Mamadou Diallo channels Carlos Moore, the exiled Cuban who traversed most of Africa and its diaspora, and, along the way, the lives of some of the most revolutionary thinkers the continent has produced. Moore’s special relationship with Cheikh Anta Diop and their foremost, but failed collaboration to launch an organization of scientists of the black world are the focus of this extraordinary account.
Translated by Eva Munyiri.
In central Senegal, slightly to the west, in the small town of Bambey, a small dirt path opens. Etched along its 24 km, far from the bustle of civilisation, are a surprising number of hamlets. Between these stand magnificent forests of baobabs, cultivations of millet and peanuts, and ambulating herds. We are in the Baol, the peanut-growing basin, the epicentre of Wolof culture and of muridisme. The dirt road ends at the village of Caytou, founded by Massamba Sassoum Diop, the grandfather of Cheikh Anta Diop, and close friend to Cheikh Ibrahima Fall: the first and most zealous of the disciples of Bamba, and the inspiration of Baay Fall.
A NOT SO PHARAONIC GRAVE
The eighth day of February is set aside in Caytou to commemorate its son, whose book, Black Nations and Culture, was according to Aime Cesaire “the most audacious that a negro had hitherto written and that would no doubt count in the awakening of Africa”. On a sandy path between some neem trees, a mausoleum rises. It’s here that, on his request, Cheikh Anta Diop is buried next to his ancestor, Massamba.
The annual commemoration has happened since the late 1980s, but I visited for the first time this year, accompanied by young activists of Le Rassemblement National Démocratique (RND), the last political party founded by Cheikh Anta Diop. We left Dakar in the early morning and headed east. I was seated in the back of the car, next to the window, with Galaye, a young local elected representative and agent of the water company, on my right, alongside Alassane, a PhD student at a Chinese university and head of the Party’s youth arm. Both are in their thirties. Trained within the Party, they can legitimately project themselves as its future leaders. Deeply committed to a political party whose uncompromising first four decades are set against a backdrop of material deprivation and electoral failures, these youth are clearly idealists. They are the true heirs of Cheikh Anta Diop, who once proposed utopianism as a counter to the unflinching realism that dominates the present and dictate Africa’s current state.
For the past three years, the ritual in Caytou made news. A government minister, Mor Ngom, took an interest in the commemoration and logistical support increased, as did the number of visitors and television cameras. This year, those in power have clearly grown bored with remembering. The rows of empty chairs indicate the unfulfilled expectations of the villagers, as does the activity of several women, who are cooking up a festive meal for an absent crowd in a large kitchen area.
At the entrance of the mausoleum that holds Cheikh Anta Diop’s remains, the visitor is immediately struck by a commemorative plaque, dusty and cracked, lying in the dirt. The general appearance of the monument (moving but decrepit), together with the mood of pilgrimage (solemn but intimate), evoke the figure of Cheikh Anta Diop that coheres in the collective memory: that of an unkempt, yet affable scholar who, entrenched in his laboratory and immersed in his research, working in destitution and adversity, long upheld the most fundamental truths. Although this omnipresent representation may have something to do with the man that he was, there is another vision, revealed by Carlos Moore, a man whose life, spread across three continents, is dedicated to the fight for the emancipation of the black world.
“There were two sides to Cheikh Anta Diop,” confides Moore, “the scientific side and then the political pan-African side… He was heavily political. Outside of Kwame Nkrumah he was the only person that I knew of, in Africa, who had such a clear vision of the twentieth century and what type of measures were required to secure the welfare of Africa.”
Moore speaks from experience. Like Cheikh Anta Diop, he traversed most of the African continent and its diaspora, meeting with the revolutionary figures and intellectuals who were his contemporaries. At the invitation of Cheikh Anta Diop, he settled in Dakar at the end of the 1970s, following a brief and chaotic stint in Lagos where he was involved in the organisation of the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, FESTAC 77.
