly impenetrable US Embassy in Saigon, where they held out for six hours.
Though the US Army in Vietnam numbered a half million men, American soldiers took until February 20 to dislodge
the enemy from the rest of Saigon and until February 24 to free Hue.
The Communist Tet offensive was carried out with a violence that shatteringly denied all the official descriptions
of an exhausted enemy. Much of the American public had believed the US was winning; now it knew otherwise.
In an effort to revive confidence, General William Westermoland, commander of the American forces in Vietnam,
pointing out that 42,000 of the enemy had died, protested that Viet Cong plans 'went afoul.' But now his optimism was openly
challenged in the highest places.
Senator Robert Kennedy, who had earlier supported his brother's escalation in Vietnam, declared that Tet
'shattered the mask of official illusion under which we concealed our true circumstances, even from ourselves.'
Senator Fulbright, who had floor-managed the 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution, giving President Johnson virtually
unlimited war powers in Vietnam, protested that he had been duped: 'I did a great disservice to the Senate. I regret it more
than anything I have ever done in my life.'
In a post-Tet special broadcast, NBC concluded: 'The initiative has passed to the enemy.'
Walter Cronkite, senior newsman at CBS, reported that the US was mired in a 'military stalemate' and threatened
with 'cosmic disaster.'
Still striving for victory, General Westermoland asked for another 206,000 men - a 40 per cent rise in a
force level that had already crept up to 510,000. The Joint Chiefs of Staff approved.
But now President Johnson showed private signs of doubt and sought advice from former President Truman's
Secretary of State, Dean Acheson. Acheson said: 'With all due respect, Mr. President, the Joint Chiefs of Staff don't know
what they're talking about.'
That was shocking, the president said. Well, said Acheson, perhaps the president ought to be shocked.
Yet LBJ was still not ready to reverse the US commitment. He called in Clark Clifford, a Hawk and a loyal
Johnson man, to replace Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who Johnson believed had gone soft on Vietnam.
Clifford studied Westmoreland's request for reinforcements and, to LBJ's surprise, advised against it. Johnson
now concurred; and what was more, he recalled General Westmoreland.
The course of escalation had been stopped. But for Lyndon Baines Johnson the politician, there were some
indications that the move might have come too late.
Primary elections aimed at selecting the 1968 presidential candidates were at hand, the first in New Hampshire
on March 12 and the next in Wisconsin, April 2. And Johnson suddenly discovered that his career was at stake. Thoroughly disaffected
by the war, Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, once close enough to LBJ to be considered for his 1964 running mate, had decided
to challenge Johnson for the '68 (Democratic) presidential nomination.
McCarthy's announcement seemed, at first, like a tilt by Don Quixote at the world's biggest windmill. McCarthy
began the New Hampshire campaign with no visible political organization, no funds and not even a staff.
But suddenly, in one of the most striking, spontaneous occurrences in the history of American politics,
some 5,000 college boys and girls began pouring into New Hampshire to set up 15 McCarthy campaign centers. Shaven, shorn and
neatened up to solicit conservative backing for their champion, the kids pinned McCarthy buttons on factory workers and pleaded
with housewives to consider McCarthy's candidacy on a peace ticket.
Given a chance at only 12 per cent of the vote by the Gallup Poll in January, then 18 per cent by a secret
LBJ poll in February, and 25 to 28 per cent by another prediction in early March, McCarthy actually won a thundering 28,791
total votes to 29,021 for the president. This gave Johnson and his powerful professional machine a lead of only 230 ballots
- and this in a conservative, nominally Hawkish state. The startling results made it no longer impossible that McCarthy might
truly become the nominee.
Lyndon Johnson also read the election returns and understood. At 9 p.m. on the evening of March 31, the
president addressed 70 million Americans over TV:
'I am taking the first step to de-escalate the conflict,' he said. 'I have ordered our aircraft...to make
no attacks on North Vietnam, except in the area [immediately] north of the Demilitarized Zone.'
This news was sensation enough. But the real shocker was still to come. 'There is division in the American
house now,' said Johnson. 'Accordingly I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term
as your president.'
The Vietnam war had toppled the president, who had started his 1964 term with the greatest majority of popular
votes in history.”
Although President Johnson was forced by the anti-war movement - and the resilience of the Viet Cong on
the battle field - not to run for another term, opposition to American involvement in Vietnam was not over in the United States.
When delegates to the Democratic national convention met in Chicago in August 1968 to choose the presidential
candidate for their party, they faced the "impossible" task of withdrawing support for a war their leader, President Johnson,
had fully supported as had his predecessor John F. Kennedy.
It was an acrimonious debate at the convention whose atmosphere was further poisoned by bloody street fights
between the anti-war protesters and the Chicago police. As all this was going on, the delegates at the convention chose Vice
President Hubert Humphrey as the Democratic presidential candidate who was also Johnson's choice.
Not long before the Democratic convention in Chicago, Republicans held theirs in Miami, Florida, and chose
Richard Nixon as the Republican standard bearer.
As the presidential campaign started, it was obvious that it was going to be a close contest. As the candidates
criss-crossed the country campaigning, they carefully avoided making definite commitments as to whether or not they would
end the war or increase American involvement in this costly and unpopular war. Neither candidate took a strong stand on the
matter, skillfully articulating their positions not to offend either party: supporters or opponents of the war.
Despite such political manoeuvres or manoeuvreing, the voters took sides although the race still remained
a close contest until the very end.
But news reports and pictures showing the Chicago police brutalizing the peace demonstrators - beamed across
the nation on television - had a profound impact on some voters who probably turned against the Democratic presidential candidate
since the war was being conducted under Democratic leadership when a Democratic president was in office.
It is those voters who probably helped Nixon win the election by a very slim margin. Humphrey lost to Nixon
by a mere 0.65 percent of the vote, one of the closest presidential contests in the post-World War II era.
Although Nixon won the election by a razor-sharp margin, he knew those numbers carried a very important
message to him. The nation was sharply divided over the war, and almost evenly on who should be president as if both candidates
won. Once a hardliner on the war, he had advocated bombing the communists in Vietnam as far back as 1954. But 14 years later
after winning the 1968 presidential election, he seemed ready to compromise and reach an agreement to start withdrawing American
troops from Vietnam.
On June 8, 1969, hardly six months in office, President Nixon announced the withdrawal of 25,000 American
troops from Vietnam. And within a year, he pledged to pull out 235,000 more by mid-1971, less than two years before the end
of his first term.
But as the decade came to an end, the war was not over and was spreading into neighbouring Laos and Cambodia.
However, the fact that there was a commitment by both parties - Democratic and Republican - towards de-escalation of the conflict
and of American involvement in the war suggested that the hawkish attitude among the supporters of the war including some
of the national leaders was no longer prevalent as it once was in some segments of the American society. Prominent among these
war proponents were some of the nation's most influential leaders in both parties.
It was a victory for pacifists and other opponents of the war. A long-range reduction of American involvement
in Southeast Asia, and total disengagement as advocated by many of them, was now on the agenda of both parties.
And it probably would be one of the main objectives of whoever won the presidency in the future, should
Nixon - then in office - not be the one to achieve this goal of total, even if gradual, disengagement from one of the bloodiest,
most brutal and intractable conflicts in modern history in which the United States had no business getting involved; and which
she made much worse by her involvement.
One of the products of American involvement in the Vietnam war was protest movements in the United States
and other parts of the world. The United States also witnessed a "proliferation" of all kinds of groups in the sixties with
different agendas, advocating different life styles, and calling for fundamental change in the American society.
One of those groups was the White Panther Party, virtually patterned after the Black Panther Party. It was
not a carbon copy.
The White Panther Party was formed in 1968, about two years after the Black Panther Party was formed. It
was active mostly in the Detroit area and in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
It was dedicated to "cultural revolution" and was formed after Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton
was asked in an interview what white people could do to support the Black Panther Party and its programme. Newton said they
could form a White Panther Party.
The White Panther Party was formed by John and Leni Sinclair, and Lawrence (Pun) Plamondon.
To make sure that they did not convey the wrong message since its name was exactly the opposite of the Black
Panthers, the party founders, especially John Sinclair who was one of the the main leaders, made it very clear that the White
Panther Party was not a racist group espousing the doctrine of white supremacy.
In fact, one of the founders, Plamondon was also of Native American stock. His father was a half-Ottawa
Indian, and his mother was part-Ojibwa Indian.
John Sinclair helped to run two underground newspapers, the Detroit Sun and the Fifth Estate together with Peter Werbe and artist Gary Grimshaw which
he used to propagate the White Panther ideology.
Ideologically, the White Panther Party was somewhat similar to the Black Panther Party, except that it also
advocated a free - hedonistic - lifestyle which was not advocated by the Black Panthers in their programme.
But it did, like the Black Panthers, denounce capitalism and said it should be abolished; and called for
the release of "political prisoners." It also said it was "fighting for a clean planet" and was, in that sense, like other
groups advocating environmental awareness to protect the environment.
In November 1968, the Fifth Estate
published the "White Panther State/meant" which ended with a ten-point programme embracing the Black Panther manifesto, among
many other things it advocated.
Estate was an underground newspaper
published on the eastside of Detroit. It was founded by a 17-year-old Detroiter, Harvey Ovshinsky. Its first issue was published
on 19 November 1965 proclaiming: "That's what we really are - the voice of the liberal element in Detroit."
It has been described by the University of Michigan's Labadie Collection to be the longest running, English
language anarchist publication in American history
But the founders of the White Panther Party which was promoted by the
Fifth Estate and the Detroit
Sun ran into trouble with the
In 1969, John Sinclair was sentenced to prison for 10 years for selling two marijuana cigarettes to undercover
narcotics officers. In 1971 his case received international attention when John Lennon performed at a benefit concert on his
On 10 December 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono headlined the Free John Now Rally in front of 15,000 people
at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Michigan. John and Yoko sang the song "John Sinclair." Three days after the concert, the Michigan
Supreme Court released Sinclair and later overturned his conviction.
Also in 1969, Lawrence Plamondon was indicted in connection with the bombing of the CIA office in Ann Arbor
and was listed on the FBI's ten most wanted list. The case was later dismissed after it was learnt that the government had
illegally collected evidence against him.
Plamondon was also arrested and imprisoned in 1970 for 32 months after being pulled over by a Michigan state
trooper for littering.
His arrest signalled the end of the White Panthers as a functional group, although White Panther chapters
in San Francisco and Berkeley remained active into the 1980s.
And even before the party started falling apart, it was already in trouble with the law.
On 5 December 1970, the headquarters of the White Panthers in Portland, Oregon, were raided by the FBI.
Two members of the group were arrested and accused of throwing a molotov cocktail through the window of a local Selective
Service office. It was another sign that the party was in trouble and would not last very long.
But it will always be remembered as one of those groups in the United States in the sixties which made the
decade exciting and sometimes dangerous. because of what they did and advocated.
In Africa, the year 1968 became a historic landmark in the struggle for independence. It was the last year,
in the sixties, in which some countries won independence. It will also always be remembered for another reason in the history
of African liberation: most countries on the continent had won independence by 1968.
The last countries to win independence in that decade were: Mauritius which won independence from Britain
on 12 March 1968; Swaziland, also from Britain, on 6 September 1968; and Spanish Guinea on 12 October 1968. Spanish Guinea
was the only Spanish colony in black Africa and it changed its name to Equatorial Guinea after it won independence.
But the liberation struggle was far from being over. As the sixties came to an end, it gained momentum especially
in the countries of southern Africa....
IN AFRICA, the year 1969 was dominated by the Nigerian civil war probably more than anything else as much
as 1968 was, and attempts to end the deadly conflict continued in many circles but with few tangible results.
Although the war was still going on in 1969, much of the fighting was almost over in most areas of the former
secessionist region. The secessionist forces and their people were squeezed into a very small area in the northern part of
Biafra, which was also agriculturally poor, and it was only a matter of time when they would surrender.
The last major victory for the secessionist forces was in December 1968 when they fought the Federal Army
to a stalemate after an infusion of arms from France and other sources, and the outcome of the war became uncertain. But that
was it. It was no longer a war of attrition but simply of survival for the Biafrans.
The war lasted for two-and-a-half years since fighting broke out in July 1967. Biafra finally surrendered
and, on 15 January 1970 the war was officially over.
It is estimated that up to 2 million Eastern Nigerians, mostly Igbos, perished in the war. Most died from
starvation which the federal military government used as a legitimate instrument of war to force the secessionist forces to
surrender. Some critics said it was a war of genocide against the Igbo.
And it was, up to that time, the deadliest conflict in Africa's post-colonial era.
I remember those days after Tanzania became the first country to recognize Biafra as an independent state
in April 1968. I was a student at a boys' boarding school, Songea Secondary School in Songea, Ruvuma Region in southern Tanzania.
I was in standard 12 then, my final year.
After I passed my final exams - they were the same for all standard 12 students in the three East African
countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania - I was selected to go to Tambaza High School, formerly H.H. The Aga Khan High School,
in the nation's capital Dar es Salaam for further education in Form V (standard 13) and Form VI (standard 14).
Our high school education lasted for two years after which you went to university for three years to earn
your bachelor's degree - B.A., B.Sc., LL.B., or whatever.
It was when I was a student at Tambaza High School in Form V (standard 13) in 1969 that I had a "personal"
encounter with the victims of the Biafran war. Some Eastern Nigerians, especially Igbos, came to live in Tanzania during that
period; I don't know how many but there were a number of them in Dar es Salaam including professionals such as lawyers, judges
The Biafran representative to Tanzania, whose rank was equivalent to that of ambassador, was Dr. Austine
Okwu who later became a professor in the United States; so did his wife, Dr. Beatrice Okwu, who got some of her education
at the University of Dar es Salaam where she studied linguistics when her husband was the official representative of the Repubic
of Biafra in our country.
And there was one sub-editor I worked with at our newspaper, the Standard later renamed Daily News, who came from Eastern Nigeria, what was then Biafra.
He was an Igbo. There were other Biafrans, besides professionals, living in Tanzania in those days.
But that is not the "personal encounter I'm talking about here, with
my colleague on our editorial staff at the Standard and the Daily News. The
experience I'm talking about has to do with what I saw about the war.
When I was at Tambaza High School the plight of the Biafran war victims was a subject of a lot of discussion
by the students, a few of whom were opposed to the secession of Biafra but mainly for the wrong reasons, accusing the Igbos
of "arrogance" without caring to know about what really happened in Nigeria and why Eastern Nigerians decided to withdraw
from the federation.
As we discussed the subject, we also got the chance to see a documentary film about the war. Students from
other schools and other people also went to see it when it was shown in Dar es Salaam - not at our school - but somewhere
in the city within walking distance from our student hostel, H.H. The Aga Khan Hostel in Upanga, a suburb where we lived.
It was disturbing, to say the least. It featured graphic images of the Biafran war victims, men, women and
children with emaciated bodies. The children we saw were terribly malnourished, mere skeletons with protruding bellies. It
was enough to bother the conscience of even some of the most hardened souls. It was gut-wrenching.
Also featured in the documentary film was Colonel Ojukwu, in sombre mood, his face drooping with weariness,
explaining to the world the plight of his people. He was in such mental and emotional anguish that the pain and suffering
of his people was written all over his face.
The documentary was specially relevant to us because our country had recognized Biafra as a sovereign entity
just the year before, and many students who saw the graphic images of starving and wounded Biafrans were overcome with emotion.
It was the most graphic film about war I had ever seen in my short life of 19 years, and it left an indelible mark on my mind
and perhaps of some of the other students as well.
At that point, the Nigerian federal forces did not even have to wage war against the Biafrans. Hunger was
already fighting the war for them. And they used it effectively as a weapon against the Biafrans to force them to surrender.
Nobody, of course, knew for sure back then in 1969 that the war would be over in a few months in January 1970, especially
considering the resilience and determination of the Igbos to be left alone since the fighting started.
Yet, to the war victims, those months must have been years. And it is a tragedy that could have been avoided
had the Nigerian federal government taken into account the fears and concerns of the Biafrans who felt that they were no longer
safe as an integral part of Nigeria.
As the sixties were coming to an end in Africa, another phenomenal event was taking place on the continent.
It was a movement. And it gained momentum in the last years far more than it did in any of the years in that decade. It was
the liberation movement.
So, while the war was still going on Nigeria in 1969, another war was also going on in another part of Africa.
It was a different kind of war but not quite in terms of fighting for freedom just as the Biafrans did.
The other war was in southern Africa where the freedom fighters were waging guerilla warfare against the
white minority regimes in one of the most protracted conflicts in the history of the continent since the advent of colonial
rule. And the end of the sixties turned out to be some of the most critical years in this conflict, especially in terms of
It was mainly horizontal escalation covering a war front of more than 2,000 miles stretching from the east
cost of southern Africa to the western part of the continent in Portuguese Guinea, now Guinea-Bissau. But there was also vertical
escalation in this conflict in terms of weaponry and intensity of warfare as the freedom fighters gained more experience,
and got more and more weapons from their allies especially countries in the Eastern bloc.
The Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China and other Eastern countries were willing to supply them
with whatever weapons they needed to fight the white minority regimes which were being armed by the West. It was an ideological
war between the two ideological camps - East and West - but one of freedom and survival for Africans who accepted weapons
from whoever was willing to help them in times of need.
In 1968, President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia warned the world many times
of an impending confrontation between Black Africa and White Africa along the banks of the Zambesi River which served as a
kind of demarcation line between the two in a substantial part of southern Africa. Other African leaders including Julius
Nyerere of Tanzania had issued similar warnings around the same time and even before then in the case of Nyerere as he did
in his article, "Rhodesia in the Context of Southern Africa," published in the highly influential journal, Foreign Affairs, in April 1966 not long after the white minority regime in Rhodesia unilaterally declared independence on 11
November 1965 to the total exclusion of the black African majority in that country.
By the late 1960s, especially by 1969, the dangers these leaders had warned about - the war between Black
Africa and White-dominated Africa - had not only materialized but got worse. The fighting was already taking place in the
form of guerilla warfare, and it was escalating. The confrontation was costing hundreds of lives and millions of pounds (£)
or dollars a year. And the war was being fought not just along the Zambesi. As John Parker stated in "Expanding Guerilla Warfare":
“Africans and fighting white men along a 'front' that stretches more than 2,000 miles from the Atlantic
to the Indian Ocean.
The battle has been going on for nearly seven years, ever since African nationalists took up arms against
the Portuguese authorities in Angola; but in 1968, for the first time, a 'grand purpose' began to emerge and the issues started
to crystallize into recognizable shape.
The 'battle areas' are fairly clearly defined....Active fighting is going on in Angola, Mozambique and Portuguese
Guinea (in West Africa). Periodic battles are occurring along the northern border of Rhodesia. And on both ocean flanks persistent...attempts
are being made to infiltrate armed insurgents into South and South-West Africa.
So far, the 'purified white tip' of Africa has not yet announced a defence treaty between South Africa,
Rhodesia and the Portuguese territories in Africa. Such a treaty has been urged by Afrikaner and Portuguese strategists from
time to time, and there is no doubt that the South African Government has gone a good part of the way to taking the practical
steps necessary to turn the idea into reality.
The reason for this reluctance is certainly political. While South Africa can maintain reasonable relations
with her African neighbours she will do so, and there is no doubt that a 'White Defence Pact' would immediately focus strongly
adverse world attention onto a situation which South Africa prefers brushed under the carpet.
But the military to-ing and fro-ing between Pretoria, Salisbury, Lourenco Marques and Luanda is hard to
keep secret; and only recently South Africa admitted for the first time that 300 'police' are now on regular duty in Rhodesia.
There can be no doubt that a co-ordinated policy exists for the defence of South Africa; even if it exists
only in the minds of the South Africans who...are pragmatically willing to use the territories to the north of her as buffer
zones toward off any form of attack - military, political, economic and ideological.
South Africa is currently spending £147m. a year on her defence forces and a further £42m.on the para-military
police force. Her armaments are the most sophisticated on the continent of Africa, and her forces the most highly trained.
Portugal maintains 115,000 troops in Africa - 55,000 in Angola, 40,000 in Mozambique and 20,000 in Guinea-Bissau
according to the Institute of Strategic Studies in London. Military expenditure in Portugal absorbs nearly half the entire
In Rhodesia, expenditure has just increased by 10 per cent on both defence and police forces to a total
of nearly £14m. a year - a very heavy strain on a budget already stretched tight by sanctions.
On the African side, details of expenditure are very hazy and deliberately obscured by the Organization
of African Unity (OAU). But there is increasing evidence now that the African liberation effort, more and more co-ordinated
by the African Liberation Committee of the OAU, is finding direction, purpose, training - and funds.
Already the Organization itself is voting an annual sum - undisclosed, but running into several millions
of pounds - for the support of the various liberation movements. This figure is probably doubled by the communist sources
of arms and training, both of which seem to be provided without cost to the guerilla movements which avail themselves freely
of the services offered to them.
