Muniini K. Mulera
Vietnam’s Gen Giap’s message to the FDC
Posted Monday, October 7 2013 at 01:00
Gen Vo Nguyen Giap, legendary commander of the North Vietnamese fighters who successfully fought the Japanese, then the French, then the Americans and South Vietnamese, died on Friday at the age of 102.
Along with Ho Chi Minh, the supreme leader of North Vietnam, Gen Giap was one of those who captivated the imagination of an impressionable teenager trying to decipher the complex politics of the Cold War.
The egalitarian spirit of adolescence, easily moved along by the brilliant arguments of men like Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Kambarage Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Franz Fanon and Milton Obote, settled one squarely in the leftist camp.
Ignorance is bliss, they say. That there was no real difference between the agendas of the antagonists, one headquartered in Washington DC and the other in Moscow, remained hidden from us – me to be certain – until my early 20s.
By then we had come to revere Gen Giap as though he was fighting to liberate all of us, not just the Vietnamese.
Newspaper images of Ho Chi Minh and Gen Giap wearing their rugabire sandals (made of car tires) were as intoxicating as seeing Jaramogi Oginga Odinga similarly attired.
And so we adopted the rugabire sandals as a symbol of quiet protest and solidarity with the proletariat and rural peasants. Of course we did not understand the realities of those with whom we thought we had a bond. How could we have when we were living in relative comfort, all expenses paid by the very proletariat whose cause we supposedly championed?
We called our version of the sandals “common man’s shoes”, a play on Obote’s Common Man’s Charter, the creed that argued the case for his “move to the left strategy.”
Our celebration of the triumphant end of the Viet Nam War in April 1975 was short lived. Soon we learnt that our heroes, Gen. Giap among them, were presiding over a ruthless regime that denied the citizens the very freedom they had sacrificed so much for.
That war had cost the lives of three million communist fighters and civilians, plus 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers and 58,000 American troops. More people would die after the war, a development that, together with millions of deaths in neighbouring China’s Cultural Revolution, and the hypocrisy of the rulers of the Soviet Union, helped to disabuse of me of any residue of romance with the Left.
No doubt his death has rekindled intense emotions, especially among Americans and Vietnamese, the two peoples whose bond is written in blood, whose national wounds gape and ooze with pain four decades after the fall of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), whose stories will forever be linked by the name of this most tenacious warrior.
Clearly Gen Giap had little regard for human life, as long it was in the service of his people’s freedom. It is a recurrent theme in the statements that have been issued since his death. But he was not alone in this. The Americans employed any and all means necessary in an effort to defeat Giap’s troops. They used weapons of mass destruction, including napalm bombing that was immortalised by a single photograph of a naked girl with burns running away from the man-made inferno.
I have mixed feelings about my one-time hero. My high regard for Gen Giap’s intellect and his resolute commitment to his group’s agenda has remained unchanged over the years despite my confronting the truth of his ruthlessness.
The question that comes to mind today is why Gen Giap’s armies won his wars. My preliminary thoughts are that his armies were militarily inferior, but strategically superior; financially inferior but morally superior; under-resourced but politically astute at getting the attention of the American people and fuelling the anti-war movement in the United States.
The Vietnamese peasants were ready, willing and able to sacrifice everything for their freedom from foreign occupation.
Gen Giap himself explained the reasons for his guerrilla army’s success. Speaking to the Associated Press in 2005, Giap said: “We fought because for Vietnam, nothing is more precious than independence and freedom.” He added: “We had to use the small against the big; backward weapons to defeat modern weapons. In the end it was the human factor that determined victory.”
Gen Giap’s words apply to any struggle, such as that in which the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) is engaged with the hope of effecting regime change in Uganda.
The FDC, cash strapped and with multiple logistical challenges, is a David against a Goliath that is in control of the State, including the cash, the weapons of intimidation and the Uganda Electoral Commission.
Yet Gen Giap told an interviewer: “If a nation is determined to stand up, it is very strong.” Likewise, if the FDC desires to be the strong party that many Ugandans yearn for, its leaders must rally behind its best asset, its president, Mr Mugisha Muntu.
If the leaders choose to discard any and all distracting internal conflicts over the outcome of the party presidential election 11 months ago, it has the potential to become a formidable force that can cause a major upset in 2016.