A young student from Dar Es Salaam University who would later begin Fronasa, the precursor of the National Resistance Movement in Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, didn't get to meet Samora till December 1969
By Odrek Rwabwogo
Last week, we focused on the late Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, Tanzania's founding President as a man whose approach to crafting a new state, helped form the ideological base for the Movement. He brought to life the principles of unity and Panafricanism in such a passionate and practical way few leaders of his time did. He also lived a frugal lifestyle quite unlike the leaders of his generation. But if Nyerere helped the conception of the Movement egg, the man who helped the idea hatch, crawl and run was Samora Moises Machel, the Mozambican leader who took over the reigns of Frelimo and bore the brunt of the fight against the Portuguese colonialists, after the assassination of Eduardo Mondlane in February 1969.
Samora, like many of his contemporaries in Portuguese Mozambique, was a primary four drop out. Unless one was an 'Assimilado' or had special skin colour advantage, black people were only allowed to study up to standard four, enough to read road signs and the able bodied were sent to the mines of South Africa. Even for the so called "privileged" Assimilados, there were only 4,500 of them with some level of education by 1950 out of a population of five million Mozambicans.
For every Mozambican mine worker, the racist South African government paid a proportion of his wages directly to the Portuguese government in gold. The resale of the gold at international rates provided a lucrative income for the colonial administration in Mozambique. Samora's father was sent to the mines and survived but his eldest son (Samora's brother) wasn't lucky. He died in the mines. Certainly, all colonialism, just like slave trade before it, was the deepest of all dehumanization of the human spirit.
The Portuguese 470 years of rule in the southern African colonies, however, was uniquely arrogant and brutal, weighing a magnitude of its own. Whole fertile African lands were depopulated and settled by white migrants; former owners pushed into non productive ventures. Crops and animals were destroyed and the racial segregation engendered by this policy had an insidious soul destroying compliance.
Coming from the rich tradition of leaders of the southern Mozambican province of Gaza and his grandfather having fought in the army of the Gaza Emperor, Ngungunhana (King) against the Portuguese did not bestow any special advantages on Samora. With his father's land and crops expropriated as part of the Limpopo Portuguese colonate and no education, Samora begun a new level self-education that eventually saw him become a nurse at the Miguel Bombarda hospital in then Lourenco Marquis (Maputo). It is here that he began raising his level of political consciousness, listening to the teaching of the anthropology professor who would later lead Frelimo in exile, Dr. Eduardo Mondlane.
Samora arrived in Tanzania in 1963 and Nyerere helped him and his colleagues get training in Algeria. A young student from Dar Es Salaam University who would later begin Fronasa, the precursor of the National Resistance Movement in Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, didn't get to meet Samora till December 1969 in the zones liberated by Frelimo in the northern province of Cabo Delgado. Samora provided a practical example of how to translate good organisation and fighting skill and theory into reality. He inspired the Movement in three key ways:
First, the building of confidence that a leader can overcome practical limitations in the battle of liberation by self-education and exertion was good for a future Movement. Samora didn't have much education yet he was able to translate the theory, meaning and nature of war (protracted peoples war) to an illiterate population who formed the bulk of his social and political base.
To execute a war in circumstances of superstition, primitivism and the feeling by black people that the 'whiteness' of colonial leaders carried super human capabilities, required a deep level of teaching and raising people's political consciousness. It required above all, a lot patience and calmness on the part of the leadership. It was a practical demonstration of courage and a firm level of encouragement to the illiterate troops that the war was winnable and that skin colour or the possession of more material resources by the enemy does not make a protagonist especially one with a justified cause, weaker. One needs to be a good communicator able to transcend cultural and language barriers to do this. Samora managed this transition because he was a fast learner and a keen observer of society.
Speaking about his early capacity to understand Marxism with his limited education, Samora said "No book by Marx ever arrived here, nor any other book that spoke against colonialism. Our books were these elders. It was they who taught us what colonialism is, the evils of colonialism and what the colonists did when they came here. They were our source of inspiration. I read Marx in the soil of my own land." Samora had no hang ups and was such a freeman in both tastes and preferences. He loved poetry, song and dance and had an appetite for discovering other people cultures and food.
In fact, it was him who taught a 28 year old Yoweri Museveni in 1972 to eat fish urging him to "emancipate yourself from traditional prejudices". Samora had the previous year in a visit to Vietnam taught his friends, who had biases about foreign foods, to eat frog legs.