Although the struggle has been going on for some years in the Portuguese territories, it is the sudden sharpening
up of guerilla activities in Rhodesia which has brought the future into focus during 1968. Because of Mr. Ian Smith's Unilateral
Declaration of Independence (UDI) in 1965, the eyes and ears of the world press have been trained on Rhodesia, and in spite
of every effort to minimize 'adverse' publicity, details of the battles fought along the Zambesi escarpment have managed to
The casualty figures speak for themselves. The Rhodesians claim to have killed 20 guerillas in 1966, 25
in 1967; and so far in 1968 more than 100 have been killed and nearly as many captured. Hardly a day passes without another
African being tried and sentenced in Salisbury for subversion and terrorism.
With one lull for the rains in 1967 and another for the downpours in 1968, fighting has been going on sporadically
for more than 18 months. It shows no sign of diminishing.
By early December (1968), news came from Rhodesia that the Salisbury authorities have word of up to 1,000
insurgents preparing to cross the Zambesi Valley from base camps in Zambia.
There is no knowing how correct the figures issued by the Rhodesians are; and indeed the rival African nationalist
movements in Rhodesia - the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) - have from
time to time claimed to have killed scores of white Rhodesians and South Africans. In some cases, they have "substantiated'
their claims by quoting names and service numbers (of the soldiers killed).
At first, the little bands of men who tried to take on the trained professionals of the Rhodesian army and
the para-military police forces were badly armed, ill-equipped and inexperienced.
Some were killed, some were captured and some escaped to Botswana. More still died of thirst and starvation
in the bush, and others just gave themselves up.
But now things have changed. The rivals ZANU and ZAPU are reported to be considering coming together as
the Zimbabwe African Liberation Army, financed by the African Liberation Committee of the OAU. The men who now cross the Zambesi
by boat have had months - and sometimes years - of training in bush fighting, endurance and personal survival in China, Cuba,
Russia, Algeria and even North Korea.
They are well-armed with weapons they know how to use, including the highly efficient Chinese Kalashinkov
A.K. 47 automatic rifles. They carry 100-lb. packs of grenades, land mines, first aid kits and iron rations, and use short-wave
radios to communicate with each other and their bases. Headquarters is in Dar es Salaam, where the former Rhodesian lawyer,
Herber Chitepo - who was also Tanzania's first Solicitor-General - is responsible for much of the co-ordination work.
There are two main routes of entry across the Zambesi from the base camps (in Zambia)....
The first is to the West of Lake Kariba - in some cases using the smooth waters of the head of the lake
itself. This is the route used by ZAPU, in conjunction with the African National Congress (ANC) men from South Africa. ZAPU
and ANC have struck up a useful collaboration.
The second route, used mainly by ZANU forces, strikes across the river more than 250 miles to the east -
below the Kariba Dam itself in the Chirundu area and as far east as Tete.
On the western front, the guerillas fan out west and south into the Wankie area - where Rhodesia's coal
is mined - and towards the Kalahari and South West Africa. So intensive has been the fighting here that there are stories
that the game has started to move from the Wankie National Park because it is continually disturbed by the firing and the
On the Chirundu front, the guerillas form a potential threat to the rich farming areas of Karoi and Sinoia,
while at the same time pointing a warning spearhead at Salisbury itself. Some of the farmers in the area have moved their
families to Salisbury for safety....
The overall objective of the African nationalists is long term....Their achievements in the face of a well-armed,
sophisticated army and police force should not be underestimated. As one senior ZANU official told me: 'For two years we have
kept the Rhodesian army and police at full stretch. They've had to send for help to South Africa, and their losses are far
higher that they admit (including helicopters shot down by the guerilla fighters).'
He agreed that guerilla losses had been heavy, and with Rhodesian claims
that the security forces have captured large quantities of weapons and ammunition. 'There's plenty more where that came from,'
he said. 'And it doesn't cost us anything.'” - (Africa
Contemporary Record, op. cit.,
.pp. 53, 55 - 56).
The guerilla strategy employed by the freedom fighters enabled them, many times, to mingle with and melt
into the local population in the rural areas without being detected by the Rhodesian security forces. They also won sympathy
and support from the people in the villages, many of whom provided them with food and shelter and even joined the liberation
And when some of the guerilla fighters were killed by the members of the Rhodesian army and the para-military
police, the freedom fighters got even more support from the local population.
Also, the freedom fighters showed not only courage but competence on the battlefield when they fought the
Not too long ago, they had been dismissed as inept, inexperienced, no more than ragtag rebels incapable
of engaging in battle even raw recruits of the white Rhodesian army; but not anymore by the end of the sixties.
They had become a credible fighting force and could no longer be dismissed as they had been before.
And the backbone of their support within was the local population, in addition to the help they were getting
from their supporters and allies in other countries in Africa - such as Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda, Nigeria, Algeria, Ethiopia,
Ghana, Egypt, Guinea, Congo-Brazzaville, and others - and elsewhere especially in the Eastern bloc:
“The (ZANU) official claimed significant advances in winning support from the local population. The
Rhodesians claim their security is among the best in the world, and they are adept and experienced in the use of informers
in the kraals in the bush....
The Rhodesian Air Force has become expert in winkling out guerilla strongholds. Their obsolescent Hunters,
Vampires and Canberras, plus the Alouette helicopters they have acquired from France, are ideally suited to this type of 'search
and destroy' operation, although at least one Alouette has been shot down by the guerillas....
But 'even the loss of our men has helped us,' said the ZANU official. 'Relatives and friends soon get to
know about someone being killed or captured. And their attitude changes from apathy to military overnight.'
As the bushcraft of the security forces has improved along with that of the invaders, so the white troops
and police have reluctantly grown to respect the African guerillas for their fighting qualities. True, the pictures fed to
the Press by the Rhodesian authorities show tough, Afrika-Korps-type whites interrogating at gunpoint a grovelling captive
who, they say, has 'spilled the beans.'
But the image is not borne out by facts. When they have met the white troops on an equal footing the guerillas
have stood their ground and fought bravely; and their spirit of defiance has shone through even in the courts where they have
faced mandatory death sentences.” - (Ibid., pp. 57, and 56).
By the late sixties, the battle lines had not only been clearly drawn but also sometimes shifted because
of the intensity of warfare and the increasing ability of the freedom fighters to win battles and hold the territory they
had won or reclaimed from the whites.
In southern Africa, Mozambique and Angola provided the best example of this kind of success by the guerillas.
And the freedom fighters in Zimbabwe were headed in the same direction; it would be only a matter of time before they also
would claim major victories.
African journalists and others from elsewhere, were some of the people who witnessed
the major advances made by the freedom fighters in Mozambique and in Angola by the late sixties.
By 1969, large parts of Angola and Mozambique were liberated zones, protected and administered by the liberation
movements in both countries - the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola), and FRELIMO (Front for the Liberation
The liberation wars had not yet been won by 1968 or 1969, and it would be a few more years before those
countries would be finally free. But by the end of the sixties, there was no question that the guerillas were not only competent
fighters; they were also capable of defending the territories they had captured even when they were faced with massive attacks
by the colonial forces which had been forced to depend on reinforcements from the mother country, Portugal, to continue fighting
Yet, even these reinforcements were not enough to neutralize let along dislodge the guerilla fighters from
the liberated zones. Even in Zimbabwe, the guerillas were more than just a nuisance, in spite of the help the Rhodesian security
forces got from apartheid South Africa, the country with the strongest army on the continent:
“The Zimbabwe freedom fighters have not yet matched the exploits of their brothers-in-arms in Mozambique
and Angola, who claim effective control over large tracts of their respective countries in spite of the huge forces ranged
against them. Recent accounts by journalists who have made hazardous and often uncomfortable trips into the territories confirm
One journalist, Basil Davidson, went with Frelimo (the Mozambique Liberation Front) across the Ruvuma River
which is technically the border between Tanzania and Mozambique and marched in daylight without any hindrance from Portuguese
troops, to an astonishing congress in the bush. He wrote:
'At a place where newly-built huts stood within the cover of a wood, about 150 political and military leaders
were assembled. They had come from all parts of a colony that is one-and-a-half times as big as France.
They began fighting the Portuguese in 1964. Since then they have cleared the Portuguese out of most of the
rural country of Cabo Delgado and Niassa, a region not much smaller than the British isles. In this liberated zone they have
set up schools and clinics and introduced their own economic system.
The congress I attended was the first since the fighting started. It was called to discuss how they could
push farther to the south and extend the war. Present were the whole central committee of the Liberation Front, including
its president 48-year-old Eduardo Mondhlane, once a Doctor of Sociology at Syracuse University, New York State....'
Just as astonishing is an account of a young Zambian journalist Tommy Chibaye, who only recently returned
from six weeks spent with the African nationalist forces in Angola.
He attended a similar congress, headed by the poet, Dr. Agostinho Neto (he was also a medical doctor by
training), of the MPLA. He reports that the Africans claim considerable control in at least 10 of Angola's 15 provinces, with
continuous fighting over the past seven years (since 1961):
'We passed many wrecked shops and villages razed to the ground by the Portuguese soldiers. Despite their
having had their homes burned, the villagers had happily settled down in temporary camps under the supervision of the guerillas.
There they have established co-operative gardens to feed themselves and the guerilla forces, growing cassava,
rice, tomatoes, onions and other vegetables.'
Not once in his six weeks, although he lived rough, did Tommy Chibaye go hungry. He found the MPLA providing
schooling and instruction to Angolan Africans of all ages in a three-pronged drive. They set up a Post Command for military
instruction, a Medical Assistance Service to look after health, particularly of war victims, and a Revolutionary Instruction
Centre, where academic and political instruction is given.
From the centres, trained activists moved throughout the country raising more volunteers for the guerilla
forces; in giving effect to a new policy for some time now all guerilla volunteers have been trained within Angola. Chibaye
reports that the Portuguese have now taken to travelling everywhere in convoys of not less than 50 vehicles in the Moxico
Province, covered by helicopters the whole time.
With the evidence at his fingertips, it is not surprising that Dr. Kaunda is apprehensive about the future.
His country is already at the heart of the guerilla activity....
He has already complained that Zambian villages have been the subject of attack by Angolan Air Forces and
commando raids; and he is worried by the constant threat the strong South African and Rhodesian Air Forces pose from the south.”
- (Ibid., pp. 57 - 58).
Although Zambia was highly vulnerable to attack from two fronts, the Angolan-Zambian border and the Rhodesian-Zambian
border, the longest attack came from Angola because the war in that Portuguese colony had been going on for a number of years,
thus for a longer period than the conflict in Rhodesia.
The liberation war in Angola started in 1961. In January of that year there was a revolt on the cotton plantations
in Malange. In February police stations and prisons in Luanda were attacked by the MPLA, and in March full-scale war broke
out in the north of the country.
The MPLA was formed in December 1956 from a number of clandestine groups which first began to emerge in
the capital, Luanda, in 1953. It underwent a series of initial crises between 1961 and 1965 when it began to consolidate itself
behind the leadership of Dr. Agostinho Neto.
Although a number of Angolan nationalist organizations were based in neighbouring countries and had offices
elsewhere, one group stood out among all those groups. And that was the MPLA. It was the best organized, and most nationalist-oriented,
transcending racial and ethnic differences.
When the MPLA was first formed and launched guerilla attacks, it operated mainly from Congo-Brazzaville
and Zambia. Shortly thereafter, it also had an office and training facilities in Tanzania which, in 1963, was chosen by the
OAU as the headquarters of all the African liberation movements. The MPLA's launched guerilla operations in Cabinda, the Dembo
region, and southeast Angola.
Another group was the UPA, which was later renamed the FNLA (National Front for the Liberation of Angola).
The UPA was formed in 1954 principally with the support of the Bakongo and other ethnic groups in Northern Angola. It initially
provided the main challenge to the Portuguese colonial rulers at the beginning of the insurrection in 1961 and was even recognized
by the OAU. Under the leadership of Dr. Holden Roberto, the UPA and its affiliated groups formed the Government-in-Exile of
Angola (GRAE) in 1963 with the blessings of the OAU but later lost its legitimacy.
In February 1968, OAU Secretary-General Diallo Telli announced that a recommendation by the OAU Liberation
Committee based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, had advised OAU member-states to re-examine and change their attitude towards
GRAE. The report said investigations had shown that GRAE was more concerned with intrigue and personality conflicts than with
the battle in Angola. GRAE, like its successor the FNLA under the same leadership of Roberto Holden, was also severely compromised
by its ethnic base and bias.
Although other ethnic groups were involved in the formation of the FNLA as they were in GRAE's, the FNLA
was still mainly Bakongo and was based in the Congo Democratic Republic (renamed Zaire). And its limited operations also had
a strong ethnic base mainly in northern and northwestern Angola.
In 1964, another group emerged on the scene. It was UNITA (National Union for the Total Liberation of Angola)
led by Dr. Jonas Savimbi and was based in eastern Angola. UNITA was formed as a breakaway from UPA. Until 1967 UNITA had its
headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia, but Savimbi was expelled by President Kaunda. After spending some time in Egypt and guinea,
Savimbi and his cadres moved to eastern Angola.
But like the UPA and later the FNLA, UNITA was also limited in its membership and support because of ethnicity.
It drew its strongest support from the Ovimbundu in eastern and central Angola. Savimbi himself was a member of this ethnic
There were a number of smaller groups, based mainly in the Congo Democratic Republic, pursuing a nationalist
agenda in varying degrees. But none equaled the MPLA, the FNLA or UNITA - but especially the MPLA - in stature, influence
They were the largest Angolan nationalist organizations and even fought during independence until the MPLA
In fact, by the late sixties, the MPLA was the most effective nationalist organization in Angola and fought
the most, enabling it to capture most of the territory before the decade came to an end.
Even the bastion of white rule on the continent, apartheid South Africa, was apprehensive about its future
as it came under increasing threat from the African nationalist forces supported by the independent African countries and
other allies. And the leaders of the apartheid regime made it clear that they took the threat seriously, as they clearly stated
in the late sixties. As South African Defence Minister P.W. Botha, who later became one of the last two presidents of apartheid
South Africa, warned in November 1968:
“We must realise once and for all that we will live in danger for many years to come, and we must
realise that not only our soldiers, but all our people must be prepared to fight for all we hold dear.” - (Ibid., p.
He was definitely addressing whites, not blacks and other non-whites. As victims of officially-sanctioned
racial oppression and exploitation, apartheid was not something that was dear to their hearts.
It was also not supported let alone cherished by some whites who were opposed to apartheid and all other
forms of racial discrimination, oppression and exploitation.
Yet, the clock was ticking, and time was running out for the architects and supporters of apartheid. Racial
confrontation and violence was looming on the horizon, and prospects for guerilla warfare were real.
There was mounting concern - among all sectors of the white society - about threats to the country's security
which had never been expressed before since apartheid was instituted in 1948.
The sixties, especially the late sixties, were a time of reckoning for many whites. Their future was uncertain.
As one leading Afrikaner industrialist, Dr. Anton Rupert, told the Public Relations Institute in April 1968:
“Do we all realise that we nearly had a potential Cuba in our midst in Lesotho?
I have been studying the possible reply to this insidious revolutionary warfare for some years now. In the
course of my travels I have spoken to many famous generals about this problem.
One of the most knowledgeable of them all warned me three years ago that within a decade at the utmost we
would be faced with an Algerian-type situation in Southern Africa.
Yet, a revolutionary war is mainly a political action, for the final outcome depends on the support of the
masses. it is, therefore, important to offer the masses hope for the future. It is essential that our own people of various
races know that they are better off than the masses of Africa and Asia, and that this condition will improve even further.
It is essential that we work with our own and neighbouring peoples, who believe with us that terrorising,
rioting and revolution is no way to improve the estate of man.” - (Ibid., p. 290).
The general who warned Dr. Rupert in 1965 that southern African would be faced with a situation similar
to what happened in Algeria against the French in the fifties was right in his prediction. Within ten years, virtually the
entire region of southern Africa was engulfed in guerilla warfare.
All the countries bordering apartheid South Africa were at war. The freedom fighters were busy fighting
the colonialists forces. Even Botswana, which became independent in 1966, was involved because it supported the freedom fighters
and its territory became a sanctuary for the guerillas, including those from South Africa who posed an increasing threat to
the apartheid regime.
In fact, within that ten-year period from 1965 to 1975, two colonies, Mozambique and Angola, won independence
after 500 years of Portuguese colonial rule in the oldest colonies on the entire continent together with Portuguese Guinea
in West Africa which won independence as Guinea-Bissau in 1974. And within five years after Mozambique and Angola became independent,
Rhodesia also became independent as Zimbabwe in 1980.
Only South Africa and South West Africa - both ruled by the same apartheid regime - remained under white
And the dagger was now - as far back as the late sixties - pointed at the heart of the apartheid regime
itself, the bastion of white supremacy on the African continent. In fact, the situation in South Africa had been deteriorating
for quite some time.
The biggest change was caused by the regime itself as a repressive apparatus when it refused to negotiate
with the African nationalist leaders and instead cracked down on them, forcing them to abandon non-violence and go underground
and into exile to seek support for a violent confrontation with the racist rulers of that country.
But the transformation came slowly. It was not until the Sharpeville massacre in March 1960 that African
leaders and their supporters finally decided to embrace armed struggle as a complementary strategy - they did not entirely
give up negotiations if the apartheid regime was willing to talk seriously - in their quest for freedom and racial equality.
Still, it was a turning point in the liberation struggle and in the history of South Africa when leaders
such as Nelson Mandela, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu decided to use violence to end apartheid.
Their decision formally marked the end of an era; an era of conciliatory
African nationalist politics dominated by stalwarts like Chief Albert Luthuli who was the national chairman of the African
National Congress (ANC), the largest liberation movement in South Africa. As Oliver Tambo stated in the official publication
of the African National Congress in exile, Sechaba, 1968:
“For a long time the ANC has been conducting militant struggle relying on non-violent methods. This
became particularly intense during the '50s nd gradually led to a stage at which the Movement switched over from nonviolence
to the phase of armed struggle.
During 1967 the first armed clashes occured between, on the one hand, the combined forces of the Smith and
Vorster regimes, and on the other, the united guerillas of the ANC (African National Congress) and ZAPU (Zimbabwe African
It can be said that for the ANC this is the beginning of the armed struggle for which we have been preparing
since the early '60s.
It is a phase in which we can rightly claim to have scored victories by virtue of the superiority which
our fighters demonstrated over the racist forces sending a wave of panic throughout the area dominated by the racist regimes
and arousing the masses to a new revolutionary mood.
This is, however, only a small beginning in terms of the bitterness and magnitude of the revolution which
is unfolding and which embraces the whole of Southern Africa. But it is an impressive and effective beginning providing what
I consider a guarantee for the success of our armed struggle.” - (Oliver Tambo, Ibid.).
The African guerilla fighters first surfaced on South Africa's horizon in 1966. That was when they entered
South West Africa which was virtually an integral part of South Africa administered by the apartheid regime.
It was also in the same year, in October 1966, that the United Nations passed a resolution to revoke South
Africa's mandate over South West Africa (Namibia) but which the apartheid regime defied until 1988.
The guerillas who entered South West Africa were members of the South West African People's Organization
(SWAPO) led by Sam Nujoma.
They entered what the freedom fighters were already calling Namibia from Zambia and Botswana through the
Caprivi Strip which is part of South West Africa and on the borders with those two countries.
Another guerilla threat which was so close to apartheid South Africa came in 1967 from the guerillas of
the African National Congress (ANC) who forged links with the forces of ZAPU in Rhodesia. They were right across the border
and ready to enter South Africa itself.
The citadel of white power on the continent was not as secure as it seemed to be. As Colin Legum, writing
during that period, stated:
“By 1968 the potential threat of escalating guerilla attacks became elevated to a top priority of
the South African regime, in stark contrast to its claims in 1948 that its policies would increase the country's state of
Late in 1967 the Government appointed an expert in counter-insurgency, Lieutenant-General C.A. Fraser, as
General Officer Commanding Joint Combat Forces.
This threat was taken a stage further on April 24 (1968) by Commandant-General S.A. Melville, former head
of the South African Defence Force, who said that South Africa already had sufficient justification and provocation for retaliation
against countries which 'harboured' and encouraged terrorists whose only intention was to penetrate South Africa or South
He supported the Minister of Defence's (P.W.Botha's) view that such countries should receive a 'sudden hard
knock.'” - (Colin Legum, ibid., p. 291).
It was clear which countries they had in mind: Tanzania and Zambia. They were the only countries, together
with Botswana, which were independent during that period in that region and close to South Africa.
They were also the only ones in that region which offered sanctuary to the people who fled from oppression
and persecution under the apartheid regime and the colonial governments in Angola and Mozambique.
And unlike Botswana, Tanzania and Zambia also provided military training for the freedom fighters from South
Africa, South West Africa, and Rhodesia. And in 1968, Tanzania also built a powerful radio transmitter for external service
in Dar es Salaam, the capital, to help the freedom fighters propagate their message worldwide.
So, the two countries were clearly seen as enemies of South Africa, and the threat by South Africa's Defence
Minister P.W. Botha that countries which harbour and support terrorists - freedom fighters in the lexicon of Africans - should
receive a "sudden hard knock" was, without question, a pointed reference to Tanzania and Zambia.
I remember some of the first "sudden hard knocks" Tanzania received in the late sixties when I was a student
at Songea Secondary School in Ruvuma Region in the southern part of the country. They came from the Portuguese forces across
the border in Mozambique who were getting a lot of help from the South African Defence Force.
