For Mohamed Keita, political advisor at the Embassy of the Republic of Guinea in Cuba, hearing the name José Martí reminds him of his years studying for his Bachelor’s Degree in Philology at the University of Havana, where he first learnt of this great patriot who fought at the end of the 19th century for the island’s independence from Spain.
Keita arrived to Cuba in 1982, after passing a rigorous exam to be selected from among hundreds of candidates, all with top high school grades, and the dream of training to become prestigious professionals and help their families and country.
Back then Ahmed Sékou Touré, the first President of Guinea, was still in government, and the press made much reference to his friendship with Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz, who always helped seek alternatives for the development of Africa, in need of economic and social change after centuries of colonialism.
As such Cuba was not foreign to Guineans. They learnt of the political process initiated following the revolutionary triumph of January 1, 1959, as well as the decision of the Cuban people to build a society far removed from capitalism, with social guarantees for all including education, health, culture, sports and social security, which constituted a novelty for the youth, who also admired the revolutionary spirit of the Argentine-Cuban guerrilla fighter Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara.
Before starting his studies at the University of Havana, Mohamed Keita received a preparatory course to learn the Spanish language and become familiar with Cuban culture, in an educational center located in the neighborhood of Machurrucuto, in the Havana municipality of La Lisa. His teacher there introduced him to the poetry of José Martí, explained his life story, and from there Mohamed’s passion for Martí’s work was born.
His interest in Martí continued once he began his degree studies, to the point that he wrote his thesis on the Cuban hero’s thoughts on race, who sought to create awareness of all kinds of discrimination, in the search for the necessary unity to face the greatest enemy of the peoples: colonialism.
Mohamed Keita found the reading of José Martí’s work to be very complicated. However, he received help from his teachers and several classmates, with whom he forged a friendship lasting to the present day. The diplomat describes the Cuban people as very supportive and willing to share their space and time to contribute to other causes.
He made reference to Cuba’s internationalist efforts in Africa, including to defeat the invading troops of Apartheid South Africa and its allies in Angola, as well as the medical collaboration offered to many countries of the continent, as seen in 2015 in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where Cuban doctors fought the deadly Ebola epidemic.
Reflecting on his student days, Mohamed recalls: “They (his professors) demanded the same of me as the rest of my classmates. They imposed disciplined study because I had to read several volumes in a very short time to pass the different subjects. However, that education enabled me, 24 years after graduating, to perform other functions in my country, including in the diplomatic field. For all that, Cuba is my second home and I consider myself a Cuban.”