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Looking at the life of freedom fighter Obi Egbuna Sr.

March 10, 2014

by The People’s Minister of Information JR

Studying the revolutionary politics of the African world has been hard for me, because of the many revolutionary cliques that are at odds with each other in our international movement. The reality is that no matter the ideology, we must be as objective as possible about our history, because all of it has helped to get us where we are today.

Obi Egbuna Jr. & Sr. in Nigeria
Obi Egbuna Jr. writes about this photo of him and his father: “My comrade and father, Obi Egbuna Sr., and I, in Nigeria, not too far from our house in Ezikwo Street in Enugu, Nigeria. This is one of my favorite pictures with him. I am on his lap, and as time went on our people's liberation struggle made us joined at the hip.”
My comrade Obi Egbuna’s father, with the same name, recently passed, and it was not until his old man died that I became aware of Senior’s well-documented history in the Pan African Movement. Zimbabwe Herald U.S. correspondent Obi Egbuna Jr., just over the last few years that we have been acquainted, has debated with me on a number of occasions about my views of current events and history relevant to our movement, and he has educated me on significant happenings that I knew nothing about. I am honored to salute the life of his father, Obi Egbuna Sr., and to enlighten our readers on some Pan Afrikan history. Here is Obi Egbuna Jr. in his own words …

M.O.I. JR: Can you talk a little bit about how your father’s political career started?

Obi Egbuna: My father’s political career started when he came to the U.K. with his heart set on becoming an electrical engineer, and, like the great lawyer Charles Hamilton Houston who taught Thurgood Marshall, realized he must become a social engineer. That concept and approach to struggle for daughters and sons never grows old, because our former colonial and slave masters want us to abandon social science altogether. This means we will never overcome mental enslavement and bondage.

My father realized the ships of our cultural and political armies must sail in the same direction. It started when he became a member of the Universal Colored Peoples Association. He wrote the Black Power Manifesto and after Kwame Ture’s visit to the Dialectics of Liberation conference, the Black Panther Party was officially launched in Britain. This was only three years after my father wrote “Wind Versus Polygamy,” which later was adapted into a play and was colonial Britain’s submission to the First World and Arts Festival in Dakar, Senegal, in 1966.

This was a bittersweet experience because while this provided him the opportunity to engage Duke Ellington and Langston Hughes on African soil, his father figure, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, was overthrown by U.S. and British intelligence. This is important to share because it shows he did not hide behind his art like many artists tend to do; he boldly confronted what Paul Robeson said many years before, that the artist must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. The record shows he chose freedom and never looked back.

M.O.I. JR: Can you talk a little bit about his work prior to his involvement in the Black Panther Party in Britain?

Obi Egbuna Sr., Peggy Ashcroft reading his play GÇÿWind Versus PolygamyGÇÖ on BBC c. 1965
“This picture is an illustration of the flexibility of my father. His first novel, ‘Wind Versus Polygamy,’ published in 1964, was developed into a play and chosen to represent Britain at the First World Black Festival of Arts held in Dakar, Senegal. The play was then featured on BBC Radio and Television and then repeated on a series entitled Seven Selected Plays. This was the first African play to make this breakthrough. The play was read by Peggy Ashcroft, who portrayed Desdemona in Paul Robeson's version of ‘Othello.’ Before you digest this story, I must remind all of you, my father still found time to launch the Black Panther Party and Black Power Movement in London. I hope this serves as a lesson to artists today who avoid frontline struggle at all costs,” writes Obi Egbuna Jr.
Obi Egbuna: Prior to the Panthers, it was cultural work. You must remember the political trail was set, going back to 1945 and the Fifth Pan African Congress, which was masterfully organized by Nkrumah and that giant of a fighter, George Padmore, with everything overseen by W.E.B. DuBois. The most significant aspect of this work was that Amy Jacques and Amy Ashwood Garvey worked with DuBois, which symbolizes the burying of the hatchet. This is only five years after the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey transitioned to the ancestors.

