Portugal & Africa




the Portuguese began trading on the west coast of Africa, in the 15th century


No gold as it turned out but there were slaves.


As in Guinea, the slave trade became the basis of the local economy in Angola


In Mozambique, reached in the 15th century by Portuguese sailors searching for a maritime spice trade route, the Portuguese settled along the coast and made their way into the hinterland.


By the beginning of the 19th century, Portugal controlled outposts at six locations in Africa. One was the Cape Verde Islands, located about 700 miles due west of Dakar, Senegal. Discovered by Alvise da Cadamosta of Venice in 1456 and claimed for Portugal by Diogo Gomes about 1458, this archipelago of eight major islands was devoted to sugar cultivation using slaves taken from the African mainland. The Portuguese once had extensive claims on the West African coast -- since they were the first Europeans to explore it systematically -- but by 1800 they were left with only a few ports at the mouth of the Rio Geba in what is now known as the Guinea-Bisseau.

To the east, the Portuguese controlled the islands of Sao Tomé & Principe, located south of the mouth of the Niger River. Like the Cape Verde Islands, they were converted to sugar production in the early 16th century using slaves acquired on the mainland in the vicinity of the Congo River. By the end of the 19th century, Portuguese landowners had successfully introduced cocoa production using forced African labor.

Further south, the Portuguese claimed both sides of the mouth of the Congo River, as well as the Atlantic coast as far south as the Rio Cunene. In practical terms, they only controlled a few port cities including Cabinda (north of the Congo River mouth), Ambriz (south of the Congo's mouth), Luanda and Benguela (on the Angolan coast) plus some river towns in the Angolan interior.


The Portuguese hold in Africa was extremely weak. The first cause was the small size of Portugal's population, coupled with the lack of popular support for overseas empire. Exploration and conquest began as an enterprise supported by the nobility, and Portuguese peasants rarely participated unless forced to do so. When the common people of Portugal did chose to emigrate, they were much more likely to head to Brazil than to Africa. To induce Europeans to move to its African holdings, the Portuguese government resorted to releasing degradados - convicted criminals -- from prison in exchange for accepting what amounted to exile in Africa. Angola, in particular, gained a reputation as a Portuguese penal colony.


Due to three centuries of slave trading the Portuguese in Africa found no incentive to engage in any other kind of economic activity. The economies of Guinea, Angola and Mozambique became almost entirely devoted to the export of slaves. ortugues reluctance to abolish slave trade despite pressure from other European states in the late 19th C.









During the late 1830s, the government headed by Marquis Sá da Bandeira tried to encourage Portuguese farmers to emigrate to Angola, with little success. Between 1845 and 1900, the European population of Angola rose from 1,832 to only about 9,000. European immigration to Mozambique showed slightly better results -- reaching about 11,000 by 1911 -- but most of the increase was due to British immigrants from South Africa rather than Portuguese from Europe.


Inter-European rivalries fuelled the ultimate scramble for Africa including Portuguese efforts.


Portugal had one trump card despite its other weaknesses. It was Portugal's claim to the land on either side of the mouth of the Congo River that gave Portugal places from which naval patrols could control access to Africa's largest river system. The British eyed this arrangement with suspicion for years, but paid tariffs for the right to trade there.


Effective occupation was a prerequisite for recognition of colonial claims. The question continued to reappear until 1885 when it was enshrined in the agreements that emanated from the Congress of Berlin.

The Anglo-Portuguese Treaty signed on February 26, 1884 granted exclusive navigation rights on the Congo River to Britain in exchange for British guarantees of Portugal's control of the coast at the mouth of the Congo River.

By the Berlin Conference Portugal was recognised as a fully-fledged player


Portugal's colonial claims recognised  at Berlin Conference and consolidated by 1891 over Angola and Mozambique.



WW1 - WW2


The regime in Portugal had been through two major political upheavals: from monarchy to republic in 1910 and then to a military dictatorship after a coup in 1926. These changes resulted in a tightening of Portuguese control in Angola.


In the early years of the expanded colony, there was near constant warfare between the Portuguese and the various African rulers of the region. A systematic campaign of conquest and pacification was undertaken by the Portuguese. One by one the local kingdoms were overwhelmed and abolished.


Angola fully under Portuguese control by 1920 - slavery officially abolished but continued on informs of enforced labour until 1961.



The policy of Portuguese neutrality in World War II placed the Portuguese Armed Forces out of the way of a possible East-West conflict; on the other hand, the regime felt the increased responsibility of keeping Portugal's vast overseas territories under control and protecting the citizenry there.


