Amílcar Lopes da Costa Cabral (12 September 1924 – 20 January 1973) was a Guinea-Bissauan and Cape Verdean agricultural engineer, writer, and a nationalist thinker (Pan-Africanist) and political leader. Cabral was also known by his nom de guerre Abel Djassi, was also one of Africa's foremost anti-colonial leaders, an outstanding leader with a great prestige and is usually put in the same category as Africa's great personalities such as Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Patrice Lumumba of Congo, Sekou Toure of Guinea, Abdel Gamal Nasser of Egypt, Eduardo Mondlane of Mozambique, Agostinho Neto of Angola, Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria, Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Samora Machel of Mozambique.
Cabral who is often referred to as "One of the greatest of modern theoreticians of the Africa Revolution" cast in the mold of Frantz Fanon and Che Guevara", whose influence reverberated far beyond the African continent. He was a groomed politician and a leader from his humble beginning. His father Juvenal Lopes Cabral who was also an intellectual in his own right and authored a book "Memórias e Reflexões (Memories and Reflections) in 1947, tutored young Cabral to be like him. According to his mother Iva Pinhel Évora, "He was born with politics in his head. He was the son of a politician. Juvenal used to talk to him about everything." These words are pronounced in 1976, a year before Amílcar’s death.
Amilcar Cabral during the revolutionary War years.
Cabral distinguished himself from other revolutionary leaders and theorists by the emphasis he put on culture and its role in the liberation struggle and in the transformation of society. He would have been in the forefront to rehabilitate African culture and to reclaim our culture, including the significant cultural objects stolen by the colonial masters and now located in many European and American museums.
The first challenge and premise which he put forward was that the peasantry was not a revolutionary force in Guinea. In saying this, he differentiated between physical and political force, as the peasantry was actually a great force in Guinea. They were almost the whole population and produced the nation‘s wealth. However, because there was no history of peasants‘ revolts, it was difficult to build support among the peasantry for the idea of national liberation (Chabal 2003.p.175).
Cabral‘s second premise was that some elements of the petite bourgeoisie were revolutionary. By petite bourgeoisie, he meant people working in the colonial state apparatus, the people Abilio Araujo called ‘the colonial elites’, that is, people who benefited from colonialism but were never fully integrated into the colonial system. According to Cabral, these people were trapped in the contradictions between the colonial culture and the colonized culture, with no clear interests in carrying out a revolution. (Chilcote 1999.p.174-6). Acknowledging this weakness, Cabral wrote:
"But however high the degree of revolutionary consciousness
of the sector of the petite bourgeoisie called to fulfill its historical
function, it can not free itself from one objective reality: the petite
bourgeoisie, as a service class (that is to say a class not directly involved
in the process of production), does not possess the economic base to
guarantee the taking over of power.
In fact, history has shown that whatever the role—sometimes important—played
by the individuals coming from the petite bourgeoisie in the process
of a revolution, this class has never possessed political control.
And it could never possesses it, since political control (the state) is
based on the economic capacity of ruling class, and in the conditions
of colonial and neo-colonial society this capacity is retained by two
entities: imperialist capital and the native working class" (Chabal 2003:176).
The petite bourgeoisie, according to Cabral, was a new class created by foreign domination and indispensable to the operation of colonial exploitation. But the petite bourgeoisie could never integrate itself into the foreign minority in Guinea and remained prisoner of the cultural and social contradictions imposed on it by the colonial reality, which defines it as a marginal or marginalized class. But it is on them, the petite bourgeoisie, which the PAIGC revolution should rely (Chilcote 1999:80). Cabral delivered another speech in Havana in 1966, stating that:
the alternative - to betray the revolution or to commit suicide as a class - constitutes the dilemma of the petite bourgeoise in the general framework of the national liberation struggle…(cited Chabal 2003:179).
To carry out their historical function for national liberation, the petite bourgeoise needed to undergo a process of déclassé or class suicide, in order to organize and build alliances with the farmers to fight against colonialism and imperialism (Chilcote 1999:80).
