As we have seen Ghana in the late 1950s was a place of exciting meetings and possibilities. Accra was both host to pan-African conferences and a HQ for nationalist leaders and parties. Fanon loved it. He met other men – sadly mostly men – as driven and possessed as himself. Fanon did not like people who held themselves back, went to bed early instead of talking and arguing through the night. Before and after the diagnosis of Leukaemia Fanon would repeatedly state that he did not like people who limited themselves – in French ‘s’economiser’ – literally ‘economised’ on their output of energy, conserving and limiting their activity and engagement. He criticised Simone de Beauvoir, after he had met her with Jean-Paul Sartre in Rome in July 1961. De Beauvoir was, according to Fanon, ‘one of those people’ who held themselves back. He knew and understood this side to himself, describing such exuberance, his total commitment to life as ‘doing a Fanon.’ In Ghana he met many such ‘Fanon’s’ but none with his penetrating and unyielding vision.
Below is the sixth teaser to the forthcoming biography, The Militant Philosopher of Third World Liberation.
Liberate the north from the south
‘In late 1960 Fanon received authorisation to carry out a reconnaissance of a possible West African supply route into southern Algeria, but also an entry point for an African Legion to attack the French from the south. ALN troops needed to be supplied with extra forces and armaments. Supplies were cut off by the French but ALN troops fighting the French in the south could, hypothetically, be reached from sub-Saharan Africa. Fanon set out to prove this could be done.
The mission revealed a basic historical and geographical fact about the continent: at no point was the desert an impenetrable divider of the continent separating the civilised north from the barbaric south. The view that sub-Saharan Africa was populated by savages dominated the European thought throughout the 19th and much of the 20th century. In reality there had existed for many millennia a continual flow of goods and people between the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa. Gold travelled north, as certain handicrafts, salt and meats travelled south in a vibrant trade that crisscrossed the expanse of desert.
Fanon wanted to find out if a route could be used by the African Legion to replenish combatants in Wilaya V and VI. In October 1960 Fanon set out. He kept a field journal that he intended to use when he returned to write a report for the FLN leadership on the prospects for a Southern Front. What is remarkable about the report – which is found in his posthumous collection of writings Pour la Revolution Africaine – is that although these were rough notes written in the difficult circumstances of an uncomfortable and clandestine trip across 2000 miles, the language was powerful and passages beautiful. It seems Fanon was incapable of writing plain prose. The journal starts with a series of bullet points, ‘To put Africa in motion, to cooperate in its organisation, in its regroupment, behind revolutionary principles. To participate in the ordered movement of a continent – this was really the work I had chosen.’ He then gives a continental survey: Mali was ‘ready for anything’ offering a ‘bridgehead’ to ‘precious perspectives.’ The Congo ‘which constituted the second landing beach for revolutionary ideas’ but is now caught up in an ‘inextricable network of sterile contradictions.’ He then stresses the need, though now delayed, to ‘besiege the colonialist’s citadels known as Angola, Mozambique, Kenya and the Union of South Africa.’
The field journal expresses Fanon’s commitment to African unity distinct from the hollow sloganising from much of the nationalist movement on the continent. Fanon’s Africa was not the continent ‘of the poets, the Africa that is sleeping, but the Africa that stops you sleeping because the people are impatient to be doing something, to speak and to play.’ Fanon states the objectives of his mission – a declaration of determined will, ‘We must immediately take the war to the enemy, leave him no rest, harass him, cut off his breath. Let’s go. Our mission: to open up the Southern Front. To bring in arms and munitions from Bamako. Stir up the population of the Sahara; infiltrate our way into the high plains of Algeria. Having taken Algeria to the four corners of Africa, we have to go back with the whole of Africa to African Algeria, towards the north; towards the continental city of Algiers. That is what I want; great lives … cross the desert. To wear out the desert, to deny it, to bring together Africa and to create the continent … take the absurd … the impossible, rub it up the wrong way and hurl a continent into the assault.’