By Gibson Nyikadzino
The question still being asked by Africans, decades after they gained a nominal political independence, is: 'How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?'
This question was memorably put forward by the iconic Bob Marley so many years ago, but our prophets continue to be killed.
One by one, our most steadfast leaders have been eliminated, to the point where Africa is hard-pressed to point out more than three people who are advancing the continental agenda for economic freedom.
Almost every single leader who has stood up for Africa's right to economic self-determination has been eliminated – either physically or politically.
It started with the very first successful anti-colonial movement in Ghana where Kwame Nkrumah was the victim of a concerted propaganda campaign that saw him pushed out of power through a coup.
Today, the average Ghanaian admits that an error was made in not recognizing Nkrumah's value, and elections in that country are now premised on being pro-Nkrumah or not. Patrice Lumumba's story is one of the saddest in Africa's quest for economic freedom, and his brutal murder still rankles today.
The same happened to Thomas Isdore Sankara, Steve Biko and many others who stood up for African dignity.
And it was not just in Africa.
Malcolm X died young because of what he believed was the rightful place of the black person in the United States of America – 'the land of the free'.
Fortunately, while these icons may have been physically and/or politically eliminated, their ideas live on.
The problem is: how many in Africa and the African Diaspora have the courage to stand up and take these ideas forward? Perhaps a little relook at some of these icons will re-energize the struggle to reclaim our dignity as a people.
In October of 1960 Lumumba said, 'Dead, living, free, or in prison on the orders of the colonialists, it is not I who counts.'
'It is the Congo, it is our people for whom independence has been transformed into a cage where we are regarded from the outside.'
'History will one day have its say, but it will not be the history that Brussels, Paris, Washington, or the United Nations will teach, but that which they will teach in the countries emancipated from colonialism and its puppets... a history of glory and dignity.'
His faithfulness to the idea of a united Congo was as real a threat then as it is today.
A solid Congo state, with its great natural and human resources, would be a global economic power that the West would not take as lightly as they do the fractured state that exists at present.
Perhaps Lumumba's biggest mistake was a lack of tact in exposing his grand plans for his country.
It was probably in that memorable Independence Day speech in which he challenged the core of imperialism that he sealed his fate and the decision was made to murder him.
After all, the former colonial powers have always been content to let Africa hold political power at home but will not brook any interference in how the economy is run and resources are allocated.
In a meeting held with security advisers in August 1960, two months after Congo achieved its formal independence from Belgium, US President Dwight Eisenhower ordered the CIA to 'eliminate' Lumumba, according to an account by Robert Johnson.
'There was a stunned silence for about 15 seconds and the meeting continued,' Johnson recalled.
CIA director Allen Dulles referred to Lumumba as a 'mad dog', and on January 17, 1961 the Congolese leader drew his last breath.
In the last weeks of his life, when he was being dragged around with a rope around his neck, Lumumba still carried himself with great dignity as well as courage.
Even when he faced torture he did not plead for mercy.
It is this that contributes to Lumumba's martyrdom - a powerful martyrdom that should make him more influential in death than in life. This is why Lumumba is still celebrated as the 'best son of Africa', the 'Lincoln of the Congo', the 'Black Messiah' whose life and death were all about the fight for justice.
'If violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong abroad. If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us, and make us violent abroad in defense of her.
'And if it is right for America to draft us, and teach us how to be violent in defense of her, then it is right for you and me to do whatever is necessary to defend our own people right here in this country,' said the late Malcolm X.
Born in poverty in a land that is regarded as the land of the free, Malcolm X grew up in a violent environment.
His father was killed by the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan and this event had a profound effect on his views.
Through his 'any means necessary' slogan, Malcolm X influenced and continues to shape the political landscape so many decades after his death.
In his book 'Dreams From My Father', US President Barack Obama says he was inspired by Malcolm X.
'Only Malcolm X's autobiography seemed to offer something different. His repeated acts of self-creation spoke to me; the blunt poetry of his words, his unadorned insistence on respect, promised a new and uncompromising order, martial in its discipline, forged through sheer force of will...'
'Malcolm himself seemed to have safely abandoned toward the end of his life. He spoke of a wish he'd once had, the wish that the white blood that tan through him, there by an act of violence, might somehow be expunged,' says Obama.
Just like Stephen Bantu Biko, Malcolm X radicalized black youth and showed them that we can be so much more than our oppressors say we are.
On February 21, 1965 Malcolm X was shot 16 times by suspected FBI agents while going to address a meeting on African unity.
Thomas Isdore Sankara
Thomas Sankara ('The Lion King') was killed on October 15, 1987 after leading Burkina Faso for four years at the orders of a 'friend', Blaise Compaoré.
This is the same Compaoré who in 2008 supported the United States, France and Britain in trying to get the UN Security Council to begin proceedings to invade Zimbabwe only to be stopped by Russia, China, South Africa, Vietnam and others.
The revolution Sankara led between 1983 and 1987 was one of the most creative and radical that Africa produced in the decades after independence.
Sankara wanted African countries to follow a genuine alternative to Western-style modernization; something in which he was influenced by Patrice Lumumba.
It was thus not surprising that Sankara met the same fate as his mentor.
Why they were killed
Some of the people who are now most vocal in their praise of our dead African heroes include many who in the past criticized some of their actions and speeches most savagely while they were still alive.
Lumumba and Sankara were taken away from Africa through the connivance of Africans working with outside forces.
The reason for killing these icons is the same reason why today the West cannot stomach Robert Mugabe: we should not control our own resources and must remain chattel of the West.
Lumumba, Malcolm X and Sankara were true sons of Africa, and in their short unhappy lifetimes, they showed us that we have it in us to excel.