Amilcar Cabral delivered two important speeches on culture between the early 1970s and when he was assassinated on 20 January 1973. In a speech delivered at Syracuse University, New York, on February 20, 1970, entitled National Liberation and Culture, Cabral stated that:
"A people who free themselves from foreign domination will be free culturally only if,
without complexes and without underestimating the importance of positive accretions from
oppressor and other cultures, they return to the upward paths of their own culture, which is
nourished by the living reality of its environment, and which negates both harmful influences
and any kind of subjection to foreign culture. Thus, it may be seen that if imperialist
domination has the vital need to practice cultural oppression, national liberation is necessarily
an act of culture" (African Information Service 1973:43).
Cabral saw culture as: "an essential element of the history of a people. Culture is, perhaps, the product of this history just as a flower is the product of a plant. Like history or because it is history, culture has as its material basis the level of the forces of production and the mode of production."
According to Cabral, every society, everywhere, has both culture and history. The colonial and imperialist forces imposed cultural domination on the indigenous people, and maintained their domination through organized repression. For example, the Apartheid regime in South Africa was, to Cabral, a form of organized repression. It created a minority white dictatorship over the indigenous people. But culture is also a form of resistance against foreign domination. In a society where there is a strong indigenous cultural life, foreign domination cannot be sure of its perpetuation. Cultural resistance could be in the form of political, economic and armed resistance, depending on the internal and external factors, to contest the foreign domination, colonialism and imperialism. The character of imperialism was ‗distinct from preceding types of foreign domination (tribal, military-aristocratic, feudal and capitalist domination in the free competition era)‘. According to Amilcar Cabral, ‗the national liberation movement (against imperialism) is the organized political expression of culture of the people, who are undertaking the struggle‘ (African Information Service 1973:43).
Amilcar Cabral further reasserted his position in his speech entitled Identity and Dignity in the
Context of National Liberation Struggle, delivered at Lincoln University, Pennsylvania in 15 October 1972. He argued that imperialist domination calls for cultural oppression and attempts either directly or indirectly to do away with the most important elements of the culture of the subject people. On the other hand, a people could and should keep their culture alive, despite the organized repression of their cultural life, as a basis for their liberation movement; they can still culturally resist even when their politicomilitary resistance is destroyed. Eventually, he believed, new forms of resistance - political, economic and armed - would eventually return (African Information Service 1973:57-69).
The ideas of Amilcar Cabral were transformed into concrete actions in the liberated zones in Guinea Bissau. This was documented by Patrick Chabal, professor of Lusophone African Studies at King‘s College-London, who provided extensive data about political and economic reconstruction in the liberated areas in his book, Amilcar Cabal: Revolutionary Leadership and People’s war (Chabal 2003).
Amilcar Cabral and Fidel Castro of Cuba
It is a shame that after leading the nationalist movement of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde Islands and the ensuing war of independence in Guinea-Bissau, he was assassinated on 20 January 1973, about eight months before Guinea-Bissau's unilateral declaration of independence. While he was influenced by Marxism, he was not a Marxist.
On 20 January, 1973 Amilcar Cabral was kidnapped in Guinea-Conakry and shot by an assassin in the service of the Portuguese secret police, PIDE. The African world was aghast with shock and many of the African intellectuals were devastated. Cabral was a symbol of a new leadership emerging on the continent. A fearless leadership which was viscerally anti imperialist but non racist. A leadership which was willing to talk to the colonialists but was determined to be independent in thought and action. The Portuguese know why Cabral had to go. With Agostinho Neto, Angola, Eduardo Mondlane, Mozambique, Cabral had coordinated and spearheaded a series of military actions against the Portuguese in their colonies in Africa that would weaken the fascist colonial power in Lisbon and finally oblige them to accept and grant independence to their African colonies.
The assassination of Amilcar Cabral stands in a long line of prominent African politicians eliminated by Western imperialism in its attempts to stabilize its political hegemony in Africa.
