Monday, 4 September 2017

A brief reflection on British counter-insurgency campaigns since the end of the Second World War

British military personnel in action in Aden

With centuries of experience garnered from waging wars of colonial conquest, combating revolutionary movements and imperial policing, the British Army has been seen as an expert institution in the area of counter-insurgency operations. The high regard held for the theoretical constructions of British military officers such as Orde Wingate, Robert Thompson and Frank Kitson seemingly bear this out. But defining a counter-insurgency campaign as a ‘success’ or a ‘victory’ poses problems. This is because most of the counter-insurgency operations conducted after the ending of the Second World War occurred against the backdrop of decolonisation. This meant that regardless of whether such operations were deemed to be successful or not, the countries within which the operation was conducted were embarked upon a path of political independence. And even where they were adjudged successful, the legacy of these campaigns, replete with disregard for the rule of law and violations of the human rights of civilian populations, have left a pall of moral darkness.

In a 2008 research paper published under the auspices of the U.S. Army War College, a serving British Army colonel, I.A. Rigden sought to classify British military counter-insurgency campaigns conducted after the Second World War into those which were ‘successes’ and ‘failures’ alongside those he calibrated as somewhere between success and failure.

Entitled The British Approach to Counter-Insurgency: Myths, Realities and Strategic Challenges, Rigden considered the following to be “successes”: Malaya, Kenya, Brunei, Malaysia, Radfan (Part of Aden), Dhofar (Oman) and Northern Ireland. The campaigns in Greece between 1945 and 1946, Eritrea in 1949 and Togoland in 1957 he judged as “partial successes”. The operation in Cyprus was a “draw”, while the following were earmarked as “failures”: Palestine (1945 to 1948), Egypt (1946 to 1956), as well as the three missions in Aden respectively in 1955, between 1956 and 1958, and from 1965 to 1967. Rigden reserved judgement on British involvement in the counter-insurgency efforts in both Afghanistan and Iraq which were ongoing at the time that his paper was published.

There are compelling reasons to conclude that ‘Operation Telic’, the mission undertaken by the British armed forces from the time of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to the withdrawal of the last forces in 2011, should be ruled as a failure.

In the early stages of the mission after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s government, British troops were depicted as calmly undertaking a policing mission in Basra. They patrolled the streets in an orderly manner and appeared to be winning the proverbial “hearts and minds” of the local people. This stood in marked contrast to the strife-ridden experience of American troops in Baghdad. Basra is of course part of Shia Iraq which welcomed the removal of Saddam. So the British did not have to contend with a ferocious insurgency as did their American allies.

The veneer of a successful pacification began to crumble when in 2006, Shia militias started targeting British forces and casualties began to mount. These attacks drove British troops off the streets and into secluded compounds. Shia militias seized control of the streets.

By 2007, most of the initial 46,000 personnel which had been used during the invasion had been reduced to a token figure of around 5,000 troops who withdrew first from their occupation headquarters located at Saddam’s former palace before being largely confined to Basra Airport.

To Shia militias and the local population, the withdrawals and the whittling down of personnel signified an ignominious defeat. In fact, one high-ranking American official, the retired General Jack Keane went on record to state that the British Army’s decision to pull out of Basra amounted to a defeat. Other U.S. army officers went on to say the same thing.

The same conclusion ought to be drawn so far as the campaign in Afghanistan is concerned. Britain withdrew all combat forces from Afghanistan in 2014 while retaining a minuscule force of around 500 to train and advise Afghan security forces. The withdrawal of combat troops after 13 years of fighting the Taliban who today control more territory than at any point since the invasion may be cited as evidence of a failed mission.

The aura of failure persists given that there are no tangible achievements related for instance to the notion of ‘nation-building’ or in regards to the curtailment of the global trade in heroin. Global terrorism is today a phenomenon which has intermittently blighted the peaceful living circumstances of British cities.

The former British prime minister, David Cameron acknowledged the heavy price paid by Britain during its involvement in Afghanistan. His allusion to Britain’s part in checking the expansion of Prussian power, the defeat of Nazism and its role as a partner of the United States during the Cold War which ended with the dismantling of the Soviet system in Russia and eastern Europe could not cover up the underlying reality of failure.

But even defining what a success is can pose problems.

The idea of winning a counter-insurgency can be a contentious matter for protagonists. For the legacies of brutally managed operations replete with amoral tactics and strategies which invariably abrogated the notion of upholding the rule of law and consistently trampled underfoot the civil and human rights of innocent civilians continue to haunt places such as Kenya and Northern Ireland.

And those adjudged to be ‘failures’ may be considered as such because of the nature of the objectives of the campaign and the resources given to the military fighting the counter-insurgency, as well as wider considerations determined not in the theatre of battle, but in the cabinet boardrooms of politicians.

The question of whether a campaign may be considered as a success weighs heavily in the case of Northern Ireland where a thirty year ‘low-intensity’ war involving insurgent republican guerrillas from the Roman Catholic community against the British military and loyalist proxies drawn from the Protestant community came to an end and led to a peace settlement.