Portugal's commitment to Nato's cold war strategy meant Western European deployment of troops that otherwise could have been used to shore up  the maintenance of Portugal's overseas territories.


However, something should be said about the Salazar regime which may help explain why Portugal clung onto its 'Empire' for so long and was willing to endure an over-extended Colonial War in Angola and Mozambique


The Estado Novo (New State) was an authoritarian regime with an integralist orientation, which differed greatly from other fascist regimes by its lack of expansionism, lack of a fanatical leader, lack of dogmatic party structure, and more moderate use of state force. It incorporated, however, the principles for its military from Benito Mussolini's system in Italy. Salazar was a Catholic traditionalist who believed in the necessity of control over the forces of economic modernization in order to defend the religious and rural values of the country, which he perceived as being threatened.


The end of the Estado Novo effectively began with the uprisings in the overseas territories in Africa during the 1960s. The independence movements active in Portuguese Angola, Portuguese Mozambique and Portuguese Guinea were supported by both the United States and the Soviet Union, which both wanted to end all colonial empires and expand their own spheres of influence.

For the Portuguese ruling regime, the centuries-old overseas empire was a matter of national interest. The criticism against some kinds of racial discrimination in the Portuguese African territories were refuted on the grounds that all Portuguese Africans would be Westernized and assimilated in due time, through a process called civilising mission.

The war in the colonies was increasingly unpopular in Portugal itself as the people became weary of war and balked at its ever-rising expense. Many ethnic Portuguese of the African overseas territories were also increasingly willing to accept independence if their economic status could be preserved.


However, despite the guerrilla's unpredictable and sporadic attacks against targets all over the countryside of the Portuguese African territories, the economies of both Portuguese Angola and Mozambique were booming, cities and towns were expanding and prospering steadily over time, new transportation networks were being opened to link the well-developed and highly urbanized coastal strip with the more remote inland regions, and the number of ethnic European Portuguese migrants from mainland Portugal (the metrópole) increased rapidly since the 1950s (although always as a small minority of each territory's total population).

After some failed attempts of military rebellion, in April 1974 the Carnation Revolution in Lisbon, organized by left-wing Portuguese military officers – the Armed Forces Movement (MFA), overthrew the Estado Novo regime. This military-led coup, ended the unpopular Colonial War where thousands of Portuguese soldiers had been commissioned, and replacing the authoritarian Estado Novo regime and its secret police which repressed elemental civil liberties and political freedoms.

The retreat from the colonies and the acceptance of its independence terms which would create newly independent communist states in 1975 (most notably the People's Republic of Angola and the People's Republic of Mozambique) prompted a mass exodus of Portuguese citizens from Portugal's African territories (mostly from Portuguese Angola and Mozambique), creating over a million destitute Portuguese refugees — the retornados. By 1975, all the Portuguese African territories were independent and Portugal held its first democratic elections in 50 years.





The Portuguese Colonial system


Lord Palmerston said to Lord Russell after yet another of Portugal’s evasions in the curtailment of the slave

trade: ‘The plain truth is that the Portuguese are of all European nations the lowest in the moral scale’



The specificity of Portuguese ultracolonialism, according to Perry Anderson, lay in its ‘archaic’ and ‘irrational’ economic system, based on the extreme and brutal exploitation of African labour, and in its ‘bizarre’ ideology of ‘One Portugal’ and the concomitant policy of assimilation.


"Lacking capital, the Portuguese were unable to develop their colonial economies whose internal market would be a stimulus for Africans to seek employment. They therefore instituted forced labour within the colonies to produce crops for export to the metropolis and, in the case of Mozambique, promoted the exportation of labour to the South African mines to bring direct tax revenue from the recruiting companies and indirect revenues from the labourers’ remittances to their families. The intensity of cruelty had ‘no parallel in any other part of the continent’, and represented the ‘zenith of African misery"



Portuguese colonial ideology, which was based on the slogan ‘One State, One Race and One Civilisation’, built on a non-racist ‘civilising mission’ that operated through conversion to Christianity, miscegenation and assimilation

The colonial system had different classes of citizens. An Angolan could become “assimilated” on condition that he or she assimilated the Portuguese way of life: in other words, had a formal job, sat down at a table to eat using a knife and fork, worshipped a Christian God, spoke only the Portuguese language and wore European clothes.