As Kwame Opoku (2008) averred "Amilcar Cabral showed by his own life and works the exemplary leadership which seems to be missing in some of the countries on the continent. He will forever be remembered by those who are not prejudiced as a selfless leader who contributed to the liberation of Africa and demonstrated that with the confidence of the people one could defeat an oppressor who had powerful armies behind him. African youth can only gain by learning about Amilcar Cabral and pondering over his writings, the problems and conflicts of his times."
In his tribute to Amilcar, Fidel Castro posits that Amilcar is "...one of the most lucid and brilliant leaders in Africa, Comrade Amílcar Cabral, who instilled in us tremendous confidence in the future and the success of his struggle for liberation. ” — Fidel Castro, 1966 Tricontinental Conference in Havana, Cuba
Amílcar Cabral, Maria Helena e Clara Schwarz
Apart from his political activism on campus, Amilcar also had time for romance. He met his first wife, Maria Helena de Athayde Vilhena Rodrigues, with whom she would have two children, Iva Maria and Ana Luísa. Maria was his classmate at the Agronomy Institute and this is how she describes her first meeting with her future husband as written by Mário de Andrade: "I met Amílcar during our freshman year at the Agronomy Institute, in 1945. School had begun in November and he arrived in December. . . . I didn’t belong to his group but I remember very well seeing him among the other students. He stood out, since he was the only negro in the group. . . .
But Amílcar did not accept the offer and preferred to stick with the informal games at school.
Amilcar Cabral and Marcelino dos Santos of Mozambique at UN General Assembly
Cabral and female guerrillas in the field
Aquino in a relaxed mood with Angolan comrades Lúcio Lara, Desidério da Graça Veríssimo e Costa and Daniel Chipenda, as well as Amílcar Cabral, in Marrakesh
services such as basic education and health care. Cabral urged the education system to go beyond literacy and numeracy and teach students about the liberation struggle going on in the country. In 1971, Cabral stated that:
"Today our primary education is political, we cannot forget this fact. From early
childhood we must prepare our people to follow the struggle of the PAIGC: to teach them the
basis of the struggle, the basis of the strength of our party, about the interests and values of our
party…at the same time we must teach them how to read and write and account and to make
progress, slowly‘ (Chabal 2003:117).
But, according to Chabal, these schools in the liberated zones were deliberately being bombed by the Portuguese causing death of innocent children. In 1970, Cabral in return threatened to take retaliatory terrorist action against the Portuguese. Other difficulties they faced were the lack of proper organization, the lack of proper teacher training, and the reluctance of some parents to allow their children to the schools, because the children were needed on the farms. PAIGC improved the quality of education by having better trained teachers, and by 1971-1972 there were more schools opened (Chabal 2003.p.115).
As mentioned above, schooling in the liberated areas went beyond the teaching of literacy and numeracy. For exmple, there was one subject called ‗militant formation‘ throughout the four year-elementary schooling. The first two years they students learned political formation. In the second two years, students learned sociological and political notions such as the social and ethnic structures of Guinea, the objectives of the national liberation struggle, and the contribution of Guinean liberation struggle to world peace. The curriculum also offered history lessons which avoided the European colonial ethnocentric tradition. Instead, lesson were about the history of Guinea and Cape Verde within the African historiography, which had emerged in the 1950s and 1960s. (Chabal 2003:116-117).
Amilcar Cabral regarded political education as the development of political consciousness, not as
indoctrination. Ideologically it avoided endorsing a particular political doctrine such as, for example,
Marxism-Leninism. PAIGC instead believed that experience of the nationalist struggle and of the
political education in the liberated areas formed the basis for the socialist ideology (Chabal 2003:117). In addition to primary schooling, PAIGC set up boarding schools which were initially for the war orphans, but were later expanded to include selected elite boys and girls from elementary schools. These new centers were intended then to promote new ways of life. By 1971 there were four centers, under the name internatos in the liberated areas with each having 100 pupils. The most interesting aspect of these schools is that the students were supposed to participate in administering the schools and in cultivating food for their own use. These schools provided the students with a sense of leadership as a foundation for the future of the independent Guinea (Chabal 2003:117).
