Dudley Thompson: A Fighter For Socialism And African Unity
‘Not only are they wicked for enslaving our ancestors but, worse, they have stubbornly and consistently refused to confess their crime against humanity…’ ….. Dudley Thompson
On 20 January 2012 Dudley Joseph Thompson, the indefatigable fighter for African Unity, reparative justice and socialism joined the ancestors. Born in Panama, raised in Jamaica and serving as a frontline activist for African Liberation, Thompson spent the past 70 years of his life working to end domination and exploitation of the African people at home and abroad. He was 95 years old. After graduating from Oxford University, Thompson moved to East Africa (Tanzania) and from there worked tirelessly for the liberation struggles in that region, acting as one of the coordinators of the defense team for Jomo Kenyatta and other leaders of the Kenyan independence struggles. Thompson returned to Jamaica in 1955 where he participated in the political movement for decolonisation. He could not escape the poisonous political atmosphere existing in the Caribbean during this period of the 1970s and thus he worked to promote anti-imperialist positions. He was a member of the government of the People’s National Party (PNP) led by Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley.
This was a moment when the Jamaican political leadership articulated a program of democratic socialism. The United States government and its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) intensified the latent violence and murder of that former slave society. After the popular rebellions of the pre-independence period, both political parties had organised thugs in their ranks. The CIA exploited the basic political mechanisms of the two-party divide and introduced a global connection between guns politics and trafficking of illegal substances. Because of the depth of violence and thuggery of that political system, Thompson was one branch of this political divide. During the period of CIA destabilisation of Jamaica he was the minister of national security and his reputation was permanently tainted by a massacre at Green Bay in 1978. He lived to regret this killing of youths by the Jamaican military. After serving in the Jamaican government (1974 to 1980), he was appointed as the ambassador for Jamaica to Nigeria, West Africa. He worked within the Global Africa reparations movement and from Nigeria strengthened the forces of reparative justice in that society. When Thompson sought to work with leaders such as Nigerian historian Professor J. F. Ade Ajayi and President-elect Chief M.K.O Abiola, the US and Britain were alarmed.
Since the appearance of the twelve elders of the eminent group of Africans for reparations, imperialism has been working overtime to kill this discussion on reparations for the Atlantic Slave trade. Chief Abiola was incarcerated and died under mysterious circumstances in custody. Thompson along with Professors Ali Mazrui and Ade Ajayi continued to promote the cause of reparations seeking out different venues to do this work and inspiring young legal minds to push for the imperialists to acknowledge their crimes against humanity. Thompson could be distinguished from those who simply understood reparations in terms of monetary compensation because he linked reparations to socialism and a new social system. At an advanced age, well after his three scores and ten, he was travelling all over the world promoting the unity of Africa. Despite its limitations, the African Union honoured him in 2011 by making him the first citizen of Africa and they gave him a passport. This was in recognition for his work for building a stronger, more vibrant continent as a base for the liberation of Africans at home and abroad.
This week we join in the international celebration of a life of service and a tradition that should be studied by Pan Africanists and socialists in all parts of the globe.
REARED IN A MOMENT OF WORLDWIDE REBELLION
Dudley Thompson was born in Panama on January 19, 1917. His parents were among the hundreds of thousands of Jamaican workers who were dispersed as migrant workers in Panama, Costa Rica, Cuba and other parts of Central America. He returned to Jamaica to go to school and was raised in a community called Darliston, Westmoreland. This community is important in the history of rebellions of the Jamaican poor because it was in nearby Frome Sugar Estates where the massive working class rebellion broke out in 1938. This Jamaica rebellion was one of the cascading worker protests that brought to life the anti-colonial movement in the Caribbean. The Jamaican iteration of this rebellion broke out one year after Dudley Thompson had been trained as a teacher at Mico Training (now a university) College. In his autobiography, ‘From Kingston to Kenya: the Making of a Pan-Africanist Lawyer’ ,Thompson narrated his search for work and how he had read the ideas of Mein Kampf and how incensed he had become on reading the racist ideas of Hitler. Dudley Thompson volunteered to fight in the British Army in World War II. After war service as a pathfinder and bomber pilot in the Royal Air Force (RAF), Dudley Thompson came in contact with the vibrant Pan-African Movement in the United Kingdom. He met and worked with George Padmore, C. L. R James, T. Ras Makonnen (born as Thomas Griffiths in Buxton, Guyana), T. A. Wallace-Johnson and others who had been at the forefront of the International African Service Bureau (IASB). After the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935, the IASB served as the base for the most militant anti -capitalist activities and writings during the Great Depression. It was in this period when George Padmore wrote books such as ‘How Britain Rules Africa’ and C. L. R. James wrote ‘The Black Jacobins’. The writings of James and Padmore through the journal, International African Opinion, had reached Dudley Thompson gravitating him to these Pan African fighters. He attended the Fifth Pan African Conference which was called in Manchester, England in 1945. It was within the Pan African Congress where he worked with the revolutionary activist and journalist Amy Jacques Garvey.
