Beyond ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ How Frantz Fanon Influenced African Anti-colonial Movements

Frantz Fanon’s influence on the many anti-colonial struggles across Africa, as well as his contributions toward the Algerian fight for liberation cannot continue to be ignored or downplayed.

Frantz Fanon was one of the most important intellectual influences on African revolutionary movements against European imperialism and white-minority governments. His influence spanned the entire African diaspora, from his native Caribbean region and North America to Europe and Africa. A Marxist and pan-Africanist, Fanon’s influence on the various anti-colonial and liberation movements across Africa was considerable, spanning the entirety of his scholarship on the psychopathology of colonization, his diplomatic missions as an envoy of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) and his numerous relationships with African political figures like Patrice Lumumba, Roberto Holden, Felix Moumie and Tom M’boya.

FRANTZ FANON AND ALGERIA

Fanon arrived in Algeria in 1953 to join the FLN, Algeria’s principal nationalist movement. In the seven years he spent in Algeria, his pan-Africanism and his career as a psychiatrist with a specialist focus on the psychopathology of racism, colonialism and imperialism on the human mind was instrumental in defining the ideological underpinnings of the Algerian anti-colonial nationalist movement. Although Fanon had military experience from service in World War II, it was the time he spent practising as a psychiatrist in the Algerian town of Blida that cemented his interest in the Algerian liberation movement, and the society’s many ills including the impact of French colonialism and imperialism, feminism, and class relations. He also provided medical and intellectual support to FLN field operations both in Algeria and in Tunisia, a consequential part of his biography that gets the short shrift.

Fanon’s influence on the Algerian nationalist movement included his literary and theoretical contributions to the publications Consciences Maghrebines and El Moudjahid, public lectures he gave to audiences at the University of Algiers and Jeunesse Algérienne pour l’Action Sociale (AJAS), as well as public debates on anti-colonialism he engaged in at the Algiers hospital cine club. But Fanon’s diplomatic contribution to the Algerian nationalist movement is arguably his most important contribution to the decolonization struggle in Africa. Equally significant were his contributions as the FLN’s ambassador to Ghana as well as his position as the coordinating official in Mali to establish routes and links for the National Liberation Army—the armed wing of the FLN—against the French army during the Algerian War.

FRANTZ FANON AND SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

Fanon’s first contact with African liberation figures happened in 1958 at the All-African People’s Congress, held in Accra and organized by a pan-Africanist activist and future president of Ghana named Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah. The congress met three times between 1958 and 1961, and was attended by more than 200 delegates from 25 nations across the African continent. Fanon was part of a four-man mission appointed by Algeria’s FLN to attend the conference and build valuable coalitions with other nationalist movements across the African continent aimed at achieving political and economic independence from the colonial European powers and white-minority governments.

One noteworthy anti-colonial group Fanon established contact with during the Accra conference was the Angolan liberation movement, People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). During a stopover in Lisbon, Portugal, while returning to Tunis from the congress in Accra, Fanon met leaders of the MPLA following up deliberations and consultations held at the Accra conference. One of the MPLA leaders Fanon met was Roberto Holden.

Holden and his MPLA colleagues initially built their advocacy for Angola’s liberation from Portuguese rule around non-violent persuasion of the Portuguese colonial government. Eventually, they switched to more forceful methods of diplomatic pressure and armed resistance when persuasion failed to yield concrete results. Fanon’s overtures to the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic on behalf of the Union of Angolan People (UPA) and MPLA were important in swaying the GPRA toward backing the armed resistance of Angolan liberation groups.

Fanon also pondered the idea of creating a continent-wide armed force aimed at weakening the imperial powers’ hold on their African colonies, using the National Liberation Army and the Algerian War as a springboard. Although this did not materialize, it concretized Fanon’s belief in the necessity of armed resistance as a critical element of anti-colonial struggles. Nonetheless, disagreements between Fanon, FLN and the MPLA leadership over the training of cadres and the use of the Algerian frontier as a launchpad for the armed struggle in Angola against the Portuguese emerged, leading to a breakdown in negotiations between the two parties.

Despite the eventual breakdown in discussions between the FLN, Fanon and the MPLA, Fanon was an important influence on the MPLA’s Angolan liberation struggle, and well beyond. In March 1960, the FLN sent Fanon to Accra to create a pan-African diplomatic front for the movement’s armed struggle. Fanon was tasked with creating a support base for troops from sub-Saharan Africa to aid the Algerian nationalist forces during the peak of their armed struggle against colonial French rule. In Accra, Fanon nurtured great relationships with other African revolutionaries and nationalists including Tom M’boya of Kenya, Felix Moumie of Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s inaugural prime minister, Patrice Lumumba.

Fanon’s main objective in Accra was to realize the ‘African Legion’, a continent-wide armed force designed to aid the continent’s many revolutionary movements in armed struggles against imperial rule (the African Legion was first proposed by the delegates to the All-African People’s Conference in December 1958). While in Accra, Fanon used this opportunity to attend multiple pan-African conferences as a representative of the provisional government of the Algerian republic, the FLN’s government-in-exile during the latter part of the Algerian War of Independence. In 1960 just as he resumed his post as FLN’s ambassador to Ghana, he was issued a new passport with a new identity—‘Omar Ibrahim Fanon’—due to his numerous travels to attend pan-African conferences. Attending these conferences enabled him the kinds of intellectual engagements with African revolutionaries he became renowned for. An example was his engagement with Cameroonian revolutionary and erstwhile leader of the Union of the Cameroonian people (UPC), Felix-Roland Moumie, an advocate of armed resistance against colonial European rule in Africa.

Fanon’s relationship with Moumie was cordial and highly intellectual. Both men found personal communication to be much easier, being French-speaking colonial subjects, unlike many other African revolutionaries and liberation movement leaders who mostly spoke English. Once, Felix predicted to Fanon how in three months, a ‘mass ebbing’ of colonialism would occur in Cameroon, Fanon was no doubt startled by his confidence and gave him words of encouragement and advice on how to realize his vision, drawing heavily on his Algerian experience. In Fanon’s diary Towards the African Revolution, he described Moumie as an impetuous man with a high tone marked by hostility and rage toward cowardice as well as love for his country. Fanon even went as far as calling Moumie ‘a bundle of epic revolutionary spirit packed into kilos of bone and muscle’.

RECOGNIZING FANON

Fanon’s influence on the many anti-colonial struggles across Africa, as well as his contributions toward the Algerian fight for liberation cannot continue to be ignored or downplayed. Especially not now, when African countries face new machinations of subjugation also referred to as neo-colonialism, the continuation of exploitative trade, production and cultural hegemonic patterns. scholars like Justin van der Merwe have argued, for instance, that China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Africa is ‘unashamedly colonial’ in the way that it perpetuates the colonial legacy of transporting resources to ports—rather than between neighbouring countries in Africa. He points further that the BRI aims to fully integrate Africa into a framework of accumulation ‘with Chinese characteristics’ as an external extension of the Chinese political economy. But China is not alone: Senegalese development economist, Dr Ndongo Samba Sylla, has highlighted how France still economically benefits from the CFA Franc Zone in Africa till date.

Fanon’s scholarship applies to contemporary struggles across much of post-colonial Africa. Thus, for the resurgence of a new pan-Africanist front to combat new forms of domination, understanding and adopting some of Fanon’s ideas could be pivotal

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