PAIGC established only one Party School, known as Centro de Instrucao Politico-Militar
(CIPM) in 1971. CIPM provided military and political training to some 200-300 members of the armed forces for period of several months, specifically intended to raise political consciousness. They included university students returned from overseas, mixed up with illiterate members of armed forces Aside from strict military training, there were also topics like colonial domination, the nature of the enemy, the situation in Africa, international affairs, the PAIGC program, the strength and the weakness of the party, the question of national unity, the problem of regionalism and tribalism and relations of armed forces with the population (Chabal 2003:118). Cabral strongly believed that the quality of Party members would determine PAICG‘s success in attaining its objectives. Cabral also urged the women to combat the restrictions imposed by Muslim teachings on women to promote the involvement of women in the Muslim practices. PAIGC promoted women‘s participation at all levels of its structure. In the Village Committee it was obligatory for two women to be on the committee (Chabal 2003:118).
A health care sector system was also established in the liberated zones. Between 1968 and 1971
PAIGC built some 117 posto sanitarios (Tomas 2007:209), some of which were mobile medical centers, or known as mobile ‗health brigade.‘ The health brigade had one female and one male nurse and was responsible for a number of villages. They operated on the principle of developing hygiene and health prevention, and to treat those of most serious cases in the liberated zones. In 1971, PAIGC had built three safe, well- equipped modern hospitals, staffed with surgeons and other specialist across the borders of Guineé and Senegal. From only one medical doctor in 1966, by 1972 PAIGC had 18 medical doctors and 20 medical assistants. There were 9 foreign doctors in 1966, and the number increased to 23 in 1972. Some of the doctors were from Cuba and some from Eastern Europe (Chabal 2003:119-120).
The fourth example of cultural action was the establishment of a people‘s judicial system in the
liberated zones, which was perceived as popular and progressive justice system. This came about through PAIGC‘s experience of a situation in Forcas Armadas de Revolucao Popular (FARP) where military and political power had been concentrated in the hands of some guerrilla commanders, leading to gross abuses and arbitrary justice, (Tomas 2007:193). PAIGC therefore took decisive steps by drafting a new legal code which essentially recognized the role of the traditional system. This was followed with the establishment of tribunal do povo, the village people‘s tribunal, for minor offences such as theft, minor violence, land disputes and family matters. The Popular Tribunal had three judges selected from Village Committee members and one schoolteacher to act as court clerk. The villagers could replace the members of the judges if they were found no longer suitable for the job (Chabal 2003.p.120-121). In his speech entitled Connecting the struggles: an informal talk with the Black Americans, given in the U.S. in October 1972, Cabral told his audience:
"We now have Popular Tribunals - People‘s Courts- in our country…
Through the struggles we created our courts and the peasants participate
by electing the courts themselves (African Information Service 1973:84).
PAIGC claimed that crimes diminished markedly after the introduction of the peoples‘ courts,
and most disputes were settled without recourse to the higher regional courts. Those cases which required jail sentences were brought to zone courts. The tribunal do povo brought back the capacity for people to control their own lives that had been taken away by the colonial rule. The higher judicial system was the Tribunal de Guerra to deal with serious crimes including death penalty for espionage and murder. Yet, corporal punishment was strictly forbidden. The court instead adopted reconciliation, rehabilitation and retributive justice, rather than punishment against the Party members and members of armed forces. This way of thinking reflected Cabral‘s conviction that human nature is essentially good and always seeks for better things. Amilcar Cabral was therefore opposed to life imprisonment and death penalty (Chabal 2003:120-123).