At the end of the war, Thompson returned to Jamaica but was soon lured back to the United Kingdom after receiving the coveted Rhodes scholarship. Thompson, like the celebrated Pan African fighter Tajudeen Abdul Raheem, was a student at Oxford University but did not allow the trappings of Oxford to blind him to the realities of the ideas of chauvinism and domination. While at Oxford, Dudley Thompson was the head of the West Indian Students Association and linked with the Africans who were active in the West African Students Association. Thompson studied law at Merton College, Oxford, and was called to the bar in the United Kingdom. So organised were the Pan Africanists in that era that when Thompson finished his training and was called to the bar he consulted with the other Pan Africanists to find out where he should practice. Padmore and the other activists recommended that he relocate to East Africa so that he could support the anti-colonial struggles in that region, especially Kenya.
THE MAKING OF A PAN-AFRICANIST LAWYER
When younger students today read the autobiographical work of Dudley Thompson, ‘From Kingston to Kenya: The Making of a Pan Africanist Lawyer’, they will be immediately drawn to the selfless world of Pan African revolutionaries of the period after World War II. Here was a young lawyer starting out in his career and sought advice from other Pan Africanists rather than joining one of the lucrative legal practices where he could earn a large salary. Thompson was ready and willing to take his family into the service of African independence. In his autobiography, he narrated how George Padmore encouraged him to relocate to East Africa so that he could assist the movement for independence and build linkages with the struggles across East Africa. In 1951, Thompson moved to Moshi, Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and established his legal practice there. In the book, we learn of his association with Julius Nyerere long before Nyerere became a leader of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). Dudley Thompson assisted the nationalists in Tanganyika in writing the legal challenges to British control and worked to prepare TANU for their representations before the decolonization Committee of the United Nations. Today, because of the lack of historical continuity, younger East Africans are not aware of the extent to which Moshi, Tanganyika, was a hub for the coordination of work of freedom fighters. Thompson sought to bridge this gap of knowledge of African Unity. Using Moshi as a base of operations, he worked closely with the freedom fighters in Kenya who had formed the Land and Freedom Army (now called Mau Mau). Walter Rodney knew Dudley Thompson and was studying in Jamaica at the University of the West Indies when Thompson returned from Moshi Tanganyika. Later when Walter Rodney was teaching at the University of Dar es Salaam he wrote on this period of liberation support in East Africa in a paper entitled, ‘A Note on Mau Mau in Tanganyika Territory.’ The significance of this paper was to expose the real history that all regions of Tanganyika were involved in the decolonisation process.
Thompson served in a legal and political capacity bringing to the East African political scene his linkages with the wider struggle and keeping in communication with Padmore and the other struggles in other parts of Africa. In his book, ‘The Making of a Pan Africanist Lawyer’, he chronicles the legal aspects of the trials of Kenyan leaders and describes the tasks of linking legal and political work. Currently, the activities of the British state are becoming more known before the UK courts and mainstream scholars are bringing out the criminality of British colonialism. Dudley Thompson lived and worked in the midst of this total war and as we remember him, we should also recollect that it was in the midst of this effort to destroy the ideas of African liberation where the British military developed many of the counter-insurgency tactics that are employed by imperial armies today. Former British officer and expert in low intensity warfare, Frank Kitson used Kenya as a laboratory for the kind of divisive ideas of tribal divisions and gangs against gangs that continue to plague African societies. Before leaving Kenya in 1955, Dudley Thompson defended a Masai and the pride of the Masai in their ideas about community solidarity. Thompson accepted as payment from this Masai a spear. It was a gift that was to link Thompson with the African freedom movement; in Jamaica he was called the Burning Spear.
THE BURNING SPEAR IN JAMAICA
Thompson was a life member of the People's National Party (PNP). This was one of the two dominant political parties in Jamaica since universal adult suffrage. On returning to Jamaica, he threw himself into Jamaican nationalism bringing to the poor his linkages to the Pan African and Pan Caribbean movements. The spear that the Masai gave him was prominently linked to his career as a legal fighter for justice and the Rastafari movement from West Kingston identified with him. At that moment in time, the Rastafari movement was persecuted and Thompson supported the plans of Norman Manley to send a team of Rastafari to Africa to investigate the possibilities for repatriation to Africa. It was during this period that Dudley Thompson formed a strong bond with another Caribbean nationalist and Rhodes Scholar, Rex Nettleford. Rex Nettleford was a distinguished scholar and cultural artist who sought to break the Anglo-saxon mode of Jamaican society. Like Nettleford, Dudley never fell prey to narrow island nationalism and he worked with movements in the Bahamas and Belize for independence.
