Angola: Murtala Muhammed’s Foreign Policy Success

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This week, we are commemorating the assassination of the unforgettable and much-lamented, General Murtala Ramat Mohammed. He had earned his place, as one of the most remarkable figures in contemporary African history.Murtala Muhammed is remembered today as a fighter, who courageously took foreign policy decisions, on the fate of the heroic Angolan people, at a time when such a decision was to affect the whole balance of the African people’s struggle against imperialism. It is therefore not fortuitous, that he entered African history, in the company of such outstanding heroes as Amilcar Cabral, Augustinho  Neto, and Kwame Nkrumah. It could not be otherwise.

On the thirteen anniversary of his death and at a point when Nigerian foreign policy had lost it’s decisive and anti-imperialist content, the need to examine the Murtala Muhammed legacy has an added advantage. Neither before, nor after, had Nigerian foreign policy reflected such a deep sense of oneness, with the genuine yearnings of the African people, as the Murtala stance over Angola. To be sure, foreign policy is a reflection of the internal dynamics of class forces in every society, and being rooted in a concrete historical conjuncture, must be so understood. If Nigeria’s foreign policy today has become a “tailist” of imperial instructions, have internal policies not become same?

The 1970s, were notable in terms of the international balance of class forces. This was the decade of détente. Détente itself was a product of the “strategic parity” reached by socialism, with imperialism, on a world scale.The economic situation, in the centres of imperialism was not encouraging either. There was decay in many branches of industry. Unemployment was growing and the oil crisis of 1973, put a lid of the whole period.

The power of the Third World produced of primary products, especially of oil, were becoming very decisive, as they ask for the right to a fair share of their natural resource. Politically, American imperialism was thoroughly demystified in Indochina. American forces suffered a humiliating defeat in Vietnam, and the whole of this epoch was to also end in the Watergate Scandal.

In Africa, the national liberation wars in the Portuguese colonies-Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea Bissau, were adding a new dimension to the concept of decolonization. They were making the transition to popular democratic revolutions and helping to overthrown fascism in Portugal, thus contributing decisively, to Portuguese democracy.

The Nigerian ruling class, within the context of a favourable international situation moved to wring some concessions from imperialism. This was reflected in the Indigenization Decree and the control of the “commanding height” of the economy. Despite its severe limitations, and its historic distortions, it had an objectively patriotic content.Nigerian society was becoming more clearly demarcated as a class society, with a growing working class, that has a tradition of struggle, even if still weak in organization and consciousness. Its youth was very militant and anti-imperialist, and was influenced by the favourable trends, worldwide.

It was against this backdrop that Murtala Mohammed, entered the stage of our history. Angola’s second war of liberation-against a combination of South African forces, UNITA and FNLA bandits, mercenaries and Zairean forces-all doing the biddings of the CIA and imperialism, provided the opportunity for Murtala Muhammed to demonstrate his statesmanship and brilliance.

One of the interesting aspects of the Angolan situation, was the amount of disinformation that emerged from imperialist media sources and were reproduced in the Nigerian media. So for a long-time, the truth of what was happening in Angola could not be properly understood.It was not unusual, for one press outlet to present cretins and bandits like Holden Roberto of the FNLA and Jonas Savimbi of UNITA, as genuine fighters. While the MPLA, which consistently defended the genuine national interest of Angola, had mass support, found itself at the receiving end of blackmail.

The Angolan stake was very high indeed. These have now been documented by the former CIA agent, John Stockwell in his book, IN SEARCH OF ENEMIES, subtitled, How the CIA Lost Angola, and by Michael Wolfers and Jane Bergerol in their book, ANGOLA IN THE FRONTLINE.Angola is the only country in Southern Africa, that has an economy independent of South Africa. It is also very rich in many strategic minerals, which could compete against South Africa. Besides, the racist regime could not tolerate an MPLA government that was not only committed to building a socialist Angola, but would aid the ANC in South Africa and SWAPO in Namibia.

For imperialism, there was the need to protect the southern rear of Zaire, extend the bases of the TNCs into the wealth of Angola, and also protect the racist bastion of South Africa. They figured, that this can be ensured not by the patriotic forces of the MPLA, but the ambitious Roberto and Savimbi.So, a concerted effort to prevent the declaration of independence on Nov 11, 1975 was made with the invasion by regular South African forces, assisted by mercenaries from the South, and Zairean, FNLA, UNITA and mercenary  forces from the north.

Relying on its combatants of FAPLA and the internationalist assistance of Cuba, the MPLA was able to achieve the success to declare an independent Angola, after 500 years of colonialism, and eventually rout the combined forces of the imperialists, the racists, mercenaries, and the bandits of FNLA and UNITA.There was however a diplomatic battle raging on in the African continent, while Angola was sacrificing its best sons and daughters. This culminated in the first extraordinary conference of the OAU, convened specifically on Angola.

A flurry of imperialist activities took place, in the days before the conference. President Gerald Fordsent emissaries to Africa, to lecture African leaders on the “dangers of communism”. Murtala Muhammed gave him a fitting rebuff, and was to personally lead the Nigerian delegation to Addis Ababa.His speech was as explosive as it was analytical. Murtala Mohammed saw Angola as “merely the excuse being used by those who cannot reconcile themselves to the momentous victory of the forces of African nationalism to assert their neo-colonialist ambitions on the continent”.

He similarly saw Angola as the field, where imperialism hoped to fight a war by proxy, to carve spheres of interest, without as much as thinking about the opinions of the Africans. “If the neo-colonialists succeed in Angola, then our hopes for Southern African will be dashed”, he warned.

With a remarkable historical breadth of vision, Muhammed reminded the African Heads of State, of the war fought by the PAIGC in Guinea, FRELIMO in Mozambique, and the MPLA in Angola, He analyzed the role of US imperialism and NATO in supporting the murderous war machine of Portuguese fascism in Africa, and contrasted that with the heroic assistance of the Soviet Union, and the socialist states for the forces of African liberation.

Almost prophetically, he concluded his address thus: “Africa has come of age. It is no longer under the orbit of any extra continental power. It should no longer take orders from any country, however powerful. The fortunes of Africa are in our handsto make or mar. For too long have we been kicked around; for too long have we been treated like adolescents who cannot discern their interests, and act accordingly. For too long has it been presumed that the African needs outside ‘experts’ to tell him who are his friends and who are his enemies”.


“The time has come when we should make it clear that we can decide for ourselves that we know our own interests; that we are capable of resolving African problems without presumptuous lessons in ideological dangers, which more often than not have no relevance for us, nor for the problem at hand”

This was a remarkable statement from an equally remarkable man. By responding to the specific demands of a historical juncture, Murtala Mohammed became an important figure in African history. This is how outstanding historical figures are made.

This outstanding achievement, contrasts sharply with the trend today, when Nigerian foreign policy has degenerated to the level of salesmanship for the imperialist-inspired Structural Adjustment Program (SAP), as the Nigerian economy becomes more and more subjected to foreign control.

On the other-hand, in the Murtala era, we caught a glimpse of what a progressive foreign policy can do, for a society pursuing progressive INTERNAL policies. That belongs in the future, when our people would have become the masters of their own destiny. Such is the historical dialectic of the Murtala Muhammed experience.           

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