My father’s political activity was shaped by the social climate. Walter Rodney and his brother Eddie were there, Fela Kuti was there studying music, Tony Martin the Garveyite was there, and Maurice Bishop was there studying law. When Malcolm stated Ghana was the fountainhead of pan Africanism, he was talking about on the continent. But we have to say, off the continent, Britain and Trinidad hold that distinction: Henry Sylvester Williams who coined the term was in Trinidad and in Britain our roots are firmly planted in the soil.

If we accept everything from our political ideology to our spiritual expression comes from our culture, so in my father’s case his writing was nationalist and pan Africanist, not only in form, but in content. So when he became politically active, it was only logical his political expression took on this character.

In his book, “Destroy This Temple,” which is his account of the Black Power Movement in Britain, he stated the Tshombes of African literature are more dangerous than the Tshombes of African politics. While the Tshombes in the political arena assassinate our Lumumbas, the literary Tshombes brainwash generations for many years to come. (In 1960, newly elected Congo Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was overthrown and assassinated after opposing pro-Western Moise Tshombe’s move to lead the mineral-rich Katanga province to secede from the Congo. – ed.)

Elijah Muhammad autographs GÇÿMessage to the BlackmanGÇÖ to Obi Egbuna Sr
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad autographed a copy of his book, “Message to the Blackman,” to Obi Egbuna Sr. “When my comrade and father Obi Egbuna Sr. came to the U.S. for the first time, he said his meeting with the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad was the highlight of his entire trip. In the book, “Destroy This Temple,” there is a chapter called “Letters From Brixton Prison,” where he shares the historic meeting,” writes Obi Egbuna Jr.
M.O.I. JR: How did the Black Panther Party in Britain start? When? Can you speak also about your father’s relationship with Stokely Carmichael, who was later known as Kwame Ture?

Obi Egbuna: The Panthers in Britain started in 1967, after the masses decided that the Citizens Against Racial Discrimination, who were influenced by SCLC, which meant they wouldn’t embrace the nationalist and pan Africanist path if their lives depended on it and were reluctant to engage the masses of the people – he accused them of intellectual snobbery.

My father and Kwame Ture were disciples of Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah. They both realized a political program for Africans in the diaspora that ignored the African continent was doomed from the start. I find it interesting that the five star general in our cultural army, Fela Anikalapo Kuti, always made the Panthers in the U.S. his point of reference to the Panthers, perhaps because when my father was organizing the Panthers in the U.K., Fela was just interested in music and not the African liberation struggle. Therefore, like so many of us, we put emphasis on our links we make when we join struggle as opposed to exposure we received when we are on the outside looking in.

When my father returned to Nigeria in 1973, he went to see Fela perform, and they embraced like long lost brothers. Fela didn’t hesitate to tell people about the bold and courageous work my father did in the U.K. Both of them have a link to Nkrumah – Fela primarily because of his mother, Fumilayo Kuti, who was Nkrumah’s closest ally in Nigeria, and my father because he worked with Nkrumah directly.

The two of them have an additional link besides Nigerian birth certificates; they are pan Africanists who contributed to struggle culturally as well as politically.

My father wrote an essay called “The Murder of Nigeria,” which condemned the Ibo-Biafran War that left 1 million Nigerians dead. His position was if you dig up their bones from the graveyard, you couldn’t tell who was Ibo or Biafran; you just saw a future doctor, architect, engineer or lawyer sent to an early grave due to mental enslavement.

Pres. Kwame Nkrumah, Obi Egbuna Sr
President Kwame Nkrumah and Obi Egbuna
When Nkrumah read this piece, he brought my father to Guinea, Conakry. They met in July of 1968. He had already been contacted by Shirley Graham DuBois to write for the Afro-Asian Solidarity Bureau.

In the case of Kwame Ture, it was none other than that great fighter for all humanity, Ho Chi Minh, who asked Kwame why didn’t the Civil Rights Movement have stronger ties with the anti-colonial movement in Africa. This was followed by Ho Chi Minh letting Kwame know that the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey’s passion for Africa challenged him to have that same exact passion for Vietnam, and we see the results of U.S. and French imperialism getting a whipping on the battlefield they would never forget.