Most British academics and members of the military regard the Northern Ireland campaign as a hard-won success while mainstream Irish nationalists regard it as a drawn stalemate. The argument in favour of a British victory stems from the fact that it was the Irish Republican Army which in 1994 called for an unconditional ceasefire. The declaration of a “complete cessation of military operations” was accompanied by an announcement of its willingness to enter into inclusive talks about the future of the province.

The IRA had been so thoroughly infiltrated by agents of British state and military intelligence that it is argued that its leadership came to the decision that it could no longer continue with its armed struggle. The litmus test for acknowledging a British victory would be that the ultimate goals of the Republican movement, namely those related to securing the withdrawal of the British Army, the termination of British sovereign status over Northern Ireland’s six counties, and reunification of the province with the Republic of Ireland did not come to pass.

At the same time, it should be noted that the demands made by the leaders of the civil rights movement as related to power-sharing between Catholic and Protestant communities and reform of policing were met by the eventual peace process. Further, the granting of immunity to paramilitary figures and an early release programme for certain prisoners meant that the punishment normally meted out by victors over a vanquished foe did not come to pass.

If the outcome of the Good Friday Agreement produced a state of affairs demanded three decades earlier by the Catholic-led civil rights movement, which may conceivably have been possible to achieve if the British government had applied sufficient pressure on the Protestant community to accede to a power-sharing arrangement, then the subsequent radicalisation of Catholic youth, and the ensuing resuscitation of the Irish Republican Army might have been averted.

Talk of victory takes on a pyrrhic quality when consideration is given to the adherence by British Army officers to a counter-insurgency policy which from its inception had adopted the use of what effectively were death squads under the auspices of intelligence units such as the Military Reaction Force (MRF), the Special Reconnaissance Unit (SRU), Force Research Unit and 14 Intelligence Company.

Many of the post-war counter-insurgencies were fought effectively as colonial wars in the dying days of empire. In Aden for instance, British troops were captured acting as brigands, murderers and in the words of Lieutenant Colonel Colin Mitchell as “nigger-bashing imperialists”. The techniques of counter-insurgency developed by officers who had served in these conflicts as the mentality developed in subjugating non-white colonials were arguably transferred intact to Northern Ireland, a province on an island considered by Irish republicans to be Britain’s “first and last colony.”

It is also appropriate to mention that many of the campaigns deemed to be “failures” were themselves constricted by issues outside of the use of military force. The interplay of limited or even unattainable objectives alongside pressing geopolitical concerns have served to create situations where failure was the inevitable outcome of the mission.

This is an underlying feature of the era of waning British power when army officers were involved with managing the dismantling of an empire. In Palestine and Cyprus, the British Army found itself in the middle of antagonistic communities respectively of Arabs and Jews, and Greeks and Turks. Some of the conflicts such as that of Aden were to do with containment prior to withdrawal.

And political decisions have played a part in necessitating the aborting of a mission. In Iraq for instance, the decision to retain a small, token force in Basra meant that the army was put into a position of not being able to actively perform peacekeeping and anti-insurgency missions, and could do little else other than to fortify its location and defend itself.

The post-war economic circumstances of near bankruptcy and regime of austerity in Britain alongside the prevailing mood in the United States to bring about the creation of a homeland for the Jews in the wake of the Jewish holocaust in Europe doubtlessly affected the willingness of Britain to retain the mandate it had over Palestine. Jewish terror groups such as Irgun and Lehi hit hard at British interests. Led by future prime minister, Menachem Begin, Irgun’s most spectacular operation was the bombing in 1946 of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem which served as the seat of the British administration. Lehi, which was better known as the ‘Stern Gang’, assassinated Lord Moyne, the resident British envoy to the Middle East in 1944.

At the time, the Hollywood screenwriter Ben Hecht praised the Zionist insurgents by saying “Every time you blow up a British arsenal, or wreck a British jail, or send a British railroad train sky high, or rob a British bank or let go with your guns and bombs at the British betrayers and invaders of your homeland, the Jews of America make a little holiday in their hearts.”

While the administration of Harry Truman’s invoking of the Neutrality Act, and banning of fundraising for Zionist groups in the United States portrayed a neutral stance on the Jewish-Arab conflict, the international routes of supply which aided Jewish insurgent organisations remained open. The newly created Central Intelligence Agency may have been comprised of key agents who were Arabists, but information obtained by U.S. Navy intelligence intercepts of cable traffic with Jewish gun-runners was not shared with Britain or acted upon by the American authorities.

Britain tired of its responsibilities in Palestine and after reaching the conclusion that its efforts in maintaining the peace between Jews and Arabs and combating Zionist terrorists were both costly and futile, decided to hand over its governing responsibilities to the United Nations.

The conduct of each of the anti-insurgency efforts whether classified as “successes” or “failures” have left a ghastly legacy of human rights abuses. For instance, the ‘shoot-on-sight’ policy operated by the British during the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya was mirrored by the ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy which materialised in Northern Ireland.

