Monday, 5 December 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Geoffrey Bocca’s The Secret Army (1968)



The post-World War era of de-colonisation of African and Asian territories run by the European powers was a phenomenon filled with variant levels of political intrigue, social transformation, and inevitably bloodshed. 

The pre-war sentiments driving the various nationalist movements agitating for independence was given an added impetus by the diminishing capacities of the empires of France and Britain, both of which would yield to the demand by United States president Franklin D. Roosevelt that they break up their empires. The ‘Wind of Change’, to quote Harold MacMillan’s famous declaration of the early 1960s, would blow across both continents where a thirst for freedom and a belief in the right to self-determination took a firm hold.

The execution of this mass programme of constructing the birth of nations, while smooth in regard to some countries, was marked by a number of conflicts which dominated the world news.

A notable early example of a resulting violent cataclysm was the episode of Partition in India which led to the creation of Pakistan. Apparently smooth transfers in the Belgian Congo and Nigeria did not prevent future paroxysms of conflict that threatened the viability of both countries continuing as nation states. 

There were of course those countries which were earmarked for decolonisation before others. It was argued, with increasing frequency after wars broke out in the Congo and Nigeria, that the pace was too fast, that many of them were ‘not ready’ for self-government. 

Among the European nations, the Portuguese appeared to be unyielding in the demands that they set their African colonies free, and ensuing wars in Angola and Mozambique became emblems of the anti-colonial struggle set against the backdrop of a Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

While inter-ethnic rivalry between indigenous groups within the artificially constructed African nations formed a side of the equation, so too, in some instances, did the matter of the rights of European settler populations who sought special protections and even continued political and economic supremacy.

In the fevered analysis of European chauvinist and ‘white nationalist’ thinking, the ceding of power signaled the beginning of an unwelcome age marked by waning white domination over the black and brown peoples of the world.

While black majority rule came relatively quickly to Kenya, there would be longer waits for those in Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe) and South Africa.

If with the passage of time, a tendency exists to view the war in Algeria as a ‘last stand’ of a white minority settler population against a non-white majority, it is a misreading of a vastly more complex state of affairs.

For one, the Pied Noirs, translated in English to mean ‘Black Foots’, were unlike the largely British descended Rhodesians or the historically autonomous Afrikaner community in South Africa. Many were of non-French stock being of Spanish, Italian and Maltese heritage, and while ahead of the Jewish and Moslem Algerians in the racial pecking order of colonial society, were considered according to author Geoffrey Bocca to be “Second Class Frenchmen.”

Also, the territory of Algeria was not a far away dominion which had traditions of self-rule, but was in fact ruled directly from France and indeed was considered a part of Metropolitan France. The prevailing attitude was that the Mediterranean sea separating France from Algeria was no different from the Seine dividing Paris; a mere geographic detail in other words.

‘The Secret Army’, a book by Geoffrey Bocca, was published in 1968 only a few years after the end of a short but particularly vicious underground war which followed on from events that divided France. The Secret Army was in fact the Organisation de l’Armee Secrete (O.A.S.), which consisted of renegade personnel of the French army as well as civilians dedicated to keeping Algeria French.

Just how this state of affairs came about, one involving the waging of a clandestine war against the French state marked by acts of terrorism and the assassination of some officials as well as the attempts made on the life of the head of state, Charles de Gaulle, bears some recounting.

The Algerian war of independence commenced in 1954 after attacks initiated by Muslim insurrectionists belonging to the National Liberation Front (F.L.N.). The French army, though defeated in Indo-China, was battled hardened and up to the task. They took on the insurgents in a campaign marked by a great deal of brutality and in essence had pacified Algeria by the time the O.A.S. came into being.

Agitation from military commanders in Algeria led to the fall of the French Fourth Republic in 1958, and the return to centre stage of Charles de Gaulle whose initial pledge to keep Algeria French was later reversed in favour of negotiations with the F.L.N. and a decision to grant Algeria independence.

It was thus with the sting of the ‘betrayal’ by de Gaulle that elements within the military based in Algeria decided in April of 1961 to stage a putsch, Putsch des Generaux. Led by Generals Salan, Zeller, Jouhaud and Challe, the coup initially suggested that France was poised for civil war. It fizzled out after a few days and out of its ashes, a group of officers and civilian cohorts banded together to form the O.A.S. Their slogan was L’Algeria est Francaise et le restera: Algeria is French and will remain so.

Although it is clear that officers from the French military rebelled against the constituted order, in the process throwing away career, pension rights, private interests and reputation, the reasons for voluntarily becoming outlaws in a proscribed body are not easily explained. Reasons for joining the OAS, as Bocca explained were “sometimes contradictory”.

For General Paul Gardy, the end of Algeria meant the end of the foreign legionnaires.”What else mattered?” he responded to Admiral Querville, a naval commander who was key in snuffing out the coup of April 1961 which Gardy had joined.  

The OAS were claimed to be fascists, but three of the four generals in the putsch, including the organisation’s nominal leader, Salan, were to the left of the political spectrum.  It was claimed to be racist, but included among its ranks were Muslims, and Algerian Jews were among its most fanatical adherents.

That they considered themselves to be French patriots is certain enough although de Gaulle, somewhat predictably, in a speech after the Evian agreement referred to them as “Misguided chiefs and criminal adventurers”.

They were fighting a lost cause by the time it was created. And for a time, they fought, if not for an already elusive victory and the overthrow of the French republic, for a power vacuum which might have been achieved with the physical elimination of General de Gaulle.

Fractured between movements based in Madrid, Paris and Algiers, the O.A.S. faltered as its members differed on tactics. Many wanted de Gaulle dead, but General Salan did not. They divided in to those whom Bocca referred to as ‘mystics’ and others who he dubbed ‘pragmatists.’ Members, who had thrown away status, pension rights and peace of mind, sighed at the relative listlessness of the Pieds Noir who offered support only to a limit.

