This weekend the world woke up to the news that Fidel Castro, revolutionary and former Cuban president, was dead at 90.
The reaction has been swift as it has been different — unsurprising considering it is for a man who generated both adoration and hate from different parts of the world.
But in Africa, his legacy remains strong even today, especially considering the continent’s anti-colonial history.
Indeed, Castro took a stand against colonial occupation on the African continent, deploying Cuban troops to Algeria, Guinea Bissau, Congo and later Angola — even while struggling through America’s economic sanctions. And Cuba’s intervention in the Angolan war changed the course of history.
Castro masterminded the strategy at Cuito Cuanavale in 1988 where Cuban forces defeated the South African army so decisively that not only did they withdraw from Angola but Namibia achieved its independence.
In South Africa, which was struggling through its own fight against Apartheid, Castro’s support was a constant. So much so that once he became president, Nelson Mandela made sure his first foreign visit outside of Africa was to visit Castro.
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“The first country we approached was the United States of America. We could not even succeed to come close to the government, and they refused to assist us. But Cuba, the moment we appealed for assistance they were ready to do so and they did so,” Mandela said in a 1990 documentary. “Why would we now listen to the Western world when they say we should have nothing to do with Cuba? It is just unreasonable.”
And Cuba’s presence in Africa is felt even today. Most recently, it was also the first country to respond to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, and sent more healthcare workers to deal with the epidemic than any other country in the world. “They are always the first to arrive and the last to leave, and they always remain after the crisis. Cuba has a lot to show the entire world,” Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon summed up their contribution in January 2015.
On social media, Castro’s legacy wasn’t up for debate amongst some Africans.
No foreigner ever did more for the liberation of Africa than Fidel Castro! Rest in peace Commandante. pic.twitter.com/QMow02JbWh— Muhoozi Kainerugaba (@mkainerugaba) November 26, 2016
#FidelCastro thank you Castro for Fightin fascists Apartheid regime in South Africa. We will never forget the contribution.— Don Salmon (@dijoni) November 26, 2016