There are innumerable parallels which can be drawn between the inhumane and even depraved aspects of many of these campaigns, but one particularly striking legacy left by a British counter-insurgency effort concerns that of Palestine. This relates to the practices employed in combating Arab and Jewish insurgencies which included the policy of imposing collective punishment on communities from where insurgents hailed such as by destroying the homes of their families and the levying of punitive taxes. For example, a collective fine was imposed on the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem because its inhabitants failed to help police investigating an abortive attempt on the life of the British High Commissioner.

Today, the state of Israel exacts retribution against the communities and families of Palestinian guerrillas in an identical fashion. These and other draconian measures are rooted in the Defence (Emergency) Regulations passed by the British Mandate government in 1945 which in 1948 was incorporated into the law of the newly created state via section 11 of the Government and Law Arrangements Ordinance.

The Defence Regulations had provided for the establishing of military tribunals to try civilians without granting the right of appeal, allowed for the conducting of sweeping searches and seizures, prohibited the publication of books and newspapers, demolishing houses, detaining individuals for an indefinite period of time, sealing off particular  territories, and imposing curfews.

These are measures that are routinely applied by the Israelis within the occupied territories.

It is also worthwhile reminding that the counter-insurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the former initiated by a war based on a lie and the latter initiated supposedly to serve as a quick and decisive police action, both bear the hallmarks of colonial interventions. The overthrow of Saddam Iraq served to break a Middle Eastern state which threatened to challenge Israel’s undisputed regional hegemony, while the invasion of Afghanistan was the fulfillment of a plan designed well before the 9/11 attack to create U.S. bases close to oil-rich Central Asia. From the point of view of Britain’s strategic and economic interests, both were unnecessary adventures and arguably doomed to fail.

But as seen, even with those considered to be “successes”, the costs both in terms of the destruction of human lives and sunken moral prestige were high.

It is worth reflecting on William Faulkner’s words from The Sound and the Fury that “victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.”

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is a law lecturer with interests in intelligence and security studies. He is based in London, England and can be followed on Twitter @AdeyinkaMakinde

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

The 'Lost' Music of 1970s Somalia

What a delight discovering Somali secular music from the 1970s; the era before the civil war, al-Shabaab militancy, piracy and failed state notoriety, although the war in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia between the armed forces of Ethiopia and Somali was in the news during the later part of the decade.

It is a hybrid sound redolent of many familiar genres juxtaposed with Somalian heritage. Sometimes it sounds like Afro-Beat meets Wassoulou. Other times like Reggae meets Les Ethiopiques. On on one occasion, I thought that I was listening to Mohammed Wardi, the great Sudanese singer.

This album is a treat!

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is a London-based writer.

Friday, 25 August 2017

My Interview at 'The Mind Renewed' about the West's weaponising of Islam - Part Two of "The Pan-Islamic Option: The West's Part in the Creation and Sustaining of Islamist Terror"

The second part of an interview with Julian Charles of ‘The Mind Renewed’ about my recent essay, “The Pan-Islamic Option: The West’s Part in the Creation and Sustaining of Islamist Terror”. This segment focuses on the historical background to the West’s use of Islamic groups to fight wars and insurgencies going back to the Wilhelmine and Nazi-eras of Germany, Britain from the First World War onwards and the United States’ enduring relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, and its inadvertent contribution to the rise of global jihadism through its support for the anti-Soviet Mujahideen in Afghanistan.

It also refers to the situations where Islamists have been given protection by Western state intelligence bodies and have gone on to commit acts of terror. It invites listeners to consider whether the many instances of such occurrences are down to negligence or something more sinister.

TMR Page - Episode 181 “The Pan-Islamic Option” (Part One: Recent Years)

“That land over there is yours. You’ll go back to it one day, because your fight will prevail. And you’ll have your homes and mosques back again, because your cause is right and God is on your side.” - Zbigniew Brzezinkski

We are joined once again by the lawyer and university lecturer Adeyinka Makinde for the second instalment of a two-part interview centring on his recent article, “The Pan-Islamic Option: The West’s Part in the Creation and Sustaining of Islamist Terror”.

In this second part we discuss some of the historical background to the West’s use and support of violent Islamist groups, looking at examples of German, British and US policy since the early days of the Twentieth Century.

Adeyinka Makinde trained for the law as a barrister. He lectures in criminal law and public law at a university in London, and has an academic research interest in intelligence & security matters. He is a contributor to a a number of websites for which he has written essays and commentaries on international relations, politics and military history. He has served as a programme consultant and provided expert commentary for BBC World Service Radio. China Radio International and the Voice of Russia.


© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer and law lecturer based in London, England.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Petit Clamart: 22nd August 1962

On a Summer's day on a quiet road in a quiet Suburb of Paris called Petit Clamart, a black Citreon DS 19 limousine speeds through a road en route to an airport. Suddenly, the peace is shattered by a wall of noise. It is the sound of bullets spewing out of an array of automatic sub-machine guns aimed at the vehicle's passenger; the French head of state, Charles de Gaulle.