For a time though, particularly in Algiers and Oran, the O.A.S. reigned. They could pledge to strike at any time and place of their choosing and back it up. For instance, in ‘Operation Rock n’ Roll they detonated 120 bombs in Algiers while independence talks were going on. When de Gaulle sent in a specially created secret squad of security agents to purge the dissidents, the O.A.S. virtually wiped them out.

The Barbouzes, the Bearded Ones, were a kind of French Black and Tans but did not stand a chance due to O.A.S. infiltration of the civil society of Algeria. Also, thanks to the “sympathetic passivity” of the mainstream French army, which de Gaulle shrewdly did not instruct to initiate a mass crackdown because of doubts about its loyalty, the OAS survived and even thrived.

Bocca gets to the essence of the personalities, for he knew many of the participants personally and weaves a compelling tale of history and politics, of context and sub-texts. 

Among a cast of memorable characters ranging from Bobby Dovecar, the baby-faced Austrian executioner of the Foreign Legion to the O.A.S.’s ideologue and philosopher-in-chief, Jacques Susini, the stand out is the formidable and charismatic Roger Degueldre, an NCO who reached the rank of Lieutenant and who was de facto chief of operations.

His greatest success was possibly the annihilation of the Barbouzes, but in time he like Colonel Bastien-Thiry, who led the failed ambush of de Gaulle at Petit Clamart in August of 1962, would be captured and meet his death at a stake before a firing squad at the Fort D’Ivry barracks in a Parisian suburb.

The OAS infiltrators became infiltrated themselves. Ever the survivor, de Gaulle, his baraka an almost palpable hovering presence, eluded the secret army’s attempts to murder him. His escapes defied reason as did, from the perspective of the ‘wronged’ O.A.S. combatants and their sympathisers, his about turn on Algerian independence.

But there was no way forward after the Evian accord was given a ninety per cent approval in the referendum held in April 1962. Bocca, a writer par excellence in describing the post-Evian brake down in law and order in Algiers writes eloquently about the degeneration by referring to ”the scatterlings of every holocaust, who crawl out like roaches through the gaping holes of a collapsed civilization to rob the dead, ransack the dead, and dress in stolen finery.”

His book is a masterpiece of reportage, capturing a fascinating and tumultuous period in French history which goes far in explaining the extraordinary convergence of events and personalities in an evocative and revealing manner.

(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2011)

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Annual Boxing Memorabilia Fayre (2011)

I had a great time selling and signing books at this year's Annual Boxing Memorabilia Fayre. I had previously rented a stall in 2005 and 2006 as part of the marketing of DICK TIGER: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal. Also nattered quite a bit with a number of aficionados. For the record: copies of JERSEY BOY sold out within two hours.

With Chas Taylor, the organiser of the Fayre with the able assistance of his wife Kymberly.


One of the recurring rituals of the Fayre is where Chas Taylor announces the presence or arrival of a former boxing champion which is followed by hand-clapping and cheering...

I purchased this boxing instruction manual penned by Georges Carpentier, the popular world light heavyweight champion of the 1920s. Carpentier was involved in boxing's first million dollar gate bout with heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey in 1921. The location was Boyles Thirty Acres in Jersey City. He was dethroned as light heavyweight champion by Battling Siki the following year.
This gentleman was alerted by Internet circulars about my appearance at the Fayre and had already purchased a copy each of JERSEY BOY and DICK TIGER, both of which I gratefully signed.
With 'Smiling' Sammy McCarthy. The Stepney-born British Featherweight champion met Nigeria's Hogan Bassey at the Royal Albert Hall in 1953. Bassey inflicted on him his first career loss.
This American gentleman was bred in Hudson County, N.J.
I first met this aficionado of the 'Sweet Science' in 2005 when he purchased a copy of my biography on Dick Tiger.
I look forward to attending next year's Fayre!




Tuesday, 27 September 2011

2007 Tribute to Wangari Maathai, Kenyan Nobel Laureate

That Wangari Maathai is a special human being is beyond doubt. But in determinedly surmounting and overcoming the particular barriers arrayed against her so effectively as to become a global figure of female emancipation, democratization, and environmental consciousness, the operative appellation, perhaps, should be extraordinary.

She was born on April 1st in 1940 in the Kikuyu speaking district of Nyeri, a rural part of British administered Kenya. She was an inquisitive child and stood out on account of her tendency towards precociousness, lifelong characteristics which would serve as indispensible aids to her quest for knowledge and justice, but which would also serve to rile her detractors.

Her voracious aptitude to learn made her excel in the academic field. From her primary schooling to the higher echelons of academia, she cut a swath and in the process earned the admiration of many who were unused to seeing a person from humble rural origins achieve so much, while incurring the undisguised wrath of others who still adhered to the traditional ideology of a society which was strictly patriarchal.

After completing her first degree in 1964 in Biological Sciences at Scholastica College, Kansas, she went on to obtain a Masters at Pittsburgh University. In 1971, she was awarded a Ph.D in Anatomy by the University of Nairobi, in the process becoming the first woman of East and Central African origin to do so.

The list of firsts is as impressive as they are seemingly endless: first female chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy at University of Nairobi and also the first female Associate Professor of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy at the same institution. Additionally, she served from 1975 to 1980 as the Director of the Kenya Red Cross and was the Chair Person for Maendeleo Ya Wanawake, the Kenyan National Council for Women.

Maathai, however, was becoming involved with matters and issues away from academia. Her husband’s involvement in politics, as well as her concerns about the effects of deforestation spurred her to action. In 1977, she formed the Green Belt Coalition, a non-governmental organization which purposefully set about the task of planting trees in order to replenish their dangerously depleting reserves. A failure to act, she stressed, would lead to ecological imbalances with ramifications for the quality of soil, the availability of firewood and nutrients for animals.