Inside Jamaica, Thompson was an active politician and fought for the volatile constituency of West Kingston in the independence elections of 1962. Thompson contested for the seat against Edward Seaga, the representative of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). This constituency became the centre for a form of politics that has crippled Jamaican society and the working people. Edward Seaga won the election in 1962 and he became associated with a brand of garrison politics that exploded on the world stage in 2010 when notorious drug lord and Shower Posse gang leader, Christopher “Dudus” Coke, was arrested and extradited from Jamaica to the United States.
Soon after the elections in 1962, the victorious JLP government used the expedient of urban renewal to bulldoze the Rastafari community of that area, dispersing the Rastafari out of their political and cultural stronghold. However, the JLP could not disperse the ideas of African freedom and liberation and the ideas of independence were carried forward so that talented reggae artists such as Winston Rodney took on the moniker of ‘Burning Spear’ and put to music the ideas of African nationalism. It was out of this cultural and political milieu that the most well- known music of Winston Rodney was and is Marcus Garvey’s words come to pass. Dudley Thompson had inspired these cultural artists and in the process he was taking a stand in rehabilitating Marcus Garvey in a society where the ruling elements remained afraid of the ideas of the black self pride of Garvey.
SERVICE IN JAMAICAN POLITICS
After he lost the seat to Edward Seaga, the rising star of the conservative Jamaican nationalist forces, Thompson was appointed to the Jamaican Senate and he served there, 1964-78. When Michael Manley won the elections in the 1972, Thompson was appointed Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. From this position he vigorously supported armed struggles for liberation in southern Africa and the non-aligned movement. He was one of the more articulate spokespersons for democratic socialism and for better Jamaica/Caribbean relations with Cuba. In his capacity as Minister of Foreign Affairs he supported the efforts of the international movement for a new international economic order. It was during his tenure as a member of the Michael Manley administration where he also served as Jamaica’s chief representative in the conference on the Law of the Sea and played a leading role in securing Jamaica as the permanent headquarters for the International Seabed Authority.
Dudley Thompson served as Minister for Foreign Affairs, 1975-77; for Mining and Natural Resources, 1977-78, and for National Security, 1978-80. This period of 1976 to 1980 was a moment of intensified political violence in Jamaica. Bob Marley was shot in 1976 in the middle of the parliamentary election campaign. Michael Manley won that election and it is now known that the CIA worked hard to destabilise the Jamaican government. As Minister of National Security, Thompson was at the centre of this politico-military struggle. It was at this time when there was the killing of young supporters of the Jamaica Labour Party, at Green Bay in St. Catherine.
‘On January 5, 1978, 14 men from the Jamaica Labour Party stronghold of Southside, central Kingston were escorted to the military range at Green Bay, St. Catherine, by soldiers. The men were lured with the offer of jobs. Five of them were allegedly shot dead by the soldiers, resulting in a scandal for the ruling People's National Party.’
It was after this killing of the five young men when Thompson made the infamous statement, 'no angels died at Green Bay.’ Thompson had been caught in the internecine struggle and by this statement he wanted to indict the youth as partisans for the JLP.
POLITICAL VIOLENCE AND THE POLITICS OF RETROGRESSION IN JAMAICA
It was during the commemoration of Kwame Nkrumah in Accra, Ghana in May 2010, where I had the longest discussion with Dudley Thompson on this sordid period of Jamaican history. It had been my conviction that the PNP leadership of Michael Manley should have used the instruments of the law and ideological training to educate the Jamaican people about CIA subversion instead of arming sections of the working class. In May 2010 the story of Christopher “Dudus” Coke made international headlines and I discussed with Thompson specifically the tragedy of Jamaican politics where armed thugs could control the communities and where the incumbent Prime Minister was held hostage to the traditions of the garrison community. I have made my statement on this aspect of Jamaican politics in my contribution on, ‘Gangsters, Politicians, Cocaine and Bankers: Lessons from the Saga of Dudus in Jamaica.’