Miraculously, he escapes without a scratch as does Madame De Gaulle, his son-in-law and the driver who evades the ambush despite the puncturing of two of the car's wheels.

The opening sequences of the film version of the Frederick Forsyth thriller, 'The Day of the Jackal' is largely faithful to real events in its recreation of the ambush.

The backdrop to this scenario of a hit-team consisting of serving and former members of the French military against the man who embodied the resurrection of the French nation after its humiliation by Germany in the Second World War was one of Europe's biggest political crisis in the post-war period.

DeGaulle had done an about turn and decided to hand back the French North African colony of Algeria to the Algerians after a bitterly fought war of independence -a conflict immortalised through Glilo Pontecorvo's film 'The Battle of Algiers' and the writings of Franz Fannon. What made Algeria different from other conflicts between European colonists and the indigenous seekers of independence was that the northern area of Algeria, situated on the Mediterranean, was considered to be a part of metropolitan France. As French as Provence, Burgundy or Il-de-France. It was a place where many French families had settled for generations.

Adding to the fevered level of emotion swirling around the conflict was that a French withdrawal for many would cap a series of national disasters that would shatter the collective psyche of a people who had been defeated and occupied in World War Two and more recently, been forced to evacuate from Indo-China.

France had already been brought to the brink of civil war by a rebellion by a number of generals. But while De Gaulle had faced down this challenge, he was aware that many of his countrymen still hated him for his change of policy and that a band of dissident (mainly) army officers had sworn to kill him. There were many attempts on his life with many of these plots being hatched under the aegis of the O.A.S.; Organisation de la Armee Secrete (The Secret Army Organisation).

The instigator of this particular plot, Lt. Colonel Jean Marie Bastien-Thiry, was in point of fact not an OAS member; he belonged to another even more secretive group ‘Vieil Etat-Major’, which shared the views of the O.A.S. and O.A.S. personnel were used in this plot. Bastien-Thiry was a devout Catholic who justified his plot on the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas who said that regicide was morally correct in certain circumstances.

The gang at Petit Clamart were all caught, tried and convicted. All were initially condemned to death but De Gaulle exercised the presidential prerogative of mercy by commuting all the sentences but one -that of Bastien-Thiry.

Bastien-Thiry's plea for clemency had been on the grounds that he was clinically depressed at the time and that his plan had been merely to kidnap DeGaulle and have him tried at a secret location.

DeGaulle had given clemency to the rebellious generals and others who had committed treason but decided that Bastien-Thiry should die because he placed himself at a safe distance from the mayhem of bullets (he was the look-out who waved a newspaper in order to alert the gunmen of the arrival of De Gaulle's car); his operation had also endangered Madame De Gaulle and some innocent bystanders.

In upholding the death sentence, De Gaulle knew that he would be making a martyr of Bastien-Thiry but choose him above the generals who in his words were "kicking footballs" around the precincts of a French penitentiary.

He was executed by firing squad in March of the following year at a military barracks on the outskirts of Paris, the Fort D'Ivry.

Many of those who were imprisoned for plotting his death and the overthrow of the state did not serve lengthy sentences -a prudent policy in terms of setting the ground for future national reconciliation.

©  Adeyinka Makinde (2008)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England

Saturday, 19 August 2017

My Interview at 'The Mind Renewed' about the West's weaponising of Islam - Part One of "The Pan-Islamic Option: The West's Part in the Creation and Sustaining of Islamist Terror"

The first part of an interview with Julian Charles of ‘The Mind Renewed’ about my recent essay, “The Pan-Islamic Option: The West’s Part in the Creation and Sustaining of Islamist Terror”. This segment focuses on recent policies followed by the West through which weaponised Islam is used as a tool in seeking geo-political advantage, But this has come with huge moral, financial and security costs.

TMR Page - Episode 180 “The Pan-Islamic Option” (Part One: Recent Years)

“I don’t know if they turned a blind eye; I think it was a decision, a wilful decision.” - Mike Flynn

We are joined once again by the lawyer and university lecturer Adeyinka Makinde for the first instalment of a two-part interview centring on his recent article, “The Pan-Islamic Option: The West’s Part in the Creation and Sustaining of Islamist Terror”.

In this first part we discuss indications in recent years of the West’s use and support of violent Islamist groups for the purposes of advancing geopolitical goals, with reference to speeches, interviews and emails associated with people in high office, and position papers by influential think tanks.

Adeyinka Makinde trained for the law as a barrister. He lectures in criminal law and public law at a university in London, and has an academic research interest in intelligence & security matters. He is a contributor to a a number of websites for which he has written essays and commentaries on international relations, politics and military history. He has served as a programme consultant and provided expert commentary for BBC World Service Radio. China Radio International and the Voice of Russia.


© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer and law lecturer based in London, England.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Eyes of Hitchcock

Alfred Joseph Hitchcock (1899-1980)

An assemblage of stills from the works of film auteur Alfred Hitchcock focusing on the eyes: an investigation of shock, fear, terror, malevolence and madness.