Likewise, the assimilated had to give up their own cultural practices, including their languages, customs and, very often, their names, too. Women had to straighten their hair. Only by adopting the Portuguese way could black Angolans climb the very racialized hierarchy that was so crucial to the colonial system. Luanda was divided city, where the centre was for whites and the periphery—the musseques, or shanty towns—were for blacks.

For much of the 20th century, under the Portuguese dictator Antonio Oliveira Salazar, Portugal viewed its colonies as provinces, part of the country, and the colonized people of Africa as Portuguese. But those Portuguese who were born in Africa were treated as second-class citizens—even the whites.


Colonial policy in Portugal changed in 1930 while Antonio Salazar, the financial adviser to the military regime which had overthrown the liberal republic in 1926, was Minister for Colonial Affairs. One major step towards creating a semi-fascist civilian dictatorship called the ' New State' was to subordinate the economic interests of the colonies to the interests of Portugal itself.


The crisis of the world depression and the loss of remittance from the overseas Portuguese in the Americas was partly met  by imposing a harsh new policy of wealth extraction from Africa. Neither the state nor private enterprise had resources to invest in Africa so that colonial exploitation was based on the simplest but hardest policies of forced labour, compulsory crop taxes and the sale of migrant-worker contracts to South Africa. Lisbon determined the overall conduct of colonial policy.


The system was similar to the French one, with an administrative hierarchy from the governor-general down to the district heads, all subject to the laws and instructions decided on by the Lisbon government and endowed with powers similar to those of their French counterparts. Portuguese 'fascism', being autocratic and anti-democratic at home, further strengthened the draconian methods in the colonies. Even before the fascist era, Portugal had commonly pursued a policy of segregation in Africa, especially after 1910, in which Africans were relegated to the bottom of the social hierarchy.


As in the French areas, the local people had few rights and were liable to a forced labour regime which was almost a continuation of slavery. The Portuguese colonies  were particularly marked by a lack of innovation and intensification of exploitation. Outside the capitals of Bissau, Luanda and Lourenço Marques and a few other towns where some industrial development occurred, the hinterlands remained the main areas of extortion of labour recruitment, partly through the white merchants who bought peasant crops.


Portugal, however, had a different approach in each of its five African colonies. For instance, Portuguese people were actively encouraged to migrate to Angola. In Guinea-Bissau, Portuguese people were mainly present in public services. Thus it was called a “colony of exploration.” In Cape Verde, the West African archipelago that operated as an important slave market, there was a different policy. It did not exercise the so-called indigenous law, which segregated African and European populations. Cape Verdeans were used by the colonizer as an extension of its power in other colonies. In Guinea-Bissau, for example, many Cape Verdeans held senior positions in public services like the post office.

Throughout time, the Salazar regime created an image of Cape Verdeans as “special blacks” who were not quite as African as the others. On the contrary, they were more like the Portuguese because they were more educated, read more books and didn’t wear African clothes. Cape Verdeans were used to promote the myth that racial harmony existed in Portugal’s overseas territories. They were, if you like, proof that the Portuguese really did mix with the African people.

The Portuguese maintained the long-term goal of total ‘spiritual assimilation’, while recognising the need to take care not to destroy concomitantly all African ‘usos e costumes’. In the language of colonialism, the Portuguese carried ‘civilisation’, and the Portuguese language. The Africans were called alternatively ‘gentios’ or ‘indígenas’, in reference to their ‘tribal’ nature and

autochthonous status. They possessed usos e costumes – usages and customs – and spoke not in languages but in ‘dialects.’ To this day the words ‘civilização’, usos e costumes and ‘dialects’ are used quite unselfconsciously by all but the most political correct urban elite.


The administrative consequence of delayed assimilation was ‘decentralisation’, which effectively meant the creation of administrative districts (circumscrições) that resembled ‘native reserves’ in English-speaking southern Africa. Circumscriptions were governed as in indirect rule by administradores and chefes de posto through the mediation of local chiefs, or little kings

(régulos) as they were called, who were responsible for meting out customary law. But not all. Only those which were not offensive to Portuguese civilisation. In particular the Portuguese outlawed poison oracles (muave) and witchcraft accusations.

In this way the African population of the colony was divided into ‘assimilados’ and ‘indígenas’. The former enjoyed the rights and obligations (including military service) of Portuguese citizens, while the latter remained subordinated to their usos e costumes and their régulos.


