Amílcar Cabral and the History of the Future

Miguel Cardina reports from the international conference held in Lisbon to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Amílcar Cabral, the leading African anti-colonialist and thinker of the 20th century.

“Amílcar Cabral e a História do Futuro” (“Amílcar Cabral and the History of the Future”) was the title of the international conference held at the Portuguese National Assembly (Assembleia da República) on the 13th and 14th January 2023, and organised by the initiative “Abril É agora” (“April is Now”), Cultra (transform! europe member organisation) and two research centers: Centro de Estudos Sociais da Universidade de Coimbra – CES (Centre for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra) and Instituto de História Contemporânea da Universidade Nova de Lisboa (Institute of Contemporary History of the New University of Lisbon). Academics and activists of several origins discussed the historical role of the great African revolutionary. 50 years have passed since the assassination of Amílcar Cabral, on the 20th January 1973, in a conspiracy that highlighted the internal tensions between Guineans and Cape Verdeans and that still recalls a never fully clarified involvement of the political police of the Portuguese dictatorship, which had already tried to assassinate him.

Staging this conference at the headquarters of the Portuguese Parliament conferred an additional significance to the event. As it is well known, Portuguese democracy is the product of a revolutionary process which was inaugurated on the 25th of April 1974. This peculiar political rupture – led by mid-ranking military officers reacting to the deadlock created by 13 years of war in Africa – cannot in fact be understood without the successes achieved by the liberation struggles, particularly the one led by the PAIGC from the forests of Guinea. Despite of it, this historical recognition faces profound resistance in Portugal, a country which is still marked by the persistence of an imaginary relating to a “good colonisation” that the Portuguese would have accomplished, the denial of colonial violence and the forgotten role that the anti-colonial struggle had in the overthrow of the dictatorship of the Estado Novo.

It was therefore important to have, at the opening session, the contribution of Augusto Santos Silva, president of Assembleia da República, who discussed the role of culture as an act of liberation in Amílcar Cabral. This was followed by contributions from Fernando Rosas, demonstrating the historical and political relevance of the African revolutionary, António Sousa Ribeiro, referring to the commotion caused by his assassination in the ranks of the political opposition to the dictatorship, and Marga Ferré, who noted how Amílcar Cabral proved to be a happy “historical anomaly”: Cabral was part of that small African elite educated in Portugal to administer the colonies, but by refusing such a role he became the great leader and strategist of a successful uprising whose corollary – the independences – he would ultimately not witness.

The programme of the 13th also included the sessions “The colonial war and the liberation struggles: memories and silencing”, with Miguel Cardina, Carlos Cardoso, Patrícia Godinho Gomes and Cláudia Castelo; and “Amílcar Cabral: life paths and living memory”, with José Neves, Leonor Pires Martins, Julião Soares Sousa and José Pedro Castanheira. Debates on the public memorialization of war and colonialism, in Portugal and in Africa, and the circumstances surrounding Cabral’s assassination were some of the topics discussed.

The afternoon began with a lecture by Pedro Pires, former Prime Minister and former President of the Republic of Cape Verde and President of the Amílcar Cabral Foundation. In a speech that crossed the dimensions of testimonies and historical analysis, Pedro Pires evoked the character of Cabral and underlined his “unusual post-death triumph”, in constituting himself, not only as a political reference of the liberation struggle, but also as an intellectual whose reflections inspire today various fields of knowledge and contemporary struggles. This was followed by the screening of the film “O Regresso de Cabral” (“The return of Cabral”), with a subsequent debate by Filipa César, Sana na N’ Hada and Diana Andringa.

The following day Ângela Coutinho, Mustafah Dhada, Roberto Vecchi, Rui Lopes, Aurora Almada Santos, Teresa Almeida Cravo and Vincenzo Russo discussed Cabral’s intellectual importance as a theorist and politician and the international dimensions of the struggle. Miguel de Barros, Rui Cidra, Sílvia Roque and Rede Wilson Lima then discussed how Amílcar Cabral has become a leading reference for young people in Portugal, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau, who confront racism or the dominant elites in their countries. The works concluded with a panel discussion entitled “Decolonisation: meanings and challenges”, with Beatriz Gomes Dias and Bruno Sena Martins. In the evening, a Closing Party took place with a concert by Prétu, where samples of African references and electronic rhythms to messages associated with the themes of decolonisation, Pan-Africanism and Afro-Futurism were performed and joined by the dj set “Abel Djassi” (Mama Demba and Inês R.).

This conference revealed the importance of deepening discussions in Portugal about war, colonialism and their enduring legacies. Recent years have seen a new wave of public debates on the recent history and memory of the country and the need to reassess them. It is up to the Left to know how to leverage them, in a framework of broadening the themes and voices involved and of articulation with broad social sectors, turning these processes and debates into part of an indispensable dispute against an intellectual hegemony which, in Portugal, is still marked by traces of coloniality and by the undervaluing of the anti-colonial and anti-fascist dynamics that defeated the dictatorship and expressed itself, in a reconfigured form, in the post-revolutionary period.