Filmmaker: Kogonada

Music: “Anything can happen, and usually does...On the Orient Express” by Rob Cawley

© Adeyinka Makinde

Adeyinka Makinde is a London-based writer


Friday, 11 August 2017

A Good Few Reasons Why The United States Should Exit Afghanistan

Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign promised to apply sound traditional conservative values of non-interventionism once he got into office. This included getting the United States out of Afghanistan where the American military have engaged in that nation’s longest war. However, rather than dis-engagement, the Pentagon and the State Department have in recent months recommended an increase in troops in a country where the Taliban presently controls more territory than at any point since the invasion. Additionally, the ISIS franchise has established control over a stretch of land along the Afghan border with Pakistan. Trump has reneged on a great many campaign promises but it is worth reminding why the United States would be best served by withdrawing from this quagmire, a legacy of its post-Cold War drift towards militarism.

1. The $800 billion cost of ‘nation-building’ which has not contained global Islamic terror or defeated the Afghan Islamist belligerents: the Taliban and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant - Khorasan Province.

2. As of October 2016, 2,386 American military personnel have been killed, 20,046 American service personnel have been wounded in action and 1,173 American civilian contractors have lost their lives.

3. Thousands of Afghans -over 91,000 civilians, soldiers, militiamen- have been killed in a cycle of violence since the U.S. invasion in what was supposed to have been a ‘police action’ against Osama Bin Laden who was never indicted for the 9/11 atrocity. Nor was he formally put on the F.B.I.’s wanted list. In fact it was Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi who was responsible for the issuance of the first Interpol warrant.

4. Millions of Americans have become addicted to heroin since the U.S. invasion, the aftermath of which has seen an increase in poppy production. The irony is that the Taliban had virtually wiped out the harvest and trade of opium but changed policy in order to use the tax it imposes on farmers to finance its insurgency.

5. Afghanistan arguably serves as a corporate welfare program for both the defence and chemical industries. The former benefit from Cold Wars with Russia and China as well as in counter-insurgency adventures such as Afghanistan. The latter are keen to benefit from the exploitation of Afghanistan’s rare-earth minerals.

The untapped deposits were estimated in 2010 to be potentially worth up to one trillion dollars. That figure was disputed at the time and would be much less given the general fall in the value of commodities. Nonetheless, this has been utilised as a recent ‘selling point’ by Michael Silver, the CEO of American Elements.

It is a well known fact that American officials had drawn up plans to invade Afghanistan before the attacks of 9/11. Threats of military intervention had emanated from Washington during the summer of 2001. The underlying reason involved the United States setting up a base close to the oil-rich lands of Central Asia. That rationale and the one being proffered by Michael Silver only serve to reinforce the thesis propounded by Major General Smedley Butler that war is a racket.

Unfortunately for the American people, the Afghan racket, along with other unjust wars, has only served to enrich the nation’s oligarchs while they suffer the consequences of a chronic national debt.

© Adeyinka Makinde 2017

Adeyinka Makinde is a London-based writer. He can be followed on Twitter @AdeyinkaMakinde

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Zulus, Redcoats and Sabaton

Watercolour of a Zulu Warrior by William Whitelock Lloyd

“What do you know about Zulus?”
“Bunch of savages, isn’t it?”

An exchange between a Boer and a British soldier in a scene from the 1964 Paramount International release Zulu kick-starts a series of clips from that movie set to a frenzied burst of ‘Power Metal’ music played by the Swedish band Sabaton.

According to Wikipedia:

The band’s main lyrical themes are based on war and historical battles -the name is a reference to a sabaton, knight’s foot armour...Lyrical content drawn from World War I, World War II and other historical conflicts is prevalent and lyrics often recite stories of heroic deeds by men and armies from all over the world.

Thus the group have written songs dedicated to the likes of the Seventh Panzer Division of the Wehrmacht, the ‘Ghost Division’ which was commanded by Erwin Rommel, the Swiss Guards, a mercenary unit involved with defending the Holy See during the sacking of Rome in 1527, and the 24th Regiment of Foot, the defenders of the mission at Rorke’s Drift.

While the band have on occasion had to explain that they espouse neither nationalist nor racist sentiment, the videos made by connoisseurs of their music on youtube tend to attract commentators who wish to read those values into them. Thus the crusader theme accompanying the track “The Last Stand” brings out a number of trolls expressing hatred for Islam and the need to be instilled with the crusader spirit in order to stem the perceived invasion of Europe by Muslims.

Similarly, the song “Rorke’s Drift” which is about the heroism of 150 British redcoats defending an outpost against between 3,000 to 4,000 Zulu warriors attracts the odd acerbic comment such as “Fuck Black Lives Matter”. Having said that, the commentary is a mixed bag with a fair proportion displaying good knowledge of history.

It has to be said that the lyrical content of Sabaton songs are not laced with the sort of ambiguity which has bedevilled several songs written by the German ‘Industrial Metal’ band Rammstein which have been used by a multitude of youtube video makers seeking to glamorise the Third Reich and the Waffen-SS.