In conclusion, the pedagogy of the liberation struggle of PAIGC, in Cabral‘s view, arose from the fact that Portuguese colonialism was also a cultural colonialism. The revolution against Portuguese colonialism was therefore essentially a cultural opposition, to build an alternative culture. The cultural resistance of the colonized people could be in the form of political, economic and armed resistance. Assuming the farmers were not revolutionaries, Cabral appealed to the petite bourgeoise to commit class suicide by forming an alliance with the farmers, in order to educate the people about the character of an alterative cul ture to that of the Portuguese colonial fascist state of Antonio Salazar. Cabral tested his theories on the ground, in the liberated areas in Guinea Bissau. He constructed an alternative culture based on the themes or concepts of revolutionary democracy; organizing agriculture cooperatives; integrating the liberation struggle into education; preventive health care through health brigade programs; and the establishment of Popular Tribunals. They were proved to be successful. Cabral‘s life was however cut short leaving his ideas and practices seem to remain a challenge to his contemporaries in Guinea Bissau and Cabo Verde.
Amilcar Cabral: Tell No Lies, Claim No Easy Victories…Tell No Lies, Claim No Easy Victories (1965), by Amilcar Cabral, is a gem of revolutionary sayings. Often quoted by many Africans and activists worldwide, but rarely read in its entirety. For this reason, I have typed it up, dusted it off the shelves and reproduced here for your study.
Tell No Lies, Claim No Easy Victories
Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children. . .
We should recognize as a matter of conscience that there have been many faults and errors in our action whether political or military: an important number of things we should have done we have not done at the right times, or not done at all.
In various regions – and indeed everywhere in a general sense – political work among the people and among our armed forces has not been done appropriately: responsible workers have not carried or have not been able to carry through the work of mobilization, formation and political organization defined by the party leadership. Here and there, even among responsible workers, there has been a marked tendency to let things slide … and even a certain demobilization, which has not been fought and eliminated …
On the military plane, many plans and objectives established by the Party leadership have not been achieved. With the means we have, we could do much more and better. Some responsible workers have misunderstood the functions of the army and guerilla forces, have not made good co-ordination between these two and, in certain cases, have allowed themselves to be influenced by preoccupation with the defense of our positions, ignoring the fact that, for us, attack is the best means of defence…
And with all this as a proof of insufficient political work among our armed forces, there has appeared a certain attitude of ‘militarism’, which has caused some fighters and even some leaders to forget the fact that we are armed militants and not militarists. This tendency must be urgently fought and eliminated within the army. . .
If ten men go to a rice-field and do the day’s work of eight, there’s no reason to be satisfied. It’s the same in battle. Ten men fight like eight; that’s not enough … One can always do more. Some people get used to the war, and once you get used to a thing it’s the end: you get a bullet up the spout of your gun and you walk around. You hear the motor’ on the river and you don’t use the bazooka that you have, so the Portuguese boats pass unharmed. Let me repeat: one can do more. We have to throw the Portuguese out …
… Create schools and spread education in all liberated areas. Select young people between 14 and 20, those who have at least completed their fourth year, for further training. Oppose without violence all prejudicial customs, the negative aspects of the beliefs and traditions of our people. Oblige every responsible and educated member of our Party to work daily for the improvement of their cultural formation …
Oppose among the young, especially those over 20, the mania for leaving the country so as to study elsewhere, the blind ambition to acquire a degree, the complex of inferiority and the mistaken idea which leads to the belief that those who study or take courses will thereby become privileged in our country tomorrow … But also oppose any ill will towards those who study or wish to study – the complex that students will be parasites or future saboteurs of the Party … – militants for action and support of our fighters …
Develop political work in our armed forces, whether regular or guerilla, wherever they may be. Hold frequent meetings. Demand serious political work from political commissars. Start political committees, formed by the political commissar and commander of each unit in the regular army.
Oppose tendencies to militarism and make each fighter an exemplary militant of our Party.
Educate ourselves; educate other people, the population in general, to fight fear and ignorance, to eliminate little by little the subjection to nature and natural forces which our economy has not yet mastered. Convince little by little, in particular the militants of the Party, that we shall end by conquering the fear of nature, and that man is the strongest force in nature.