Carlos Moore was born in the small Cuban town of Central Lugareno in 1942. In his autobiography, Pichón, he remembers his birthplace as “one of Cuba’s most backward towns”. His parents, both from Jamaica, had immigrated between 1918 and 1925. Freed from Spain in previous decades, Cuba had passed under the influence of the USA, its Monroe doctrine and Jim Crow, as the African-American historian, Gerald Horne, has shown in his book, Race to Revolution. Moore grew up in a town where the annual harvest was followed by “tiempo muerto” (the dead season), a nine-month stretch when everything came to a standstill and “hunger twisted [his] guts”. The political situation deteriorated under the Batista regime, and Moore’s elder brother, suspected of subversion, barely escaped being beaten to death by the militia. Spurred by this, his father secured the family’s expatriation to the United States in 1957. Carlos was 15.
It took only three years from his first acquaintance with the American dream for the young Moore to lean towards the radical circles of Harlem and Greenwich village. On the shelves of Lewis Michaux’s bookstore in Harlem, where he spent hours learning about the African continent and nurturing his passion for Lumumba, he encountered Maya Angelou. When Fidel Castro and Che Guevara appeared on the scene, he approached the New York branch of the 26th of July Movement and participated in the political organisation of Fidel’s visit to Harlem in 1960. After several adventures, including his participation in an invasion of the UN security council in New York following the assassination of Lumumba, Moore, barely out of his teens, returned to Cuba. It was 1961 and the Cuban revolution enjoyed tremendous support within the African-American community. In response to the growing menace of a US invasion, Cuba organised and armed its population. At the time, the young Carlos Moore was a night guard at the ministry where he worked. Here, he rejoiced with one of his compañeros at news that terrified most of the “free world”: Cuba was in possession of nuclear missiles.
Despite his enthusiasm, the young Moore quickly perceived inconsistencies in racial equality in revolutionary Cuba. “It was hard,” he writes in Pichón, “not to notice continually that the people in positions of authority were whites” and, furthermore “There was a defining pattern in the attitude of white revolutionaries: they felt we blacks should be grateful to them. It was there in the way they looked at you… it was in their tone of voice, the irked, robotic way they spoke. There was no mistaking it. I detected the cacophonous music of racism getting louder.”
An encounter with Walterio Carbonell, an Afro-Cuban academic trained in France, confirmed Moore’s suspicions. Moreover, the increasing persecution of homosexuals, prostitutes and Afro-Cuban spiritual practices such as Santero, troubled his conscience. The young Moore was unable to bite his tongue. He considered it his revolutionary duty to approach the party leadership. This cost him his freedom. Moore was intimidated, imprisoned and finally interned in a labour camp. Briefly rehabilitated, he was finally forced to flee, under the threat of a repeat incarceration and perhaps worse.
Ambassador Seydou Diallo at the embassy of the Republic of Guinea protected the young Cuban and assisted him in boarding a boat destined for Cairo. There, deprived of travel documents and penniless, he decided to travel to Paris. Here he met Aimé Césaire, recommended to him by Carbonnell. He also encountered Cheikh Anta Diop and Alioune Diop, in whose magazine he would publish his incendiary article, “Cuba, the untold story,” which tarnished the Cuban revolution’s commitment to anti-racism and equality. Even before the article’s publication in Présence Africaine in 1964, Carlos Moore was the target of a campaign that depicted him as a CIA agent. Unable to return to his homeland, he remained in France until 1974, working as a journalist at Agence France-Press in the closing years of his time there. Following a tip from Maryse Condé, he left this job to join the FESTAC team in Nigeria.
In Africa, he recalls, “I came to terms with class oppression at the hands of people whose skin was black. That reality was painful. The cold, arrogant, corrupt ruling class I found in Nigeria awakened me to the realities of the new Africa. In Nigeria, I was face-to-face with one of the most deadly and selfish African oligarchies, which took seriously its role as the local pawn of the international conglomerates plundering the country. These new auxiliaries of Western imperialism occupied their position with the greatest ease, unashamed of their inferior status in the world order. On the contrary: these impenitent black nouveaux riches seemed almost to lament the passing of the good old days of the triangular trade of spices, ivory, and human flesh.”