The bone one picks with the Sabaton rendition of Rorke’s Drift is the analysis of history. Among the opening lines are:

Chance for peace and justice gone and all talks had been in vain
A prince had been offended and he has gone the path of war

These words remove the backdrop of the Anglo-Zulu wars being one predicated on the aggression of the British seeking to extend the frontiers of the their empire. While the Zulu empire may have been a militarised society along the lines of Ancient Sparta, its ruler, King Cetewayo, was keen to reach an accommodation with the neighbouring British colonial authorities.

But the British wished to break up the Zulu nation in order to achieve wider objectives related to establishing new trade routes and facilitating the conduct of mineral exploration and commercial opportunities.

The song also fails to mention anything about the ineptitude of General Chelmsford in leading the British Army to defeat at iSandlwana. The opening words refer to the main force having been slain and towards the end that the empire is “saved”. The Battle of Rorke’s Drift did not of course ultimately decide the Anglo-Zulu War -the decisive confrontation would occur six months later at Ulundi- instead it was used at the time as a propaganda piece to deflect public scrutiny from the failings which had led to humiliation at iSandlwana.

The song’s chorus is all about the resilience and fortitude of the redcoat in the face of the approaching Zulu hordes:

Zulus attack
Fight back to back
Show them no mercy and
Fire at will
Kill or be Killed
Facing, awaiting

No mention of the heroism of Zulu warriors charging against an onslaught of bullets and as defenders of their realm from foreign aggressors.

Perhaps one expects too much from the lyrics of a Power Metal band.

But if the heroism of members of a British infantry is the focus there, the 1981 song “Impi” by the South African multiracial band Juluka highlights the valiant effort of the Zulu army in inflicting a defeat on the British at the aforementioned Battle of iSandlwana. And if truth be told, the lyrics of Johnny Clegg provides more detail on the doomed army of Chelmsford as they brace themselves for war on the eve of the battle.

There are no forensic references to izimpondo zankomo - the battle formations of the Zulus, the boldness in charging rifle-armed soldiers and the climax of the short spear-wielding warrior killing the red-coated invader. Instead Clegg relies on a refrain sang in the Zulu language to convey the power and mystique of the army of a people who Disraeli described as a “remarkable people who defeat our generals, convert our bishops and who on this day have put an end to a great dynasty”:

Impi! Wo ‘nans’ impi iyeza
Obani bengathinta amabhubesi?


Here comes the army
Who can touch the lions?

Perhaps Sabaton might have examined heroism from both perspectives in a way similar to that attempted by the heavy metal band Iron Maiden in their 1982 song “Run To The Hills”. That song contrasted the plight of the nomadic Cree Indians with that of the white settlers, who acting on the religious-derived and state approved ideology of ‘Manifest Destiny’, sought to ethnically cleanse the indigenous populations from the Atlantic Seaboard to the Pacific Ocean.

But song lyrics as with movie scripts are noted for their often ruthless view of history. And in this regard, Sabaton’s “Rorke’s Drift” is no different.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is a London-based writer. He can be followed on Twitter @AdeyinkaMakinde

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Remembering Fela Anikulapo Kuti - Revolutionary African Musician

“Roar”. A portrait of Fela Anikulapo Kuti by Colombian-born artist Heriberto Cogollo

Fela Kuti was a revolutionary African musician, the inventor of a genre which he called ‘Afro-Beat’ and the scourge of successive military dictatorships and civilian governments whose misrule of Nigeria has blighted the development of Africa’s most populated country. Fela was an iconoclast who challenged the powerful in society, a rebel whose bohemian lifestyle traversed the boundaries of socially prescribed behaviour as well as a social commentator whose lyrics, often suffused with coruscating barbs and comical vignettes, laid bare the daily tragedy of the lives of the suffering African proletariat. His death twenty years ago was mourned by millions of his countrymen and his legacy of social activism, critique of Nigeria’s governance as well as his Pan-Africanist aspirations remain as valid today as they did at the time of his passing.

Fela was born into the upper-middle class elite of colonial-era Nigerian society in the Yoruba city of Abeokuta. The first part of his original hyphenated surname, Ransome-Kuti, was bestowed on his grandfather Josiah Jesse Kuti, an Anglican clergyman, by an English benefactor. Josiah was a talented composer of Christian hymns and a church organist. Fela’s father, Israel Ransome-Kuti was a prominent educator and his mother, Funmilayo Kuti was a feminist and social activist with Marxist leanings who was part of several national delegations representing Nigeria at conferences which were designed to set out a pathway to independence from Britain.  It is from these antecedents that Fela’s talent for music, a predisposition to rebel and his interest in politics and the plight of the ordinary person stem.