Demand from responsible Party members that they dedicate themselves seriously to study, that they interest themselves in the things and problems of our daily life and struggle in their fundamental and essential aspect, and not simply in their appearance … Learn from life, learn from our people; Learn from books, learn from the experience of others. Never stop learning.
Responsible members must take life seriously, conscious of their responsibilities, thoughtful about carrying them out, and with a comradeship, based on work and duty done … Nothing of this is incompatible with the joy of living, or with love for life and its amusements, or with confidence in the future and in our work…
Reinforce political work and propaganda within the enemy’s armed forces; Write posters, pamphlets, and letters. Draw slogans on the roads. Establish cautious links with enemy personnel who want to contact us. Act audaciously and with great initiative in this way … Do everything possible to help enemy soldiers to desert. Assure them of security so as to encourage their desertion.
Carry out political work among Africans who are still in enemy service” whether civilian or military. Persuade these brothers to change direction so as serve the Party within enemy ranks or desert with arms and ammunition to our units.
We must practice revolutionary democracy in every aspect of our Party life. Every responsible member must have the courage of his responsibilities, exacting from others a proper respect for his work and properly respecting the work of others. Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures.
Claim no easy victories…
Amilcar Cabral quotes
“Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children. . .”
― Amilcar Cabral
― Amilcar Cabral, Return To The Source: Selected Speeches Of Amilcar Cabral
“Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories...”
― Amilcar Cabral, Revolution in Guinea: Selected Texts
'A people who free themselves from foreign domination will be free culturally only if, without complexes and without underestimating the importance of positive accretions from the oppressor and other cultures, they return to the upward paths of their own culture, which is nourished by the living reality of its environment, and which negates both harmful influences and any kind of subjection to foreign culture. Thus, it may be seen that if imperialist domination has the vital need to practice cultural oppression, national liberation is necessarily an act of culture.'
Amilcar Cabral, 'National Liberation and Culture' (1)
POEMS OF AMILCAR CABRAL
The texts of Cabral's poems are in, Obras escolhidas: a arma teoria, pp. 23-24.
Mamãi Velha, venha ouvir comigo
o bater da chuva lá no seu portão.
É um bater de amigo
que vibra dentro do meu coração.
A chuva amiga, Mamãi Velha, a chuva
que há tanto tempo não batia assim
Ouvi dizer que a Cidade Velha,
- a Ilha toda -
em poucos dias já virou jardim...
Dizem que o campo se cobriu de verde,
da côr mais bela, porque é a côr da esp'rança.
Que a terra, agora, é mesmo Cabo Verde,
- É tempestade que virou bonança...
Venha comigo, Mamãi Velha, venha
recobre a força e chegue-se ao portão.
A chuva amiga já falou mantenha
e bate dentro de meu coração.
Tu vives mãe adormecida
nua e esquecida,
batida pelos ventos,
ao som de músicas sem música
das águas que nos prendem
teus montes e teus vales
não sentiram passar os tempos,
e ficaram no mundo dos teus sonhos
os sonhos dos teus filhos
a clamar aos ventos que passam,
e às aves que voam, livres
as tuas ânsias!
colinas sem fim de terra vermelha
rochas escarpadas tapando os horizontes
mas aos quatro cantos prendendo as nossas ânsias!
Mother, in your perennial sleep,
You live naked and forgotten
thrashed by the winds,
at the sound of songs without music
sung by the waters that confine us...
Your hills and valleys
haven't felt the passage of time.
They remain in your dreams
- your children's dreams -
crying out your woes
to the passing winds
and to the carefree birds flying by.
Red earth shaped like a hill that never ends
- rocky earth -
ragged cliffs blocking all horizons
while tying all our troubles to the winds!
(The English translation was taken from, 'AMILCAR CABRAL, Freedom fighter,1924-1973', Carlos Pinto Santos)