In Lagos, he met and became friends with Fela Kuti, whose biography he would later write. But here, first, Moore’s past in Cuba caught with to him. He was still pursued by the Castro regime, who, after learning of his position in the FESTAC Department of Communication, pressured the Nigerian government. Surrounded by bureaucrats and soldiers only concerned with filling their pockets, he was an easy target. His experience within the festival organisation was brief and catastrophic. Thanks to MD Yusufu, the head of the Nigerian Secret Service at the time, he was able to leave the country and take up an invitation from Cheikh Anta Diop to settle in Senegal.
INSPECTOR YUSUFU AND GENERAL MURTALA
Fela Kuti does not beat around the bush when it comes to speaking truth to military power. In response to the increasingly oppressive and corrupt state in Nigeria, he unleashed Zombie, with a title track so powerful that even its targets were spellbound (“Zombie o, zombie…”). Nonetheless, he gives MD Yusufu his due, as quoted in Moore’s biography, Fela: This Bitch of a Life:
“M.D. Yusufu was a heavy guy. Let me first of all tell you a story one boy told me about him, when M.D. Yusufu was just an intelligence officer. This boy had done something and had to run away to hide in Abidjan, Dakar, somewhere like that. Anyway, Yusufu was the one who was supposed to be looking for this guy. He finally found him sitting in a nightclub in Abidjan or Dakar. Yusufu just faced him and said: ‘I’ve got you!… But I’m not going to take you back. I’m going to leave you.’”
MD Yusufu, who died in 2015 at age 85, had aristocratic origins but plebeian political inclinations. The son of an important official from the Katsina state, he joined the radical Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) in his youth, while rising in the ranks of the police service. When Moore arrived in Nigeria, Yusufu was already an important figure and directed the intelligence services. He was one of the people that the Jamaican poet and naturalised Nigerian, Lindsay Barrett, introduced Moore to, just after the latter’s arrival.
In 1975, after Moore left Lagos, Yusufu participated with other senior officers in the coup d’état against the unpopular regime of Yakubu Gowon that installed Murtala Muhammed as head of state. Muhammed rapidly distinguished himself both in Nigeria and internationally. Richard Bourne writes in Nigeria: A New History: “Muhammed tackles corruption and the lazy and incompetent civil services, and he strikes a nationalist and anti-west position in international affairs.”
When Cheikh Anta Diop heard of the coup d’état in Nigeria, he hastened to see Moore. “Who are these people?” he asked. Moore replied: “These are nationalists, this regime is serious”.
THE NECESSITY OF BLACK NUKES
Cheikh Anta Diop was often criticised by his opponents in the academy for his numerous divergent interests and preoccupations. One of these was the question of nuclear weapons, a subject on which he spoke publically as early as 1968. In 1977, this preoccupation formed the basis of a text at odds with the vague humanism that often passes for political analysis in the francophone world, “The Pretoria bomb and the future of our species”. Flagging racist South Africa’s advances in the military nuclear domain, as well as the complicity of Israel and the Western Bloc, Cheikh Anta Diop called on black Africa to acquire comparable arms. For Diop, Pretoria’s nuclear capabilities, coupled with “the duplicity” of those countries in bed with the racist regime, jeopardised the survival of the African people.
Diop’s terminology in the original French essay raises questions. Instead of referring to blacks as a race, he speaks of “species” in the title. The tone is apocalyptic and his argument against Senghor, his eternal nemesis, is vehement. “If nothing impedes its development,” he warns, “Pretoria will be capable of equipping 100 nuclear warheads, enough to keep the large African agglomerations under control… [T]hus when all the bourgeois gentlemen presidents will have finished the transformation of African states to private properties, to instruments of literary promotion, to means of obtaining phony distinctions of all sorts, when they will have satisfied all their whims and will have ceased to occupy the centre stage, while brimming with the blood of their people like translucent leeches, they will withdraw amongst their motley ‘trophies’, the veil will tear, the dramatic realities will emerge in their tragic nakedness.”
