Algeria's Charismatic Freedom Fighter

New African, May 2012 | Go to article overview
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Algeria's Charismatic Freedom Fighter

ON11 APRIL, ALGERIA AND Africa put to rest one of the continent s most revered anticolonialism heroes who was the only remaining founding father of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which ushered in the current African Union (AU).

Ahmed Ben Bella was also Algeria's first post-independence president, and many will fondly remember him as the fiery speaker that told the OAU's inaugural session in Addis Ababa in May 1963 that Africa's liberation was something that we should all "die a little or even completely" to achieve. Others will also recall those words he said at the UN: "The credo of Algeria s political and diplomatic action will be the liquidation of colonialism in both its classic and disguised forms."

Widely hailed as the father of the modern Algerian nation, Ben Bella led the fight against France's brutal colonisation of the North African nation.

Ben Bella was born in the town of Maghnia on the Algerian-Moroccan border in December 1916, when Algeria was still an "overseas department" (French colony). He was one of five sons born to his farmer father. He died at his home in Algiers on 11 April, aged 95, and was laid to rest two days later in the Martyrs' plot in Algiers' El Alia cemetery, alongside fellow liberation fighters.

Algeria's current president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, joined Tunisia's President Moncef Marzouki, Morocco's Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane and other leaders in paying their last respects at his funeral.

Ben Bella was a charismatic figure. Having served in the French army in the Moroccan tirailleurs during World War II, fighting against the German and Italian fascist axis, he was personally decorated for gallantry by President Charles de Gaulle. But as WWII came to an end with the liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny, Ben Bellas focus turned to winning Algeria its independence from France. All the war-time rhetoric the victorious allied forces had spouted regarding democratic freedoms somehow evaporated when it came to granting independence to African territories that had been occupied by European colonisers.

But Ben Bella was determined to secure his country's freedom. Even as Europeans celebrated victory, an anti-colonial protest march in Serif, 200 miles east of Algiers, turned to violence leading to French settlers being killed.

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