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The African Affairs Bureau

By Helmi Sharawy

I have pointed out in the past that the three spheres of interest in Egyptian politics (Arab, African and Islamic, in this order) mentioned in President Gamal Abdul Nasser’s booklet Philosophy of the Revolution did not indicate the real priority given to Egypt’s relations with Africa.

The period 1956 –1960 was rich in nationalist fervour, both in Egypt and in Africa, where the struggle for independence was the first priority. The declarations of self-rule, or independence, came one after the other, so much so that within a few months in 1958 we saw Felix Moumie, the leader of the Union du Peuple du Cameroun, visit the African Association, followed immediately by Ignatius Kangave Musaazi, the leader of the Ugandan National Congress, who left the brilliant John Kaley to manage their office in Cairo. Then came Oginga Odinga to start the office of the Kenya African National Union, followed by Oliver Tambo to open the office of the African National Congress of South Africa.

Malcolm X praying in the Mohammed Ali Mosque, Cairo, Egypt, September 1964

Malcolm X praying in the Mohammed Ali Mosque, Cairo, Egypt, September 1964

Some of these extended their stay in Cairo, while many more left permanent representatives to establish offices there, their best opening to the outer world. The rule was for the leader to hold a personal meeting with Nasser before leaving the country, and he would obtain Nasser’s instructions for founding that new office and allotting time on the broadcasting system. Some other members of the office would be posted at the secretariat of the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organisation.

These close political – and personal – relations with such well accredited leaders of their countries were a cause for pride among all of us in the African Affairs Bureau. All these leaders occupied modest offices beside my own modest office at the African Association, but they were all a model of activity and vitality. The financial help given to such powerful parties in their respective countries was generally modest. I remember that all that was given to a liberation leader to carry out a country-wide election campaign before independence in 1964 was equal to US $25,000.

African Liberation Movements in Cairo

African National Congress (ANC), South Africa
Basotho People’s Congress (BPC), Lesotho
Djibouti Liberation Movement (DLM), Djibouti
Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), Eritrea
Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF)
Etudiants du Tchad (ET)
Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO)
Governamento do Angola Independente (GRAI)
Kenya African National Union (KANU)
League for Liberation of Somalia (LIGA)
Le Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC)
Movimento Popular do Liberacion do Angola (MPLA)
Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC)
Swaziland People’s Party (SPP)
South West Africa National Union (SWANU)
South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO)
Uganda National Congress (UNC)
Union do Independente Angola (UNITA)
United Northern Rhodesia Independence Party (UNRIP)
Zanzibar National Union (ZNU)


muzmin_coverresizedThis article features in a special, Arabic-only edition of the Chronic, published in June 2015 as “Muzmin”. The issue, which examines the division of “North” and “sub-Saharan” Africa and Ali Mazrui’s concept of “Afrabia”, was designed in collaboration with Studio Safar (Beirut) and presented at the 12th edition of Sharjah Biennial.

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