Saturday, September 17, 2022

Ritual Tributes

Apropos public grief, herewith a sampling of tributes to Yuri Andropov by African leaders after his death, as reported in Talking Drums magazine (February 20, 1984)...

The public expression of grief can be confounding especially when rituals combine with politics and the performance of power. At such times, perception is all.

The institutions that have staying power in human history are well practised at the spectacle of ritual tributes. The Catholic Church, and as we are currently seeing, the British monarchy, are experts in this realm, putting on a finely-tuned display with the pomp and pageantry of a well oiled machine.

Africans understand well the importance of funeral ceremonies, death being our close companion. Effusive outpourings are to be expected, furrowed brows and florid rhetoric - albeit with a sober countenance, in celebration of the departed. During our lost decades, even the rogues who were busy feeding on the carcasses of our body politic, and who, in the main, weren't the most gifted of wordsmiths, could be counted on to give a felicitous toast and ritual tribute. Solidarity matters and we were treated to the keen expression of shock and sorrow.

Their counterparts of today may be more sensible but are equally eloquent and performative, it goes with the territory. Observe well the statements of condolences - and acts, upon the death of the good Queen Elizabeth II.

The Soviet Union didn't last a century and their leadership transitions were sometimes fraught affairs but the Communist Party well understood the necessity of ritual tributes. Their populace and their clients duly performed. Shock and sorrow was expected, shock and sorrow was delivered.

Tributes to Andropov by African Leaders

Talking Drums, February 20, 1984

News of the death of President Yuri Andropov was received in Africa with shock and sorrow as expressed in the various measures taken by African leaders in memory of the Soviet leader.

In Nigeria a delegation led by the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon, and including the Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshall Ibrahim Alfa and the Minister of External Affairs, Dr Ibrahim Gambari, were in Moscow to attend the funeral.

Ghana: Three days of national mourning were declared during which Flt-Lt. J.J. Rawlings, Chairman of the Provisional National Defence Council signed the book of condolence at the Soviet Embassy.

Earlier during a visit to Upper Volta, Flt-Lt. Rawlings had sent a message of condolence to the Soviet leadership noting that "the frailty of individual destinies should provide the world with fraternal solidarity that goes beyond ideological inclinations"

Benin: An extraordinary meeting of the Political Bureau of the sole party was convened followed by a declaration of three days national mourning. President Kerekou then sent a message of condolence to the Soviet leadership describing Andropov as "a worthy pursuer of Lenin's works."

Ethiopia: Addis Ababa radio reported Mengistu Haile Mariam's departure for Moscow and announced that flags would be flown at half mast in Ethiopia for three days.

Zimbabwe: Harare radio reported that Prime Minister Robert Mugabe was at the airport to see off President Canaan Banana and the Foreign Minister, Witness Mangwende to Moscow. Two days of national mourning were also declared as a further mark of the solidarity.

Guinea: The Prime Minister, Lansana Beavogui, delivered to the Soviet Ambassador a message of condolence from the people, party and President of Guinea describing Andropov as a man of peace. The Prime Minister was also in Moscow for the funeral.

Liberia: The Liberian leader General Doe sent a message of condolence describing Andropov as a staunch fighter for world peace

Congo: A statement issued by the Party's central committee declared two days of national mourning. President Sassou-Nguesso sent a message of condolence to the Soviet leadership describing the USSR as the rampart of peace, harmony, world co-operation and the progress of humanity."

Mozambique: President Machel was in Moscow to attend the funeral Earlier in his message of condolence to the Soviet leaders broadcast by Maputo Radio, Machel said Andropov had "wisely used his intelligence and serenity at a time when the aggressiveness of imperialism increasingly showed itself as a permanent menace against humanity's liberation."

Angola: Luanda radio reported the signing by President dos Santos of the book of condolence at the Soviet embassy and his description of Andropov as "a statesman and distinguished leader of the CPSU and a staunch fighter for peace, liberty and socialism."

Upper Volta: According to Ouagadougou Radio, there was a message from the Upper Volta leader, Capt. Sankara, saying that the loss of "this illustrious freedom fighter should further strengthen our revolutionary faith and vigilance."


coffin for head of state - fela graffiti contra Trump

(On election day 2020, this was the graffiti we came across on our walk. On the same trail we saw "Trump is the virus" and other unprintables by the same artist. I guess it was cathartic for them).

Soundtrack for this note

An ironic ritual tribute in Afrobeat. ...

I would normally be moved to a poem, the language in the above passage is tempting; the music to be found in the homilies of strongmen and the men in khaki. Also, as a time capsule of cold war perceptions from the south, much could be drawn out. Still, one is conflicted. Circa 1984 the Soviet Union and General Secretary Andropov were not supporting the apartheid regime as Reagan and Thatcher were, indeed they were actively on the side of many African liberation movements. Still it's hard to resist commenting on the expressions of grief from say Comrade Mengistu, who was then Chairman of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), or the erstwhile Master Sergent (and then Doctor and General) Doe, the blood altogether blinds me.

Bread and circuses are not merely confined to monarchies. But this is a time of worldwide mourning and sober reflection, let's not pursue the thread...


Timing is everything
Observers are worried

See also: The Laws of Grief

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Writing log: September 16, 2022

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