The South African white government also had its agents who infiltrated Tanzania and Zambia. Many of them
came to Tanzania and went to Zambia ostensibly as political refugees or freedom fighters to undergo military training in guerilla
camps in these two countries.
They were engaged in subversive activities and did everything they could to weaken and undermine the liberation
movements. The infiltrators were also a great strain on the Tanzanian and Zambian intelligence services which had to track
them down. And the liberation movements themselves did a very good job identifying those enemies.
All that was an integral part of a grand strategy by the apartheid regime to neutralize the nationalist
forces and delay its day of reckoning when it would have to face the freedom fighters.
And although the Portuguese may have been capable of penetrating our air space during those years, the aerial
bombing of southern Tanzania including the use of napalm bombs was facilitated by the assistance the colonial forces got from
South Africa, the United States and other western allies of Portugal. In fact, some of the weapons including bombs which were
used by the Portuguese in Mozambique came from the United States as they did in the case of Angola.
The United States collaborated with apartheid South Africa, the white minority government in Rhodesia, and
with the Portuguese authorities in Angola and Mozambique to contain and neutralize what they perceived to be a threat to white
and western interests in Africa.
And they had a number of people, including some leaders in tha liberation movements, on the CIA payroll.
For example, in the case of Angola, the CIA and American leaders felt that the leader of the FNLA, Dr. Holden Roberto was
someone they could easily buy and manipulate at will, and went on to put him on the CIA payroll around 1961 or 1962. Yet,
at the same time, they continued to support the colonial regime while pretending to be sympathetic towards the freedom fighters,
especially Holden Roberto his colleagues in the FNLA.
In the following years after the early sixties when Dr. Holden Roberto was put on the CIA payroll, the United
States provided weapons and ammunition, and counter-insurgency training the Portuguese colonial rulers needed to contain and
if possible neutralize the nationalist forces of the MPLA and the FNLA which were fighting for independence.
The devastation caused by American-supplied weapons used by the Portuguese against Africans including innocent
civilians - women and children being among the biggest victims - was extensive. As John Marcum, an American scholar who walked
800 miles through Angola and visited FNLA training camps in the early sixties, wrote:
“By January 1962 outside observers could watch Portuguese planes
bomb and strafe African villages, visit the charred remains of towns like Mbanza M’Pangu and M’Pangala, and copy
the data from 750-point napalm bomb casings from which the Portuguese had not removed the labels marked ‘Property U.S.
Air Force.’” - (John Marcum, quoted by William Blum, “Angola 1975 to 1980s: The Great Powers Poker Game,”
in W. Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions
since World War II (Monroe, Maine:
Common Courage Press, 1995).
So it was with Mozambique, another Portuguese colony. American assistance to the colonial forces in Mozambique
was just as critical in their war against the freedom fighters, as was the assistance they got from South Africa.
The apartheid regime in South Africa was also using the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique and
the British colony of Rhodesia as buffer zones. But that was not enough to insulate white South Africa from the nationalist
forces; a concession also made by the government itself:
“On April 25 (1968), the Deputy Minister of Police, Mr. S.L. Muller, informed parliament on information
about fresh groups of 'terrorists' gathering in Zambia.
The Prime Minister said in the same debate that while conditions were quiet inside the Republic he did not
want to give an assurance that everything would always be like that. The ANC, he added, was still active (although it had
been outlawed in 1960); but the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) was finding things more difficult.
The figures he gave of ANC casualties in Rhodesia were: in 1967, 29 killed, 17 wounded and 34 fled to Botswana;
in 1968, of 30 ANC guerillas who entered Rhodesia, 'a number' was killed. He added: 'The combatting of terrorism had advanced
as well as could be expected under the circumstances.'
On May 17, Mr. Vorster, speaking at the National Party's 'twenty years
of Nationalist rule festival,' said that slowly but surely an army would be built up in certain Central African States for
an eventual 'now or never' attack on South Africa.” - (Colin Legum, Africa Contemporary Record,
op. cit., p. 291).
He was not very far from the truth, as the independent African countries and other allies especially those
in the Eastern bloc as well as the People's Republic of China, Cuba and North Korea kept on supporting the freedom fighters,
providing them with material and military assistance in their struggle against the apartheid regime.
Two days before Prime Minister Vorster issued that warning, a summit meeting of 14 Central and East African
leaders was held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on 15 May 1968 and the leaders promised full support to the guerilla fighters
in all the countries in southern Africa still under white minority rule.
A number of African countries, and not just those in East and Central Africa, were ready to mobilize forces
to help the freedom fighters in their war against apartheid South Africa.
The independent countries close to or bordering white-ruled southern Africa as a whole - not just South
Africa - were the frontline states in the struggle against the white minority regimes in that region; with the exception of
Malawi under Dr. Kamuzu Banda who had cordial relations with the apartheid regime and the Portuguese colonial rulers in Mozambique
And they were ready to support the freedom fighters in many different ways. For example, when President
Julius Nyerere of Tanzania was asked in interview on an American television programme ABC's "Issues and Answers" in July 1977
if he would commit troops to help the freedom fighters if they went to war against apartheid South Africa, he answered: "Yes,
I will commit troops. We would rather hang together than hang separately."
The apartheid regime introduced several measures in the late sixties to counter the "terrorist" threat,
as the freedom fighters continued to mobilize forces in their struggle against white minority rule. On 2 June 1968, the South
African minister of justice, P.C. Pelser, introduced the Terrorism Bill and announced that there was every reason to believe
that South Africa had not "seen the last of the terrorists."
The bill sought extensive powers to detain indefinitely anybody suspected of being engaged in activities,
or of withholding information about terrorist threats or activities. it also demanded the death penalty for the crime of terrorism.
As stated in parliament in Cape Town when elaborating on the "terrorist" threat:
“The Bill should be judged against the whole background of internal
onslaughts on the legal order since 1960. The terrorists who are now returning are largely the harvest of the subversive activities
of the ANC, PAC, SWAPO and the Communists. It is largely their trained, so-called freedom fighters who are now returning.”
(Pelser, Africa Contemporary Record, p. 292).
But nothing the apartheid regime did was able to deter the freedom fighters from pursuing their goal. On
11 June 1968, the Portuguese colonial authorities in Mozambique announced that they had foiled an attempt by the Pan-Africanist
Congress (PAC) to establish a new route to South Africa through that country. They claimed that four guerillas were killed
in a fight with the Portuguese forces near Vila Pery only 50 miles from the border with Rhodesia.
And in July the same year, SWAPO claimed to have inflicted heavy damage on strategic places maintained by
the apartheid regime in South West Africa. They included the airfield at Katima Mulilo in the Caprivi Strip along the Botswana-South
West African (Namibian) border. The guerilla fighters claimed the South Africans lost some lives in the fiery exchange. At
first, the South African authorities denied reports of any guerilla activities in the Caprivi Strip but later confirmed the
existence of considerable activity by the SWAPO freedom fighters in that area.
It was obvious that the threat to the apartheid regime was real; a point underscored by the Commandant-General
of the South African Defence Force, General Hiemstra, on 8 August 1968 when he was answering a question as to whether or not
guerilla fighting in neighbouring Rhodesia could one day develop into a full-scale war as in Vietnam. He said:
“Most certainly yes. This is the technique the communists used
in Vietnam. This technique involves the gradual building up of terrorism until it eventually becomes conventional warfare.”
- ( Hiemstra, Africa Contemporary Record, Ibid.).
Towards the end of the year in October 1968, South Africa's Commissioner of Police, Major-General J.P. Gouws,
also admitted that there was increasing guerilla activity in South West Africa in the Caprivi Strip by the SWAPO freedom fighters
whom he also called "terrorists," a term in the lexicon of the white minority rulers used to tarnish the image of the freedom
He said after the guerillas failed to penetrate by using force, they were now concentrating on slipping
into South West Africa to recruit people from the local population for the insurgency. He knew the freedom fighters had adopted
the right strategy since local support was critical to the success of any guerilla warfare. And that worried the apartheid
He went on to say that "terrorists" were moving from village to village in an attempt to recruit chiefs,
who would in turn mobilize local support for the liberation struggle, and conceded that they had had some success in this
effort. He said five chiefs had recently been arrested in the Caprivi Strip for supporting the guerillas, and other people
were also arrested in connection with the campaign to help SWAPO and recruit fighters. Although he said some arrests had been
made, he still admitted that it was impossible to fully secure a border stretching 5,000 miles to protect South Africa:
“Some terrorists may have avoided security forces and be working much further inland. We have more
than 0,000 illegal immigrants in this country, and some of them could well be Communist-trained guerillas.” - (J.P.
Gouws, ibid., p. 293).
The Minister of the Interior, Mr. L. Muller, denied SWAPO reports that 63 Africans were "publicly slaughtered"
after attacks in the Caprivi Strip on 13 October 1968. However, South African intelligence officers admitted that there were
signs of fresh attacks from "across the Rhodesian frontier soon." They claimed that the guerilla offensive will be launched
by 2,000 Africans who had left South Africa "under the pretence of studying abroad."
There was every indication that the end of the sixties, especially 1968 and 1969, was a time of intensified
of guerilla activity in southern Africa, with the apartheid regime being one of the primary targets in the region, unlike
before when the South African authorities felt more secure.
The warning of an impending attack by the African nationalist forces
in the form of a guerilla insurgency was also issued by the Minister of Police and Interior, Mr. Muller, on October 13th who
said, far from having receded, the danger of guerilla attacks had become much more serious. As he put it: "In actual fact
the forces against South Africa are now stronger than ever before" (Africa
Contemporary Record, p. 293).
He also admitted that in some of the areas where guerillas had been successful in getting support, not all
Africans were well-disposed towards whites. That is something that should not have been difficult for him to understand. But,
instead, he attributed that to illiteracy and poverty; implying that had those Africans not been poor, and had they been educated,
they would not have been hostile towards or suspicious of whites - as if they did not suffer from racial oppression under
The deteriorating situation in southern Africa also came into sharp focus when the apartheid regime sent
its forces into Rhodesia to help neutralize guerillas whom white rulers and their supporters felt threatened the entire region
and the well-being of the white minorities. In November 1968, the United Nations discussed a resolution condemning the presence
of South Africa's military forces in Rhodesia.
The UN also said South Africa's military involvement in Rhodesia aggravated the situation and constituted
a threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the independent African states. The South African delegate to the
UN, Carl von Hirschberg, was defiant and had this to say in response to that:
“The South African police are in Rhodesia exclusively for the purpose of dealing with terrorists en
route to South Africa for the purpose of committing acts of terrorism and subversion, and they will remain there for as long
as this threat to the security of South Africa persists, for it is the duty of the South African government, no less than
any other government, to resist with all means at their disposal, any and every attempt to endanger the safety and security
of South Africa and her peoples.
Thus, those States which object to the presence of South African Police in Rhodesia and who, at the same
time, train, equip or harbour these terrorists, need only to stop these unjustified and illegitimate practices and the need
to have South African Police in Rhodesia will fall away.” - (Hirschberg, ibid., pp. 293 - 294).
By the end of the sixties, the apartheid regime had more than enough warning about the perils it faced once
sucked into guerilla warfare, fighting virtually an invisible enemy hardly distinguishable from the local population. It was
an outcome the white minority government and its supporters wanted to avoid, but chose the wrong approach, confrontation,
when they refused to make meaningful concessions to the black African majority and other non-whites.
Yet, in spite of such defiance, the white rulers of South Africa conceded that they were facing a new enemy
in terms of strategy and tactics they had never fought before. At the end of August 1968, in the same month Defence Minister
Pieter W. Botha made a threat against Tanzania and Zambia that the two countries should received a "sudden hard knock" for
harbouring - and training - "terrorists," the South African General Officer Commanding Joint Combat Forces, General C.A. Fraser,
gave a military appraisal of the nature of the guerilla threat to South Africa at a symposium held in Potchefstrom and, in
an ominous warning, had this to say:
“For 50 years, the world has seen widespread and virtually continuous political revolution. Probably
more governments have come into being, passed through drastic change, or ceased to exist, than in any comparable period of
These changes in regime have been brought about, in the main, by a new kind of warfare, now widely termed
revolutionary warfare. It has cystalised rapidly since the end of the Second World War. It differs fundamentally from the
wars of the past in that victory does not come from the clash of two armies on a field of battle. Revolutionary wars are conducted
as a carefully co-ordinated system of actions, political, economic, administrative, psychological, police and military.
The insurgent will use any means to overthrow the established regime, including ruthless force. His primary
task is to gain support of the population. Without the consent and active aid of the people, the guerilla would be merely
a bandit and could not long survive.
From the point of view of the insurgents, perhaps the basic ingredients of successful revolution are a popular
cause, trained, efficient and dedicated leadership, support of the population, outside support and a firm base or sanctuary.
It has been said that a revolutionary war is 20 per cent military action and 80 per cent political. The failure to recognise
this is bound to lead ultimately to failure in countering and defeating the insurgency.
The basic tenet of the exercise of political power is that there is always an active minority for the cause,
an uncommitted majority and an active minority against the cause. For ultimate victory it is necessary to gain support of
the neutral majority. The objective for both sides in a revolutionary war is thus the population itself.
The operations designed to win the population, either by the insurgents or by the government, are essentially
of a political nature. It is important to realise that adequate support for a guerilla movement does not necessarily mean
the enthusiastic, voluntary backing of a large majority of the population. The active participation of a small number of people,
or the general apathy of the majority, often provide all the popular support necessary to make a successful revolution.
The support of the population for a government is gained through the favourable minority. Every operation,
whether in the military field or in the political, social economic or psychological fields, must be geared to this end.
Staying power is an attribute that is vital for eventual government success. Operations in Malaya took 12
years, and in Algeria eight years to be concluded. Mao-Tse-tung took 35 years to get China. The communists think they have
a monopoly on patience.
We made a study of all this. We know what to do. May I assure that we will win.” - (Fraser, ibid.,
History proved him wrong, although it was not until 26 years later - a time span almost equal to the number
of years Nelson Mandela spent in prison - that the walls of that abominable institution, the edifice of apartheid, finally
came tumbling down when the first multiracial democratic elections in the nation's history were held in 1994 and Mandela was
But even as far back as 1968 and 1969, the end f the sixties, it was clear to some people that mounting
opposition to apartheid would finally prevail over racial oppression, ushering in a dawn of a new era when everybody would
And by the end of the sixties, the apartheid regime showed every sign of a regime under siege, or one that
felt it was in imminent danger of attack, as it increased expenditure on defence dramatically. The government was preoccupied
with security more than anything else during that period.
Procurement of weapons for armed forces went up; expenditure on police forces and on the intelligence services
also went up as never before. For example, expenditure on secret services was increased by R640,000 to R2,342,000 for 1968/69.
And fortunately for the regime, the rand was still a very strong currency during those critical years.
South Africa also improved its capability to manufacture its own weapons to complement purchases from other
countries such as Britain, France, the United States and Germany which were some of the biggest sources of arms for the apartheid
regime. And in October 1968, the apartheid regime established its first missile base on the east coast of Natal Province.
The first guided missile was launched from the site in December the same year.
The country was already building its own submarines, aircraft, a number of war ships, rifles, mortars, ammunition,
grenades, bombs including napalm bombs, mines and other weapons. Its armaments industry was under the management of the Armaments
Development and Production Corporation ARMSCOR) whose first chairman was Professor H.J. Samuels.
But all those weapons were useless against guerilla warfare and the strategy employed by the liberation
movements to make the country ungovernable until apartheid was abolished.
Compounding the problem was the deteriorating situation in Rhodesia, a more vulnerable outpost of white
tyranny over blacks where the freedom fighters from South Africa and Rhodesia itself coordinated their activities.
On 30 July - 31 July 1967, the Luthuli Combat Detachment - named in honour of Chief Albert Luthuli who was
the president of the South African ANC - comprising ZAPU and ANC guerillas, crossed the Zambesi River into Rhodesia. That
was the beginning of guerilla warfare in Rhodesia, South Africa's neighbour. And on 18 August 1967, ANC and ZAPU formally
announced that they had formed a military alliance.
They clashed with Rhodesian and South African forces in Wankie and Sipolilo in Rhodesia and demonstrated
their fighting ability in a way their enemies never expected. The conflict lasted until late 1968, sending a strong warning
to the white minority government in Rhodesia and the apartheid regime in South Africa that guerilla warfare would soon engulf
The apartheid regime was fully aware of the danger although it claimed it wuld be able to contain it. But
to show that it took the danger seriously, it increased its military preparedness and passed a law to achieve that goal. On
4 August 1967, the Defence Amendment Act came into force. Under that law, every young white male would be liable for military
service. The amendments were also intended to make all medically fit citizens, except for those who join the permanent force,
the South African police, the railways or prison services, liable for military training. And expenditure on citizen forces
and commando training was increase by almost R1m in 1968 to an estimated figure of about R30m.
In fact, many whites - ordinary citizens - felt that they were under siege. They already had a fortress
mentality which was further fortified by their fear of what they perceived to be an impending guerilla attack by black freedom
fighters trained in Tanzania and Zambia and other countries.
On 8 September 1967, it was officially disclosed by the apartheid regime that South African police were
in Rhodesia actively helping Rhodesian armed forces in their fight against nationalist guerillas. The South African government
claimed it had been forced to intervene in Rhodesia because of an attempt by several hundred guerillas to invade South and
South West Africa from Zambia at the urging of the OAU Liberation Committee.
It was also during the same time that Prime Minister B.J. Vorster announced the arrest of what he said was
a fully trained KGB agent, Yuri N. Loginov, in Johannesburg, while on a special mission to South Africa. His arrest aroused
widespread interest among Western intelligence services.
But it was also deliberately timed to coincide with the announcement that African guerillas were getting
ready to invade South Africa and South West Africa (Namibia) from Zambia. And since one of their biggest supporters was the
Soviet Union, providing them with arms, the implication of Loginov's presence in South Africa around the same was obvious:
he was sent there not only to spy on the apartheid regime but to coordinate guerilla activity or collect information that
would help the freedom fighters and their supporters in the Soviet Union. That may have been the interpretation of the apartheid
regime. And if it was, it did not resonate well in African nationalist circles.
Tensions between South Africa and the independent African countries were heightened just a few months later
on 5 April 1968, when Defence Minister P. W. Botha issued his first warning to them when he told the House of Assembly (Parliament)
that countries aiding and inciting terrorism and guerilla warfare against South Africa could provoke retaliation against them.
It was interpreted as a warning to Zambia and Tanzania that guerilla bases in those two countries could be attacked by South
Africa. He issued the same warning again in August the same year.
But the two countries - and the rest of independent Africa except for a few countries - continued to support
the freedom fighters as did the other allies outside Africa, in spite of all the threats by the apartheid regime that it would
launch retaliatory strikes and engage in hot pursuit of the guerillas all the way to their country or countries of "origin"
where they were trained.
What this showed, however, was that in spite of the threats by the apartheid regime and its ability to defend
South Africa, the situation was not getting any better - it was getting worse. And neither side was willing to compromise.
Both sides remained steadfast to their principles they cherished so much. Their differences were irreconcilable and inexorably
led to conflict involving guerilla warfare and other forms of confrontation including sustained strikes and total non-cooperation
with the authorities to force the racist regime to capitulate and help pave the way towards multiracial democracy.
But the apartheid regime was still in a defiant mood even when the guerilla threat got worse and worse towards
the end of the sixties. And some of the South African freedom fighters formed a new nationalist party in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania,
on 9 September 1968 to direct the freedom struggle inside South Africa. The party was named the National Liberation Front
of South Africa (NALFSA) and applied for recognition by the OAU Liberation Committee.
As the apartheid regime continued to defy international opinion and the wishes of the non-white majority
in its own country, Prime Minister Vorster announced in April 1969 that members of the South African Police Force would remain
in Rhodesia as long as it was necessary to protect South Africa from "terrorist" attacks. And in the following month, the
African National Congress (ANC) at its conference in Morogoro, Tanzania, called for a full-scale offensive against apartheid
using a multi-pronged approach.
It also said both armed struggle and mass political struggle must be used to defeat the enemy. But the ANC
also emphasized that the armed struggle and the involvement of the masses in the liberation struggle depended on building
ANC underground structures within South Africa to mobilize the people, and ultimately weaken and end apartheid. It was a complementary
strategy that was bound to succeed.
The Morogoro conference focused on bringing about a qualitative change in the organisational content of
the liberation movement in keeping with the new situation to launch a revolutionary people's war. And it was one of the most
successful conferences in the history of the ANC abroad.
As the year 1969 came to an end, marking the end of the decade, guerilla activity had intensified in southern
Africa and the apartheid regime was deeply involved in the neighbouring countries of Rhodesia, Angola and Mozambique where
it had sent its armed forces and intelligence agents to help thwart guerilla advances.
On 21 November 1969, the UN General Assembly condemned South Africa for its apartheid policies and for its
collaboration with Portugal and Rhodesia; and also for intervening in Angola and Mozambique to help the colonial authorities
suppress Africans in their quest for freedom. But all that fell on deaf ears, as the regime defiantly continued to enforce
apartheid and help the governments of Rhodesia, Angola and Mozambique fight the guerillas.