She was a vocal critic of Kenya’s drift to a one party state and advocated a return to multi-party democracy while castigating the corruption and tribalism endemic in the country’s politics. She would eventually run for the office of Kenyan President in 1997.

Her achievements have not been without personal cost and sacrifice. Her husband divorced her, citing her strong-mindedness and the fact that he could not “control her.” She also faced numerous threats and imprisonment from the government of Daniel arap Moi. It would take a letter-writing campaign orchestrated by Amnesty International amongst many efforts to free her from a jail sentence imposed in 1991.

Wangari Maathai’s efforts have certainly borne the fruit of her labours. Her Green Belt Coalition has overseen the planting of over 30 million trees in Kenya, and as a government minister, she has been a part of a new age of multi-party democracy. While abroad, her academic excellence and environmental activism brought the conferment of a Visiting Fellowship at Yale University’s Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry.

In 2006, she was awarded the French Legion d’honneur, two years after her Nobel prize for her contribution to “sustainable development, democracy and peace.”

All very fitting acknowledgements for one from such unpromising origins, but who through dogged determination has been able to ascend amazing heights. Yet, back home in Kenya, among the simple rural folk who were and still remain her first constituency, they prefer the honorific:

“Tree Mother of Africa.”

(C) Adeyinka Makinde (2006)

Monday, 12 September 2011

Annual Boxing Memorabilia Fayre on Saturday, 15th October 2011


I will be selling and signing copies of JERSEY BOY at the Annual Boxing Memorabilia Fayre on Saturday, 15th October.

It's been a few years since I've manned a stall at the event, and it's an opportunity to press the flesh and meet boxers past & present.

Venue: Dick Collins Hall, Redhill Street, Camden, London NW1 4DJ

Date: 15th October 2011

Time: 1:30pm - 5:30pm


As usual Chas Taylor's event will have many stalls selling a wide selection of Boxing Memorabilia including boxing books, programmes, photographs, signed photographs, magazines, signed boxing gloves, T-shirts, robes, paintings, prints, bric-a-brac.

There is an entrance fee of £2

For further information, contact Kymberly or Chas Taylor on Tel: 01707-654-677 / Mob: 07956-912-741 or kymberlytw@aol.com

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Book Review of Alex Von Tunzelmann’s RED HEAT: Conspiracy, Murder and the Cold War in the Caribbean



Two things come to mind after reading Alex Von Tunzelman’s gripping tale of United States decades cum centuries-long foreign policy towards its neighbours in the Caribbean. First is the overly used truism attributed to the philosopher George Santayana that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, and secondly, the “Ugly American”, a catchphrase derived from a 1950s-era novel penned jointly by Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer.

That the policies and actions of the United States of America should be consistently scrutinized and often-times be subjected to the most devastating sort of criticism is no surprise given the highly moralistic tone of its national ethos as well as the expansive role it has come to play in the affairs of human kind.

It is the former colony of an empire, but has itself become something of an empire, vying for power and influence in world affairs with other empires or aggregate of nations to which American leaders have given various terms such as “Empire of Evil” and “Axis of Evil”.

As an “Empire of Liberty” and a chief proponent for the spread of the values of personal freedom and free enterprise, the United States has acted in ways which have stifled the very things it professes to be the paramount values upon which human beings should organise their societies.

Whether motivated by the expansion of its commercial interests or in the containment of the spread of communism, America has utilized or given support to acts of murder and terror, as well as to overt and secret wars.

At the heart of these endeavours, spanning the hemispheres of the globe, has been the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A) which engineered numerous coups d’etat aimed at installing regimes which would act favourably to US interests.

Among the most notorious were those involving the 1963 assassination of the South Vietnamese leader Ngo Din Diem and a decade earlier, the removal of Mohammed Mossadegh, the democratically elected prime minister of Iran.

It sounded out military officers in the West African state of Ghana who in 1966 proceeded to overthrow the Soviet-friendly administration of Kwame Nkrumah.

The agency did not remain idle in Latin America where amongst many endeavours it was at the centre of the successful effort to destabilize and overthrow the democratically elected Marxist government of Chile led by Salvador Allende, and of course, it was active in the European Cold War theatre where it gave sustenance to Italian fascist groups which carried out a number of terrorist acts from the late 1960s to the early 1980s.

The object of these operations was to create what was termed La Strategia della tensione, the fostering of an atmosphere of fear, confusion and seeming chaos out of which the populace would make increasing demands for an authoritarian, right-wing government to bring order and protect the society from a ‘communist takeover.’

Von Tunzlemann limits her focus to American efforts designed to forestall the spread of communism in the Caribbean, centring her narrative on the largest Islands: Cuba and Hispaniola, which is composed of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

She starts off by giving a concise history of these Caribbean countries while linking each to their respective but similar relationships with their larger neighbour to the north. These parallel histories are not to be read by the fainthearted given, as Von Tunzelmann reminds,  the Caribbean’s brutal history which is rooted in “genocide, slavery, imperialism and piracy.”

What is most striking about the chronologies as they unfold is the perennial corrupting of the avowed aim of successive American governments to help create the conditions for the establishment of democratic government and free enterprise in these and other nations of the Americas.

But like a seemingly ineradicable flaw, the diplomats, the politicians and the spies continued to make many choices, which led to the perpetuation of despotic and corrupt regimes and the resulting stultification of socially progressive change.

These wrong turns inevitably led to anti-American sentiment often expressed via the term Yanqui Imperialism. It also had disastrous consequences in regard to Cuba and the missed opportunities which could have played a part in influencing the direction of the post-revolutionary government led by Fidel Castro.

The stories of Presidents who started off with stated best intentions, but who ended up pursuing short-sighted and reactionary policies are recapitulated. For instance, Woodrow Wilson’s desire that “material interests must never be made superior to human liberty” along with his pledge not to “seek one additional foot of territory by conquest” did not prevent him from eventually indulging in what could be termed ‘moral imperialism’ when it came to his neighbours. Under his stewardship, Haiti was invaded by US marines and occupied for a lengthy period of time.

