The Nation (Nigeria)

For Count Von Rosen and Professor Wole Soyinka


MERCENARIE­S fighting wars are as old as warfare itself, warring nations have engaged these soldiers of fortune in battle, leaving a litany of tales about their exploits, their shame as well as their greed! Africa as a continent in modern times did also experience the influx of mercenarie­s as witnessed in Congo Kinshasa and a number War fronts including the three year war fought between the Republic of Biafra and the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The likes of Rolf Steiner, Taffy Williams , Marc Gossens, Captain Robert Faulques and co became involved in Biafra as part of Jean Focart s Africa policy, these mercenarie­s never did much for the Biafran war effort as General Alex Madiebo and others posit in their numerous recollecti­ons of the war. However, one mercenary stands out of these lot, for me it will be unfair to label him as a mercenary per se, but for a lack of a better word to qualify him and his activities during the Nigerian/ Biafran War. That man is Count Gustaf Von Rosen, Swedish Aviator who went by the nick name The Devil Pilot who fought for Biafra for free. Von Rosen touched by the sufferings of the Biafran people then offered his services to the fledging Republic and tried as much as he could to change the course of the war with the five MFI9BS nicknamed as Biafran Babies

Born in Helgesta in Sweden , Von Rosen was the son of an explorer Count Eric Von Rosen an explorer. An outright rebel, Gustaf was influenced by his uncle Herman Goering who was a fighter pilot and was later to become Hitler s number two man as well as Head of the German Luftwaffe. Von Rosen flew relief missions for the starving Ethiopians when Benito

Mussolini s Italy in search of new glory invaded Ethiopia, he received Mustard gas burns for daring missions before moving to aid the Finns when Josef Stalin s Soviet Union sought to create a buffer between his country and Nazi Germany by invading Finland.

Luckily escaping the crash that killed his fellow Swede and United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjo­ld while the latter was on shuttle diplomacy to find a solution to the Congo Kinshasa crisis, Von Rosen joined the Biafran struggle and nearly helped turn the tide of the war before the emergence of the Egyptian flown Soviet MIG s, in spite of this he still flew daring raids and relief missions for Biafra and he did so for free.

Von Rosen was to return to Ethiopia in 1977 during the Ogaden War with neighborin­g Somalia helping starving Ethiopian civilians with relief, it was here he was to meet his demise as he was killed by Somalian Forces at Gode, ending his illustriou­s career as the knight of the air and a chilvaric crusader for the oppressed people of the world.

For Professor Wole Soyinka who recently clocked 87, Nigerians and myself have much in common in celebratin­g the unusual and uncommon playwright. For years, the man referred to as Kongi has served as voice

for the voiceless not only in his home state of Nigeria but the globe as a whole. Like Von Rosen who used planes and dare devil antics he, Soyinka has used satire, polemics, language and logic to strafe tyranny and the banal like leaders all over the world. Deploying the flowery of prose he has stung yesterday s men of power to irritation and has baited today s men of power with his lurid mastery of sarcasm. He has not failed to tell truth to power, pricking the conscience of these leaders as well as searing their hearts with his graceful personalit­y to which many have described as an exhibition of intellectu­al arrogance. Call it what you like, Soyinka is an embodiment of what the Nigerian intellectu­al or academia should be with one hand he is ready to court our leaders with another he bashes their willful failures retaining his dignity and that of the academia which today a large category of it sadly grovels before the political class, Soyinka even before his emergence as a Nobel Laureate has been a scourge in the flesh of the elite, running intellectu­al rings around both civilian and military administra­tions, leaving their mouths in the dust while they too have left their scars on him with imprisonme­nt and exile.

It is therefore not for nothing that I join millions of Nigerians in celebratin­g Soyinka and his numerous legacies on earth as an intellectu­al, cultural champion and moral standard bearer for forthcomin­g generation­s of Nigerians here and in the diaspora.

Here s to perhaps a couple of more years to the Bard of Abeokuta and the litterateu­r of the voiceless, the unusual and uncommon playwright. Fair winds to his remaining sails!

Like Von Rosen who p, used planes and dare devil antics he, Soyinka has used satire, olemics, language and logic to strafe tyranny and the banal like leaders all over the world. Deploying the flowery of prose he has stung yesterday’s men of power to irritation and has baited today’s men of power with his lurid mastery of sarcasm.

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