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2013-05-24 19.42.49

Yesterday evening, the Friends of the Congo, with support from the Institute for Policy Studies, hosted a fantastic event (From Cuba to Kuba) which explored Cuban solidarity with African anti-imperialism movements.  Che Guevara’s 7 month mission in the Congo in 1965 was the background for most of the dicussion.  I had previously been to a Friends of the Congo event (held in the exact same venue no less – the DC  municipal center on 14th and U) and I felt at odds with the organization’s ideological approach.  I no longer have such qualms.

The event featured snippets of two documentary films – Cuba: An African Odyssey (where we saw a clip from Nelson Mandela’s 1991 trip to Cuba, his first travel outside Africa since being released from prison) and Freddy Ilunga: Che’s Swahili Translator (which documents one of the Congolese rebels who moved to Cuba with Che Guevara’s departing forces and continues to live there).

A panel discussion followed.  Ofunshi Oba Koso, an Afro-Cuban with strong knowledge of Yoruba (Nigeria) traditions represented Latin America while Kambale Musavuli from Friends of the Congo spoke extremely eloquently on the important role that a stable Congo can play in advancing Africa.  I was particularly pleased to hear Musavuli note that Che had been displeased with the Congolese rebel force that he worked with – it was led by Laurent Kabila, father of the country’s current President.  He also identified the actions of Rwanda and Uganda, and US support for those nations, as key factors contributing to instability in the Congo.

2013-05-24 21.45.49

The Executive Director of Friends of the Congo gives closing remarks while Koso (L) and Musavuli (R) listen. The owner of Cafe Arte paints in the background.

A brief message from Victor Dreke, who I had never heard of, but served as Che’s #2 in the Congo and is apparently one of the most active Cubans engaged in African issues, was also broadcast.

Cuba’s contributions to Africa have been enormous and is a topic that I know not nearly enough about.  One of the documentaries references a strong Cuban presence in Congo – Brazzaville, which definitely piqued my interest.

The event was very internationalist: it convened dancers from the Congo and Senegal, drummers from Cameroon and Central America, and a painter from Chile, who runs an establishment known as Cafe Arte.

Attendance was very diverse, with an emphasis on individuals from the diaspora.  Although representatives from the Cuban Interests Section were in the house, I didn’t get the sense that too many policy types were present – whether that be folks from State or the Congolese embassy.

Friends of the Congo swag

Friends of the Congo swag

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