Colonization in Africa wreaked havoc across the whole continent and disrupted the way Africans lived and it is still felt today. It was a ruthless adventure premised on glorifying European capitalism to the detriment of the African. Portugal gained its share of colonies and effected the same brutality that was felt in the whole continent. Portugal’s evil in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde made Amilcar Cabral lead the efforts in fighting their illicit and barbaric rule.
Amilcar Cabral was born on 12 September 1924 and was assassinated on 20 January 1973. The entirety of his life was dedicated to fighting for the freedom of Africans in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. A military strategist par excellence, he led the most successful liberation war movements in Africa which ultimately resulted in the crumbling of Portugal’s empire in Africa. He was immersed in Marxist theories and this had a massive influence in compelling him to take up arms against the colonialists.
He was the founder of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde; PAIGC). He started his early education in Cape Verde but later on pursued university studies in Lisbon, Portugal’s capital. While in Lisbon, he helped create the Centro de Estudos Africanos, an association of Lusophone African students that included future Angolan president Agostinho Neto. They developed their revolutionary ideas rooted in Marxist theories, tackling colonialism. He was then employed by the Portuguese authorities as an agronomist where he traveled extensively in Portuguese Guinea in carrying out his duties. This allowed him to interact with people of various cultures in the colony.
In 1956, PAIGC was created with Amilcar Cabral at the forefront and they were determined to take up arms in fighting Portuguese oppression. The group’s initial focus at its inception was confined to organizing workers’ strikes. But when the Portuguese authorities massacred a group of striking workers in 1959 they realized they had to adopt a different route – one that entailed fighting them back totally. It was time to fight them back with guerrilla warfare. Author Peter Mendy wrote, “He favored dialogue, but the Portuguese were intransigent. The use of violence was a last-resort measure, and the violence used was selective to avoid or minimize collateral damages.”
Cabral led the fight for independence from 1963 to 1973 as the leader of PAIGC’s guerrilla forces. In the spirited zeal to attain independence for both Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, Cabral set up training camps in Ghana with the full permission of Kwame Nkrumah. The techniques he employed in training his troops included mock conversations to provide them with effective communication skills to aid their efforts to mobilize Guinean tribal chiefs to support the PAIGC. Guerrilla wars can only be sustained if the guerrillas have access to food, and the ability to live in the land off the larger populace – and Cabral realized that it was of the utmost importance for his troops to fend for themselves. Being an agronomist, he taught his troops to teach local crop growers better farming techniques, so that they could increase productivity and be able to feed their own family and tribe, as well as the soldiers enlisted in the PAIGC’s military wing. It was a brilliant idea that made their war one of the most successful ones in fighting for independence.
Together with the PAIGC, he helped set up a trade-and-barter bazaar system which was pivotal in making staple goods available to the countryside at prices lower than that of colonial store owners. He also set up a roving hospital and triage station to cater for wounded PAIGC soldiers and quality-of-life care to the larger populace, relying on medical supplies garnered from the USSR and Sweden. These initiatives were subjected to frequent attacks from the Portuguese forces.
Cabral was a man of strong ideology that involved the importance of culture as an instrumental feature of freeing the mind of the colonized. He propounded a process of “re-Africanization” by which “Africa’s elite, long beholden to the colonizers for their education and employment, would re-embrace indigenous African culture and reintegrate themselves into mass popular culture”. The goal was to create an independent entity, “socially, culturally, and psychologically—and rally a nationalist spirit in the rural peasantry, whose lives had largely been untouched by imperialism”. His focus was on national consciousness and indigenous development.
In 1972, he formed the People’s Assembly in preparation for the independence of Guinea Bissau. A disgruntled former PAIGC rival Inocêncio Kani, together with another member of PAIGC, shot and killed Amilcar Cabral on 20 January 1973. They were believed to be working with Portuguese agents. They had faced peaceful resistance from Cabral and immediately killed him. The hope had been to arrest him and judge him (summarily) later.
Even though his flesh departed from the planet, his ideas were a force to reckon with in gaining independence from Portugal and destroying the country’s colonial empire in Africa. His revolutionary stance is still relevant today, and he will be immortal to Africa. His Pan-Africanism will live on for eternity.