Again, John F. Kennedy’s imaginative Alliance For Progress, which set the target for the alleviating of poverty and social inequality in the southern Americas, ended in failure as the perceived threat of communist influence led for instance to the stifling of a democratic alliance among political parties of the Dominican Republic in favour of a military government, the toleration of the morally degenerate regime of Haiti and the aforementioned missed opportunities in developing a constructive and mutually beneficial relationship with Castro’s Cuba.

It was this almost irrational fear of the spread of the perceived ‘Bolshevik bacillus’ which led to the unintended perpetuation of the murderous regimes of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic and Francois Duvalier in Haiti.

Von Tunzelmann’s pithy dissections of these dictators are masterful and in this context she relates the cynical manipulations employed by them in successfully soliciting financial aid and support under the pretext of fighting communism.

Both men went so far as to invent communist parties. On assuming power, it had been the unabashed aim of Duvalier that Haiti would become the ‘spoiled child’ of the United States and like his Dominican counterpart, he milked what he could out of the Americans by playing up to their fear of communist encroachment.

The propping up of these malodorous governments, on the basis of a brand of Yankee-style Realpolitik , was an unsettling but recurring feature of United States policy that had roots in the era pre-dating the challenge offered by Soviet and Chinese communism when the United States under the guidance of the Monroe Doctrine, determined to resist the re-establishment of military or commercial influence of the old colonial powers from Europe.

The ‘He-may-be-a-sonafabitch-but-he’s-our-sonafabitch’ syndrome, an amoral and self-conscious justification in the apparent exercise of political pragmatism, continued to hold sway for long and remained intact despite the ostensible expurgations posited in the 1980s by Jean Kirkpatrick’s famous distinction between the support of regimes which were ‘totalitarian’ on the one hand and ‘authoritarian’ on the other.

Within the wider story are illuminating mini-biographies of the major players including the Castro brothers, Che Guevara, Nikita Khruschev and the Kennedy brothers: The evolving position of Fidel Castro from having been primarily a Cuban nationalist to his embrace of Marxism and an alliance with the Soviet Union.

Also, Bobby Kennedy’s transformation from strident anti-communist hawk to a ‘softer’, more enlightened position in terms of his understanding of the roots of poverty in Latin America and by extension his taking up of the cause of the downtrodden minorities of his country, is persuasively presented.

She also charts the improbable but radical metamorphosis of Francisco Caamano, the son of one of Trujillo’s generals, from die hard rightist to figurehead of a democratic movement who finally became a Cuban-trained guerrilla and was martyred in the process of attempting to overthrow the military regime installed by the Americans after it had snuffed out the burgeoning democratic coalition which was forming after the fall of the Trujillo regime.

Conceptually, there are parallels between Red Heat and Stephen Kinzer’s All The Shah’s Men, in which Kinzer took to task American policy in Iran and how its bungling had sowed the roots of the anti-Americanism which persists in the Middle East.

Similarly, what Von Tunzlemann makes plain through the succession of events leading up to the Cold War-era, is that by its actions in the Caribbean nations (as well as in Latin America), the United States established a template for intervening in other lands, using methods which it applied and continues to apply in the wider theatre of world politics.

This, as the author deftly shows, has not been without significant cost to the prestige and standing of America.

Adeyinka Makinde (2011)

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Coverage of the Jedsey Journal ‘Man of The Year 2010’ Award to Adeyinka Makinde in the March/April 2011 Edition

Receiving the Jedsey Journal's John D. White 'Man of the Year' Award for 2010 from Jed DiMatteo. The award "acknowledges a significant perpetuation of the loyalties, comradeship and spirit of Jersey City during the previous year."

 PUB TOUR stop at the Grapevine where JJ Man of the Year, Ade Makinde poses with group after doing a book signing of his JERSEY BOY book. Ade also set the record for coming the greatest distance to attend a Badd Ladd Day celebration.

 
ADE MAKINDE MAKES MOST OF HIS WEEKEND IN "JERSEY BOY" LAND

 
Ade Makinde agreed to fly over from London to receive his Man of the Year Award but he wanted to make the most efficient use of his time here and perhaps get in some PR work for his JERSEY BOY book. He ended up without a minute to spare during his extended weekend visit. Besides his long night of touring pubs with the friends of Badd Ladd; he scheduled book signings (one incorporated into the Pub Tour); he also did several TV and radio interviews, he reached out to Hollywood connections regarding a movie contract; Ade made two trips to New York City and State to visit family and a friend; and he even had time to cover the Jersey City St Patrick's Day parade for the JEDSEY JOURNAL.


Jed introduced Ade to Mike Ransom to set up an interview on Bayonne Community TV

Ade covers St. Patrick’s Day Parade for the Jedsey Journal

Ade Makinde had “met” Jelynne Jardiniano on Facebook and they made a date for him to do a book signing at her LITM Restaurant on Newark Avenue when he came for a visit.  (Picture by Emily August for LITM.)

Later in the evening, the DePaula family is among the crowd that watches a movie of a vintage Frankie fight on LITM’s giant screen.

Text and captions by Jed DiMatteo

See this story and others in the Jedsey Journal March Madness Report - April 2011 -vol. 24-# 2 on line at HTTP://jedseyjournal.com


Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Wladimir Klitschko versus David Haye: A Heavyweight Battle of the Age

It was the case up to a period in the not too very distant past that a fight for the heavyweight championship of the world was indisputably the ‘Richest Prize in Sports’, and the heavyweight boxing champion was the acknowledged ‘Emperor of Masculinity’.

Not so anymore. The ebb and flow in the fortunes of the heavyweight division, the barometer of the overall health of the sport, has been on a downward trend. Indeed, it is the case that many pundits are likely to say that never in the sports’ history has the prestige and popularity of its premier division spiralled to such a low point.

