Elaine Mokhtefi Remembers Algeria and the Blacks Panthers

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Elaine Mokhtefi in the LRB:

In 1962, with independence declared, I went back to Algeria. Vacancies left by close to a million fleeing Europeans meant that jobs were on offer in every ministry and sector. Before long, I found myself working in President Ahmed Ben Bella’s press and information office, where I received foreign journalists, scheduled appointments and dished out information to the reporters from Europe and the US who were streaming in. I even learned to fake Ben Bella’s signature for his admirers.

I stayed on after the coup that brought Houari Boumediene to power in 1965. I had made a home in Algeria; I was happy with my life and my work in the national press. In 1969, events took an extraordinary turn. Late one night I received a call from Charles Chikerema, the representative of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union, one of many African liberation movements with an office in the city. He told me that the Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver was in town and needed help.

It was June. I remember it very clearly. I can see myself walking down a side street between the Casbah and the European sector of Algiers towards the Victoria, a small, third-rate hotel. I climbed four flights of stairs and knocked. The door opened and there was Cleaver, and beyond him, flat out on the bed, his wife, Kathleen, eight months pregnant. The sense of awe I felt that day never left me. The shortcomings of the Black Panther Party are clear enough in retrospect, but they took the battle to the streets, demanded justice and were prepared to bear arms to protect their community. Their slogans – ‘The sky’s the limit’, ‘Power to the People’ – resounded through black ghettoes across the US. They denounced American imperialism as the war in Vietnam gathered pace.

More here.

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