In 1965 Che Guevara gave up all his posts in the Cuban government and his honorary Cuban citizenship. His falling out with Castro may have been over his pro-Maoist anti-Soviet ideology or perhaps it was due Che’s failure as a bureaucrat to successfully manage industrial development in Cuba. (Che’s Farewell letter to Fidel Castro) In any case, Che travelled to Africa with 12 Cuban fighters to join the guerilla Simba, anti-Mobutu movement in the Congo. The tiny band of revolutionaries were later joined by 100 other Cuban guerillas in the struggle to avenge the overthrow and the 1961 murder of Patrice Lumumba, first elected Prime Minister of the independent Republic of the Congo. He was a man who Che greatly admired.

Che-Guevara-in-AfricaFor several months Che fought with Laurent-Désire Kabila, the leader of the Marxist guerillas in the Congo. He became impatient with the lack of discipline of Kabila’s troops. Further Che’s guerillas were opposed by white South African mercenaries who in concert with the CIA and Cuban-American exiles bottled up Che’s forces in their base camp and cut off their supplies. All of Che’s communications were intercepted by the American National Security Agency.

In the Congo Che’s attempt to foment revolution using his foco theory failed miserably. The ideas of focalism were originally developed by the French intellectual Régis Debray based on Che’s successes in Cuba. Che himself had put his theory into words while recovering after the Battle at Santa Clara. The first part of his essay Guerilla Warfare was published in the newspaper Revolución and the full text was published by the Cuban Ministry of Armed Forces in 1961.

Che-Guevara-in-CongoAccording to the foco theory quick moving vanguards of paramilitary personnel could serve as a focus for a popular revolt against a weak government. With the enlistment of fighters drawn from the disposed a people’s war would develop in rural areas and, with enough strength, could topple a government. In the Congo the theory did not work for Che’s band of Cuban guerillas. On the one hand they were hamstrung by their inability to move from their base and on the other hand the Congolese were not amenable to the kind of discipline and organization that the foco theory required. Che’s situation was further exacerbated by limitations in his ability to communicate with those who spoke a language he did not understand. Che later said that his failure was due to the fact that the Congolese really didn’t want to fight and that their leaders were corrupt.

With his Cuban troops suffering from dysentery and other tropical diseases and dispirited by lack of progress, Che had his men destroyed their encampment and throw their weapons away. On November 21, 1965 they departed the Congo and moved into Tanzania.

Che unable to return to Cuba on account of the publication of his resignation and abandonment of the country, lived undercover in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. During this period he wrote Pasajes de la guerra revolucionaria: Congo, (English edition) his memoires of experiences in the Congo and produced manuscripts for a book on philosophy and a book on economics. (Retracing Che Guevara’s Footsteps in Tanzania)

He made at least one undercover visit to Cuba to see his wife.


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