Fela formed his first band Koola Lobitos in London when studying at Trinity College of Music where he enrolled in 1958. He learned classical music by day and played the trumpet at nightly and weekend gigs which catered to the tastes of Britain’s West African and Afro-Caribbean communities. He played conventional West African-style highlife music: songs about love and the mundanities of everyday life. It was a style he continued with on his return to Nigeria in 1963 right through to the period of the Nigerian Civil War when most of the federation was pitted against the secessionist state of Biafra in a bloody civil war that raged between 1967 and 1970.

It was not until he embarked on a tour of the United States during the war that Fela’s music and his raison d’etre undertook a radical shift. His association with Sandra Isidore, a black American immersed in the politics of the Black Panther Party and the growing drift towards Afrocentricity, ignited in Fela a new vision that involved integrating black politics with a hybrid style composed of contemporary horn-driven Afro-American popular music, psychedelic rock and the African rhythmic cadences of vocal and instrumental expression. A key part of this musical expression was the drumming of Tony Oladipo Allen whose input first in regard to an increasingly jazzified element to the music of Koola Lobitos and then with the new breed of politicised and funked-up music qualify him as being the co-creator of Afro-Beat.

The musical rebirth led to Fela renaming his band the Africa 70. American funk and soul collided with Yoruban rhythms which were accompanied by lyrics layered with Pan-Africanist sentiment. Fela’s new model sound, a symbiosis of Afro-Diasporan elements, sounded fresh but also natural. The Yoruba culture is one which is highly syncretic in nature.

The new bent towards protest singing was also consistent with Yoruban modes of expression. In contrast to the praise-singing directed at the wealthy and the important in traditional society was abuse-singing. Fela’s Yabis songs which ridiculed and denigrated the rich and powerful in Nigerian society would form the backdrop to many popular compositions as well as a multitude of iron-fisted reprisals from the authorities. His popularity markedly increased as the 1970s developed and his audience ravenously anticipated his next incendiary epistle on long-playing vinyl.

Fela lampooned the high-handedness of police officers and soldiers in “Alagbon Close” and “Zombie”. His disdain for the ‘foreign imported’ religions of Christianity and Islam and his belief that they served as an opiate for the masses was reflected in “Shuffering and Shmiling”. He criticized middle class Nigerian aping of Western mannerisms in “Gentleman” and mocked African females who bleached their skin in “Yellow Fever”. His uncompromising position on eschewing the colonial-derived mentality and promoting black pride formed the backdrop to his dropping ‘Ransome’ from his surname. In its stead, he adopted the name ‘Anikulapo’ which means “he who carries death in his pouch”.

He had established his pan-African outlook via his album “Why Black Man Dey Suffer” in 1971 but when criticising the racist regimes of Rhodesia and South Africa in songs like “Sorrow, Tears and Blood” and “Beasts of No Nation”, did not fail to remind his listeners of the hypocrisy and the brutality of Nigeria’s military rulers. He sang against imperialism and neocolonialism while pointing out that he felt certain of Nigeria’s elite such as the wealthy businessman, Moshood Abiola were agents of the Central Intelligence Agency. Abiola, who rose to be the Vice President of the African and Middle Eastern region of the International Telephone and Telegraph company (IT&T), was lambasted in the song “ITT (International Thief Thief)” in a diatribe against the exploitation of Africa by multinational companies and the African ‘big men’ who aid them in this endeavour.

Corruption and the inhumanity of Nigeria’s elites were a consistent topic for Fela in his recordings, his stage banter at his popular club ‘The Shrine’ and in his frequent utterances to the press. When Nigeria hosted the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture in 1977, he refused to perform at the gathering in protest at the corruption surrounding the event. “Money is not Nigeria’s problem”, the overthrown General Yakubu Gowon had said a few years before, “it is how to spend it.” And ‘Festac’, the abbreviated name of the festival, had induced a wild spending spree by the Nigerian government which proceeded with the obligatory backhanders for organising officials.

The bringing together of artistic talent from Africa and the African Diaspora had appealed to the Pan-Africanist sentiments of Fela who as a young boy had been introduced to its greatest champion, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, by his mother. He felt that the gathering could be used to “redirect the thinking of the common man”. He had been invited to join the National Participation Committee for Festac along with other luminaries from Nigerian drama, music and literature, including his cousin the future Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, but along with Soyinka and a few others withdrew disillusioned.

When the festival commenced, Fela denounced the military government in nightly sermons delivered at ‘The Shrine’ where musicians flocked to pay him homage. Among them were Stevie Wonder, Sun Ra and Hugh Masekela. The Brazilian artists Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil who for a time had been forced into exile by the military junta of their country also met Fela.

Fela would pay a heavy price for his harangues. Less than a week after the end of the festival, the army surrounded his commune, known as the Kalakuta Republic, before storming it. Its inhabitants, not least Fela were beaten and the female members of his entourage sexually violated. Fela’s mother who resided at the residence was thrown from a first floor window and although initially surviving the attack died a few months later from injuries that she sustained.

It was a dark period for Fela. He spent 27 days in jail and suffered different bone fractures. He was put on trial and an official inquiry whitewashed the invasion and destruction of his compound concluding that the damage to his property had been perpetrated by “an exasperated and unknown soldier”. To top it all off Fela was branded a “hooligan”.

