Katonga Spirit: Uganda’s Cuito Cuanavale, Stalingrad and how it can shape our anti-imperialist charge

By Alex Joel Masereka

Historians have described it as the fiercest battle fought on the African continent. Situated in Angola, the Cuito Cuanavale village has been significant in Africa’s story against the last strands of colonialism as we know it.

With Luanda’s young independence under threat from the invading South Africa Apartheid regime, Agostinho Neto sought the help of Cuba’s El Comandante Fidel Castro in the early 1980s, who readily provided as it had been his character to support any movement that challenged the ugly face of imperialism.

The 1988 battle of Cuito Cuanavale involving Cuban and Soviet comrades, Angola’s MPLA and Namibians, on one hand, and the South Africans on the other, became a defining moment in Southern Africa’s quest for independence.

At the end of it, Namibian had gained independence, South African troops retreated and discussion intensified for all political prisoners to be freed including Nelson Mandela, and the curtains came down on the evil that was Apartheid. Historians have remarked that it also marked the end of colonialism as we know it in Africa.

In his own words, Comandante Fidel said, “When the invasion of Angola by regular South African troops started on 23 October, we could not sit idle. And when the MPLA asked us for help, we offered the necessary aid to prevent apartheid from making itself comfortable in Angola”.

Angolans celebrate the victory of this battle and use it as inspiration when faced with challenges.
In the early 1940s, Germany’s Fuhrer Adolf Hitler, encouraged by his annexations of large parts of Europe, decided to invade the Soviet Union as part of his grand plan to expand the country’s borders.

At the start, it appeared that Joseph Stalin would crumble, but he quickly rallied his troops who managed to defeat the Germans in the key battle of Stalingrad. This battle which formed part of Russia’s Great Patriotic War, changed the tide of World War II which eventually culminated in the defeat of the Nazis. Every year, Russians celebrate Victory Day which traces its roots in this battle that is subtly ignored by historians in crediting Russia’s contribution to the fall of Nazism.

Ethiopia is celebrated as the only African country to have survived the scourge of colonialism. The country’s National Palace in Addis Ababa, has artefacts of Emperor Negus Menelik II. They include his robes, swords and other weapons he used to lead Ethiopians against European invaders (Italians) in the battle of Adwa of 1896. These also serve as a reminder to the generations of Ethiopians that their country’s revered place among those that weren’t colonized, came at a price, one they must be ready to pay when challenged. It has become woven in their social fabric.

In the evening of the five-year NRA bush war, the battle of Katonga came to be the defining moment in the warfare that eventually led to the capture of Kampala in 1986 catapulting President Yoweri Museveni to power.

This year, the president has chosen to honor all those who participated in the pivotal battle in what has been dubbed “Katonga Spirit”. This fighting spirit, the belief that the NRA fighters wore in their final push for Kampala, should form part of our national character when faced with challenges, especially imperialism.

In Katonga, we learn that it was possible to fight against the near impossible and win. The recent past has shown Uganda that there comes a time when the country needs to draw on her strengths, and her victories in the past to stand up and be counted irrespective of our political shades. Western uproar and response to Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law is an example.

To engrain this in the country’s belief system, government should expedite plans to have a museum erected in Katonga as a reference to the country’s ability to resist and win. Honouring those who participated in the fiercest battle in Uganda’s military history, will go a long way in inculcating the same.

The writer; Alex Joel Masereka, is a Pan Africanist, ONC Media Officer

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