In Rhodesia, the end of the sixties were some of the most critical years in the country's history. It was
the first time that the Rhodesian army and security forces came face to face with the enemy on the battlefield. It was the
first time that South Africans entered Rhodesia to launch preemptive strikes against the guerillas in an attempt to stop them
from moving south across the border and into South Africa. It was also the first time that the white settlers in Rhodesia
became aware of the danger they faced from guerilla war. It was also during that period that the Organization of African Unity
(OAU) launched a concerted effort to support the freedom fighters in their military campaign against the white minority regime
The Rhodesian government was fully aware of the danger it faced. It was fighting a new war: guerilla war.
And it was fighting a new enemy, the guerilla soldier, who was as elusive as he was resilient, with an indispensable operational
base in the local population of which he was an integral part.
But without external support in the form of military training and provision of weapons and other necessities,
he would not have been as effective as he was. Underscoring the importance of such support, the rebel prime minister of Rhodesia,
Ian Smith, was prompted to describe President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, whose country was the headquarters of all the African
liberation movements, as "the evil genius on the Rhodesian scene" who was also behind all the guerilla wars in southern Africa.
As the decade came to an end, Rhodesia witnessed its first major conflict in March 1968 when guerillas who
entered the British colony from Zambia clashed with the security forces. Clashes on this scale were unheard of before the
white minority unilaterally declared independence from Britain in November 1965.
Before the March 1968 military engagement, there had been other clashes on a smaller scale. One of those
clashes took place in April 1966 in which seven seven guerillas who were members of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU)
crossed the Zambesi River from Zambia and entered Rhodesia. They were shot in running battles with the security forces in
the Sinoia area 85 miles north of the capital Salisbury.
by 1967, the guerilla fighters were better organized, mainly because of the cooperation between the forces
of ZAPU and the ANC. In the first military engagement with the security forces in August that year in Matebeleland in southwestern
Rhodesia, 31 guerillas were killed and the security forces lost seven members. So serious was this incursion that the Rhodeisn
government immediately sought help from South Africa. The apartheid regime responded favourably ans sent in troops, so-called
police, early in September.
But it was the fighting in March 1968 which marked a turning point in the history of armed conflict between
the guerillas and the security forces in Rhodesia:
“The fighting in March continued intermittently for over a month; it was reported by Security Force
headquarters in Salisbury on 25 April (1968) that the number of guerillas killed had reached 55. Two members of the Security
Forces were also reported killed, and quantities of arms, ammunitions and equipment captured.
A view of the seriousness of the unrest can be formed from the fact that
additional Territorial Force personnel had to be called up at the end of March for 'base duties'; while the South African
Minister of Defence, Mr. P.W. Botha, warned on 5 April that countries aiding and inciting terrorism and guerilla warfare against
South Africa could eventually provoke South Africa into 'hitting back hard.'” - (Africa Contemporary Record, pp. 373 - 374).
Another clash occurred in July 1968 when Rhodesia's of Law and Order Minister, Lardner Burke, announced
that "terrorist" groups had crossed into Rhodesia from Zambia. It was also during the same time that it was announced that
the first South African "policeman" had been killed when a South African-Rhodesian patrol was ambushed by the freedom fighters
near the Zambesi River. Three other South Africans and two Rhodesians were wounded in the same incident. And 10 guerilla fighters
were reported killed.
Fighting continued for another week during which, according to Radio Salisbury, at least two members of
the Security Forces and 18 more guerillas were killed. The fighting was intensive enough to force the Rhodesians to resort
to ther means to contain the guerillas. Jet fighters of the Rhodesian Air Force were brought in to support the ground forces.
A joint communique issued by ZAPU and the ANC in Lusaka, Zambia, on 25 July 1968 claimed that 33 members
of the Rhodesian Security Forces were killed in the conflict in the Zambesi Valley. Confirmation of the improved capacity
of the guerilla fighters came from the annual report of the Rhodesian Commissioner of Police published in July in which he
said "It would be wrong to minimise the dangers which Rhodesia faces from terrorist infiltrators; these are now employing
more sophisticated tactics and are well armed."
Rhodesia had been in a state of emergency for quite some time because of increasing guerilla activity and
the government was compelled to extend it to cope with the crisis and assure the white minority that they would be protected
by the security forces.
But there was also apprehension in official circles in Salisbury that the assistance the guerilla fighters
were getting from other countries such as Tanzania and Zambia was a critical factor in the conflict and could even tip scales
in their favour, even if not necessarily on long-term basis. But it was a problem the white minority government had to contend
with; a concession that was made by the minister of law and order in the rebel colony:
“The Rhodesia rebel Minister of Law and Order, Mr. Lardner Burke, extending the state of emergency
at the beginning of 1968, said that the number of 'terrorists' waiting in Zambia and Tanzania to cross the Rhodesian border
continued to mount.
The South African Deputy-Minister of Police, Mr. S.L. Muller, said Tanzania posed 'the greatest potential
threat to the Republic.' He claimed there were '40 camps in Tanzania for the training of terrorists and all the offices of
subversive organisations.' In Zambia, he said, there were '19 training and transit camps.'
A new external service of Radio Tanzania was inaugurated in 1968 to assit in 'propagating the ideological
principles of the liberation movements in Tanzana.'” - (Ibid., p. 220).
The guerilla camps in Tanzania and Zambia were not only for the freedom fighters from South Africa but also
for those from Mozambique, Rhodesia, Angola, and South West Africa. And among all the white minority regimes in southern Africa,
the Portuguese were the most vulnerable and came under sustained attack. As President Nyerere said at the OAU summit in Cairo
on 20 July 1964, African countries were strong enough to expel Portugal from her colonies. He was right, of course. The problem
was the powers behind her. As he stated at the conference:
“I am convinced that the finer the words the greater the harm they do to the prestige of Africa if
they are not followed by action …Africa is strong enough to drive Portugal from our Continent. Let us resolve at this
conference to take the necessary action.” - (Nyerere, quoted by Ali A. Mazrui in his lecture "Nkrumahism and The Triple
Heritage: Out of the Shadows" at the University of Ghana-Legon in 2002).
By 1969, the Portuguese had 130,000 troops tied down mostly in Angola
and Mozambique, with a smaller number in Guinea-Bissau. And they were fighting a losing battle. Portugal was the poorest and
weakest country in Western Europe. It could not have been able to maintain her colonies without Western support which was
critical in fighting the guerillas. As Dr. Eduardo Mondlane, the leader of FRELIMO, said about the armed struggle in Mozambique
- which started on 25 September 1964 - in an interview with the Tanzanian daily newspaper, The Nationalist,
on 30 July 1968:
“The meaning of the protracted struggle is more clear now and the combatants have redoubled their
determination to fight to the bitter end until they destroy the enemy.
The situation of the war now inside Mozambique is more favourable to us as the Portuguese are in a stalemate
and the only active force of the enemy is the Air Force.
We have now moved from the phase of ambushes and we are concentrating on attacking the enemy in his own
territory, that is in garrisons, bases, posts and isolating the towns where he is hiding.
The enemy is completely isolated and the revolutionary enthusiasm of the masses is very high. We have actually
more people ready in technical warfare training than we can provide the arms for fighting. All ages are involved and now we
have formed the women's fighting detachment.
The prospects of crossing the Zambezi River and carrying the struggle farther south are very bright and
no matter what the Portuguese do the war rages on and it is a fierce one.
We know that they are increasing their forces of white soldiers and they have intensified in Mozambique
the forced conscription of Africans. They get a lot of technical aid from NATO countries, and the apartheid regime of South
Africa is deeply involved - it has many of its military officers fighting in Mozambique.
Countries like West Germany, it is well-known to us, are training white Portuguese soldiers in Portugal
in counter-insurgence techniques. In short, we are fighting Portugal and all her NATO allies.”
Six months later, they killed him.
But the assassination of Dr, Mondlane on 2 February 1969 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, did not stop the people
of Mozambique from fighting for their independence. In fact, they expected such setbacks. They are part of the struggle.
And so the struggle continued even after Mondlane was killed. It was a big tragedy as the sixties came to
an end, but it was also a moment of reflection on the liberation struggle and the problems that lay ahead, as the war got
worse and worse as years went by. For example, on 25 September 1968, which was the fourth anniversary of the armed conflict,
FRELIMO said that during the past year (1967), its forces had killed more than 1,000 Portuguese soldiers, shot down 20 aircraft,
and destroyed more than a hundred military vehicles; a claim that was later confirmed by some journalists and other observers.
And by September 1968, more than 100 Portuguese soldiers were killed and hundreds injured.
The sixties ended with the death toll mounting in all the liberation wars throughout southern Africa, as
the freedom fighters intensified the struggle and scored bigger victories they never had won before. It was the dawn of a
Thus, while the early and mid-sixties were years of celebration, as one African country after another won
independence from colonial rule, the late sixties witnessed another phenomenon in the liberation struggle. And it had an equally
profound impact on the destiny of the continent.
Africa entered a new phase. It was the phase of the armed struggle. And it proved to be the most difficult
phase in the history of African liberation until the rest of the continent was finally free many years later.
The end of the sixties, or the year 1969 in particular, was also significant in another important respect.
The bleeding heart of Africa, the Congo, had finally stopped bleeding; at least not as profusely as it did in the first years
of the decade and even as late as 1965 and 1966, although the pro-Lumumbist nationalist forces never gave up entirely until
Mobutu was finally ousted from power about 30 years later in May 1997.
But as the decade came to an end, so did the life of one man who wreaked so much havoc cross the Congo during
the turbulent sixties. The man was Moise Tshombe.
In June 1967, his plane flying from Spain en route to the Congo where he intended to cause more mischief
was hijacked and forced to land in Algiers, Algeria. After it landed, Tshombe was arrested and kept under house arrest until
July 1969 when he died, reportedly of heart failure. He was 49, a few months from his 50th birthday on November 10th.
His death, in a way, also marked the end of an era.
Not long after Tshombe died, another personality emerged on the African political scene. That was Colonel
Muammar Qadhafi. On 1 September 1969, he overthrew 79-year-old King Idris of Libya in a bloodless military coup. He was 28
and became one of the youngest heads f state in the world. He instituted a controversial regime which became one of the most
highly visible in Africa and the rest of the Third World for decades.
So much for Africa, as the decade came to an end.
In the United States, which we have also focused on in this study, the end of the sixties was marked by
a series of events including demonstrations against American involvement in the Vietnam war. It was also in the same year,
on 8 June 1969, that President Richard Nixon announced that American troops would begin to withdraw from Vietnam.
The end of the decade also coincided with the end of the civil rights movement. One of the highlights was a
decision by the US Supreme Court which ruled on 29 October 1969 that school districts throughout the country which were still
segregated must end racial segregation at once.
But there was another event which marked the end of the sixties in the United States. It had to do with
the counterculture movement. And that was Woodstock.
Held at Max Yasgur's 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York, from 15 August -18 August 1969, it is perhaps
the most famous rock festival ever held anywhere and was probably the most prominent, and most forceful, expression of the
counterculture movement and the hippie way of life in the sixties. It was youthful and hedonistic. And it was rebellious in
terms of values, a departure from the norm exemplified by traditional society.
It was a celebration of an alternative life style and values of the flower children and had great symbolic
significance - probably more than anything else - for the young people of that generation. And it was attended by about half-a-million
people. As Max Yasgur, the owner of the property where the concert was held, said on 15 August 1969 when he addressed the
flower children at Woodstock on his alfalfa farm:
“This is the largest group of people ever assembled in one place and I think you people have proven
something to the world: that a half a million kids can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing
but fun and music and God Bless You for it!”
And as Mike Bederka reflected on what happened back then, in an era now gone but not forgotten, when he
wrote "A (Head) Trip Back to Woodstock":
“It was a time to love, a time to hate. Vietnam. Protest. The Race Riots. Thirty years ago, our nation
was in upheaval. But in the summer of '69, a dove perched itself at the tip of a guitar, and the perspective changed. A little
festival called The Woodstock Music and Art Fair swept the nation. And all the world's problems faded - for 72 precious hours
Dubbed 'three days of peace and music,' its legacy spawned two sequels and launched the summer festival
scene. But many question Woodstock's exact significance. Some people crowned it the pinnacle of the hippie movement, while
others saw it as the fitting end to the era of free love.
At the time, most people weren't looking for any deep-seeded meaning. They just came to hear some rock'n'
roll. More than 500,000 fans rushed upstate to hear the sounds of the time, in effect, shutting down the New York State Thruway.
At 5:07 p.m. on Friday, August 15, 1969, Woodstock made its fabled entry into the history books. Richie Havens opened the
musical portion with 'High Flyin' Bird,' and 26 bands later, on a mud-soaked Monday morning, Jimi Hendrix closed out with
a stunning rendition of 'Hey Joe.' But what happened during those few days would be talked about for generations to come.
People from all walks of life united as hundreds of thousands crashed Max Yasgur's farm without a ticket.
Drugs, alcohol and rain were in abundance; working sanitation facilities weren't. There were three deaths, but three children
were brought into this world. Although food was a rare commodity, the folks in attendance probably didn't mind too much. They
were there for something else - the music. Joe Cocker, Santana, The Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson
Airplane, The Who, Sly and the Family Stone, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young - the list goes on.
'The name Woodstock brings to mind a certain spirit - a certain ideology,'
says Michael Lang, promoter for the original spectacle and its two sequels. 'The principle behind it is what everyone cherishes.
You get to interact with people in a way that you never get to do in your everyday life. And that happens after the first
day - after you live amongst the society. I think after it, you're less alone in the world. Woodstock always stays with you.'”
- (Mike Bederka in NY Rock, July 1999).
Woodstock was the pinnacle of the counterculture movement - a nation within a nation - and the highest expression
of its values. And it signalled the end of an era.
It was, indeed, the end of the sixties, a decade to remember....
Africa and America
in The Sixties
THE SIXTIES changed the destiny of the African continent and its people in many fundamental respects.
It was a period marked by the end of colonial rule as one country after another won independence. Coincidentally,
it was during the same period that the civil rights movement in the United States gained momentum and reached its peak.
The victory of Africans in their struggle for independence in most countries on the African continent also
inspired black Americans in their struggle for racial equality. They not only drew inspiration from this victory but felt
proud because of the common African heritage they shared with their brethren on the continent.
And at no other time in American history did such pride among blacks manifest itself as it did in the sixties.
Even without the victories in Africa, black Americans - galvanized by the civil rights movement - found a renewed sense of
purpose in their lives as a distinct group proud of its identity and forcefully proclaimed their pride as black people. As
Eldridge Cleaver, the minister of information of the militant Black Panther Party, said: "They have seized on their blackness
and rallied around it."
Stokely Carmichael, probably the most prominent advocate of Black Power,
had this to say: "It is time to stop being ashamed of being black - time to stop trying to be white. When you see your daughter
playing in the fields, with her nappy hair, her wide nose and her thick lips, tell her she is beautiful. Tell your daughter she is beautiful."
The preceding quotations come from Time/Life Books, This Fabulous Century: 1960 - 1970 (p. 32).
And as James Brown proudly said in one of his songs with the same title: "I'm black and I'm proud."
It was a pride they shared with Africans in Africa. And it was a pride that went beyond slavery all the
way back to Africa's ancient kingdoms and to the newly independent nations. It was also a pride that embraced African culture
as a way of life and bond of unity between Africa and the African diaspora.
Many black Americans took African names and began to learn African languages, especially Kiswahili (popularly
known as Swahili), which got its biggest boost in 1966 when Maulana Karenga, one of the most prominent black militants in
the sixties, started the Kwanzaa festival based on Nguzo Saba (a Swahili term meaning Seven Principles) and encouraged other
blacks to learn this language which transcends ethnic identity as a Pan-African language.
No single African ethnic group can claim Kiswahili as its own like Yoruba, Zulu, Kikuyu or any of the other
African languages. It evolved from many African languages and is older than modern English.
Not only did many black Americans - since 1988 known as African Americans - start learning Kiswahili in
the sixties; they adopted African life styles, wearing African clothes, eating African foods, dancing to African music and
singing African songs. They also embraced African traditional beliefs and religions; and started buying, promoting and producing
African art, and decorating their homes with African carvings, paintings and other items.
And they proudly wore the Afro hair style and braids and called themselves Afro-Americans. They were no
longer Negroes. As Malcolm X said in one of his speeches: "Where is Negroland?" He emphatically stated that black people in
the United States were Africans: "You are nothing but Africans" born in America.
All that racial pride and identification with their ancestral motherland strengthened their ties to Africa.
The manifestation of black pride and admiration of the African heritage among black Americans was also expressed
in another very significant way: demand for the establishment of Black or Afro-American studies departments in colleges and
universities across the United States.
It was in the sixties, especially from the mid-sixties, that Afro-American and African studies became an
integral part of the curriculum in institutions of higher learning across the nation. And the introduction of these studies,
after persistent demands by black students and faculty members including some of their white supporters, had a profound impact
in transforming education in the United States and in projecting a positive image of black Americans and the continent of
Africa and its people.
The transformation coincided with, and was partly reinforced by, the emergence of African countries from
colonial rule as independent nations.
It was in the sixties when, for the first time, Africans emerged on the international scene not only as
a free people but as a people who spoke for themselves, and defined themselves, and were no longer defined and dominated by
the imperial powers who had exploited them and muzzled them for so long when they were colonial subjects.
Before the sixties, no black African countries were represented in international forums as independent nations
except Liberia and Ethiopia.
Tragically, the sixties were also years of conflict. It was a period that witnessed some of the most violent
conflicts in the history of Africa, most notably in the Congo and Nigeria, two black nations which had the potential to be
the best hope for Black Africa because of their wealth and size.
The Nigerian civil war from 1967 - 1970 was the bloodiest conflict in modern African history up to that
time and remained one for decades until it was surpassed by the death toll in the Sudanese civil war and by the carnage in
the Great Lakes region of east-central Africa where the death toll from the nineties to the early part of the twentieth-first
century reached 5 million or more.
About 4 million people perished since August 1998 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, mostly in the eastern
part of the country. Almost 1 million people, mostly Tutsi, were massacred in Rwanda in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. More
than 200,000 Hutus were killed in retaliatory violence at the hands of the Tutsi and the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan government
of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), avenging the massacre of the Tutsi by Hutu extremists during the genocide.
And at least 300,000 people, mostly Hutu, were killed in the civil war in Burundi in 10 years since October
1993 when Melchior Ndadaye, the country's first democratically elected president in the country's history since independence
in 1962, was assassinated by Tutsi soldiers after being in office only for about three months.
All these conflicts had their genesis in the turbulent sixties and in the flawed nature of the institutions
of authority Africans inherited at independence which did not reflect or accommodate African realities.
The conflicts also had their origin in the way power was transferred to the new African rulers without taking
into account conflicting ethnoregional interests and the asymmetrical relationship between different ethnic and regional groups
in the allocation of power and distribution of resources; and in the way the colonial rulers themselves exacerbated tensions
and helped ignite and fuel conflicts by transferring power to members of some ethnic groups to the exclusion of others.
For example, in Nigeria the Hausa-Fulani assumed power at the expense of the Yoruba, the Igbo and other
ethnic groups. This was one of the main causes of the Nigerian civil war. And in Burundi the Tutsi, although a very small
minority, assumed power at the expense of the Hutu who constitute the vast majority of the population in both Rwanda and Burundi,
two states in the Great Lakes region which are almost a mirror image of each other in terms of ethnic composition and inequity
of power between the two ethnic groups.
Besides all these conflicts, the sixties were also the years which witnessed the consolidation of the nation-states
across the continent and the emergence of authoritarian rule which in many cases amounted to dictatorship and tyranny as many
African leaders justified curtailment of freedom and suffocation of dissent on grounds of national unity; contending that
if the people were allowed "too much freedom" - a relative term depending on the context in which it is articulated - and
the right to form opposition parties, the countries would break up since those parties would most likely be formed on ethnic
and regional basis, fueling ethnoregional rivalries leading to conflict. And there were cases when this was a rational fear.
One of the most effective ways to avert this catastrophe, hence neutralize dissent, was by encouraging and
sometimes forcing people to support or join the ruling party which usually was the party that led the struggle for independence.
Thus, the emergence of authoritarian rule, therefore dictatorship - with the leaders invoking the spectre of national disintegration
to mobilize the masses and rally support - led to the introduction and institutionalization of one-party rule which became
one of the most prominent features of the political landscape and national life in most countries across the continent for
decades. All this had its beginning in the sixties.
But as African leaders assumed more power and worked hard to strengthen the one-party system, another phenomenon
came to affect national life and profoundly changed the way African countries were governed. This new phenomenon was military
coups which led to the introduction of military rule in many parts of the continent.
After the first military coup took place in Togo in January 1963, many others followed in different parts
of the continent through the sixties including the one in Nigeria in January 1966, a seminal event which led to the a series
of catastrophes including the Nigerian civil war. Another major coup took place in Ghana with the help of the CIA and led
to the ouster of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in February 1966.