Your young readers should know in addition that our support for the Vietnamese people not only cost Dr. King his life and Muhammad Ali his championship belt but led to the overthrow of Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, who was on the way to Hanoi to present a peace plan to end the war. The CIA took advantage of this and made their move and Nkrumah’s classmate at Lincoln University, Franklin Williams, who was the U.S. ambassador to Ghana at the time, claimed to have nothing to do with this.

So this proves Nkrumah is not only the bridge between Garvey and DuBois or Malcolm and Martin but the bridge between Black Power in the U.S., U.K. and all over the world. I will take it one step further: If Garvey is the father of modern day African nationalism and DuBois the father of modern day pan Africanism, then Nkrumah is the father of modern day Black Power.

It was none other than that great fighter for all humanity, Ho Chi Minh, who asked Kwame why didn’t the Civil Rights Movement have stronger ties with the anti-colonial movement in Africa.

Before my father and Kwame Ture were building this movement, Richard Wright had written a book with the same title in 1954 dedicated to Nkrumah. The founder of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, Bob Brown, who at the age of 17 recruited Fred Hampton and Bobby Rush into its ranks, informs us that Frederick Douglass was the first to say Black Power.

Martin Luther King, Coretta in Ghana for independence, Kwame Nkrumah's swearing in 030657
Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King traveled to Ghana to celebrate its independence with the swearing in of Kwame Nkrumah as president, on March 6, 1957.
Nkrumah wrote a pamphlet called “The Spectre of Black Power,” and my father persuaded him to write “Message to the Black People of Britain” because of the pan African makeup of the student and youth movement Africans had in Britain at that particular moment in history. My father wrote a pamphlet called “The ABC of Black Power” dedicated to Nkrumah, who he called his patron and saint.

M.O.I. JR: Were Britain’s Black Panthers under the leadership of Huey, Bobby and the Oakland-based Panther Central Committee?

Obi Egbuna: The Panthers in Britain were not under the leadership of Oakland. I have yet to see Bobby Seale ever acknowledge that there was a Panther Party outside U.S. borders. I only mentioned him by name because Huey and Eldridge are deceased. In the book “Destroy This Temple” about the Panthers and the Black Power movement in Britain, my father credits Kwame Ture’s visit to Britain as what helped them launch their efforts.

It’s a shame that ‘til this day Kwame Ture’s role in the evolution of the Black Panther Party is overlooked and ignored, whether it’s the 45 chapters built when he was the honorary prime minister of the BPP for Self Defense or the establishment of Loundes County Freedom Organization in Alabama. He is credited as the inspiration for the Panthers in India and Australia as well. We know that these organized formations were different; however, Kwame’s role in the development of each and every one of them is too crucial an ingredient to deny.

My father respected Huey Newton but was very suspicious of Eldridge Cleaver and felt his approach to struggle would make it impossible for the Panthers to sustain themselves and maximize their potential as an organization. Because of the influence of Nkrumah, my father always saw the liberation and unification of the African continent as the key to the political, economic and cultural empowerment of Africans at home and abroad.

While the Panthers in the U.S. were carrying around Mao Tse Tung’s red book, my father was carrying around his autographed copy of “The Axioms of Kwame Nkrumah.” When Kwame Ture was accused of running away from the struggle here in the U.S. because he accepted the invitation from Ahmed Seku Ture, president of Guinea, Conakry and Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah to live, study and struggle in Guinea, my father was already making arrangements for him to move to Nigeria if anything went wrong in Guinea.

