My father made multiple trips to the African continent traveling north, east, south, and west. His first trip was to Algeria and Morocco. His second trip started in Gabon in 1977. He was there for the conference of the Organization for African Unity (OAU). That part of the trip did not go exactly as planned. Here is the story:
I was interested in the Organization for African Unity (OAU) and Sandy (Close. Founder of Pacific News Service) and Carlton (Goodlett. Founder and publisher of “The Sun Reporter Newspaper) and I raised money for me to go. So I get to Gabon, I’m in a Black country and this white man challenges me and I’m like “F… you.” He turns out to be the head of security and they throw me out of the country and tear up my tickets.
I returned to Paris and went to Time-Life. I knew people in the Time-Life structure. I specifically knew the Bureau Chief in San Francisco. I told them my story. They checked and they found out that my story was straight. The United States did not protect my ass. Time-Life was outraged, because in Gabon I kept asking customs to call my Embassy. Turns out the US Embassy did not protect my ass because the CIA chief was a black dude who decided I shouldn’t be there.
I had had my coverage of the conference planned beautifully. First, I had planned to attend the week of the foreign ministers and then three or four days of the heads of state. It was the foreign ministers who put the stuff together really. I felt that I could benefit from that. I could learn and I could find journalists to help me, so that when the heads of state came in I’d be ready for them. As it turned out I couldn’t get back until the last few of days so that plan was out.
I got back to Gabon because Time-Life wrote a letter saying that I was a well-known and well-respected journalist from San Francisco and that the United States had not protected me and that they were asking for protection. And if my credentials from the Sun Reporter were not good enough that they would send me on special assignment. They got an okay and I was on my way back.
When I got back to Gabon I was on the approved side. One of the Black security people was there and he said, “Didn’t we just throw you out of here?” And I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Americans are strong!” He just walked off.
Now I’m there and I’m totally confused. All of the business is in French. And somebody calls me, “Reggie.” I barely remember this dude. It’s one of the people I met in Algiers in ’71. Suddenly I’m being embraced. And here’s this whole bunch of revolutionaries. I knew the ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) people now. They knew me. They knew I was cool. There was no worry about it.
The ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) people introduced me to the Nigerians. The Nigerians said, “Okay you can hang with us.” They had their press conference. You know they speak 122 languages or something. (laughter) They had their press conferences in English, not press conferences, news conferences. They would sit down and they would discuss the news and I had no sense of it. I knew the OAU but I didn’t really have a larger sense of what was happening. But you can learn quickly. They talked that talk about who was coming and whatnot and this and that and the other thing. And I could decide what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. Sometimes I would hang with them and sometimes I wouldn’t. It was cool.
When the heads of state came in that was a funny thing too. The first day, who was coming in but Idi Amin. Now you’ve got to understand Idi Amin was a clown. He really was. But clowns aren’t totally stupid, but he was there. And there was an American, I don’t know what was in to him. He was one of the regular white news people. He was insane. Idi Amin comes in and this reporter leaves the white people and he comes over to the Nigerian delegation. This is the biggest press group in the entire place, bar none. And he starts berating them for why they ain’t going for Amin. Now he’s a newspaper man. Damn it, their about as far away from Amin as they can be physically in the thing. To my knowledge they never backed up Amin. And they are giving the white guy hell.
I got isolated at that stage of the game because these dudes looked at each other and they started talking in a new language. What they had done was that they shifted languages out of English to find out which was the next language they could use. They found out and they went right back to their news conference. He was sitting there fulminating, I was confused. Finally he had to leave and after that they briefed those of us who didn’t speak the language on what decisions they had made.
One of the things I remember from going to Huey’s (Huey Newton) Birthday party as a teenager that there was that incredible sense of hopefulness. Everything was possible. Did you have that at the OAU?
Absolutely. That trip was kind of like a high spot for me.
My father covered what he could in the few days he was there. He then went on to Kenya and Tanzania following another story.
Follow the link for a brief summary of the Gabon 1967 OAU Conference resolutions