England’s David Haye, a former world cruiserweight champion who presently holds the WBA version of the splintered title, has been extremely vocal in expressing his views as to the reason for this nadir: the Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali.

He describes both as being ponderous, boring to watch and thoroughly devoid of charisma. Wladimir who holds the IBF, IBO and WBO titles and Vitali, the WBC champion have both dominated the heavyweight division since the retirement in 2003 of Lennox Lewis, the last undisputed titleholder.

Just why the amazing feat of two well-educated brothers’ simultaneously holding versions of the world title has failed to capture the public imagination apart, that is, from their Ukrainian motherland and adopted German homeland, is something truly to ponder.

Perhaps it is the fact that they are non-Americans dominating a division which for decades had been the preserve of the American heirs of champions such as Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis. American interest noticeably wanes when champions are foreigners. In fact, when HBO, the American cable television network, announced one year ago that it would no longer be screening any heavyweight title fights, its sports president, Ross Greenburg, made clear that it was the paucity of credible American challengers which lay at the heart of the decision.

Greenburg had mentioned that the only heavyweight contest worth screening would be one involving the Ukrainian and the Englishman. Klitschko versus Haye is the richest bout outside of a fight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather.

Standing at 6 foot 6 and with an optimum fighting weight of around 240lbs, Klitschko is three inches taller than the former world cruiserweight champion, Haye, who is also outreached and outweighed.

While his style is not an aesthetically pleasing sight to the purists, Klitschko’s left jab has served him well in keeping most of his opponents at bay while he sets them up for an arrow-straight right cross. He has an 85 per cent knockout tally and will be looking for his 50th knockout when he encounters Haye.

Haye’s record in securing 23 knockouts in the 25 wins of his career is also impressive. And although a relatively recent graduate to the heavyweight division, he has proved that he has the power to knock over and stop larger men. His best weapon against Klitschko will be his hand speed.

Both men have weaknesses. They have at times been accused of lacking stamina; the decisive factor in Klitschko’s defeat against Ross Puritty, and Haye in his only career loss to Carl Thompson as a cruiserweight. Perhaps the Ukrainian’s greatest vulnerability lies with his ‘chin’, that is, his ability to absorb a heavy blow. His style of keeping his opponents at a safe distance with his long reach, and then tying them up while leaning in with the full weight of his heavy frame has served him well.

It is a ploy which the lighter Haye will undoubtedly be working to counter. Despite a tendency to throw his punch combinations wildly, he stuck rigidly to a well-worked out strategy to defeat the behemoth-like Nikolai Valuev to win his title.

Apart from a physical plan, Haye has consistently employed a psychological tactic against his opponent with infantile-like relish. His verbal jibes and lack of courtesies including the display of a T-shirt bearing his triumphant image bestriding the decapitated torsos of both Klitschkos have gone beyond the boundaries of good taste and sportsmanship.

That notwithstanding, this promises to be the most enthralling heavyweight tussle since Vitali Klitschko’s bout with Lennox Lewis in 2003. Haye is the best of as poor a pool of heavyweight talent as has existed since the inception of the sport, and if it lives up to the high expectations that it has engendered, not least from the combatants who have each promised to score a victory by stoppage, it will go some way in restoring some prestige to the division with arguably the most compelling narrative history of all sports.

Published at China Radio International (CRI) Sports (29th June 2011) 
Adeyinka’s latest book is JERSEY BOY: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula
http://adeyinkamakinde.homestead.com/

Saturday, 25 June 2011

MALCOLM THE LEADER: A Response to Ozodi Osuji’s ‘Thoughts On The Personality of Malcolm X’



The purpose of this piece is to provide a response to Dr. Ozodi Osuji’s recent article entitled ‘Thoughts on the Personality of Malcolm X’. It is of course written in the spirit of wholesome and positive debate, and in what I believe to be an overarching quest for a positive exchange if ideas and the acquisition of knowledge.

It is not intended to serve as a polemic, or, given the esteem to which Malcolm is held by swathes of black and African opinion, an argumentum ad hominem. The aim is to present a counterpoint wherein facts, where they can be agreed upon, can nevertheless be subject to varying degrees of interpretation and analysis.

My thinking on sighting the title of Dr. Osuji’s piece, given his academic and professional expertise, was that he had produced a paper which dissected Malcolm’s persona in the dry and rigid manner of a practitioner report. This thankfully was not the case.

On reading it, my understanding was that he was attempting to highlight what he felt were some of the significant character traits in Malcolm and also to fit these into a context of what he feels are widespread character traits among black Americans which has had implications in terms of how they view themselves and the sorts of leaders who have represented their interests.

It is a worthy angle from which to proceed, but one which ultimately does not succeed due to a number of unhelpful digressions and some flawed analysis. Dr. Osuji’s thesis is essentially slanted and rather tendentious.

It is a symptom of a mature, progressive society when leaders and icons are not placed beyond the realms of critical exploration. Dr. Osuji is clearly of the belief that there should be no sacred cows. The lives and deeds of political and social figures should not be placed above limits of criticism.

Sensitivity about the criticism of a figure like Malcolm X who is revered among many African Americans was brought to the fore recently with the release of a long awaited biography by Manning Marable.

In some countries the lines of demarcation are clear and unequivocal; with some figures being sacrosanct and literally above criticism. Such persons may be deified to the extent that criticism of their philosophies or lives would place the critic outside the law and render them liable to criminal sanction. One example is that of Turkey which has laws prohibiting criticism of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state.

But even where laws do not exist to protect the revered leader of a nation, sensitivities may run high when national or culturally important figures are subjected to criticism and revaluation.

Leaving aside the matter of a powerful mystique developed over the decades by reason of his spellbinding and charismatic oratory, his early and tragic death, all of which were burnished by as memorable a eulogy as has ever been delivered to a public figure, any examination of the personality of Malcolm X presents problems.