In addition to military intervention in government, a phenomenal event in those years and in the following
decades, there were other important events and developments which took place in the sixties and changed the course of African
history. One of those events was the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in May
Although the OAU did not achieve many of its goals and became no more than a debating and social club for
corrupt and despotic rulers - what Julius Nyerere called "a trade union of tyrants" - it did play a major role in supporting
the liberation movements on the continent, especially in southern Africa and in the Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau in
West Africa. That was undoubtedly its biggest achievement and the OAU which had its genesis in the sixties, will always be
remembered for that.
Another major event in the sixties was the unilateral declaration of independence by the white minority
regime in Rhodesia under the leadership of Ian Smith in November 1965, two-and-a-half years after the OAU was formed.
It was an act of ultimate defiance by the white settlers and a major challenge to the black African majority
in that country and the rest of Africa. African countries were too weak to bring down the Smith regime. But the unilateral
declaration of independence - which came to be known as UDI - fueled and intensified the liberation struggle on the continent
and was one of the main factors that led to the adoption of guerrilla tactics which became the main feature of the liberation
wars not only in Rhodesia but throughout southern Africa.
In fact, the freedom fighters had already started waging guerrilla warfare in some of he colonies even before
the white settlers in Rhodesia declared independence. In Angola, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA)
launched an armed struggle against the Portuguese colonial rulers in 1961. In Portuguese Guinea in West Africa, the independence
struggle began even earlier, in 1959. And in Mozambique, another Portuguese colony, the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique
(FRELIMO) started waging guerilla warfare in 1964.
But the illegal seizure of power by the white minorities in Rhodesia gave impetus to all the struggles and
in Rhodesia itself where guerilla warfare by the nationalist forces of the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) and the
Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) started a few years later in 1974; coincidentally, in the same year Guinea-Bissau won
independence after waging an armed struggle for 15 years against the Portuguese colonial forces, becoming the first Portuguese
African colony to win independence after more than 500 years of Portuguese colonial rule.
While the liberation struggle was an African phenomenon, and an African initiative as well an indigenous
military expression of political aspirations, it also entailed foreign involvement and became very much a part of the Cold
War between the East and the West as the two ideological camps competed for control of the Third World of which Africa was
an integral part and one of the main theatres of conflict.
Thus, as the liberation wars started in earnest, the Cold War also came to Africa in the sixties with a
fury and had a profound effect on the course of many events in different countries across the continent and influenced the
course of African history. As independent nations, Africans were no longer mere spectators as they once were during colonial
rule but became active participants on the international scene sometimes in a way that offended big powers even though they
played only a peripheral role because of their weakness.
But it was precisely their weakness that was also their strength as the world powers in the East and the
West competed for ideological allies among these weak countries, hoping to turn them into what Dr.Nkrumah described as "client
states." As Nyerere warned, "We are not going to allow our friends to choose our enemies for us." And some of them became
client states of Western or Eastern powers, as Africa got caught between the two ideological camps contending for hegemonic
control of the Third World.
It was not until after the collapse of the Soviet Union and her satellites in the late 1980s and early 1990s
that African countries escaped the scourge of the Cold War, but only to come under domination of the industrial West, the
driving force behind globalization in the post-Cold War era in this unipolar world dominated by the United States. And all
this has echoes from the sixties when the United States was also the world's undisputed industrial and economic giant enjoying
enormous prosperity despite the challenge to its military might from the Soviet Union.
But it was a prosperity marred by inequalities which found forceful expression in mass demonstrations and
protests never witnessed before in the history of the United States.
While all these upheavals were going on in the turbulent sixties in the United States - the civil rights
movement and black militancy articulated by the Black Panthers and other militants; protests against the Vietnam war, and
the rise of the counterculture; demands by young white radicals and other disillusioned young people on many college campuses
who formed the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and who issued the famous Port Huron Statement; the feminist movement
as well as other protest groups; while all this was going on, the United States still continued to enjoy unprecedented economic
prosperity it had enjoyed in the previous decade in the fifties and even before then. This was because of the economic boom
Americans had been able to enjoy since the end of World War II, a boom fueled by the demands of the war. It was the bloodiest
conflict in the history of mankind and cost about 45 million lives.
Yet, in spite of all this progress, there were segments of the American society which had been bypassed,
ignored or overlooked by the larger society while millions of Americans, mostly white, forged ahead. Blacks were the most
disadvantaged, their plight compounded by racism.
Poor whites also suffered. But if you were poor and black, it was double jeopardy. You suffered twice as
much. And even if you were economically successful but black, you still suffered in many ways because of racism in a predominantly
white society where black people were not accepted by whites as equals.
So, there were some major contradictions in the American society which were highlighted in the sixties,
with the civil rights movement bringing into sharp focus the glaring contradiction between rhetoric and reality in a country
that boasted and had proclaimed to the whole world that it was founded on the twin ideals of liberty and equality; yet denied
those very same rights to millions of its citizens for no reason other than that they were black and therefore not equal to
whites who constituted the vast majority of the population "in the land of the free and the home of the brave."
The plight of the poor - black and white, yellow and brown and others
in between and beyond - was also highlighted in the sixties in many different ways, one of which was the publication of a
book, The Other America, by Michael Harrington in 1963. President Kennedy read the book
shortly before his death. It is said the book had a profound impact on him when he formulated his domestic policies based
on what he had just read about the plight of the poor in Harrington's work.
But he faced stiff opposition from conservative southerners who resisted his plans to increase federal aid
for education, health insurance for the elderly and other programmes. Therefore in spite of his inspiring rhetoric and compassionate
understanding of the plight of the poor, his policies were often limited and did not achieve maximum results.
But they were still driven by a more redistributive ethic to share America's wealth with the poor. And they
reached a new height under his successor, Lyndon Johnson, who declared the War on Poverty, a highly ambitious programme with
mixed results, after Kennedy was gone, his life abruptly ended by an assassin's bullet on November 22, 1963.
When Kennedy won the presidential election in 1960, he was 43, the youngest man in American history ever
to win the presidency.
One of the most important factors in his victory was the way he looked and conducted himself in the debates
with the Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon in September and October 1960.
They were the first nationally televised presidential debates and they helped to change the course of American
history and of the way presidential campaigns and politics would be conducted in the future.
The first presidential nominating conventions to be nationally televised were in 1952 when Dwight Eisenhower
was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate, and Adlai Stevenson as the Democratic party's standard bearer. But
there were no debates until 1960.
The Kennedy-Nixon debates changed the course of American history because had the 1960 presidential campaign
been conducted the old-fashioned way without the glare of national television cameras focusing on debates between the contenders
and even on how the candidates looked on camera, Nixon would probably have won the election which Kennedy won by a very thin
Therefore Kennedy, himself a larger-than-life figure on the American political scene who by his mere presence
also influenced the course of events, would not have been president - at least not in the early sixties - and the liberal
policies he supported, including civil rights, would not have been implemented the way they were in the sixties even after
he was assassinated.
In fact, it is highly unlikely that the 1964 Civil Rights Bill would have been introduced let alone won
support in Congress dominated by southern conservatives and Republicans and with a Republican president in office.
Also, had Kennedy not won the presidency, there probably would have been no Bay of Pigs invasion, no Berlin
Wall crisis, and no Cuban missile crisis which pushed the world to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe; not because Nixon would
have been a dove in office had he won but because he might have pursued different policies and might dealt with some of those
Therefore there is no doubt that Kennedy's victory changed not only American history but also had, for better
or for worse, a profound impact on the conduct of foreign policy and on relations with the Soviet Union. And his policy towards
Cuba - of isolation - remained official American policy for decades pursued by both parties. Democratic and Republican presidents
have for decades pursued the same policy of isolating Cuba in an attempt to dislodge Castro from power. Had he lost the presidential
debates in 1960, things would probably have been different under Nixon.
And there is no question that Nixon's poor performance in the debates - despite his wide knowledge and sharp
grasp of facts comparable to if not better than Kennedy's in some respects - was a decisive factor in his defeat. As Ken Elder
stated in his article "The Nixon-Kennedy Debates":
“The first Nixon-Kennedy debate and those following it helped to boost the Kennedy campaign due to
the appearance of both politicians on the television screen.
The first debate was probably the most successful for Kennedy of the debates between Nixon and Kennedy which
occurred in September and October of 1960.
The debates, when aired on television gave the public an image of the two candidates, Kennedy was poised
and calm, whereas Nixon looked tired, haggard, and nervous.
Kennedy's knowledge and firm grasp on the questions that were posed for debate, completely wiped away any
of the Republican feelings that Kennedy was too inexperienced for the presidency. Because of Kennedy's youth, the Republicans
had felt that he was too young for office. They thought that an older, more experienced Republican candidate like Nixon was
a safer choice.
One factor that should be considered when looking at the debates and deciding who was the true victor, is
the amount of time that the two opponents had to study and review the topics that were to be discussed.
Kennedy had three days to relax and contemplate the debate questions. He was able to review the material
and study it. Nixon, on the other hand, had been touring and campaigning until the moment of the debate.
It was because of this that Nixon looked tired, and it was because of this that Nixon was less prepared
to confront the topics.
The success of the Kennedy debate was enormous and evident. It was so evident, in fact, that Senator Lausche,
who refused to appear at the steer roast the night before with Kennedy, visited Kennedy at seven-thirty in the morning at
his hotel to talk. The visit from senator Lausche removed any of the lingering doubts Kennedy may have felt about the success
of the Kennedy/Nixon debates.
The first debate, in September, was compared by Kennedy to Jack Kennedy's previous
debate with Henry Cabot Lodge in Waltham, Massachusetts.
In this debate Henry Lodge was the more experienced Republican statesman, whereas Kennedy was less experienced.
Henry Lodge should have won the debate easily. However, it was Kennedy who showed more poise and knowledge of the material
in the debate.
Before the Kennedy debates the Republican party was trying to use Kennedy's youth and " immaturity" against
him, saying he did not have enough experience. The Nixon Kennedy debates showed that Kennedy's youth did not match up with
his knowledge and that, even though he was very young on the outside, his knowledge was the same if not greater, than Nixon's.
Kennedy proved the Republicans wrong, and his youth and calmness helped him to win the debates with Nixon.
On television he came across well, he looked young, slim, well tanned, and clean cut. On the other hand,
Nixon looked so strained, several Republican leaders asked him if he was really as sick as he looked. Nixon actually looked
so terrible that his secretary had to issue a statement saying that he 'looked good in person.'
All of Kennedy's respect for his opponent disappeared during the debates. His attitude and disregard towards
Nixon came across clearly in the televised debates. While Nixon would desperately fight for a point, Kennedy would look at
him with a bored expression as though he found what Nixon was saying as humorous.
After the debates of 1960 Kennedy stated that he felt that it was his duty to win the election in order
to keep Nixon out of office and protect the American nation.”
One of Nixon's biographers also says in his book about Nixon, as do other published reports, that Nixon's
mother watched the debates and called her son soon after the debates and asked him if he was all right. She thought he was
afflicted with some kind of illness she did not know about.
During the campaign, Kennedy spoke of moving aggressively into the new decade,
the sixties, for, as he put it in his acceptance speech in 1960 as the Democratic presidential candidate, "the New Frontier
is here whether we like it or not." he went on to say:
“We stand at the edge of a New Frontier - the frontier of unfulfilled hopes and dreams. It will deal
with unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and
And in his inaugural address, he eloquently appealed to his fellow countrymen: "Ask not what your country
can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."
But even with such exhortations, asking fellow Americans to do more for
their country instead of waiting or expecting their country to do things for them, there was still a sense of compassion that
Kennedy showed for the poor, as was clearly demonstrated by his proposals and the policies he formulated to tackle problems
of poverty; and by the attention he paid to what Michael Harrington said in his book, The Other America. Harrington's message struck a responsive chord in Kennedy - it is said when he read the book, he was moved
by it - and addressing the nation's problems of the poor became a main item on Kennedy's agenda.
The poor were "the other America," according to Michael Harrington; invisible, yet very much an integral
part of the American society and way of life. He argued that the number of Americans living in poverty was much larger than
what the statistics showed. They included working Americans whose poverty was hidden by the nice clothes they wore to work
as if they were members of the middle class. Others were out of sight, hardly seen by the affluent. And they were trapped
in poverty, yet living in a country with abundant wealth.
They were the focus of his study, one of the most influential books to
come out of the sixties, including John Kenneth Galbraith's work, The
Affluent Society, which, together
with Harrington's The Other America, provided the intellectual rationale for the Great Society's
economic and social programmes in the sixties funded by the federal government to fight poverty.
Much of this was being done because the federal government had been prodded into doing something about the
plight of the poor as much as it was pushed by the civil rights movement to do something abut the racial injustices black
people were suffering in the land of their birth and the only country they knew as home. And protest groups and movements
in the sixties deserve credit for that. They may have had different agendas but they were all united in their desire to make
their country a better place for all its citizens. And at no other time was this better demonstrated than in the sixties.
And no other American leader offered hope for a better future than President Kennedy. Young and articulate,
energetic and intelligent, he embodied dreams and aspirations of millions of Americans for a better country and even for a
better world. And his policy decisions had an impact far beyond American borders. And some of them had a direct impact on
many us in Africa.
One of those decisions led to the establishment of the Peace Corps. President Kennedy issued an executive
order on March 1, 1961, creating the Peace Corps. Even before he won the election, Kennedy had the Peace Corp idea on his
mind. He first mentioned it in his speech at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on October 14, 1960, and challenged the
crowd of more than 10,000 students to volunteer for two years after they graduate to work abroad and help developing nations
meet their needs in different fields.
After Kennedy's speech, students from the organization "Americans Committed to World Responsibility" organized
a petition drive asking the university administration to create a programme embodying or reflecting the ideals of the Peace
Corps as articulated by the Democratic presidential aspirant on the campus of this leading American university. More than
a thousand people, mostly students, signed the petion within a few weeks supporting the idea.
In his inaugural address on January 20th Kennedy again spoke about the need for the Peace Corps. As he put it: "To those
people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery we pledge our best efforts
to help them help themselves."
The Peace Corps became a reality less than two months later when President-elect Kennedy issued an executive
order establishing it.
Under this organization or agency, many young American men and women, mostly fresh out of college, were
sent to many parts of the Third World to help the people in developing countries meet their own needs. One of those areas
was education, and many Peace Corp volunteers went to teach in African countries and elsewhere in the developing parts of
When I was a teenager in Tanzania in the sixties, some of my teachers were American Peace Corps.
I remember well what one of our first Peace Corp teacher said when he introduced himself to us in class
at Mpuguso Middle School in Rungwe District in the Southern Highlands one morning in the early part of 1964 when I was in
standard eight, what Americans call the eighth grade. He said: "My name is Leonard Levitt. I am a Jew from New York City."
I also remember that he followed the news very closely including the conflict in the Congo and pronounced
African names well - he had quite a way of saying "Antoine Gizenga," Lumumba's vice premier, "Christophe Gbenye," and he pronounced
More than 40 years later, Gizenga, an enduring political phenomenon, again emerged on the national political
scene when he ran for president in 2006 and won a respectable 13 percent in the first round in August in a field of about
20 presidential candidates. The leading contender, President Joseph Kabila won 45 percent, and his most serious rival, Jean-Pierre
Mbemba won 20 percent. Nzanga Mobutu, the son of former President Mobutu Sese Seko, won 5 percent, and another candidate Oscar
Kashala won 4 percent. Both Gizenga and Nzanga Mobutu later endorsed Kabila against Mbemba in order to keep the country united.
Probably many people in the 1960s did not think Gizenga would still be on the political scene more than
40 years later. But there he was again, in 2006, as a serious contender for president. However, his political fortunes were
greatest in the sixties when he was Lumumba's deputy and later one of the main leaders of the pro-Lumumbist nationalist forces
fighting the Western-installed government in Leopoldville during those turbulent years.
The year 1964 when Leonard Levitt became our teacher was one of the worst in Congo's history. I remember
the Simba rebellion and the battle for Stanleyville very well and Levitt liked to talk about that and other events in the
Congo a lot in class.
The country was then still called Tanganyika but just a few months later,
it united with Zanzibar on April 26 the same year to form Tanzania. The new country was simply known as the United Republic
of Tanganyika and Zanzibar until October 29th when
it was renamed Tanzania.
I was 14 years old in 1964 at that boarding school for boys and Leonard Levitt taught us math and English
with another Peace Corp teacher whom we simply called Mr. Wayne from Colorado. Little did I know that I myself would end up
in the United States only eight years later.
And when Levitt returned to the United States in 1966, he wrote a book
about his experiences at our school and in Tanzania in general entitled, An African Season,
one of the most well-read books about the experiences of American Peace Corps around the world. And he later became a news
reporter at Newsday in Long Island, New York, and was there in the 1990s.
After Mpuguso Middle School, I went to Songea Secondary School where I was also taught by some American
Peace Corp teachers although most of our teachers were African and British.
But American Peace Corps did make a contribution to education and in other fields not only in Africa but
in other parts f the world. And that is one of the most important legacies of the sixties and President Kennedy's policies.
Although he was preoccupied with foreign policy issues during his short term in office, especially the crisis
in Berlin and the Cuban missile crisis which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, he launched important initiatives
on the domestic front which had a lasting impact long after he was gone.
In 1962, he sent federal troops to the University of Mississippi to ensure that a black student, James Meredith,
was enrolled in order to end segregation. By 1963, the year Kennedy was assassinated, Alabama was the only state with a segregated
educational system. Finally, Alabama gave in, in the same year, and allowed integration of the schools.
Kennedy also increased the minimum wage; housing was improved, and unemployment benefits were increased
during his presidency.
Throughout his brief presidency, Kennedy's charisma, and special combination of grace, wit and style, and
a magnetic personality exuding confidence sustained his popularity and influenced generations of politicians of all ideological
stripes. And he remains an iconic figure even today.
But although he wanted to provide strong leadership to extend economic benefits to all Americans and believed
that the country had the ability to do so, his thin margin of victory in the 1960 presidential election limited his mandate.
During his presidency, his party, the Democratic Party, controlled both houses of Congress - the House of Representatives
and the Senate - but conservative southerners, although they were also members of the Democratic Party, were opposed to his
policies, including civil rights for blacks.
Therefore many of his policies were not implemented during his presidency because of opposition in Congress.
Republican opposed him. And even southerners within his own party also opposed him in Congress. Also many older, white politicians
were annoyed by his appointments of young white and black advisers in his administration. Many also did not like his social
programs and spending plans on education, poverty and the elderly and even equated that with communism.
Therefore the overall legislative record of the Kennedy administration was not very impressive, diminished
even further by the fact that his presidency was cut short abruptly by assassination within three years of the first term.
Even in the area of civil rights in which many people, especially blacks and white liberals, thought the
president would do much better than anybody else before him, he did not have much have success. He made some gestures towards
civil rights leaders as if he would do something to fight racial injustices and inequalities. But he did not fully embrace
the civil rights agenda as he probably should have until nearly the end of his presidency.
A lot of this has been attributed to strong southern opposition to racial equality for blacks and Kennedy's
fear or concern that he would alienate the south and lose the election for a second term if he aggressively pursued the civil
rights agenda. But there may have been other reasons as well why his administration was not very enthusiastic about civil
rights for blacks. Whatever the case, all this was seen as a failure by his administration and it tarnished his image as a
true liberal. However, he still charted the course and provided the initiative which led to passage of the most comprehensive
civil rights legislation in American history not long after he died.
Kennedy also failed in his effort to secure more federal funding for public education because of stiff congressional
opposition by Republicans and southern Democrats. He also failed to provide medical care for elderly, again because of congressional
opposition ore than anything else. Yet, in spite of all this opposition, he still had planned a highly ambitious legislative
programme for last year of his term.
But he did not live long enough to try and push it through the legislature. When he was assassinated in
Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, the hopes and dreams of millions of Americans died with him, shattered by an assassin's
bullet whose echo can still be heard today in the minds of those who were around in the sixties.
And he is still admired as a liberal by his supporters. But his liberal reputation is derived from his ideals
and political style rather than successful implementation of a liberal agenda. However, the fact that the legislative programme
he formulated in the last year of his presidency was implemented from 1964 to 1966 - as demonstrated by the passage of the
1964 Civil Rights Bill followed by the 1965 Voting Rights Act and other legislation in subsequent years including the 1968
Open Housing Act - shows that his liberal credentials were legitimate, even if only up to a degree, and rightly earned him
a reputation as a liberal force for fundamental change to address social, political and economic problems plaguing the American
society which had not yet lived up to the ideals upon which it was supposedly founded.
And many Americans of all races questioned or disputed that claim; as to whether or not America was indeed
the land of the free founded on the twin ideals of liberty and equality which were not only the solid foundation but also
the pillars of this republic, the first since Rome. Racism and economic inequalities, among many other things, contradicted
that claim. And at no other time was this glaring contradiction more exposed than it was in the sixties.
The sixties were years of hope and prosperity for America. But they were also years of alienation and despair.
It was not enough that there was abundant wealth; nor was it enough that America's industrial might, which was also the basis
of the country's formidable military arsenal including strategic rocket forces, made most Americans feel secure.
And although millions of Americans were making advances and joining the middle class in the s1960s, it was
still obvious to many of them that there was something terribly wrong in a society which had such vast wealth and virtually
unlimited freedom to have people in their midst who were deprived of that.