Kwame Nkrumah, Martin Luther King 030657
In a sermon, “The Birth of a New Nation,” delivered on his return from Ghana’s independence celebration, the Rev. Martin Luther King preached: “And when Prime Minister Nkrumah stood up before his people out in the polo ground and said, ‘We are no longer a British colony. We are a free, sovereign people,’ all over that vast throng of people we could see tears. And I stood there thinking about so many things. Before I knew it, I started weeping. I was crying for joy. And I knew about all of the struggles and all of the pain and all of the agony that these people had gone through for this moment.”
When Kwame had dinner with my mother and father in 1991, he said when Amilcar Cabral was assassinated in Guinea Bissau in 1973, if anything happened to Seku Ture and the PDG (Guinea Democratic Party), he would have taken my father up on that offer.

M.O.I. JR: What other contributions has your father made in the area of Black Power?

Obi Egbuna: His most important contribution to Black Power was giving it a pan Africanist and socialist context. We are not socialist because Marx or Lenin said so or Stalin, Khruschev and Brezhnev said so; we arrived at that conclusion because Nkrumah, Seku Ture, Amilcar Cabral, Mangaliso Sobukwe and Julius Nyerere moved us in that direction. The Black Power movement taught us that it was OK not to look outside your culture and reality for ideological direction.

I feel for the Civil Rights Movement organizers who always place Dr. King’s development at the feet of Gandhi, Thoreau and Emerson but dismiss the influence of DuBois and Nkrumah on him. King, a student of non-violence and what Nkrumah called positive action, went to Ghana not only to witness the independence celebration but to pay homage to a warrior who used strikes, demonstrations and boycotts as the means to dismantle British colonialism on the African continent.

We also have to say my father’s work showed Black Power was a movement, not a slogan, as many like to say because the nationalist and pan Africanist overtones were too aggressive for them. The same way people try to reduce Kwame Ture’s political life to his time in the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee and ignore his time in the BPP, All African Peoples Revoltuionary Party and the Democratic Party of Guinea, which at the time of this death he was the head advisor to the party overall and the youth wing JRDA.

Stokely Carmichael, Kwame Nkrumah, Shirley Graham DuBois in Guinea 1967
Stokely Carmichael, Kwame Nkrumah and Shirley Graham DuBois are pictured in Guinea in 1967. Nkrumah was living in Guinea in the aftermath of a CIA-backed military and police coup in Ghana on Feb. 24, 1966. – Photo courtesy of Pan-African News Wire
My father cannot be reduced to his work and time in the U.K. My father became the director of ECBS television in Nigeria and the director of the Writers Workshop. My father worked in the government of Murtala Muhammad, who was assassinated almost in the same exact manner as Patrice Lumumba in the Congo.

The highlight of this time was a visit to Tripoli, Libya, when a young Muammar Qaddafi was calling for one central African television station. My father shared with me that when he arrived there he was taken away by a security team and told to wait in a private room. To his surprise, none other than Col. Qaddafi comes into the room and shares with him how he remembered the Black Power movement in Britain.

When my father came to the U.S. for the first time in 1966, he said his visit had three highlights: the first a meeting with a Native American chief on a reservation in New Mexico, the second was his time with SNCC in Vine City in Atlanta and the last, which he called the highlight, was his meeting with the most Honorable Elijah Muhammad at his home. When you take into consideration that Kwame Ture’s first meeting when he took over the chairmanship of SNCC was also with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, this clearly illustrates that the Black Power generation who adored Malcolm were very principled and historically obedient.

They were heartbroken by how that war criminal J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI initiated Malcolm being forced out of the Nation of Islam, but they still were grateful to the Nation of Islam for recruiting and training Malcolm, which allowed him to get back on the course his mother and father were on when they worked with the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey and the UNIA.

My father had cultural work books like “The Anthill,” “Madness of Didi,” “The Minister’s Daughter: Diary of a Homeless Prodigal,” “Black Candle For Christmas,” “The Rape of Lysistrata” and “The Emperor of the Sea.” This gave African writing on the continent a militant nationalist and pan African character, and Black Power was the springboard.

'Battle Cry for Cuba and Zimbabwe' T-shirt design by Dr. Chris Zamani
“Battle Cry for Cuba and Zimbabwe” T-shirts designed by Dr. Chris Zamani are available at http://battlecubazim.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/t-shirts-by-doctor-chris-zamani/. And listen to the album and readings by the Mass Emphasis Children’s History and Theater Company at http://battlecubazim.wordpress.com/volume-1/.
M.O.I. JR: How and when did he pass away?