This is a man who underwent several transformations during his life including two far reaching ones related to his spiritual framework, and concomitantly, to his political outlook.

Is it Malcolm the hoodlum, Malcolm the Black Muslim or Malcolm the Sunni Muslim? Is it Malcolm the public figure or Malcolm the private figure? Or is there a common thread in regard to his behavioural patterns which inhabited both the public and private sphere regardless of the transformation from the amoral life of freewheeling, street-level criminality to the hyper-disciplined strictures of racially-conscious religious zealotry?

If it can be successfully argued that we are born with or develop patterns of behaviour which remain with us for life and impact on not just our social relations, but also in regard to the manner in which we carry out our professional duties, one would think of our capacity for clearly communicating our thoughts and our desires which may or may not be influenced by our tendencies to introversion or extroversion.

Further, inquiry may be made of our relative stubbornness or our lack of will, our capacity for conciliation, our adeptness at tackling problems and solving them, our ability to influence others or be duped by others.

Questions may be raised as to the levels of our self-discipline, our ability to think creatively, our ability to handle stress and so on. The next stage would be to ascertain the degree to which these and other relevant factors affected Malcolm X in terms of his ability to exercise leadership.

Dr. Osuji, while providing an extensive piece does not attempt such an all-encompassing approach. Along the way he makes several digressions, but he does make critical observations and assessments in three key areas. These relate to questions concerning Malcolm X’s organisational skills, his physical courage and the choice of his religion.

Relying almost exclusively on the narrative provided by Alex Haley’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X, he gives a detailed rendition of Malcolm’s story while interjecting points of analysis at various junctures.

Time line is critical, and Dr. Osuji acknowledges changes in Malcolm’s philosophy and stratagem. While portions of his analysis does not always respect this, one of the central themes of his piece relates to Malcolm’s political stance, which co-existent both with his belief in the teachings of Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam and his later re-adapted allegiance to the Sunni faith was that of Black Nationalism.

Various streams of Black Nationalist thinking have existed since the establishment of an African presence in North America and have competed with integrationist schools of thought for the hearts of America’s blacks.

But while Nationalist thinking has typically encouraged black economic and political independence as well as stridently advancing the cause of black pride, its focus on the ill-effects of white racism on blacks has arguably relied on the promotion of black victimhood.

Black Victimology, a phenomenon by no means restricted to black nationalists, is a theory which holds that blacks have tended to blame all their contemporary failings on the historical oppression of whites which has arguably entrenched a cultural mindset that results in the avoidance of personal and collective responsibility for the malaise in African-American communities.

Dr. Osuji feels that Malcolm’s memoir reflecting on the conditions which led him to turn to crime as a young man as well as his later denunciations of white racism for perpetuating the moral degeneration of black communities fits into this pattern. To quote him, Malcolm “merely engaged in the ego trip of making whitey feel guilty for his own anti-social behaviours”.

The pivotal moment when Malcolm decides to give up his schooling, captured in the autobiography and the movie directed by Spike Lee, when his teacher advises that legal practice was not the sort of profession to which a “nigger” should have aspirations is held up by Dr. Osuji as an example of the victim mentality.

But as Malcolm explained, and can be deduced from the narrative, it was an incident among many which accumulated in his young mind. The reformed Malcolm, the one who once mused that he could spend the rest of his life reading “just to satisfy my curiosity” and who mentions his regret at not completing his education was surely promoting the idea that black youth could achieve in the education field despite racism.

Dr Osuji also takes issue with Malcolm’s decision to proselytise a separatist sect while promoting ‘hate’. To quote him, “His was a philosophy of hatred of white folks. Considering white racism it is very easy for black folks to see white folks as evil and many black Americans joined Elijah Mohammad’s religion of hate (as opposed to Jesus Christ’s religion of love and forgiveness…though few practice the tenets of that religion).”

This is arguably a lazy analysis which tries to have it both ways. It is important first to point out that not ‘many’ black Americans actually joined the Nation of Islam. In the late 1940s at the time of Malcolm’s conversion, the NOI had a membership of around 5,000, a figure which peaked at approximately 30,000 in the decade and a half that followed. When put into the context of an overall population of 20 million blacks, that does not amount to ‘many’, although it is fair to say that the NOI’s sphere of influence exceeded its relatively miniscule numbers.

Dr. Osuji further contradicts himself by writing that “It is perfectly understandable to hate the white man if you are a black American and one can understood Malcolm’s rants against the white man.”

Yet, it provides the key to understanding the genesis of Malcolm. Where he started and where he was heading at the time of his death. He was a product of the conditions into which he was born and raised, and he happened to be an exemplar-proponent of one of the two enduring and competing schools of thought which are symptoms of an overall reaction of blacks to their experience in America which as mentioned earlier has over the ages shifted between sentiments emphasising integration and separation.

The NOI, bizarre theories of Yacub notwithstanding, fit into this historical dynamic along with Noble Drew Ali’s Moorish Science Temple and Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association.

And how would Minister Malcolm of old, a keen debater and polemicist, have responded to the accusation of being a peddler of hate? One recalls a speech recorded at an outdoor rally in Harlem where he claims the only things his sect where taught to hate were “dope and alcohol”.

He would have argued that he was teaching blacks not to ‘hate’ but to be ‘wary’ of whites given the record which Dr. Osuji admits permits an observer to view black hatred of whites as being “perfectly understandable.” Malcolm would have turned the argument on its head and profess to have been a preacher of ‘love’; love, that is, of self.

Yet as Dr. Osuji himself acknowledges, in the final stages of his life, Malcolm was “moving from hate to love.”

On the matter of Malcolm’s skills as a leader. Dr. Osuji waxes eloquent on what a true leader is, by writing that “in true leadership a person rises above his self-interests and fights for public good; a true leader is a lover of human beings, regardless of their race”.