The fundamental question was why America, of all countries as the citadel of democracy, would tolerate such
inequalities which went far beyond mere disparities in income.
Blacks, the poor, students, women, pacifists, radicals, professionals and people from all walks of life
began to challenge the underlying assumptions of America's existence as a just society. And their perspectives which emerged
from the sixties shaped the course of events and even changed the course of American history. They also redefined many values
many people took for granted and which they cherished so much and which they felt could not be challenged. It was a cataclysmic
change in outlook for millions of Americans and had an enormous impact on American culture.
When I landed on American soil for the first time towards the end of 1972, the aftershocks from the rumblings
and tremors, and explosions, of the sixties were still being felt across the nation. And they continued to reverberate through
I went to live and attend school in Detroit and saw the scars from the wounds of the sixties, self-inflicted
by a society that simply refused to recognize black people as full human beings. Burnt buildings, no more than empty shells,
were not hard to see around the city, because of the 1967 riots which were some of the worst in the nation's history. In 1968
alone, more than 120 cities were rocked by riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.
What was so disturbing to so many blacks including black militants was that whoever was behind the assassination
killed a man of peace who preached non-violence and believed in turning the other cheek. And black militants as well as many
other blacks who did not fully embrace non-violence were quick to say, "if they can do that to him, you can imagine what they
will do to us!"
And the riots were a strong reaction to what "this country did to him," as the rioters and many other blacks
believed. King was a victim of racism, and not just of a lone assassin's bullet. It was society, because of its tolerance
of racism, which loaded the gun and pulled the trigger. Hence the riots in response to that, to punish and inflict pain on
a society guilty of committing that crime.
Dr. King would have condemned the riots which erupted in his honour as a way of mourning his death, not
only because he was opposed to violence for moral and philosophical reasons; he would have condemned the riots for pragmatic
reasons as well, since he believed there were better ways - for example peaceful demonstrations and litigation - to address
the problem of racism and dramatize the plight of black people as victims of racial injustice.
But he also would have understood the anger of the rioters as much as
he understood the anger of Malcolm X and the black militants of the sixties because of the injustices perpetrated against
blacks; and why they lost faith in America, if they had any in the first place as blacks and victims of racial oppression.
As he stated in "Black Power," the second chapter of his his book Where
Do We Go from here: Chaos or Community? published in 1967 when some of the worst riots in the nation's history erupted:
“Greenwood turned out to be the arena for the birth of the Black Power slogan in the civil rights
movement. The phrase had been used long before by Richard Wright and others, but never until that night had it been used as
a slogan in the civil rights movement. For people who had been crushed so long by white power and who had been taught that
black was degrading, it had a ready appeal....
It is necessary to understand that Black Power is a cry of disappointment. The Black Power slogan did not
spring full-grown from the head of some philosophical Zeus. It was born from the wounds of despair and disappointment. It
is a cry of daily hurt and persistent pain.
For centuries the Negro has been caught in the tentacles of white power. Many Negroes have given up faith
in the white majority because white power with total control has left them empty-handed. So in reality the call for Black
Power is a reaction to the failure of white power.
It is no accident that the birth of this slogan in the civil rights movement took place in Mississippi -
the state symbolizing the most blatant abuse of white power. In Mississippi the murder of civil rights workers is still a
In that state more than forty Negroes and whites have either been lynched or murdered over the last three
years, and not a single man has been punished for these crimes. More than fifty Negro churches have been burned or bombed
in Mississippi in the last two years, yet the bombers still walk the streets surrounded by the halo of adoration. This is
white power in its most brutal, cold-blooded and vicious form.
Many of the young people proclaiming Black Power today were but yesterday the devotees of black-white cooperation
and nonviolent direct action.
With great sacrifice and dedication and a radiant faith in the future they labored courageously in the rural
areas of the South; with idealism they accepted blows without retaliating; with dignity they allowed themselves to be plunged
into filthy, stinking jail cells; with a majestic scorn for risk and anger they nonviolently confronted the Jim Clarks and
the Bull Connors of the South, and exposed the disease of racism in the body politic.
If they are America's angry children today, this anger is not congenital. It is a response to the feeling
that a real solution is hopelessly distant because of the inconsistencies, resistance and faintheartedness of those in power.
If Stokely Carmichael now says that nonviolence is irrelevant, it is because he, as a dedicated veteran
of many battles, has seen with his own eyes the most brutal white violence against Negroes and white civil rights workers,
and he has seen it go unpunished.
Their frustration is further fed by the fact that even when blacks and whites die together in the cause
of justice, the death of the white person gets more attention and concern than the death of the black person.
Stokely and his colleagues from SNCC were with us in Alabama when Jimmy Lee Jackson, a brave young Negro
man, was killed and when James Reeb, a committed Unitarian white minister, was fatally clubbed to the ground. They remembered
how President Johnson sent flowers to the gallant Mrs. Reeb, and in his eloquent 'We Shall Overcome' speech paused to mention
that one person, James Reeb, had already died in the struggle.
Somehow the President forgot to mention Jimmy, who died first. The parents and sister of Jimmy received
no flowers from the President. The students felt this keenly. Not that they felt that the death of James Reeb was less than
tragic, but because they felt that the failure to mention Jimmy Jackson only reinforced the impression that to white America
the life of a Negro is insignificant and meaningless.
There is also great disappointment with the federal government and its timidity in implementing the civil
rights laws on its statute books. The gap between promise and fulfillment is distressingly wide.
Millions of Negroes are frustrated and angered because extravagant promises made little more than a year
ago are a mockery today.
When the 1965 Voting Rights Law was signed, it was proclaimed as the dawn of freedom and the open door to
opportunity. What was minimally required under the law was the appointment of hundreds of registrars and thousands of federal
marshals to inhibit Southern terror. Instead, fewer than sixty registrars were appointed and not a single federal law officer
capable of making arrests was sent into the South.
As a consequence the old way of life - economic coercion, terrorism, murder and inhuman contempt - has continued
unabated. This gulf between laws and their enforcement is one of the basic reasons why Black Power advocates express contempt
for the legislative process.
The disappointment mounts as they turn their eyes to the North. In the Northern ghettos, unemployment, housing
discrimination and slum schools mock the Negro who tries to hope. There have been accomplishments and some material gain,
but these beginnings have revealed how far we have yet to go. The economic plight of the masses of Negroes has worsened. The
gap between the wages of the Negro worker and those of the white worker has widened. Slums are worse and Negroes attend more
thoroughly segregated schools today than in 1954.
The Black Power advocates are disenchanted with the inconsistencies in the militaristic posture of our government.
Over the last decade they have seen America applauding nonviolence whenever the Negroes have practiced it. They have watched
it being praised in the sit-in movements of 1960, in the Freedom Rides of 1961, in the Albany movement of 1962, in the Birmingham
movement of 1963 and in the Selma movement of 1965.
But then these same black young men and women have watched as America sends black young men to burn Vietnamese
with napalm, to slaughter men, women and children; and they wonder what kind of nation it is that applauds nonviolence whenever
Negroes face white people in the streets of the United States but then applauds violence and burning and death when these
same Negroes are sent to the field of Vietnam.
All of this represents disappointment lifted to astronomical proportions. It is disappointment with timid
white moderates who feel that they can set the timetable for the Negro's freedom. It is disappointment with a federal administration
that seems to be more concerned about winning an ill-considered war in Vietnam than about winning the war against poverty
here at home.
It is disappointment with white legislators who pass laws in behalf of Negro rights that they never intended
to implement. It is disappointment with the Christian church that appears to be more white than Christian, and with many white
clergymen who prefer to remain silent behind the security of stained-glass windows....”
The disappointment among many young blacks and the Black Power advocates was over all those inconsistencies,
as Dr. Martin Luther King pointed out, and over American hypocrisy with regard to racial equality which Dr. King and others
in the civil rights movement also understood very well. And some of this disappointment exploded into riots across the nation.
It was the first time many whites paid attention to the presence of black people in America, even if they
didn't care about their plight. But many young blacks from the ghettoes across the nation made their presence known in a very
dramatic way, by rioting, sending a clear message to the larger society that America was their home, too, and that they were
going nowhere; and if America continued to ignore them and other blacks, she was doing so at her own peril.
The black militants of the sixties and many other young blacks were not only sympathetic towards the rioters;
the black militants, especially, openly defended them and justified their actions and tactics because no one in power was
paying attention to blacks or was trying to address their grievances - until cities went up in flames.
The riots in the sixties were some of the worst the United States suffered in its history. And there is
no question that riots are destructive. But for some people, they are cathartic, even if not necessarily redemptive.
Whatever the case, when the riots erupted in the sixties, it was a price America had to pay for not being
truly American in terms of implementing the ideals which inspired her as a nation; and for not being what she had always professed
And it was not just black people, or the other victims of social injustices even if they were not black,
who noticed that. There were radicals of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) most of whom were white and probably
the majority of whom came from a middle-class background, including a significant number who came from affluent families.
You also had many professionals, the counterculture movement, the women's movement, the war protesters and many others.
They all saw the contradictions inherent in the American society. And they had their voices heard the loudest
in the 1960s; a decade that will never be forgotten as a defining moment in American history.
And in spite of the progress that has been made through the decades since
the civil rights movement more than 40 years ago, racism remain a major problem in the United States. As Professor Nathan
Glazer, a liberal from the sixties who underwent an ideological conversion and became a neo-conservative within the same decade,
stated in his book published in 1996, We Are All Multiculturalists
“[Multiculturalism] is the price America is paying for its inability or unwillingness to incorporate
into its society African Americans, in the same way and to the same degree it has incorporated so many groups....The [multicultural]
movement is given its force and vigor by our greatest domestic problem, the situation of African Americans....
Blacks...feel the issues most urgently, their problems are the most severe....Why have so many blacks moved
against assimilation as an ideal...? The answer, I am convinced, is to be found in black experience in America, and in the
fundamental refusal of other Americans to accept blacks...The apartness of blacks is real; for this one group, assimilation,
by some measures, has certainly failed.”
And that is quite a confession for a neo-conservative to make. That is the kind of admission one would normally
expect to hear from liberals. But Nathan Glazer was there back then in the sixties and he is honest enough to admit even as
a neo-conservative how far America has come and how far she still has to go. She has long, long ways to go before she fully
embraces blacks as equal citizens.
Many people who marched in the sixties in support of racial equality probably felt back then that racism
would be conquered. Few thought it still would be an intractable problem almost 50 years later. Tragically, as the nation
marches into the twentieth-first century, racism remains a perennial problem and im nay ways reminiscent of the sixties.
But the diverse groups of people and movements which fought for justice in the sixties had millions of Americans
imbued with a sense of hope and optimism that things would get better no matter how long it took. And that is one of the most
important legacies of the sixties. The spirit lives on.
They may have differed in their ideologies and in some of their agendas. And they may even have fought sometimes.
But they were all united by one thing: their common identity as Americans in pursuit of justice for all Americans regardless
of who and what they were.
Among all the groups and movements of the sixties, the civil rights movement was probably the most dominant
and most influential on the nation's political scene with the exception of the demonstrators against the Vietnam war. And
quite often it was difficult to draw a distinction between the two since the people who were opposed to the Vietnam war, including
Dr. Martin Luther King and many black and white college students and others including many ministers, also supported the civil
rights movement. Therefore both movements were broadly ecumenical.
Another movement in the sixties that caused tectonic shifts in the American political and socioeconomic
strata was the student movement called Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
While the civil rights movement was driven by a demand for racial equality for blacks across the spectrum,
the SDS focused on inequalities in society in general, especially on the contradiction highlighted by the fact that America
was an affluent society yet one which had millions of poor people who were being ignored and neglected by the rich and even
by the government itself.
As a racial group, it is true that blacks were on the periphery of the mainstream - and still are in many
respects more than 40 years after the civil rights movement. But there were other Americans who, although not victims of racial
injustice, were victims of economic injustice, a plight they shared with black people. And leaders in the civil rights movement
were fully aware of that although they were, at first, more focused on racial equality without which economic equality would
be impossible. But they never ignored the fact that millions of whites were also victimized because of poverty. That is why
before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King had plans to lead a major demonstration in Washington D.C. to dramatize
the plight of the poor across racial lines.
And the Students for a Democratic Society was one of the movements in the sixties which played a major role
in keeping this issue alive. It also played an important role in highlighting problems of inequalities - and conflict of values
- in the American society in a way black groups would not have been able to.
Most of the SDS members were white. As members of the white segment of society, they were able to spread
their message among whites in a way the Black Panthers, SNCC and other black or predominantly black groups would not have
been able to. But they had other concerns as well, besides poverty in the midst of plenty. As Karen Wolff stated in her essay
"What Do They Want? Critical Perspectives on the 1960s in the Unted States":
“The unequal distribution of wealth and opportunity might have spurred on the “underclasses”
but what happened to push the “haves” to rebel as well?
In the early 60’s middle class white students on many college campuses across the country were reevaluating
their ideas and life expectations.
This movement included many different types of criticisms of the society but they all did agree that new
questions had to be asked about the quality of life in the richest country in the world.
Although they too were critical of the unequal distribution of wealth and the extremes of wealth and poverty,
their major orientation, as children of economic privilege was their alienation from the values of the society which they
felt even though they were economically secure.
The student movement grew together around a variety of protest issues that had been confronting the dominant
priorities of America.
The testing of nuclear bombs and the acceptance of the idea of fallout shelters seemed to find many folks
asking who would want to survive a nuclear holocaust? Why indeed are those the options? What are the real issues in the cold
war? What does red mean other than a symbol for the enemy? Why is the world so divided?
If we have the answers why does the world feel so attracted to the enemy? What does socialism have to offer?
How can we too change to meet the needs of more of our people and the peoples of the world?
These questions were intensified by the events around the Civil Rights Movement which said to some that
racism was a necessary part of America’s social structure, not only a product of individual ignorance or prejudice.
We could watch racial violence on television as the nation debated whether the federal government had the
right to force state and city governments to abide by the decisions of the Supreme Court. Who had what power? By whose standards
should justice be defined and enforced?
Student radicals decided that the American people had to begin by redefining their priorities from wealth
and power for greatest good for the greatest number. What then would an ideal society look like? How would we get there? What
were rights? What were privileges?”
The Port Huron Statement, one of the best documents to come out of the turbulent sixties and named after
the city in which the students met - Port Huron, Michigan - in 1962 to issue this statement, best encapsulated those arguments.
It emphasized the need for a change in attitudes. People should not see wealth as an end itself but as a
means to an end for the benefit of all in society. The Port Huron Statement also called for participatory democracy through
which Americans would have to redefine their goals and priorities.
The Student for a Democratic Society SDS) was led by Tom Hayden, a student at the University of Michigan
from Detroit, and he was credited for having written the Port Huron Statement, although there may have been some modifications
by some of his colleagues before it was adopted an SDS official document.
It was a seminal document of the New Left completed on June 15, 1962,
at the SDS convention in Port Huron, Michigan, which started on June 11th. The SDS manifesto was also partly a rebuttal to the Sharon Statement, the official document of the conservative
Young Americans for Freedom, written by M. Stanton Evans and adopted on September 11, 1960.
The Sharon Statement is named after the location of the inaugural meeting
of Young Americans for Freedom. The meeting was held at the estate of William F. Buckley, Jr., a leading ideologue in the
American conservative movement, in Sharon, Connecticut. Buckley was also the founder and for many years editor of National Review, probably the most influential publication of the conservative movement in the United States.
The Sharon Statement triggered a powerful response from Tom Hayden and his ideological compatriots who were
more sympathetic to the struggle for racial equality and other social injustices in the American society than their counterparts
on the ideological Right were.
Many students of what came to be known as the New Left, including Hayden, worked in the civil rights movement.
The Port Huron Statement explicitly condemned racism, unlike the Sharon Statement. It focused on poverty
and civil rights for blacks and the complacency of the American society in the face of such injustices; the danger of nuclear
war and other issues, and remains a reference point for the radicals of the sixties, many of whom were retired or near retirement
at this writing.
Many of them also mellowed through the years. As the Port Huron Statement said among many other things:
“We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking
uncomfortably to the world we inherit.
When we were kids the United States was the wealthiest and strongest country in the world: the only one
with the atom bomb, the least scarred by modern war, an initiator of the United Nations that we thought would distribute Western
influence throughout the world. Freedom and equality for each individual, government of, by, and for the people -- these American
values we found good, principles by which we could live as men. Many of us began maturing in complacency.
As we grew, however, our comfort was penetrated by events too troubling to dismiss.
First, the permeating and victimizing fact of human degradation, symbolized by the Southern struggle against
racial bigotry, compelled most of us from silence to activism.
Second, the enclosing fact of the Cold War, symbolized by the presence of the Bomb, brought awareness that
we ourselves, and our friends, and millions of abstract "others" we knew more directly because of our common peril, might
die at any time.
We might deliberately ignore, or avoid, or fail to feel all other human problems, but not these two, for
these were too immediate and crushing in their impact, too challenging in the demand that we as individuals take the responsibility
for encounter and resolution.
While these and other problems either directly oppressed us or rankled our consciences and became our own
subjective concerns, we began to see complicated and disturbing paradoxes in our surrounding America. The declaration 'all
men are created equal' - rang hollow before the facts of Negro life in the South and the big cities of the North. The proclaimed
peaceful intentions of the United States contradicted its economic and military investments in the Cold War status quo.
We witnessed, and continue to witness, other paradoxes. With nuclear energy whole cities can easily be powered,
yet the dominant nationstates seem more likely to unleash destruction greater than that incurred in all wars of human history.
Although our own technology is destroying old and creating new forms of social organization, men still tolerate meaningless
work and idleness.
While two-thirds of mankind suffers undernourishment, our own upper classes revel amidst superfluous abundance.
Although world population is expected to double in forty years, the nations still tolerate anarchy as a major principle of
international conduct and uncontrolled exploitation governs the sapping of the earth's physical resources. Although mankind
desperately needs revolutionary leadership, America rests in national stalemate, its goals ambiguous and tradition-bound instead
of informed and clear, its democratic system apathetic and manipulated rather than "of, by, and for the people."
Not only did tarnish appear on our image of American virtue, not only did disillusion occur when the hypocrisy
of American ideals was discovered, but we began to sense that what we had originally seen as the American Golden Age was actually
the decline of an era.
The worldwide outbreak of revolution against colonialism and imperialism, the entrenchment of totalitarian
states, the menace of war, overpopulation, international disorder, supertechnology -- these trends were testing the tenacity
of our own commitment to democracy and freedom and our abilities to visualize their application to a world in upheaval.
Our work is guided by the sense that we may be the last generation in the experiment with living. But we
are a minority -- the vast majority of our people regard the temporary equilibriums of our society and world as eternally-functional
parts. In this is perhaps the outstanding paradox: we ourselves are imbued with urgency, yet the message of our society is
that there is no viable alternative to the present.
Beneath the reassuring tones of the politicians, beneath the common opinion that America will "muddle through",
beneath the stagnation of those who have closed their minds to the future, is the pervading feeling that there simply are
no alternatives, that our times have witnessed the exhaustion not only of Utopias, but of any new departures as well.
Feeling the press of complexity upon the emptiness of life, people are fearful of the thought that at any
moment things might thrust out of control. They fear change itself, since change might smash whatever invisible framework
seems to hold back chaos for them now. For most Americans, all crusades are suspect, threatening. The fact that each individual
sees apathy in his fellows perpetuates the common reluctance to organize for change.
The dominant institutions are complex enough to blunt the minds of their potential critics, and entrenched
enough to swiftly dissipate or entirely repel the energies of protest and reform, thus limiting human expectancies. Then,
too, we are a materially improved society, and by our own improvements we seem to have weakened the case for further change.
Some would have us believe that Americans feel contentment amidst prosperity -- but might it not better
be called a glaze above deeply-felt anxieties about their role in the new world? And if these anxieties produce a developed
indifference to human affairs, do they not as well produce a yearning to believe there is an alternative to the present, that
something can be done to change circumstances in the school, the workplaces, the bureaucracies, the government?
It is to this latter yearning, at once the spark and engine of change, that we direct our present appeal.
The search for truly democratic alternatives to the present, and a commitment to social experimentation with them, is a worthy
and fulfilling human enterprise, one which moves us and, we hope, others today.
On such a basis do we offer this document of our convictions and analysis: as an effort in understanding
and changing the conditions of humanity in the late twentieth century, an effort rooted in the ancient, still unfulfilled
conception of man attaining determining influence over his circumstances of life.....
In the last few years, thousands of American students demonstrated that they at least felt the urgency of
the times. They moved actively and directly against racial injustices, the threat of war, violations of individual rights
of conscience and, less frequently, against economic manipulation. They succeeded in restoring a small measure of controversy
to the campuses after the stillness of the McCarthy period. They succeeded, too, in gaining some concessions from the people
and institutions they opposed, especially in the fight against racial bigotry.
The significance of these scattered movements lies not in their success or failure in gaining objectives
-- at least not yet. Nor does the significance lie in the intellectual "competence" or "maturity" of the students involved
-- as some pedantic elders allege. The significance is in the fact the students are breaking the crust of apathy and overcoming
the inner alienation that remain the defining characteristics of American college life....