He went into temporary exile in Ghana and responded with lamentations of his experiences with the songs “Sorrow, Tears and Blood” and “Unknown Soldier”. In the former, Fela rails in his trademark pidgin English which was readily accessible to the common person:

So policeman go slap your face
You no go talk
Army man go whip your yansh (buttocks)
You go dey look like donkey

Fela’s allusion to Army brutality, a common occurrence in 1970s military-ruled Nigeria, carried a resonance among the many civilian victims who had been verbally humiliated, maimed and even killed by soldiers.

Yet Fela remained defiant. He partook in a traditional marriage ceremony with his entire female entourage of 27, performed at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1978 and in anticipation of the first civilian elections to be held in Nigeria since the middle 1960s, he formed a political party, the Movement of the People Party, and offered himself as a presidential candidate in 1979.

Fela continued to release music and embarked on many tours of European and American cities gaining a wider audience and respect from members of the rock community. He had known Ginger Baker, famous as the drummer for the 1960s blues-rock trio Cream, during his sojourn in England in the 1960s and both men collaborated in the 1970s and met each other frequently while Baker was resident in Nigeria from 1970 to 1976.

Paul McCartney was introduced to Fela when he went to Nigeria to record his album ‘Band on the Run’. After an awkward first meeting that had Fela accusing McCartney of coming to Africa to “steal the Black man’s music”, both men developed a friendship. McCartney would later confess to have been reduced to tears by the power of Fela’s music. In his autobiography published in 1989, Miles Davis acknowledged Fela as a force in music.

Fela would continue to endure numerous arrests: many of them for possession of Indian Hemp but also one last major politically-motivated arrest in 1984 which involved an alleged violation of currency regulations just before he was due to embark on a tour of the United States. His detention under the military regime which had overthrown the civilian government that had been elected in 1979 led to an international campaign spearheaded by Amnesty International to free him. Soon after his release in 1986, he played alongside artists such as U2, Sting and  Peter Gabriel in a series of benefit concerts for Amnesty.

Over a million people turned out for his funeral after a lengthy illness. His brother Olukoye, a medical practitioner, announced that Fela had stubbornly refused to seek medical help and that by the time he agreed to be taken to hospital was not cognizant of the diagnosis of AIDS.

The cause of death many blamed on a hedonistic lifestyle. The image he frequently portrayed in songs and interviews of a playboy were real enough. Alongside  the praise he earned from many of his country men were the denunciations of others. During his life he was criticised for corrupting the nation’s youth due to his fondness for marijuana and his projection of hypersexuality. While he may have spoken up for the nation’s downtrodden underclass, Fela was attacked for exploiting young women many of who came from poor backgrounds. The accusations of misogyny were often backed up by evidence of his living arrangements, the interviews that he gave as well as songs such as “Mattress”.

He was a mass of contradictions. While he may have spoken out against dictators, he ruled his commune in an authoritarian manner. And even the atrocity committed against him by the soldiers ransacking of his home was preceded by an incident in which a number of his employees had a violent confrontation with some soldiers during which they appropriated a motorcycle and later set it on fire. For some, Fela had set himself above the law from openly smoking weed on stage to holding up traffic while he crossed the road on his pet donkey.

Fela was uncompromising. In the early part of his career he turned down offers from foreign record companies to market Afro-Beat to Western audiences in the way reggae music was because it would have meant that he would have had to shorten the length of his songs. Later on he prevaricated over signing a one million dollar deal with Motown records until the offer lapsed. He could have chosen to live a relatively comfortable existence in European exile in a city such as London or Paris but that was never an option.

He had several distinct nicknames each reflecting a part of his multifaceted personage. ‘Omo Iya Aje’, which translated from Yoruba means the son of a witch, alluded to the belief that Fela inherited supernatural powers from his mother, in her prime a powerful female figure. Fela’s unusual disposition and rejection of convention earned him the sobriquet ‘Abami Eda’ (Strange creature). He was the ‘Chief Priest’ because of his practice of traditional Yoruba religious rites which were featured during his performances at the Shrine. Finally, the ‘Black President’ was an acknowledgement of his leadership qualities and his promotion of ‘Blackism’ and Pan-Africanism.

Now fully two decades after his passing, Fela’s music and the message in his music  continue to resonate. His records still sell and his life story has been retold in several biographies and through a successful Broadway play “Fela!” He was more than a musician simply because his protest songs were not merely abstractions confined to the music studio or to music festivals. He transcended the role of a conventional musician because he spoke to the masses and confronted successive military dictators at great cost.

Wrote Lindsay Barrett, a Jamaican-born naturalised Nigerian novelist: “It is no exaggeration to say that Fela’s memory will always symbolise the spirit of truth for a vast number of struggling people in Africa and beyond.”

Fela Kuti was born on October 15th 1938 and died on August 2nd 1997.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is a London-based writer. He can be followed on Twitter @AdeyinkaMakinde