While this postulates a laudable standard by which to measure leadership, the truth is that such leadership is usually not practicable given the constraints placed by the very nature of evolving human existence. Many of those who are considered to be great leaders embarked on policies and programmes designed to enhance the power and prestige of particular races, nationalities and religions at the expense of others.

While Martin Luther King justifiably preached the gospel of love, his primary interest was in alleviating the plight of the black American masses as it was the primary purpose of Mohandas Gandhi to secure the liberation of Indians from the grip of the British Empire.

While most ought to be in agreement with Dr. Osuji’s sentiment, the counter-argument again is that Malcolm, although promoting the goals of what many consider as a sect representing certain negative values, nonetheless was fulfilling a larger task of effectively expanding the range of the cultural awareness of blacks and their knowledge of black and African history.

It provided a model of a nationwide black endeavour which propagated values of communal solidarity, self-discipline and self-reliance, and even the value of proper nutrition.

The notion of what constitutes “self-interest” is fairly loaded. If one were to argue that Malcolm loved the spotlight as some figures within the NOI, threatened by his bourgeoning fame grumbled, this did not extend to him utilizing his position of leadership within the NOI and his subsequent organizations for his personal enrichment.

At one point Dr. Osuji mentions that fanning white guilt by playing the ‘wronged party’ line is used by contemporary African leaders to steal from their people. Whatever the truth of this, it does not make a successful analogy to the personality and leadership legacy of Malcolm.

The issue of leadership warrants a note on Malcolm’s organizational abilities which Dr. Osuji disparages; referring to his post-NOI split Organisation of Afro-American Unity as “a mess.” It is an argument which has often been put forward by his NOI detractors who want to promote the view that he was less than a substantive figure outside the influence of Elijah Muhammad. But it is certainly the case that both of Malcolm’s personally initiated bodies, the religious Moslem Mosque Inc. and the secular O.A.A.U. were not being administered in an efficient manner.

There are however important background details to consider. Both entities were formed, in some measure of haste, soon after his ouster from the NOI. The O.A.A.U. suffered from internal squabbling which was due to the disparate backgrounds of the individuals within it: street-toughened renegade NOI members and middle class college graduates vied for Malcolm’s attention and found it difficult to cooperate on his extended travels abroad.

Consider also the background circumstances of Malcolm striving to operate in a hellish atmosphere of constant and intrusive surveillance by government agencies (NYPD, FBI and CIA) as well as the harassment and physical intimidation tactics of the NOI which culminated in his bloody assassination in 1965, and any definitive judgment on his capabilities as a leader-administrator must be viewed with extreme caution.

A final piece of evidence to consider apart from his having to cope with the pressure ploys geared towards ensuring the maximum disruption to his affairs was his record while within the NOI.

He was by all accounts a successful head-administrator of New York’s Mosque No.7, a role he continued while serving as Elijah Muhammad’s national spokesperson, and one which he performed while simultaneously performing pastoral duties at a range of newly opened mosques on the eastern seaboard until other recruits were able to establish themselves as mosque leaders.

The NOI would never have multiplied its membership, or the scope of its influence outside its immediate membership base without the charismatic leadership and organisational abilities of Malcolm.

Another important point worthy of scrutiny is Dr. Osuji’s assertion that Malcolm was good at “talking the talk but not walking the walk.” In doing so, he refers to the undoubted courage of the members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Non-Violent Leadership Conference who faced up to the snarling dogs, vicious baton-wielding policemen and baying pro-segregationist mobs which they encountered in the South on voter registration drives and other anti-segregationist manoeuvres.
But reducing Malcolm to merely a lectern-warrior at middle class colleges is misleading to say the least as it fails to take into account the fact that Malcolm was under the straitjacket of Elijah Mohammad’s organisation which had a policy of remaining aloof from involvement in politics, hence he had no part to play in the call for electoral roll drives.

Neither did he have a part to play in marches and acts of civil disobedience because the NOI’s policy was that blacks should not ‘demean’ themselves by forcing themselves onto whites who did not want them. Malcolm thus had to defend the policy regardless of the bravery of the protesters, and indeed he mocked them for allowing “two-legged dogs” to stick “four-legged dogs” on them.

Another reason why Malcolm wasn’t down South confronting ‘Jim Crow’ and the likes of Sheriff Bull Connor was that his ‘immediate’ constituency was among urban black dwellers in the North while King, although a city-based pastor, was associated with the rural poor.  Malcolm had in many instances disobeyed Elijah Muhammad’s edict against involvement in civil matters by working with Harlem’s Reverend Adam Clayton Powell and other figures in protest against a range of matters including police brutality.

It is important to mention however that Malcolm’s evolving thinking made him become increasingly dissatisfied with NOI policy. He was in fact anxious to be a part of the mainstream struggle and was aware that a large segment of blacks often muttered about the NOI appearing to “talk the talk”, but not “walk the walk,” or that they only acted to protect their ‘own’ such as when Malcolm himself famously led a detachment of the NOI to demand the release of one of its members from police custody into the care of a medical hospital.

After been cast out of the Nation, Malcolm did ruminate on how the NOI was better at exacting vengeance on those of its members who had transgressed it rules or worst of all, as in Malcolm’s case, become apostates, than it was in taking on racist whites including heavy handed police officers.

The Roland Stokes affair was a case in point. Stokes, was shot to death, by an officer of the Los Angeles Police department during an invasion of a local mosque despite the fact that he had put his hands up to surrender.

Malcolm talked tough and intended to back up his talk with a planned form of retribution, but he was prevented from doing so on the direct intervention of Elijah Muhammad. It was a pivotal moment in Malcolm’s increasing disillusionment with Muhammad and the NOI.

In the final analysis, when all aspects of his work and character are considered, it would arguably be engaging in an exceedingly dubious proposition to assert that Malcolm lacked physical courage. Like any black leader of the time, he knew that he was perpetually at risk of being struck down by an assassin’s bullet or bomb. The fact that threats came from those to whom he had once been allied does not diminish this.