Samora helped the Movement crystallize the fundamental principle of working with the neglected sections of society to bring about positive change. In Samora's Frelimo, there was no woman, disabled, student, worker or youth whose value and contribution to the struggle was underestimated.
Women, including Josina Muthemba, his first wife who died of cancer in 1971, trained and carried out fighting raids deep into the Portuguese controlled territories. It was Samora who partly brought home to the Movement leaders the practical example of defying a colonial and neo-colonial army right in its nose. In July 1968, Samora, then head of Frelimo's defence department, led the organization into its second congress deep inside Mozambique, in a place called Matchedje and for a week they met and hammered out the guiding principles of the armed struggle. This sharply contradicted the Portuguese narrative to the world that there was no war in areas they (Portuguese) controlled and nothing could go unnoticed by the colonial government intelligence. The NRA was to repeat this example in 1982 at Kanyanda in Semuto, near Kampala, where they met and passed the military code of conduct. This isn't far from Bombo military barracks where the Obote forces were camped.
The NRA repeated this example with the conference at Kikyusa held between Andrew Kayiira's UFM rebel group and the NRA leaders in August 1982 and a subsequent meeting with all the elders and people of Makulubita sub county. At Kangave hill, the NRA leadership openly in full attendance of the local people, debunked the empty and sectarian argument that had been advanced by the Kayiira elements that the liberation war should be about certain narrow interests and that the NRA should not represent the broad interests of the people of Uganda. Both defying Obote close to the capital city and at the same time convince the population that they might all be fighting the same enemy but there is a colleague with a wrong ideology within the ranks, is pretty courageous for a young insurgent group with roots not yet deep in the population.
Even in earlier sporadic attacks inside Uganda by Fronasa (in Mbale, Kampala and Kabale from 1972-1973) which delivered a psychological effect on Amin's regime, one can effectively assume they were built on the example seen by the Movement leaders with Frelimo in action in northern Mozambique. There were also common similarities between NRM and Frelimo leaders. Both organizations begun attacks with few men (Frelimo 22 and NRA 34) and their leaders adopted similar disguises while doing clandestine work. Samora put on a traditional white rob and hat disguised as a Moslem headman while visiting and recruiting in the north, a hugely Makonde area and in Niassa province among the Nyanja people. Yoweri Museveni adopted the norm de guree of Kassim in Nairobi and at the border crossings from Tanzania in 1972-1973.
The second form of support to the Movement Samora gave, went beyond the theory and organizational structures. He offered training of 28 initial Fronasa fighters from 1976-1978 now in an independent Mozambique. This crop of fighters was the scaffolding on which the Movement leadership built its recruitment and expansion plan in years to come. By April 1979, this seed force had trained over 9000 fighters who captured the towns of Mbarara, the districts of Isingiro, Kabarole and major parts of south western Uganda in the battle against Idi Amin. This was perhaps one of Samora's lasting contributions to the Movement. This group of 28, were among the men that launched the second war of liberation at Kabamba on February 1978. Only about four members of this group are still alive. They are Lt. Generals Ivan Koreta, Salim Saleh, Lt. Col. Bosco Omure and President Yoweri Museveni. The fifth defected and left the army.
"The Montepuez group of 28, said Yoweri Museveni, whose training I personally supervised between 1976 and 1978, were among the most useful cadres in our whole struggle". Samora also gave the Movement in 1973 financial support. He offered USD15,000 to the leaders of the Movement. This money was instrumental in the setting up of recruitment and mobilization bases inside Uganda. It also helped men and women who would infiltrate the Idi Amin system and recruit fighters to be sent into Tanzania and mobilize weapons for the war. Samora died on October 19, 1986, nine months after the NRA take over. He was killed in a plane crash by the white racist government of South Africa.
Returning from a front line states meeting in Zambia in the evening of that day, his pilot was misled by a false beacon into a hill at the border between South Africa and Mozambique and Samora and all his thirty three colleagues on board died. He was killed because of his role in supporting the Africa National Congress (ANC) to liberate the people of South Africa. He didn't get to see the outcome of all the ideological and material support he gave to the Ugandan liberation forces. Good ideology, however, can't be shot, killed or crashed in an aircraft; it will live on and change the world long after its possessor has passed on.
Next week, we will look at the three necessary steps all nations take on the road to growth and transformation guided by a good ideology and a sound organization.
The writer is a farmer and an entrepreneur