Our America is still white....Some will say progress is being made. The facts bely it, however, unless it
is assumed that America has another century to deal with its racial inequalities.
Others, more pompous, will blame the situation on 'those people's inability to pick themselves up,' not
understanding the automatic way in which such a system can frustrate reform efforts and diminish the aspirations of the oppressed.
The one-party system in the South, attached to the Dixiecrat-Republican complex nationally, cuts off the
Negro's independent powers as a citizen. Discrimination in employment, along with labor's accommodation to the 'lily-white'
hiring practices, guarantees the lowest slot in the economic order to the 'nonwhite.'
North or South, these oppressed are conditioned by their inheritance and their surroundings to expect more
of the same: in housing, schools, recreation, travel, all their potential is circumscribed, thwarted and often extinguished.
Automation grinds up job opportunities, and ineffective or non-existent retraining programs make the already-handicapped 'nonwhite'
even less equipped to participate in 'technological progress.'
Horatio Alger Americans typically believe that the 'nonwhites' are being 'accepted' and 'rising' gradually.
They see more Negroes on television and so assume that Negroes are 'better off.' They hear the President talking about Negroes
and so assume they are politically represented. They are aware of black peoples in the United Nations and so assume that the
world is generally moving toward integration.
They don't drive through the South, or through the slum areas of the big cities, so they assume that squalor
and naked exploitation are disappearing. They express generalities about 'time and gradualism' to hide the fact that they
don't know what is happening.
The advancement of the Negro and other 'nonwhites' in America has not been altogether by means of the crusades
of liberalism, but rather through unavoidable changes in social structure.
The economic pressures of World War II opened new jobs, new mobility, new insights to Southern Negroes,
who then began great migrations from the South to the bigger urban areas of the North where their absolute wage was greater,
though unchanged in relation to the white man of the same stratum.
More important than the World War II openings was the colonial revolution. The world-wide upsurge of dark
peoples against white colonial domination stirred the separation and created an urgency among American Negroes, while simultaneously
it threatened the power structure of the United States enough to produce concessions to the Negro.
Produced by outer pressure from the newly-moving peoples rather than by the internal conscience of the Federal
government, the gains were keyed to improving the American 'image' more than to reconstructing the society that prospered
on top of its minorities. Thus the historic Supreme Court decision of 1954, theoretically desegregating Southern schools,
was more a proclamation than a harbinger of social change -- and is reflected as such in the fraction of Southern school districts
which have desegregated, with Federal officials doing little to spur the process.
It has been said that the Kennedy administration did more in two years than the Eisenhower administration
did in eight. Of this there can be no doubt. But it is analogous to comparing whispers to silence when positively stentorian
tones are demanded. President Kennedy lept ahead of the Eisenhower record when he made his second reference to the racial
problem; Eisenhower did not utter a meaningful public statement until his last month in office when he mentioned the 'blemish'
To avoid conflict with the Dixiecrat-Republican alliance, President Kennedy has developed a civil rights
philosophy of "enforcement, not enactment", implying that existing statutory tools are sufficient to change the lot of the
Negro. So far he has employed executive power usefully to appoint Negroes to various offices, and seems interested in seeing
the Southern Negro registered to vote.
On the other hand, he has appointed at least four segregationist judges in areas where voter registration
is a desperate need. Only two civil rights bills, one to abolish the poll tax in five states and another to prevent unfair
use of literacy tests in registration, have been proposed -- the President giving active support to neither. But even this
legislation, lethargically supported, then defeated, was intended to extend only to Federal elections.
More important, the Kennedy interest in voter registration has not been supplemented with interest in giving
the Southern Negro the economic protection that only trade unions can provide. It seems evident that the President is attempting
to win the Negro permanently to the Democratic Party without basically disturbing the reactionary one-party oligarchy in the
Moreover, the administration is decidedly 'cool' (a phrase of Robert Kennedy's) toward mass nonviolent movements
in the South, though by the support of racist Dixiecrats the Administration makes impossible gradual action through conventional
The Federal Bureau of Investigation in the South is composed of Southerners and their intervention in situations
of racial tension is always after the incident, not before. Kennedy has refused to 'enforce' the legal prerogative to keep
Federal marshals active in Southern areas before, during and after any 'situations' (this would invite Negroes to exercise
their rights and it would infuriate the Southerners in Congress because of its 'insulting' features).
While corrupt politicians, together with business interests happy with the absence of organized labor in
Southern states and with the $50 billion in profits that results from paying the Negro half a "white wage", stymie and slow
fundamental progress, it remains to be appreciated that the ultimate wages of discrimination are paid by individuals and not
by the state.
Indeed the other sides of the economic, political and sociological coins of racism represent their more
profound implications in the private lives, liberties and pursuits of happiness of the citizen.
While hungry nonwhites the world around assume rightful dominance, the majority of Americans fight to keep
integrated housing out of the suburbs. While a fully interracial world becomes a biological probability, most Americans persist
in opposing marriage between the races. While cultures generally interpenetrate, white America is ignorant still of nonwhite
America -- and perhaps glad of it.
The white lives almost completely within his immediate, close-up world where things are tolerable, there
are no Negroes except on the bus corner going to and from work, and where it is important that daughter marry right.
White, like might, makes right in America today. Not knowing the 'nonwhite,' however, the white knows something
less than himself. Not comfortable around 'different people,' he reclines in whiteness instead of preparing for diversity.
Refusing to yield objective social freedoms to the 'nonwhite,' the white loses his personal subjective freedom by turning
away 'from all these damn causes.'
White American ethnocentrism at home and abroad reflect most sharply the self-deprivation suffered by the
majority of our country which effectively makes it an isolated minority in the world community of culture and fellowship.
The awe inspired by the pervasiveness of racism in American life is only matched by the marvel of its historical span in American
The national heritage of racial discrimination via slavery has been a part of America since Christopher
Columbus' advent on the new continent. As such, racism not only antedates the Republic and the thirteen Colonies, but even
the use of the English language in this hemisphere. And it is well that we keep this as a background when trying to understand
why racism stands as such a steadfast pillar in the culture and custom of the country.
Racial-xenophobia is reflected in the admission of various racial stocks to the country. From the nineteenth
century Oriental Exclusion Acts to the most recent up-dating of the Walter-McCarren Immigration Acts the nation has shown
a continuous contemptuous regard for 'nonwhites.'
More recently, the tragedies of Hiroshima and Korematsu, and our cooperation with Western Europe in the
United Nations add treatment to the thoroughness of racist overtones in national life.
But the right to refuse service to anyone is no longer reserved to the Americans. The minority groups, internationally,
are changing place....
The goals we have set are not realizable next month, or even next election -- but that fact justifies neither
giving up altogether nor a determination to work only on immediate, direct, tangible problems. Both responses are a sign of
helplessness, fearfulness of visions, refusal to hope, and tend to bring on the very conditions to be avoided. Fearing vision,
we justify rhetoric or myopia. Fearing hope, we reinforce despair.
The first effort, then, should be to state a vision: what is the perimeter of human possibility in this
epoch? This we have tried to do. The second effort, if we are to be politically responsible, is to evaluate the prospects
for obtaining at least a substantial part of that vision in our epoch: what are the social forces that exist, or that must
exist, if we are to be at all successful? And what role have we ourselves to play as a social force?
1. In exploring the existing social forces, note must be taken of the Southern civil rights movement as
the most heartening because of the justice it insists upon, exemplary because it indicates that there can be a passage out
This movement, pushed into a brilliant new phase by the Montgomery bus boycott and the subsequent nonviolent
action of the sit-ins and Freedom Rides has had three major results: first, a sense of self-determination has been instilled
in millions of oppressed Negroes; second, the movement has challenged a few thousand liberals to new social idealism; third,
a series of important concessions have been obtained, such as token school desegregation, increased Administration help, new
laws, desegregation of some public facilities.
But fundamental social change -- that would break the props from under Jim Crown -- has not come. Negro
employment opportunity, wage levels, housing conditions, educational privileges -- these remain deplorable and relatively
constant, each deprivation reinforcing the impact of the others.
The Southern states, in the meantime, are strengthening the fortresses of the status quo, and are beginning
to camouflage the fortresses by guile where open bigotry announced its defiance before. The white-controlled one-party system
remains intact; and even where the Republicans are beginning under the pressures of industrialization in the towns and suburbs,
to show initiative in fostering a two-party system, all Southern state Republican Committees (save Georgia) have adopted militant
segregationist platforms to attract Dixiecrats.
Rural dominance remains a fact in nearly all the Southern states, although the reapportionment decision
of the Supreme Court portends future power shifts to the cities. Southern politicians maintain a continuing aversion to the
welfare legislation that would aid their people.
The reins of the Southern economy are held by conservative businessmen who view human rights as secondary
to property rights. A violent anti-communism is rooting itself in the South, and threatening even moderate voices. Add the
militaristic tradition of the South, and its irrational regional mystique and one must conclude that authoritarian and reactionary
tendencies are a rising obstacle to the small, voiceless, poor, and isolated democratic movements.
The civil rights struggle thus has come to an impasse. To this impasse, the movement responded this year
by entering the sphere of politics, insisting on citizenship rights, specifically the right to vote. The new voter registration
stage of protest represents perhaps the first major attempt to exercise the conventional instruments of political democracy
in the struggle for racial justice.
The vote, if used strategically by the great mass of now-unregistered Negroes theoretically eligible to
vote, will be a decisive factor in changing the quality of Southern leadership from low demagoguery to decent statesmanship.
More important, the new emphasis on the vote heralds the use of political means to solve the problems of
equality in America, and it signals the decline of the short-sighted view that 'discrimination' can be isolated from related
Since the moral clarity of the civil rights movement has not always been accompanied by precise political
vision, and sometimes not even by a real political consciousness, the new phase is revolutionary in its implication. The intermediate
goal of the program is to secure and insure a healthy respect and realization of Constitutional liberties.
This is important not only to terminate the civil and private abuses which currently characterize the region,
but also to prevent the pendulum of oppression from simply swinging to an alternate extreme with a new unsophisticated electorate,
after the unhappy example of the last Reconstruction.
It is the ultimate objectives of the strategy which promise profound change in the politics of the nation.
An increased Negro voting race in and of itself is not going to dislodge racist controls of the Southern power structure;
but an accelerating movement through the courts, the ballot boxes, and especially the jails is the most likely means of shattering
the crust of political intransigency and creating a semblance of democratic order, on local and state levels.
Linked with pressure from Northern liberals to expunge the Dixiecrats from the ranks of the Democratic Party,
massive Negro voting in the South could destroy the vice-like grip reactionary Southerners have on the Congressional legislative
There is the tremendous challenge of the Negro movement for support from organized labor: the alienation
from and disgust with labor hypocrisy among Negroes ranging from the NAACP to the Black Muslims (crystallized in the formation
of the Negro American Labor Council) indicates that labor must move more seriously in its attempts to organize on an interracial
basis in the South and in large urban centers....
From 1960 to 1962, the campuses experienced a revival of idealism among an active few. Triggered by the
impact of the sit-ins, students began to struggle for integration, civil liberties, student rights, peace, and against the
fast-rising right wing 'revolt' as well. The liberal students, too, have felt their urgency thwarted by conventional channels:
from student governments to Congressional committees.
Out of this alienation from existing channels has come the creation of new ones; the most characteristic
forms of liberal-radical student organizations are the dozens of campus political parties, political journals, and peace marches
In only a few cases have students built bridges to power: an occasional election campaign, the sit-ins,
Freedom Rides, and voter registration activities; in some relatively large Northern demonstrations for peace and civil rights,
and infrequently, through the United States National Student Association whose notable work has not been focused on political
These contemporary social movements -- for peace, civil rights, civil liberties labor -- have in common
certain values and goals. The fight for peace is one for a stable and racially integrated world; for an end to the inherently
volatile exploitation of most of mankind by irresponsible elites; and for freedom of economic, political and cultural organization.
The fight for civil rights is also one for social welfare for all Americans; for free speech and the right to protest; for
the shield of economic independence and bargaining power; for a reduction of the arms race which takes national attention
and resources away from the problems of domestic injustice.
Labor's fight for jobs and wages is also one labor; for the right to petition and strike; for world industrialization;
for the stability of a peacetime economy instead of the insecurity of the war economy; for expansion of the Welfare State.
The fight for a liberal Congress is a fight for a platform from which these concerns can issue. And the fight for students,
for internal democracy in the university, is a fight to gain a forum for the issues.
But these scattered movements have more in common: a need for their concerns to be expressed by a political
party responsible to their interests. That they have no political expression, no political channels, can be traced in large
measure to the existence of a Democratic Party which tolerates the perverse unity of liberalism and racism, prevents the social
change wanted by Negroes, peace protesters, labor unions, students, reform Democrats, and other liberals.
Worse, the party stalemate prevents even the raising of controversy -- a full Congressional assault on racial
discrimination, disengagement in Central Europe, sweeping urban reform, disarmament and inspection, public regulation of major
industries; these and other issues are never heard in the body that is supposed to represent the best thoughts and interests
of all Americans.
An imperative task for these publicly disinherited groups, then, is to demand a Democratic Party responsible
to their interests. They must support Southern voter registration and Negro political candidates and demand that Democratic
Party liberals do the same (in the last Congress, Dixiecrats split with Northern Democrats on 119 of 300 roll-calls, mostly
on civil rights, area redevelopment and foreign aid bills; and breach was much larger than in the previous several sessions).
Labor should begin a major drive in the South. In the North, reform clubs (either independent or Democratic)
should be formed to run against big city regimes on such issues as peace, civil rights, and urban needs. Demonstrations should
be held at every Congressional or convention seating of Dixiecrats. A massive research and publicity campaign should be initiated,
showing to every housewife, doctor, professor, and worker the damage done to their interests every day a racist occupies a
place in the Democratic Party.
Where possible, the peace movement should challenge the 'peace credentials' of the otherwise-liberals by
threatening or actually running candidates against them....
If we appear to seek the unattainable, it has been said, then let it be known that we do so to avoid the
Tom Hayden and many others remained true to their convictions through the decades; Hayden still was, when
I was writing this book in 2006, more than 40 years after the Port Huron Statement was issued.
Many of them also had a profound impact on American education which they made more inclusive than it was
before when it was essentially Eurocentric in the Western intellectual tradition.
But some of the people who were members of the New Left underwent ideological conversion. David Horowitz,
who later became a Republican and a conservative and an admirer of President Ronald Reagan, is a prime example. Also a former
supporter of the Black Panther Party, he became one of the very same people - conservatives - he and other radicals criticized
so much in the sixties and repudiated his past.
His repudiation included denunciation of the Black Panther Party which drew a sharp response from former
Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver in an interview with Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., on American public television,
PBS, in the late 1990s not long before Cleaver died.
But whatever their shortcomings, the sixties' radicals did, at the very least, raise some fundamental issues
and jolted the conscience of the nation to start addressing and looking at the nation's problems from another perspective:
that of the powerless and the dispossessed, the alienated, and even of the young and restless as they themselves were, in
order to bring about fundamental social change for the benefit of all regardless of one's status.
Yet, it was not easy to change the attitudes of people brought up in a capitalist society driven by profit
and accumulation of wealth and convince them that they should sacrifice for others who were less fortunate.
However, the SDS defined the role of students in the American society, criticized their passivity, and challenged
them to get actively involved in transforming their country through participatory democracy to make America the best it could
be. And they believed it had the means to achieve this goal.
Other influential movements of the sixties included the women's movement which demanded equal rights for
women who had traditionally played a subordinate role in a society dominated by men. And because of their subordinate status,
many women of all races identified with the victims of racial injustice and actively supported the civil rights movement.
Also known as the feminist movement, the women's movement got a boost
in 1963 when Betty Friedan, a suburban housewife and mother of three, wrote one of the most influential books in the sixties,
Feminine Mystique, in which she strongly criticized the American society for keeping women
in domestic bondage, and even the women themselves for accepting or tolerating that.
The book helped to launch a new emancipation movement called Women's Liberation and it remained influential
for many years. The women's response was powerful as well as dramatic. It included public burning of brassieres and successful
lobbying efforts in the nation's capital for strict enforcement of the fair-employment laws and other legislation.
But the women's movement went beyond its quest for equal rights for women. Like the civil rights movement,
it profoundly changed the nature of discourse regarding important issues and redefined the assumptions upon which America
operated as a society. In studying the American social structure, women concluded - as they already knew - that American ideas,
ideals and values were defined and articulated from a male, especially white male, perspective almost to the total exclusion
of women and minorities.
So, the women's movement demanded a redefinition of all those values, ideas and ideals, and all the assumptions
within which national and intellectual debates were framed concerning national and even individual issues. It sought to change,
and in many ways succeeded in changing, the perceptions and attitudes of many people concerning women and their role in society.
It was a radical departure from the past that also entailed a redefinition of the sex roles and even of
the family structure itself, the very foundation of any human society as an organic entity. From then on, women refused to
be dominated by men in a society, and in a world, that had always been dominated by men whose chauvinism was synonymous with
And all this had profound implications for the future of the United States as a society. Many men may have
seen the women who supported the women's movement as a rebels who wanted to disrupt the social fabric and destroy the traditional
family structure. But from a higher perspective, one sees that what the women's movement did was no more than an assertion
of the right of all Americans to be treated equal in a society supposedly founded on the twin ideals of liberty and equality,
and in which man's dominant role would be anachronistic.
Therefore there is no question that the women's movement in the sixties redefined America as a society that
would no longer be dominated by men across the spectrum, and it helped change the course of American history.
Women wouldn't be where they are today in terms of education, employment and power had it not been for the
women's movement which had its most dramatic impact on the national scene in one of the most turbulent decades in American
history: the sixties.
But there was also another dimension of the women's movement that needs to be addressed.
The women's movement became radicalized as a feminist movement not only for the assertion of equal rights
with men as equal members of society; it also demanded equal rights with men across-the-board, with many women demanding to
do the same kind of work men do and had traditionally done, regardless of the amount of hard, physical labour required to
accomplish the task; for example, doing construction work, digging trenches, climbing utility poles, and even jumping over
barbed-wire fences, among others.
Some women even refused to let men open doors for them out of respect for them as women. They said that
was not equal rights and took it as an offence, or as an insult, reinforcing stereotypes about women as members of the "weaker
sex" even if some of the things they wanted to do were too much for them.
There are obvious differences between men and women in terms of physical strength; not that women are indeed
members of the "weaker sex" in that context, but because of the fact that men are naturally physically stronger than women.
Yet, in spite of such demands for equality across-the-board, there were some - in fact many - women who
differed with the radical feminists on their militancy and felt that they had gone too far. There were things men could do
that women could not do, and vice versa.
And, although the feminist movement articulated legitimate demands, and had legitimate concerns, it did,
in a way, play a somewhat a negative role with regard to the civil rights movement. While it brought attention to gender inequalities
and sexist stereotypes about women, it drew some women out of the civil rights movement or made them less active in the civil
rights struggle because they now had their own agenda and feminist cause to pursue.
But these were mostly white women. For most black women, it was a luxury they could not afford even though
they also supported the feminist movement and its agenda. While many of them continued to support the feminist movement, they
also knew that they could not secure and enjoy their rights as women on the basis of equality with men as long as they continued
to suffer as black people. They were all denied equal rights in the American society because they were black, not because
they were simply black women or black men.
Still, regardless of its shortcomings, the feminist movement played a major role in leveling the playing
field and helped make America a more inclusive, and more tolerant society than it had been before.
Also, the feminist movement, like all the other movements in the sixties, highlighted another problem. Although
all these movements projected an image of a unified response to inequalities and injustices in the American society as if
Americans were indeed united against injustice, they did at the same time show that America was, in fact, fractured along
many lines and was really not as united as it seemed to be.
The women's movement had its own cause to advance; the counterculture movement also had its own agenda and
virtually established its own society divorced from the norms and lifestyles of mainstream America; the civil rights movement
was essentially a black movement - fighting for the rights of black people - in spite of the large number of whites who participated
in it; the New Left or Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) also had its own goals to pursue even if many of those goals,
like those of the other movements, were not in conflict with and were in fact often the same as those pursued by the other
movements. And there were others including the anti-war movement.
Yet, is spite of all that, and the differences between and among all these movements, there was unanimity
among them that there was something seriously wrong with the American society; and that there was hope for change to make
It was also a sentiment articulated by a young president of the United States during that period, John F.
Kennedy, whose youthful exuberance and energy radiated hope and embodied the spirit of the times. He promised to lead the
nation into a new era and meet the New Frontier of "uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war,
unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus."
That was indeed the spirit of the times, also embodied by the various movements which became most active
during the sixties.
Besides the feminist movement we have just looked at, there was another movement, the counterculture.
The counterculture movement with its glorification of drugs - marijuana, LSD and others - had its own internal
dynamics which propelled it on to the national scene in the sixties. But it also entered the political arena as a grassroots
movement to advocate and advance social causes such as racial equality. And since it defined man beyond race, sex and class,
it justified the use of drugs to enable individuals to explore their inner selves - for internal reflection - in order to
have a true understanding of the nature of man.