A man of lesser nerve would not have been prepared to have bourne the brunt of the incessant threats and plots carried out against him by the NOI. He may for instance have taken on a post with the Organisation of African Unity or the Nkrumah government in Ghana (where in Accra they had a thriving expatriate African American community which included the likes of Maya Angelou and the widow of W.E.B. DuBois).

He faced up to the officially sanctioned wiretapping and physical surveillance as well as the machinations of the NOI which included the firebombing of his home with a steadfast courage.

In the process of examining his personality, Dr. Osuji made misplaced assumptions and assertions; writing for instance that “like most criminals, Malcolm was a smooth talker but not a true doer”. That statement posits a somewhat unscientific assessment. There is no scientific basis for alleging that ‘most’ criminals are somehow endowed with oratorical acumen, or the gift of the glib tongue.

The reference to Malcolm having “found a gig that he was good at” implies that he was something of a charlatan hustler-trickster and trivialises the genuineness of his spiritual awakening. It suggests that Malcolm’s professed concerns for the plight of his people was made up and cynical.

Yet, many who knew him or who studied him and among those who opposed him were struck by his sincerity. His family antecedents were solidly Garveyist. He was not ‘hustling’ whites by taking them on a guilt trip since he did not benefit from liberal whites who feared him and severely admonished him for his stances.

Malcolm admitted that he probably believed in the tenets of Elijah Muhammad’s creed more than Muhammad himself and had the courage to admit that he had been duped. Surely, one key criterion in determining the credentials of a leader is that they are able to admit their mistakes.

There were a number of evaluations which appear to be off-key. Such as ascribing hypocrisy on the part of Malcolm for having opposed integration on the grounds that a white girlfriend in his hoodlum days had once “kept him afloat with money.”

The logic fails to fit.

Whatever the merits of his decision to become a separatist he did argue the point that in his childhood, given the parts of the country in which his family lived and after the break of his family the foster family in whose care he was placed, no one had been more integrated than he had been. His experiences, he claimed, had convinced him to follow a different path.

One key aspect missing from Dr. Osuji’s evaluation of Malcolm’s personality was in examining his post-conversion standards of personal morality and discipline.  The extensive surveillance mounted by US government agencies were unable to uncover any extra-marital dalliances as it had with Martin Luther King or financial misappropriation of the funds of the organisations he controlled.

One area of exploration lacking from a consideration of Malcolm’s effectiveness as a leader was an examination of what sometimes appeared to be an impulsive, often rebellious personality. He made a number of unwise comments and some of his actions appeared to goad his enemies into taking action against him.

Did he retain that streak of self-destructiveness in the challenges that he issued to authority figures? From his school teachers, the numbers king pin with whom he was associated in Harlem, prison staff (in prison he was labelled ‘Satan’) and finally to Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm issued challenges which had a detrimental impact on himself.

With Muhammad, he went against the explicit instruction that no minister should comment on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy which provoked the ire of Muhammad and the jealous clique around him who sought to throw him out of the NOI.

His not wisely chosen words about the president’s demise, for instance, put at risk members of his sect who like himself became converts to the NOI in the prison system from retribution by prison guards, many of who would have been of Irish Catholic heritage.

Dr. Osuji raises an important point of victimology, a state of mind which some would argue has continued to shackle the progress of black America. This is a state of mind operating in both the integrationist and nationalist philosophies.

And in the Autobiography of Malcolm X, there is a consistent undertone of Malcolm affixing whites with blame for the ills of the ghetto and not holding its denizens to a greater responsibility for their plight. The Garveyite message of self-reliance seems missing even though Malcolm, did consistently exhort his audiences to not depend on ‘the man’: “If you can’t create a job or a factory in your own community then don’t say that you’re equal to the white man,” he railed in a famous recorded speech.

Malcolm’s increasingly internationalist perspective and his drift into pan-Africanism also emphasised the role played by European colonialism in the underdevelopment of the continent, mirroring his emphasis on the responsibility of American whites in creating negative conditions for its black citizens.

But his message was silent in regard to the role played by blacks and Africans in their misfortune. As Dr. Osuji puts it: “That is why much as it is true that white folks screwed Africans, I do not like it when Malcolm only stressed that fact and refused to emphasize what Africans did to hurt themselves.”

We can only speculate on how his approach would have been had he lived. Africans were selling slaves to Arabs long before the European slave trade and in both instances these enterprises were aided in large measure by African collaboration. 

It is very likely that Malcolm would have had some knowledge of Arab enslavement of Africans right up to the period of his death and that he would have been aware of Arab racism. But it would obviously have been impolitic to mention this at a time when he was establishing cultural and financial links with the Arab world including contacts in the higher echelons of the rulers of Saudi Arabia, a country which did not abolish slavery until 1962.

A strong argument can be made that much of the tone of Black Nationalist rhetoric as espoused by Malcolm is out-dated. But it is also the case that many of the goals he promoted, namely of self-reliance, the propagation of strong family units and genuine communal solidarity are sorely needed among black communities.

Dr. Osuji’s piece raises some important questions but it unfortunately misses out on making genuine psychological analysis on Malcolm’s actions throughout his phases of reinvention. Indeed, at times he writes as if Malcolm in his post-conversion period was substantively the same as the young Malcolm who had been criminally disposed.
An analysis of Malcolm’s personality should encompass his ability to change for the better and to acknowledge that he admitted to making mistakes.

He achieved a great deal in terms of articulating the grievances and concerns of the northern black urban populace in a way which was not reflected by leaders in the mainstream civil rights movement. He raised the levels of esteem of millions of blacks and also provided a means through which black Americans reconnected with and identified with their African roots.

To sum up, Malcolm X was by no means a personality devoid of flaws. But neither is he deserving of been affixed with a mantle of anything less than having been one of the most important leaders to have emerged in the cause of black Americans.