Obi Egbuna: My father transitioned from Howard University on Jan. 20, 2014, the same day Amilcar Cabral was assassinated by Portugese-EU imperialism 41 years before. My father was born on July 18, 1936, the same day but different numerical year as the Madiba Nelson Mandela.

I mentioned earlier the freedom fighters who were in the U.K. when he cut his teeth in the movement. His birth and transitioning connect him to two fighters whose place in our history is secure. When he was at Howard seeking a Ph.D., he was surrounded by people like Julian Mayfield, who Malcolm X chose to be the director of international relations for the OAAU. Before that, Julian along with Dr. John Henrik Clarke and Mae Mallory ran guns to Robert Williams, the head of the Monroe chapter of the NAACP, because of the 15,000-member paramilitary unit the Klan had organized in Monroe.

Mayfield also created the African Review at the request of Nkrumah and lived in Ghana from 1961 to 1966. Maya Angelou worked under his coordination. Mayfield also advised Guyana’s First African Prime Minister Forbes Burnham and created a journal called the New Nation International. Mayfield was the central figure in the repatriate community, which Shirley Graham DuBois convinced Nkrumah to allow to function in Ghana.

The two other important figures at Howard who were there when he was in school were Sterling Brown, who many consider the most important figure in the African writer and arts movement, and Eugenia Collier, who won a Pultizer Prize for the book, “Marigolds.” She and Julian co-directed the Writers Workshop at Howard. My father suffered from acute leukemia and pneumonia and was hospitalized for 57 days.

Cuban doctors on standby after Katrina
Cuba’s offer to send 1,500 doctors to New Orleans after Katrina was rudely rejected by the U.S. Here they are in Cuba on standby.
M.O.I. JR: Can you tell our readers about the recent compilation of music that you and M1 put together in solidarity with Zimbabwe and Cuba? What’s the name of it and who is on it?

Obi Egbuna: I had the honor of co-producing an album with M1 of Dead Prez entitled “Battle Cry for Cuba and Zimbabwe.” It took us three years to develop this project due to our schedules. Prior to the album we had organized a press conference in 2005 calling for Cuban doctors to come to New York City and other parts of the U.S. This was before Cuba offered to send 1,500 doctors to the Gulf due to what transpired due to the devastation Hurricane Katrina left in its wake.

In 2009, we sent an appeal to the Obama administration calling for the lifting of U.S.-EU sanctions on Zimbabwe. We were seeking to not only to send the most militant statement sent to U.S.-EU imperialism on the Zimbabwe question, but to show them we stood with all of Africa and the majority of the planet on this question.

After I interviewed Brother Mutulu (M1’s full name is Mutulu Olugbala – ed.) in 2010 in the Herald, Zimbabwe’s national newspaper, which I have had the honor of serving as the U.S. correspondent to since 2008, he stated he would do a song. It was in Houston we decided an album should be developed.

We took three years, but when you look at that in historical context, it took DuBois from 1909 to 1961 to get resources to develop Encyclopedia Africana. It took Nkrumah, who was born in 1909, to make that possible. It took 22 years for the March on Washington to be organized, and lastly it took 45 years before we had the pan African gathering that led to the initial dismantling of colonialism in Africa.

Obi Egbuna's Mass Emphasis ChildrenGÇÖs History and Theater Company
Obi Egbuna's Mass Emphasis Children’s History and Theater Company takes a bow after a recent performance. “Our name is inspired by Frantz Fanon, who said to educate the masses is to passionately and relentlessly teach them everything depends on them,” explains playwright Obi Egbuna Jr.
We have a lot of grassroots artists on it, the most well known besides M being Denyse Pearson, a fabulous jazz singer who has been nominated for a Grammy, and Asheru Benn, who performs the opening song on the Boon Docks Cartoon. For M1 to be involved in this is an extension of the work of one of his biggest influences, Gil Scott Heron. Where Gil shocks the world with the song “Johannesburg,” Mutulu is bringing attention to Zimbabwe located on the other side of the Limpopo river.

