Whitewashing Africa’s Courageous Contributions

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There is little interest in highlighting the great role Africa played in two World Wars, defending Western powers whose survival were at stake; or the role that Africa has played in any other battle for world peace.

[From The Archives]

Recently the Mexican Ambassador to the Netherlands desperate to court approval from the United States came out with a vicious tirade against President Omar Hass Al-bashir of the Sudan at a time when we are hearing that Mexico was being governed by murderous drug traffickers abusing the border control of the United States.

I saw this as a common ploy by yet another nation to divert attention from its own horrendous problems into Africa.

Today, the uninformed population of the entire planet thinks of Mexico as being the source of a terrible plague, swine flu, and the rumor is that it started from a nauseating stench ridden pig farm—would ambassador, Jorg Lomanaco Tonda, see this as a fair characterization of Mexico?

So, why the vicious attack on the Sudan?

As an African watcher, will take the opportunity to illuminate Ambassador Tonda abou the stupendous bravery of Sudanese Africans who once fought in the wars that accompanied Mexico's nation building.

I go back to the period 1863-67.

Only last week, on the 30th of April, I was reminded of the gallant fight of the sons of Africa by the somber dignified parade and slow march of the French Foreign Legion carrying before them in gilded tray the wooden hand of one of France’s bravest; that of their Captain Danjou who was a commander at the legendary Battle of Camaróne.

It was Danjou, in the Brazilian inn Hacienda Camaróne protected by a 10 foot high wall close to the township of Palo Verde, who stood firm in battle against 600 Mexican cavalry, over 2,000 infantry and attending heavy artillery guns.

Refusing to surrender, something a French Foreign Legionnaire can never do, the battle commenced and by noon Captain Danjour was shot in the chest and died: his soldiers, many of them of Sudan origin, continued fighting despite overwhelming odds under the command of an inspired Lt. Vilain, who held out for four hours before falling during an assault.

With ammunition exhausted, the last of Danjou's soldiers, numbering only five, under the command of Lt. Maudet, desperately mounted a bayonet charge.

Two men died outright, while the rest continued the assault. The tiny group was surrounded. Colonel Milan, commander of the Mexicans asked the last two wounded survivors to surrender; they, in Legionnaire spirit, refused and insisted that the Mexican soldiers allow them safe passage home, to keep their arms, and to take with them the body of Captain Danjour.

To that, the Mexican commander commented: "What can I refuse to such men? No; these are not men, they are devils."

Out of respect for their bravery, Col. Milan agreed to these terms.

There is little interest in highlighting the great role Africa played in two World Wars, defending Western powers whose survival were at stake; or the role that Africa has played in any other battle for world peace.

Take, for instance, the case of Jean Bedel Bokassa in the Central African Republic, who the Western world saw as a buffoon because of the number of medals on his chest. Incidentally, his were far fewer than the number of medals worn by some present US generals.

I knew Bokassa; he was a friend and gentlemen. He was once a Sergeant Major in the French army, defending Paris from the Nazi storm troopers and later he took part in the Allied Forces invasion on Europe and carried on fighting for France in Indo China.

All this was forgotten by the time he became a caricature and clown of Western media.

Bokassa was awarded membership in the French Legion d’ Honneur and decorated with the Croix de Guerre, one of France highest honors.

But I now return to Mexico; for here, in the French battles of 1863-7 we had a Sudanese regiment of some 500 who took part in some of the fiercest fighting. It is recorded and well-known to Ugandan Nubians that these veteran Sudanese of the French army were given a feted welcome in Paris and received a liberal distribution of decorations including a number of awards of the ribbon of the Legion of Honor whilst en route back to Khartoum, Sudan.

Many of these men later in 1870 were allocated to Samuel Baker, for his projected occupation of Equatorial Province and for crossing the Nile to eventually settle in Uganda.

History has recorded the names of some of these courageous Sudanese fighters: Major Abdullah, Captain Morgan Sheriff, Captain Abdullah, Lieutenant Morgian, and Lieutenant Ferritch.

They attained their rank when they found themselves fighting for Europe in Napoleon the Third’s futile attempt to place his protégé, the archduke Maximilian, on Brazil’s corrupt throne.

Only now with the rise of America’s new leadership can the rest if the world see the other side of Africa; its talent, its indomitable spirit, its proud kingdoms, and always its fight for dignity.


Astles was once an advisor to Uganda's dictator Idi Amin Dada; the movie "The Last King Of Scotland" is loosely based on his life.


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