Many thought Diop’s interests in nuclear weapons went no further than the heated and somewhat vociferous arguments cited above. Diop, however, combined action with his words. After hearing Moore’s response to his queries on the nature of the regime that had just been installed in Lagos, he asked his young collaborator to organise a meeting between himself and Murtala Muhammed. Moore sent a telegram to MD Yusufu: “MD, I need to talk to you urgently, call me.” It did not take long for the response to arrive, concise and positive: “Come”.
THE LAGOS MEETING
Moore headed to Lagos and settled into a hotel on Victoria Island. Two days passed before Yusufu invited him to his private residence. The mood was jovial; it had barely been three weeks since the new regime took power. The tall state representative was affable and spoke to his guest as to an old friend. “Hey, you see what you missed!” he said in reference to Moore’s abrupt departure from Nigeria. Once the minor questions have been disposed of, Moore revealed the motive for his visit and the identity of the person for whom he was an emissary. Yusufu agreed to speak to president Muhammed. The following day, he notified Moore that Muhammed was enthusiastic about the idea of meeting Diop and discussed the security details with him.
When Diop arrived in Lagos, he met MD Yusufu and gave an hour-long presentation on the advances that South Africa has made in the military nuclear domain. Then he told his interlocutor that Nigeria was the only state that possessed the financial resources and, since the fall of Gowon and the accession of Muhammed, the leadership necessary to build capacity for nuclear dissuasion at the service of the continent.
Yusufu listened to Diop with no interruption, even though what he was proposing was nothing short of the implementation of a military nuclear program in Nigeria. History, however, had proven that committing to such a project was dangerous. In November 1964, Kwame Nkrumah announced the construction of the second nuclear reactor on the continent. The first had been built by the American firm, General Dynamics Corporation, commissioned by Belgium, in Kinshasa in 1958. The reactor in Kwabenya was to be operational by 1966 and host several research laboratories and institutes of scientific training.
In order to contextualise Nkrumah’s motives, one must recall that the France of General de Gaulle had ignored Africa’s opinion and carried out several nuclear tests in the Sahara in early 1960. Ghana had reacted emphatically, freezing French assets within its borders, establishing an international campaign that resulted in an international conference in April 1960. Ghana’s activism on the international scene, the organisations and countries that joined in these efforts, the production of several scientific studies showing the toxicity of the French nuclear tests, did nothing to curb De Gaulle’s pursuits until 1966.
Declassified in 2013 as part of a penal inquiry, a map disclosed by the daily Le Parisien in its 14 February 2014 edition showed the spread of radioactive fallout far beyond the Sahara. A response in Le Monde noted: “The map shows that until the thirteenth day following the aerial explosion… the nuclear fallout spread through all of west Africa, to the south-east until the Central African Republic, as well as to the north, to the Spanish coast and Sicily.” The well-argued condemnation by the continent’s sovereign states against what Nkruhmah called the “nuclear imperialism” of De Gaulle was revealed to be incapable of dissuading the West.
Soon Nkrumah himself became a target. The US intervention was swift and in 1966, with well documented participation of the CIA, he was ousted. More recently, many attributed the dismantlement of South Africa’s nuclear arsenal in 1989 to the state’s desire not have these arms fall into the hands of a black majority once the ANC seized power.
MD Yusufu was aware of the consequences of what Diop was suggesting. He listened to him attentively as Diop explained the plan: first, to assemble scientists, from across the globe, particularly the US, Cuba and Haiti. The motive for their gathering in Lagos was to be the formation of an organisation of scientists of the black world. The true objective of the project would only be revealed later.
The discussion between Cheikh Anta Diop and MD Yusufu was lengthy and the following day, Yusufu reported to President Muhammed, who gave his blessing. Thus, the World Black Researchers Association (WBRA) was born. Murtala Muhammed’s regime contributed US$500,000 towards its setup. All that remained to be resolved was the appointment of someone to run the project from Lagos. Dr A. Jeje, a young biochemical engineer in his thirties, educated at MIT, was recommended by Moore and selected for the task.