M.O.I. JR: What is the vision behind the compilation you just put out and the series of compilations that y’all plan to continue?

Obi Egbuna: We are campaigning for the lifting of U.S.-EU sanctions on Zimbabwe and the U.S. blockade on Cuba. This puts us on a collision course with the Obama administration, but one of history’s most beautiful characteristics is the challenges it imposed on our people.

When Obama was sworn into office, he said the might of the U.S. military must be matched by the strength of its diplomacy. This means when the climate is not vulnerable for them to militarily invade a nation, they will try to starve the people to death. This is nothing but diplomatic terrorism, and Cuba and Zimbabwe are their prime targets and we are going to stop them.

When Obama was sworn into office, he said the might of the U.S. military must be matched by the strength of its diplomacy. This means when the climate is not vulnerable for them to militarily invade a nation, they will try to starve the people to death.

The blockade has cost Cuba over $100 billion that could be used to maintain the free health care and educational programs. Cuba has the best health care system on the planet and the highest literacy rate in the world. Zimbabwe has the highest literacy rate in Africa, and before the sanctions they had one of the most effective net rollout programs to combat malaria and one of the most effective cholera tracking systems in Africa, Africa’s first woman vice president and now 25 percent of the world’s diamond reserves. They also have had the most significant declines in HIV-AIDS cases in Southern Africa.

Cuba has the best health care system on the planet and the highest literacy rate in the world. Zimbabwe has the highest literacy rate in Africa, and before the sanctions they had one of the most effective net rollout programs to combat malaria and one of the most effective cholera tracking systems in Africa.

Cuba was a target because they served as a beacon for countries in the Americas that want to explore socialism, because of the gap between the rich and poor at this historical moment. You have 1,456 billionaires and 1 billion people hungry. Zimbabwe reclaimed land from 4,500 White commercial farmers and gave it back to 350,000 families, where the average family consists of six people. Our music is to celebrate their resistance and defend their sovereignty.

Zimbabwe reclaimed land from 4,500 White commercial farmers and gave it back to 350,000 families, where the average family consists of six people. Our music is to celebrate their resistance and defend their sovereignty.

M.O.I. JR: Where can people find it?

Obi Egbuna: They can go to battlecubazim.wordpress.com we will have four volumes completed by July 26. Please click on Volume 1.

Obi Egbuna Sr. in Nigeria
Of this photo, Obi Egbuna Jr. says, “My father is having a moment with the ancestors.”
M.O.I. JR: Can you also talk about some of the plays that you have written recently?

Obi Egbuna: In 2010 we started writing children’s plays. In 2012, we started Mass Emphasis Children’s History and Theater Company. Our name is inspired by Frantz Fanon, who said to educate the masses is to passionately and relentlessly teach them everything depends on them.

We have done eight plays: “African Liberation Day for Our Children,” “Cuba’s Greatest Army: A Tribute to the Cuban Doctors,” “Sally Mugabe Lives Forever,” “The War in the Classroom,” “In Remembrance of Kwame Nkrumah and Thomas Sankara,” “Same Neighborhood Different Perspectives: A Conversation Between Gen. Colin Powell and Kwame Ture,” “Maintaining Resistance Behind the Bars,” “The Giant That Many Overlooked: Reintroducing Julian Mayfield.”

The children just performed a tribute to my father.

M.O.I. JR: How do people stay in touch with you online?

Obi Egbuna: People can go to www.massemphasis.com and our Facebook page, Mass Emphasis Children’s History and Theater Company. You will also find the Kwame Nkrumah Tree of Knowledge and Unity which you can see when you click on the African history section of our website.

Thank you for the interview. I can be contacted by email at obiegbuna15@gmail.com.

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and the newly released “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.

“Obi Egbuna Challenges Barack Obama to Debate on Zimbabwe”

 

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