Total assimilation was only to be achieved in the distant future, if at all. Portuguese colonialism could only reproduce

itself in this way – assimilating, but not too much, liberating, but at the same time controlling. After all, once everyone had been assimilated there would be no room left for the trusteeship of the Portuguese themselves. As anti-colonial and anti-apartheid pressures mounted through the 1960s and early 1970s, and as the anti-colonial war began to pose a serious threat to Portuguese

control, Mozambican rhetoric became more and more assimilationist


In the Portuguese colonial system, the islands of Sao T o m e and Principe were the supreme example of plantation colonies; most of the cultivated lands belonged to some 30 companies and the colonial administration was simply their instrument, being concerned mainly with securing the necessary manpower. This problem was aggravated under fascist conditions.

The local population having no inclination to work on the plantations, labour had to be imported from Angola and other colonies,

but with declining success: between 1920 and 1940, their numbers fell from 40000 to 30000. At the same time, the natural fertility of the formerly productive soils fell too, the result being a remarkable fall in cocoa exports, followed by the loss of the islands' special position on the world market for this product. It was a fine illustration of the inefficiency of the Portuguese regime.


There was a similar situation in Angola and Mozambique: the fall in the prices of colonial products was deeply felt by all, particularly by the African smallholders, but also by the big planters. Portugal under Salazar lacked the means to develop the economy: it left investments to big companies with supranational capital, especially in mineral exploitation. In Mozambique, the bulk of the income was derived from the manpower sent each year in tens of thousands to South Africa to work in the goldmines

of the Rand.



The Portuguese Colonial War:


The Portuguese Colonial War, also known in Portugal as the Overseas War (Guerra do Ultramar) or in the former colonies as the War of Liberation (Guerra de Libertação), was fought between Portugal's military and the emerging nationalist movements in Portugal's African colonies between 1961 and 1974. The Portuguese regime was overthrown by a military coup in 1974, and the change in government brought the conflict to an end.


The problem for Portugal was that its colonial adventures and the unpleasant way in which it engaged in these was heavily criticised by Western European countries and the US.


communist and anti-colonial ideologies spread across Africa, many clandestine political movements were established in support of independence using various interpretations of Marxist revolutionary ideology. These new movements seized on anti-Portuguese and anti-colonial sentiment[ to advocate the complete overthrow of existing governmental structures in Portuguese Africa. These Marxist movements alleged that Portuguese policies and development plans were primarily designed by the ruling authorities for the benefit of the territories' ethnic Portuguese population at the expense of local tribal control.


While Portuguese forces had all but won the guerrilla war in Angola, and had stalemated FRELIMO in Mozambique, colonial forces were forced on the defensive in Guinea, where PAIGC forces had carved out a large area of the rural countryside under effective insurgent control, using Soviet-supplied weapons.


By early 1974, guerrilla operations in Angola and Mozambique had been reduced to sporadic ambush operations against the Portuguese in the rural countryside areas, far from the main centres of population. The only exception was Portuguese Guinea, where PAIGC guerrilla operations, strongly supported by neighbouring allies like Guinea and Senegal, were largely successful in liberating and securing large areas of Portuguese Guinea. According some historians, Portugal recognized its inability to win the conflict in Guinea at the outset, but was forced to fight on to prevent an independent Guinea from serving as an inspirational model for insurgents in Angola and Mozambique.



The call for revolution was taken up by two insurgent groups, the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), and the União das Populações de Angola (UPA), which became the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA) in 1962.


Later: the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) (Portuguese: União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola) is the second-largest political party in Angola. Founded in 1966, Unita fought alongside the MPLA in the Angolan War for Independence (1961–1975) and then against the MPLA in the ensuing civil war (1975–2002).


Internecine struggles between three competing revolutionary movements - FNLA, MPLA, and UNITA


Portuguese Angola was able to receive support from a local ally, in this case South Africa. South African military operations proved to be of significant assistance to Portuguese military forces in Angola, who sometimes referred to their South African counter-insurgent counterparts as primos (cousins).



The Portuguese Overseas Province of Mozambique was the last territory to start the war of liberation. Its nationalist movement was led by the Marxist-Leninist Liberation Front of Mozambique (FRELIMO), which carried out the first attack against Portuguese targets on September 25, 1964. The fighting later spread in central Mozambique


Rhodesia was involved in the war in Mozambique, supporting the Portuguese troops in operations and conducting operations independently. By 1973, the territory was mostly under Portuguese control.


Carnation Revolution (1974) brought Portuguese colonialism to a halt.