In a recent email exchange about the putative death of Paul Kagame of Rwanda I mentioned that I hadn’t visited Rwanda in a while, owing primarily to the fact that I and my colleague Pierre-Victor Mpoyo, had been sentenced to death in absentia by Rwanda on the initiative of Gen. Dan Mungoya. Mungoya had tried to steal one of our Ilyushin 76 aircraft in Uganda which had delivered mobile phone masts to Entebbe. He wanted it for his “Air Goma” with the intent to set up a logistical route for Ugandan and Rwandan troops in their battle against Kabila in the DRC. We were able to steal it back and flew it out safely to Harare before he could use it. He was a bit miffed so had us sentenced to death in absentia.
Reflecting on my status in Rwanda I decided to make a list of some of the countries around the world which have taken the trouble to ban me from entry, or transit, through them as a “Persona Non Grata”. The list surprised me by its length, but many bans have now been lifted as new governments replaced those who banned me. I am not sure how many are still in force. Although many of my non-host nations were in Africa ( South Africa, Rhodesia, Mozambique, Southwest Africa, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Cabo Verde, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Angola, Zaire, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Algeria) there were others outside of Africa (Burma, Spain, Portugal and Greece) as well. I was not always the most popular person, but I was always polite. As the Spanish, Portuguese and Greeks moved into democracy my bans were lifted.
It took a bit longer for the South Africans to lift their ban. When I was due to attend the inauguration of Mugabe in the new state of Zimbabwe, I found there was no direct flight to Salisbury (Harare). I could go via Lusaka or via Smuts Airport in Johannesburg. I went to the South African Embassy (it had left the Commonwealth so was not a High Commission) to apply for a transit visa to Zimbabwe. The consular officer looked at my papers and, with smile, said “Mynheer Busch, if you set one foot in our country, we will throw you in the tronk”. I decided to go via Lusaka. Later, however, I was given a full visa to attend Mandela’s inauguration and set foot in South Africa for the first time.
In fairness, I cannot blame them from banning me. I was not their friend or supporter. I was on the Board of the American Committee on Africa with George Houser. We hosted and promoted the interests of African liberation movements and their leaders when they visited the U.S. With the permission and support of my UAW boss, Victor Reuther, we took these liberation movement leaders to meet Congressmen, Presidents and civil servants in Washington and New York. The UAW also supplied medicine, bandages and printing presses to the African liberation movements which I co-ordinated.
I participated with the UN Anti-Apartheid Committee in New York on the bank campaign. George was one of the founders of CORE and we worked with many of the U.S. civil rights groups integrating the African liberation struggles with the battles for civil rights in the U.S. This carried over to the small efforts I did in the follow-up to the Freedom Rides in Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama. The South Africans and the Portuguese colonial governments could see I was not a friend.
It was not hard for the Franco Government in Spain to see I was not a friend. I was in Munich in the summer of 1962 when all the anti-Franco groups gathered to plan the removal of Franco and the Movimiento from Spain. I was working with the CNT-FAI group in the follow-up to that meeting. Later, when I was with the UAW, I worked closely with the Spanish Socialist trade unions in preparing for the national renewal at the end of Franco. For some reason, the Spanish Government thought my activities were not benign enough to allow me to visit Spain. When the government changed it was no problem to visit Spain.
As it is April, I always remember the work we did in helping to restore the rule of law in Greece after the Colonels made their coup and their Junta ruled Greece. Guy Nunn and I (for the UAW) and Maurice Goldblum realised that there needed to be a public pressure group to support the ouster of the colonels. We decided that Melina Mercouri, who was in the U.S., could be asked to lead such an organisation. Victor Reuther told us to move forward and we held our first demonstration outside the White House soon after. With Melina’s public face and fame, the movement took off and became an international movement. My work was soon marginal to the wider effort, but it did register with the Colonels who informed me that it would not be wise to visit Greece.
My major contribution was the scheme to get notoriety for the many brave Greek intellectuals, democrats, unionists, et al, who were being arbitrarily jailed by the Colonels. We had a source who called to tell us the latest jailing. I devised an inexpensive scheme to broadcast the arrest. As soon as we got the name, we would place a person-to-person call to the major hotels in Athens to attempt to speak to the jailed person. As they couldn’t find him, we asked if they would page him in the hotel. They did so, calling his name in the lobby. He wasn’t there so we didn’t have to pay for the call. Soon they caught on to what we were doing by having these prisoners paged in the hotels and they then banned paging in the hotels. I remember the first prisoner we had paged “Panayiotis Ellis”. I never knew who he was, but he was the first of many. Our experience with the Greeks led to our being asked to set up a U.S. branch of Amnesty International.
That’s the story of my PNG status. I am sure there are no impediments to my travel today except Rwanda. It is a testimony to how the world has changed for the better in my lifetime. It is strange, however, looking back.