However, there was another aspect of the counterculture that may have given it another dimension. The youth,
mostly white, were an integral part of this movement. They rejected the values of their society and sought expression of their
feelings through music: rock and roll and sometimes folk music. Some of these songs, for example by Bob Dylan, talked about
change or the need for change.
And a number of the artists supported the civil rights movement and the war against Vietnam as did their
fans who bought, liked and sang this music; mostly folk music which came to be associated with the civil rights movement.
Yet, there is no question that the counterculture movement rejected mainstream values and did not fully
address itself to issues of social justice the way it could have, or the way movements such as Students for a Democratic Society
But regardless of its views which may have been an aberration from the norm, it played an important role
in the sense that it increased an awareness of the diversity that existed in society, showing that there were some Americans
who provided an intellectual justification for the use of drugs as did one famous professor of psychology at Harvard University,
Timothy Leary, a proponent of the use of LSD and other psychedelic drugs. It also enlarged the arena of politics to include
its agenda as an important issue for national dialogue. As Leary - in a phrase that defined the counterculture movement -
put it: "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out!"
The counterculture movement changed the way some people looked at drugs, values and lifestyles which most
older people considered to be morally repugnant and a threat to the traditional way of life. And it helped to make America
more tolerant and inclusive when many people listened to what the advocates of drug use had to say to justify their lifestyle.
Such tolerance had a multiplier effect throughout society, reinforcing the liberal view prevalent in the sixties that people
had the right to be what they are or what they wanted to be, express their views and live as equals in a democratic society.
And for that reason, it had a positive influence on the struggle for racial equality led by the civil rights
movement, however limited that influence may have been.
Also there is no question that a combination of factors contributed to the rise of the counterculture movement.
They included social injustices, rampant materialism, fear of a nuclear holocaust, a rejection not only of mainstream values
but of the conservative social norms prevalent in white, middle-class America in the 1950s. And the fact that most of these
rebellious youths were white meant that they took a principled stand not only against the white middle-class society but also
against their own parents who were an integral part of that society. America's imperialist arrogance and her involvement in
the Vietnam war also contributed to the rise of the counterculture movement.
The counterculture movement also led to the adoption of alternative lifestyles including communal especially
in the countryside; organic farming; yoga, meditation and chanting while rejecting the use of drugs; free sex or sexual freedom
as demonstrated by the Woodstock Art and Music Festival in 1969; appreciation of mysticism and adoption of Eastern religions;
establishment of the underground press; preference for long hair and unconventional attire and much more.
All those things were abhorred by many older people and by the Establishment as a repudiation of traditional
values and the American way of life, except for things like protecting the environment which the counterculture movement strongly
supported. Many of its members played a very important role in raising awareness among Americans about the need to protect
the environment, an issue people of all ages were concerned about, some more deeply than others.
The impact of the counterculture movement was widely felt because of the nature of its origin and its participants.
Whites youths who were the driving force behind this movement and who constituted the largest number of its members were a
product of mainstream America and the predominantly white society. And a very large number of them were college students where
the counterculture movement virtually started. The Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1964,
was a strong manifestation of the counterculture and all that it entailed.
The students on that campus, the flagship of the University of California school system, were privileged
members of society from the middle- and upper-classes - the affluent society - yet were at odds with the values of that society
and the interests and practices of the university and its corporate sponsors, and identified themselves with the downtrodden
members of the American society.
In fact, the Free Speech Movement had its roots in the civil rights movement which had its greatest impact
in the southern states where blacks suffered brutal repression at the hands of racist authorities, groups and individuals
espousing the doctrine of white supremacy and upholding white supremacist values.
Besides the civil rights movement, perhaps nowhere was the right to free expression better articulated than
in the protest movement against the Vietnam war.
In fact, the anti-Vietnam war movement - fueled by the escalation of the war by President Johnson - was
so effective and so successful that it discouraged and prevented Johnson from seeking a second term in 1968; the same year
in which the civil rights movement also reached its peak with the passage of the Open Housing Act, the last of the three major
pieces of civil rights legislation of the sixties, preceded by the Voting Rights Act in 1965, and the Civil Rights Act in
Tragically, it was also in the same year, 1968, that Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated and the civil
rights movement began to fade.
Almost exactly one year before he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, Dr. King led one of the biggest demonstrations
against the Vietnam war and was accused by the American authorities of undermining the war effort in Vietnam. The demonstration
took place in New York City on April 15, 1967, and drew more than 400,000 people. Another major demonstration took place in
San Francisco on the same day and attracted more than 75,000 participants.
A lot of pressure was exerted on Dr. King in an attempt to force him to disassociate himself from the anti-war
movement , saying his involvement in such protests would jeopardize the civil rights movement. But he strongly disagreed with
his critics and continued to support the anti-war effort.
The New York demonstration was a rainbow coalition. Its participants included blacks, whites, moderates
and radicals, middle-class white students and working-class people of all races, Native Americans and women, war veterans
and labour groups and many others. Many of them are also the same kind of people who supported the civil rights movement.
The movement suffered a terrible blow when Dr. King was assassinated and started going downhill for other
reasons as well. It became virtually a spent force after the last civil rights legislation, the Open Housing Act, was passed
in 1968. But when it was most dynamic earlier throughout the sixties, it had no better ally than the war protest movement
opposed to American involvement in Vietnam.
In many cities across America, people were marching in the streets protesting against the Vietnam war. In
addition to the big demonstrations which took place in New York and San Francisco in April 1968, was another huge demonstration
more than a year later on November 15, 1969, in the nation's capital Washington, D.C., and again in San Francisco.
More than 750,000 demonstrators showed up in the nation's capital, and more than
250,000 people in San Francisco. The theme of these demonstrations was "March Against Death" and they were addressed by political
leaders including two prominent Democratic senators, George McGovern who later in 1972 became the Democratic presidential
candidate, and Eugene McCarthy, a perennial contender for the presidency.
And there were many other demonstrations and meetings against the Vietnam war across the country throughout
the sixties and beyond, including those which took place in May 1970 involving more than 500 colleges and universities. The
student protests against the war also involved strikes and takeover of campus buildings. The May protests were sparked by
the killing of four students at Kent State University in Ohio on May 4, 1970, during an anti-war demonstration.
The largest demonstration throughout the war took place in New York and San Francisco on April 24, 1971.
Unlike the demonstrations on November 15, 1969, these ones received national coverage by the major television networks and
had a profound impact on American involvement in the war. In addition to extensive coverage they got from the national media,
the April 1971 demonstrations also had a lot more participants from the unions than previous ones did.
Altogether, more than 750,000 people demonstrated in Washington, D.C., and more than 300,000 in San Francisco.
They had the biggest impact of all the demonstrations and sent a clear message to the government that could no longer be ignored.
The cumulative efect of all the other demonstrations could not be ignored either. They all had the same message: End the War.
There were many reasons why they were opposed to American involvement in the war. But probably the majority
of them agreed on one thing: "We have no business being there." As Muhammad Ali, after being stripped of his heavyweight championship
by the US Supreme Court for refusing to go to war in Vietnam, said, he had nothing against the Vietnamese.
He expressed that position more than once. As he stated on one of those
occasions, quoted by Mike Marqusee in his book, Redemption
Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties:
“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets
on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?
No, I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue
the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an
I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of
dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again: The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to
enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality.
If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t
have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail,
so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”
Muhammad Ali articulated the sentiments of many blacks in the United States. But they were sentiments that
were shared by many other people across the colour line in terms of opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam war.
The war divided and united the nation at the same time. There were those who may have sincerely believed
that they were fighting communism in Vietnam and the spread of this "evil" ideology - as they saw it - around the world.
Paramount in this conflict was the domino theory. Those who supported the war believed that if one nation
fell, another one would, as would the rest like a set of dominoes.
They had lost China to communism in 1949, they reasoned, and they were not going to allow communism to have
another victory in Southeast Asia if they could take a stand. And by going into Vietnam, they believed their country, America,
had taken a principled stand, no matter what the cost. And in terms of lives alone, it cost more than 57,000 American lives.
Opponents of the war were just as firm. Even the liberal ideology of many of the opponents or their membership
in the Democratic party was not enough to convince them to support American involvement in the war which reached its peak
under two liberal Democratic presidents, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
They didn't care the two presidents were fellow liberals and fellow Democrats like they were; being that,
alone, should have been enough for the two presidents to have sympathized with the Vietnamese victims of the savage bombings
of this small country by the world's most powerful nation, some of them may have argued, as they probably did.
But opposition to the war cut across ideological lines and for reasons which united ideological foes. Many
Americans believed the conflict was a civil war in which the United States should not be involved. There were those who believed
that the Vietnam war was not a threat to national security.
And just as many Americans argued that America should not try to play the role of a world policeman. Other
opponents of the war said the United States should not be involved in the conflict because it was supporting a corrupt, undemocratic
government and betrayed the principles upon which American was founded.
Although people of different political beliefs were united in their opposition to American involvement in
Vietnam, there is no question that the war was divisive on the domestic front and tore the country from within. It was also
one of the most divisive foreign policy issues in American history and changed the way America would view her role in future
conflicts in other parts of the world. It did not make America isolationist but more reluctant or less willing to directly
intervene in other conflicts.
One of the best examples of this "non-interventionist" policy on the part of the United States was the conflict
in Angola in the seventies where, despite her great interest in what was going on there, she did not send troops - as she
did in Vietnam - but used surrogate forces and CIA agents to promote her interests and try to neutralize Soviet influence.
The Vietnam war became increasingly unpopular when casualties mounted, victory could not guaranteed, more
and more money was being spent to try and win a war that could not won; and when brutalities against innocent civilians in
Vietnam were exposed as happened in the case of the My Lai massacre, just one of the many atrocities perpetrated by American
soldiers against innocent civilians.
Hundreds of Vietnamese civilians were killed in the village of My Lai on March 16, 1968 by American troops.
But the American authorities covered up the incident and reports of the massacre did not appear in the news papers until more
than a year later in November 1969.
One was a report in The New York Times,
November 20, 1969, headlined, "G.I. Says He Witnessed Massacre in South Vietnam Village." Another report was published on
the same day in the New Haven Register, Connecticut, with the headline, "Soldier Claims He
Saw Viets Slaughtered."
The reporter who first broke the story of the My Lai massacre was Seymor
Hersh of The New York Times. He won a Pulitzer Prize for that and later documented the tragedy
and its aftermath in his book, Cover-Up:
The Army’s Secret Investigation of the Massacre at My Lai, published in 1972. It is one of the best accounts of American involvement in Vietnam and
of some of the ugliest aspects of this conflict.
Even some supporters of the war began to change their minds after they saw what happened at My Lai and began
to question the motives for American involvement in this conflict. They concluded that something was terribly wrong with their
Here you had a government trying to justify the war by saying America was fighting communism. Yet the same
government was killing innocent civilians - bombing and burning their hamlets and villages - knowing full that the victims
were nothing but simple peasants who may have known nothing about communism, were not interested in any kind of ideology,
and had never even heard of Karl Marx or Lenin. They were only interested in their survival and in taking care of their children
The war received extensive coverage in the media. Millions of Americans watched it on television where they
also saw their fellow countrymen dying in Vietnam and dropping bombs, including napalm, on this small, poor country.
There were debates across the country and on college campuses. Was the war justified? Was it a waste of
money which could be better spent to fight poverty at home? Was America an imperialist nation? Can the loss of American lives
be justified? Was it right to go to war in another country which did not threaten American security?
People were opposed to the war for many, different reasons. And they asked just as many questions. They
even wondered what kind of country America was. Was there something wrong with it as a nation for it to be involved and send
its youth to fight and be killed in such a war?
So, they marched against the war itself, against the violence and loss of lives on both sides. They marched
against what they perceived to be American imperialist arrogance which led their country's involvement in the war. And many
of them marched against the draft because they did not want be conscripted into the army and then be sent to Vietnam. They
also marched against America itself as a nation with the wrong national priorities.
The United States was also criticized in many countries around the world for her involvement in Vietnam.
Demonstrations were also held in some of those countries against American involvement in this war. Even in countries which
were American allies, it was easy to find many opponents to the war. And they demonstrated their opposition by going into
the streets just like their American counterparts did.
The Vietnam war also had an impact on Africa where opposition to American involvement in this conflict was
expressed by a number of African leaders. One of the tragic consequences of this conflict was the ouster of President Kwame
Nkrumah in February 1966 in a coup engineered and masterminded by the CIA.
The American government wanted Dr. Nkrumah out of power and did a lot of things to undermine his government.
But it also took advantage of his absence from the country to overthrow him.
The absence the United States exploited to oust him from power had to do with the Vietnam war. Dr. Nkrumah
was in Peking, China, on his way to North Vietnam to meet with the North Vietnamese leader Ho Chin Minh with proposals to
help end the Vietnam war when he was overthrown.
His ouster was one of the most tragic chapters in the history of post-colonial Africa and changed the course
of events not only in Ghana but in other countries on the continent because of the kind of Pan-Africanist policies Nkrumah
pursued and the kind of influence he had as a leader of continental and international stature especially in the Third World.
American involvement in Vietnam was also criticized by President Julius
Nyerere who, like Nkrumah, also was targeted by the CIA in the sixties but survived all attempts through the years to oust
him from power. As he stated in his statement, "Policy on Foreign Affairs," 16 October 1967, published in his book Freedom and Socialism: A Selection from Writings and Speeches 1965
“To stay silent on such issues as Vietnam because one or more powerful nations do not like what we
say would be a disgrace.
It is, I think, difficult for us in Tanzania to comprehend the full sufferings of the people of Vietnam
in what is probably the most vicious and all-enveloping war which has been known to mankind.
There is no security there - for anyone, anywhere in that country. Men, women and children, are all involved;
peasants and workers, urban and rural dwellers - all of them live every hour of every day under the threat of death, or injury,
or the destruction of their means of livelihood. It is said that more bombs have been dropped on the small country of Vietnam
in the last two years than were used in the whole Pacific theatre of war from 1942 to 1945.
World-wide concern has been expressed about the dangers which would follow from bombs falling - accidentally
or on purpose - on the territory of the People's Republic of China. We in Tanzania share that concern, for such an event could
only lead to a world-wide conflagration.
But the fact that Vietnam is a small, and underdeveloped, nation does not mean that her people are immune
from the effects of high explosive, or that other small nations can turn their heads away as if this conflict is at present
We are told that great principles are involved, and that the richest nation on earth is defending those
principles against attack. What are those principles?
There is the principle of self-determination for the people of Vietnam. For twenty years, with unparalleled
courage and determination, the people of Vietnam have been fighting for a chance to implement this principle - first against
the French, and now against the Americans. Certainly there are Vietnamese on both sides, some are conscripted, or try to find
security with those who are strongest in their particular area. But if this is a civil war, what are outside nations doing
in that conflict?
Again, we are told that democracy is being defended, and only last month (September 1967) there were some
'elections' in South Vietnam. But these elections only covered the 'pacified areas,' and no candidate could stand on a clear
platform of opposition to the war! And in any case these were the first elections since 1956, when South Vietnam came into
existence, and no one could possibly call the governments of Mr. Diem, or his military successors, democratic.
Or we are told that the outside power responded to a request for assistance from a legitimate government
which was threatened by aggression. One can only look at the figures of soldiers operating in South Vietnam and ask whose
I believe that two things are essential: first, an immediate and unconditional end to the bombing of North
Vietnam. And second: a settlement should be reached on the basis of the 1954 Geneva Agreements. Neither North Vietnam nor
the Vietcong can be forced to the conference table; that should by now be clear.
The United States of America must recover from the delirium of power, and return to the principles upon
which her nation was founded. Those millions of Americans who are now opposing their government's policies in this matter,
and calling for peace, are working for the honour of their country. We pray that they triumph soon.”
Their opposition to the Vietnam war not only forced President Johnson not to seek a second term; it also
had unintended consequences for liberals and Democrats opposed to American involvement in this conflict.
It paved the way for a Republican victory in the 1968 presidential election when Richard Nixon won the White
House and therefore, unwittingly, helped fuel the rise of the modern conservative movement in American politics; a movement
led and dominated by Republicans, which had its genesis in the presidential candidacy of Barry Goldwater in 1964 when in his
speech at the Republican convention in San Francisco he appealed to white extremists, whipping up racist sentiments against
civil rights and racial equality for blacks. As he stated: "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice...moderation in
the pursuit of justice is no virtue."
Yet, In spite of such fiery
rhetoric appealing to white racist sentiments, and in spite of the strong support he got from his loyalists and many hardcore
conservatives especially in the southern states - he won six southern states - he went on to sustain one of the worst electoral
defeats in presidential elections in American history.
But it was also a bittersweet victory for the Democratic party - especially for the liberal wing of the
Democratic party - whose presidential candidate made civil rights a major campaign issue even in the battleground states in
the south which upheld segregation.
After a bipartisan consensus was reached between the Democratic and Republican law makers in Congress and
the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson who later campaigned on a civil rights platform - which
further reduced support for him in the southern states - was reported to have told some of his aides, Bill Moyers who was
his press secretary and Joseph Califano, that the party had lost the south for the rest of of their lives.
When Bill Moyers met President Johnson in his office after the ceremony following the signing of the bill,
he was reported to have said: "Mr. President, you look very sad and you have just accomplished the greatest thing since the
Emancipation Proclamation." And the president replied: "Bill, this is the greatest thing I may ever do. But I know that it
means that our party will lose the south for the rest of my lifetime and probably yours as well."
A slightly different version of what was said was that President Johnson told Bill Moyers and other aides:
"We've delivered the south to the Republican party for my lifetime and yours."
Already conservative, the south became solidly Republican through the years in terms of party support even
if not necessarily in terms of membership. Many southern Democrats crossed party lines and voted for Republican candidates
best exemplified by the overwhelming support Ronald Reagan got when he ran for president.
And probably the biggest victory for the conservative movement in modern times was the election of Ronald
Reagan in 1980 as president of the United States. Conservatism in American politics finally triumphed and America has never
been the same again. And it all began in the sixties with opposition to racial equality compounded by the failure of the Democratic
party to win the 1968 presidential election.
But although the 1968 Democratic presidential candidate, Hubert Humphrey, lost to Nixon, it should be remembered
that it was only by a very small margin that he lost this election. However, the impact of the anti-war movement cannot be
ignored or discounted in the outcome of one of the most important presidential elections in American history. As Lyndon's
vice president, Humphrey suffered and lost critical support which would have enabled him to win the presidency had American
involvement in the Vietnam war not been an election issue. The war was unpopular among the voters; and it was being fought
under a Democratic presidency that was also responsible for escalation of the conflict and American involvement in the war.
And it contributed to Humphrey's defeat.
Even what happened in Vietnam itself had an impact on the United States in terms of her status as a military
super power. America was indeed a super power and remained one regardless of what happened in Vietnam. But it was no longer
invincible, if it indeed ever was, without being fully challenged by a powerful and uncompromising adversary.
Whatever the case, the Tet Offensive - a large-scale attack against 30 South Vietnamese cities by the Viet
Cong guerilla fighters on 30 January 1968 - challenged the hegemony of the United States. And it highlighted the significance
of guerilla warfare as an effective means to wage war against the United States in Third World countries she sought to dominate.
It happened in Vietnam, and it happened again almost 40 years later in Iraq where the insurgents were effectively
using guerilla tactics to wage war against American troops occupying that country after it was invaded by the United States
But much as the United States was torn within during the sixties, and even when her military might was being
severely challenged in Vietnam by the Viet Cong using guerilla tactics - compounded by military assistance from the People's
Republic of China and the Soviet Union - she emerged virtually intact from those turbulent times as a political entity.
There may have been anarchists within, but the country did not dissolve in anarchy.
And that had a lot do with the strength of America itself as a nation, not in terms of military power but
in terms of diversity, enabling it to accommodate different and conflicting interests true to its tradition as a country that
is a product of many cultures and values fused to produce one nation and tolerant of dissent.
However, the contradictions which were highlighted in the sixties also showed America's weaknesses as a
country that had failed to live up to its ideals as the land of liberty and equality. Not all Americans were free, and not
all Americans had equal opportunity to succeed in life.
And all the movements we have looked at here - from the civil rights movement to the anti-war protest movement
against the Vietnam war - did a very good job exposing those weaknesses and proposing some solutions to the problems America
faced then and which still haunt the nation today in many fundamental respects.
The sixties challenged the nation, re-evaluated its identity, and shook some of the very foundations of
the American society by questioning their validity when the critics noticed that there was a big difference between rhetoric
and reality from the leaders and from the people themselves, especially those with power and influence. And they helped to
bring about fundamental change in many areas.
America has come along way since then. But she still has a long way to go.
So does Africa whose destiny was also shaped by what happened in the sixties, a defining moment in the post-colonial
history of this vast continent.
Those of us who were there in the sixties remember those days. They were the best of times. But they were
also the worst of times, to paraphrase Charles Dickens.
They were also the beginning of one long journey for us in Africa as young nations.
Many amongst us may be nostalgic about those days. But it is a nostalgia that should be tempered with reality.
Were they really the good ol' days? In some respects they were. But not in all, especially when we remember
the tragedies that befell our continent: the Congo crisis and the assassination of Lumumba and its impact; the ouster of Nkrumah
in one of the first military coups in the sixties which ushered in a new era of military rule as a continental phenomenon