“I knew him very well,” recalls Moore, “he was one of the people who were anti-FESTAC. He was young and brilliant. So I introduced him to Cheikh Anta Diop and M.D. Yusufu did a background check on him. Everything was fine: he was a real nationalist, a real pan Africanist. He was made executive head of the organisation. Of course, he was never informed of the deeper implications of the project.” Diop would assume the role of Chairperson of the WBRA.
THE IDEAL MAN
Back in Dakar, Carlos Moore and Cheikh Anta Diop were restless. There was no progress on the project. Jeje was summoned to Dakar to present an update to Cheikh Anta Diop, which was not conclusive. “We went to Nigeria,” confides Moore, “and discovered that Jeje could not account for the first installment of funds he had received from the Nigerian state, through the Institute of International Relations. We didn’t even know how much he’d already received. All we knew was that he was to have opened an account on behalf of the World Black Researchers Association to receive the funds coming via the Institute. During our meeting in Dakar he had mentioned a sum of 250 thousand dollars.”
Scandalised, Moore approached Yusufu and insisted that Jeje be arrested. Diop and Yusufu disagreed, fearing that such a move would force them to divulge the details of the deal. Cheikh Anta Diop asked to speak with Jeje. “Diop,” Moore explains, “was a very humane person. He said that he needed to talk with him, personally, to recover the funds. That was arranged. When Dr Jeje came to see Diop, he broke down crying, saying that he had been tricked by others. That he had a family, a child; that this whole thing could destroy his life, and so on. He asked Cheikh Anta Diop to give him a year to put back all the money. I said to Diop that I didn’t trust Jeje anymore for anything. Diop decided to give him a year.” But in that year, Murtala was gone.”
Murtala Muhammed was assassinated on the 13 February 1976 after only six months in power. However, this was enough to leave an indelible mark on the Nigerian memory. A CIA report of 4 August 1975 says this of him: “Mohammed has been described as a cold, ruthless nationalist, intelligent and strong-willed.” Of the assassination of Muhammed and the motivations of those that backed it, Tunji Otegbeye writes: “It was not madness, as some people say. Murtala’s killers, and the forces they represent wanted to totally negate, destroy and eliminate not just his life but his understanding of Nigerian society, his courage, his commitment and his spirit.” According to Moore, “it was I.D. Bisalla, the minister of defense, in cahoots with MI6 and CIA, who did the coup. Because Murtala was taking a totally different direction.”
The power and political will that drove Cheikh Anta Diop’s project disappeared with Murtala Muhammed. MD Yusufu, however, remained in his post. The WBRA, whose ultimate aims were known by just four people – Moore, Yusufu, Muhammed and Diop – dissipated after its first meeting in February 1976 in Dakar, in which scientists and writers of the black world participated. The year 1977 should have seen the preliminary meeting for preparations of its first congress dedicated to determining the axes of the research.
Cheikh Anta Diop, in a long interview with the journal Afriscope in 1977, summarised the aims of the WBRA thus: “We intend to harness the scientific potential and creativity of the black world and place it at the disposal of all black states without distinction. Uppermost in our mind is the welfare of black populations of the world black community.” Today, the only traces that remain of the WBRA are some citations in old articles and interviews.
“This episode is a shame, a damn shame,” muses Moore from Brazil, where he opened up on this chapter of his tremulous life. “It remains in my chest as a dagger, as it did with Diop. The man was in much pain for a long time. That a project concocted for the defense of the entire continent was torpedoed by greed and unscrupulousness, was a horrible thing.
“Diop’s heart was broken. That was the toughest thing that I saw him go through. Really, he was down, he kept asking: how could he have done this? He kept saying that. How could he have done this? Because Diop was somebody who believed in the integrity of people. He had that thing about believing in people, believing in the word of people. Diop was very attached to the word. If Diop gave you his word about something, you’d have to kill him about it.”
This and other stories available in the new issue of the Chronic, “The Invention of Zimbabwe”, which writes Zimbabwe beyond white fears and the Africa-South conundrum.
The accompanying books magazine, XIBAARU TEERE YI (Chronic Books in Wolof) asks the urgent question: What can African Writers Learn from Cheikh Anta Diop?
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