In the discussion in Accra, Dudley Thompson expressed remorse at the Green Bay incident and claimed that it was a set up. I encouraged him to write in depth about this period and to expose politicians who were still associated with garrison politics. A discussion that was supposed to last 20 minutes lasted over four hours as Dudley Thompson expressed his pain over this period of Jamaican history. Because of this episode in the history of Jamaica, I had written an unsympathetic review of his autobiography. In that discussion I brought out the contradictions of supporting liberation in Africa while the Jamaican state continued to sow divisions among the sufferers in Jamaica so that the poor would not organize to remove the oppressors.
AMBASSADOR FOR THE REPARATIONS MOVEMENT
Dudley Thompson was appointed as high commissioner (ambassador) to Nigeria (accredited to Ghana, Sierra Leone, Namibia, and Cameroon), 1990-95. During this period he became one of the foremost advocates for reparations for slavery and the slave trade and was named one of the 12 persons appointed by the Organization of African Unity to advocate for the strengthening of the international movement for reparations. The other members of this African Group of Eminent pesons were: Chief Bashorun M. K. O. Abiola, (chairperson), J. F. Ade Ajayi; Professor Samir Amin of Egypt; United States Congressman R. Dellums; Professor Josef Ki-Zerbo ; Mme Graca Machel, Miriam Makeba, Ali Mazrui ; Professor M. M’Bow, President A. Pereira of Cape Verde and Ambassador Alex Quaison-Sackey.
From his position as an ambassador for Jamaica in West Africa, Dudley worked hard within this reparations movement and was one of the organisers of the Pan African Conference on Reparations held in Abuja, Nigeria from April 27 to 29, 1993. Chief M.K.O Abiola was one of the main supporters of this conference and when he campaigned to become President of Nigeria in 1993, the Nigerian people responded positively to the intellectual and political climate that was being developed in the society. When Abiola was elected, the elections were annuled and a period of brutal dictatorship was installed so that Nigeria would not be open to democratic practice and democratic ideas. The Commission on Reparations of the OAU was gaining momentum and the militarists along with the oil companies could not tolerate a state that gave publicity to the Abuja Declaration, ‘A declaration of the first Abuja Pan-African Conference on Reparations For African Enslavement, Colonization And Neo-Colonization.’
The twin ideas of democratic governance and reparations were too dangerous and Abiola was prevented from taking up the Nigerian presidency. The dictator, General Sani Abacha, seized power and even when Abacha died in 1998, the forces of imperialism would not fathom a Nigeria with Abiola as a free political operative fighting for democracy and reparations. Abiola’s wife was assassinated by the military and Abiola expired in 1998 under circumstances that still require explanation.
AMBASSADOR- AT- LARGE FOR PAN AFRICAN UNITY
After leaving Nigeria in 1995 Dudley Thompson returned to the Caribbean and later relocated to the United States to live in Miami, Florida. From these locations, he became an ardent spokesperson for African Unity, socialism and reparations. He was on numerous platforms and inspired lawyers such as reparations advocate Lord Anthony Gifford, who became associated with the reparations campaign. Dudley Thompson spoke on platforms high and low and was famous for his statement, ‘Not only are they wicked for enslaving our ancestors but worse, they have stubbornly and consistently refused to confess their crime against humanity…’
Working inside the Caribbean with the Caribbean Reparations Movement, Dudley Thompson teamed up with Barbadian political activist David Comissiong and Barbadian historian, Sir Hilary Beckles, to strengthen the African Diaspora platform for the World Conference Against Racism in Durban in 2001. It was in part due to their painstaking work that we now have the language in international law that, ‘Slavery and the slave trade… are crimes against humanity, and should always have been so, especially the transatlantic slave trade, and are among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance… We recognise that colonialism has led to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.’
Since the Durban conference in 2001, the Western European states and the United States have fought a major battle to erase this concept of slavery as a crime against humanity from international politics. The former Jamaican Prime Minister, PJ Patterson has written a glowing tribute to Dudley Thompson praising his work as a freedom fighter. Probably the best tribute that can be paid by the Jamaican government will be to implement the Program of Action of the WCAR and the Durban Declaration on Enslavement so that the textbooks in the Caribbean can carry forward the work of reparations. In this way, the young will understand that reparative justice is not simply about material compensation for the wrongs done against Africans.
