Fighting the good fight
You know that the world is doomed when the debate over whether or not Nani should have been given a red card against Real Madrid on March 5, 2013 makes bigger news than the death of a man like Hugo Chavez Frias.
It reminds me of what Jomo Kenyatta said so many years ago: “When the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.”
Something almost similar is happening today, only that this time it is not the Bible that is abused in the quest for hegemony, rather it is the entertainment industry.
And incidentally, Chavez noted something quite similar, when he spoke of the great need to counter “the dictatorship of Hollywood”.
That same commercialised news media was at the forefront of painting Chavez as a dictator and as a madman. It still continues in that endeavour even in the man’s death. But anyone who can read for themselves knows better.
For Chavez, life was a continuing quest to uplift ordinary people’s standards of living through a relentless political, economic and cultural campaign that placed the dignity of the citizenry at the centre of government.
That is why his Bolivarian Revolution brought in a new constitution that created real participatory democracy in Venezuela and restored the dignity of marginalised ethnic groups; why he consistently increased government funding for health and education; why poverty figures continued to fall since he became President in 1998; why he scrapped the Presidential limousine and sold off most of the government fleet of aircraft; why he donated his US$1 200 salary to a scholarship fund; why he sold oil to other developing countries at sub-market prices.
Burkina Faso had one such leader back in the 1980s. His name was Thomas Sankara. And we watched him get murdered. Is it only incidental that one account of the coup reads like a Hollywood script? With Blaise Campoare, who is still in charge in Burkina Faso, allegedly pulling the trigger on his one-time colleague while they sat around a table after Sankara had told him – not unlike how one Judas was told 2 000 years earlier – to do quickly that which he must? But not the people of Venezuela; they refused to have their revolution hijacked by mercenary elements who do not deliver anything except death, poverty and oppression.
That is why Latin America and the progressive world is mourning the death of true leader rather than getting bogged down in how a soccer match in England turned out.
Chavez used the country’s oil wealth to ensure the ordinary, poor people of Venezuela had a decent living.
George Galloway, who worked on Chavez’ election team in 2012, writing in the Belfast Telegraph a day after the President’s death, said: “He rallied an army of not slaves, but those despised by the oligarchy as hewers of wood and drawers of the oil which previously made only the rich richer.
“Under Chavez' revolution the oil wealth was distributed in ever rising wages and above all in ambitious social engineering. He built the fifth largest student body in the world, creating scores of new universities.
“More than 90 percent of Venezuelans ate three meals a day for the first time in the country's history. Quality social housing for the masses became the norm with the pledge that by the end of the presidential term, now cut short, all Venezuelans would live in a dignified house.
“Chavez's ambitions were not limited to Venezuela alone. He fostered Latin American unity promoting democratic and socialist movements throughout the continent.
“He founded a Bank of the South, a University of the South, even a television station of the South – Tele Sur. And further afield he championed the Palestinian cause, giving citizenship to stateless Palestinian refugees.”
In 2002, the US – working with wealthy groups who felt threatened by Chavez’ reforms – instigated a coup in Venezuela. Some rich bugger declared himself President. But the people of Venezuela took to the streets in their hundreds of thousands, demanding that their President return.
Chavez returned, and went on to win several other elections.
His rise and his subsequent reforms inspired a continent. The people of Latin America saw and envied what was happening in Venezuela and soon the region had leaders like Luiz da Silva (Brazil), Lucio Gutierrez and Rafael Correa (Ecuador), Nestor Kirchner (Argentina), Tabare Vazquez (Uruguay), Evo Morales (Bolivia) and Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua).
George Galloway concluded his short obituary saying of Chavez: “He will be remembered as a man who lived and died for his people, as a paratrooper, a tank commander, a President.”
How will the future remember Africa’s leaders? How will the generations that follow assess our treatment of Lumumba, Sankara and many others? What will Africa’s future think about how multinational corporations were mollycoddled by gutless leaders who facilitate the looting of their own countries and the impoverishment of their peoples? Will they ask why Africa’s oil, gold, diamonds, uranium, coal, cobalt, iron, cocoa and coffee did not result in greater development? Chavez is gone; he ran his race and fought the good fight. Were Africa’s leaders watching his example?