In fact, at the 2006 Conference of the African Union and the Diaspora held in Bahia, Brazil, July 12-14, Dudley Thompson as an elder came face to face with a new spirit of mobilisation by young Afro-Brazilians. Embarrassed by the realities of Brazilian racism, the government of Brazil called on Thompson to take the chair and mediate between the government of Brazil and the young Africans from Brazil. These Brazilian militants had intervened in this Second Conference of Intellectuals from Africa and the Diaspora (CIAD II) under the auspice of the African Union (AU) which took place in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. This was one of the more historic Pan African meetings where the veteran Brazilian freedom fighter, Abdias Nascimento, was honoured. It was in this meeting where I heard one of the more radical speeches on Pan Africanism by Stevie Wonder. It was in Brazil where Dudley Thompson came face to face with the next wave of the Pan African struggles; the call of the Brazilian youth for social justice and for an end to Brazilian racism. The leader of the Jamaican delegation, the present Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, gave the most radical speech at the conference, invoking the names and traditions of Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley. I asked the representative from Jamaica why she could not give such a speech in Jamaica. She did not answer and walked away.
Young Brazilians had gone past radical speeches and were intent on pressuring the Brazilian state to recognise the current crimes of racist violence against the Black Youth of Brazil. Here were the youth singing the freedom songs of South Africa in their demonstration against the conference when Frene Ginwala, the veteran freedom fighter from South Africa was chairing the closing session. The combined efforts of Thompson and Frene Ginwala could not halt the wave of energy that was coming forth from Brazil. Pan Africanists from the generation of the period of political independence and anti-colonialism were given a glimpse of the demands of the youth for a better life in the 21st century.
WORKING FOR THE UNITY AND FREEDOM OF AFRICA
Every year, Dudley Thompson, Ali Mazrui and Ade Ajayi organised panels on reparations at the annual meeting of the African Studies Association (ASA) in the United States. Thompson carried his message to every corner of the globe and there was not a major Pan African meeting where he was not present. Whether it was the meetings of the African Union with leaders or a community meeting in Harlem, New York, Thompson was travelling and speaking about the urgent need for African unity as the fundamental basis for African freedom. In the United States, he became associated with a group that gave itself the name, the World African Diaspora Union (WADU). In 2007, he was as the first president of WADU. This was an African diasporic formation with personalities representing a wide ideological spectrum.
I sat in small caucuses with Dudley Thompson in Barbados in 2007 when we strategised on how to ensure that the resolutions on African Unity and reparations came out of that meeting of the African Union. He became clearer in his articulation on the need for a break from the recursive traditions of slavery, colonialism and capitalism and he explicitly spelt out the importance of the socialist alternative for Africa. It is our hope that the organisers of the Kwame Nkrumah conference in Ghana will make his 2010 speech available in a medium that could be accessible to the larger population. In that speech, I heard probably the most cogent analysis of the requirements of socialism and unity in Africa.
In an earlier submission to Pambazuka News I had written on the presentations of former President of Zambia Kenneth Kaunda and Dudley Thompson and how the progressive ideas of Pan African socialism presented by Issa Shivji and Thompson were received. Right before the youth, Thompson was making a distinction between the state proclaimed African Unity of Abdulai Wade of Senegal and the real sacrifices that had been paid by Kwame Nkrumah in the struggles for independence. Thompson embraced that branch of the Pan African Movement that supported inclusiveness and ensured that the young understood that, although Issa Shivji was of Indian descent, the Pan African Movement was an inclusive movement for all of those who were fighting for social justice in Africa.
Dudley reminded those present that he was in London in 1945 when Nkrumah brought the famous letter of introduction to George Padmore from C.L.R. James. Dudley not only underlined the socialist content of African Unity but also reminded the Ghanaian participants of the role of the African Diaspora in the political life and work of Nkrumah. He made a passionate plea for the regularisation of the citizenship status of African Diaspora community residents in Ghana. There had been hundreds of Africans who had repatriated to Ghana and lived for many years yet the government of Ghana was dillydallying over the question of the citizenship status of these Africans who had decided to return to settle permanently in Africa.
A UNITED STATES OF AFRICA BY 2017?
It was last year when the African Union recognised the work of Dudley Thompson and accorded him the status of the first citizen of the United States of Africa. The United States of Africa is the goal of the current Pan African thrust. It is the view that in a multipolar world, Africans cannot continue to maintain the borders that were created by the imperialist partitioning of Africa. Dudley Thompson had been specific that Africa must be free and united by 2017. Drawing from his experiences of the era of the depression and war, he understood that only a united Africa can withstand the coming turbulence unleashed by the capitalist depression. One day after his birthday, Thompson was on his way to another community meeting in New Jersey when he succumbed to a heart attack and joined the ancestors.
Dudley Thompson will be celebrated by the Jamaican government of February 10, 2012. I will restate my position that the best tribute that can be paid is for the governments of the Caribbean to move from giving lip service to the issue of reparative justice and build the kind of ideas of reparations into the curriculum of the schools so that the next generation will be imbued with the ideas of reparations, Ubuntu and freedom.
Horace Campbell is Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University.