Cabral, Amílcar

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Cabral, Amílcar 1924-1973


Amílcar Lopes Cabral was born on September 12, 1924, in Bafatá, Guinea-Bissau. His father, a Cape Verdean, was a poet, polemicist, and schoolteacher; his mother was a shopkeeper, guest house owner, and later, seamstress. The family moved to the Cape Verde when Cabral was four. He was home-schooled until twelve. He did his primary schooling in Praia and subsequently went to Gil Eanes Lyceum in Mindelo, São Vincente Island. Gil Eanes was then a literary and social beehive, alive with discussion groups and social activists examining Cape Verdes social and economic deprivation amid continuing droughts and famine. Cabral was deeply influenced by these discussions and the reality surrounding him. By the time he left for Portugal to pursue university studies in the autumn of 1945, he was transformed, committed to leading an active, socially transformative life.

During his seven years in Portugal Cabral studied agronomy. He developed an aptitude for detailed fieldwork and quantitative analysis. He deepened his qualitative analytical skills and mastered the art of public speaking and diplomacy. And he proved highly successful at organizing discussions, meetings, and study groups while foiling surveillance.

Cabral graduated in 1952. He subsequently returned to Guinea-Bissau, where he stayed intermittently until 1959. While there, he helped found Partido Africano da Independéncia de Guinea e Cabo Verde (PAIGC), or the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and the Cape Verde Island.

Cabral and his leadership have attracted wideranging views. As a doer, however, Cabral is more graspable. He helped found the PAIGC as a binationalist party, tying the Cape Verde Islands political future and logistical fate to that of Guinea-Bissau. As a political strategist he was said to have masterminded a countrywide mobilization campaign preparing Guinea-Bissauans for liberation. As the PAIGCs chief negotiator and diplomat, he traveled internationally for nearly thirteen years, paying over eighty visits to twenty-odd countries, logging some 600,000 miles. These visits brought in much-needed military aid and humanitarian assistance vital to sustain the war effort and nation building.

Cabral was shot dead at point blank range on January 20, 1973, just as he was getting out of his vehicle outside his home in Conakry. His killing was politically motivated. His murderer, Innocencio Kani, led a group of dissidents who wanted Cabral replaced with someone less Cape Verdean and more Guinea-Bissauan. On the other hand, the Portuguese armed forces, then led by General António Spinola, aided and abetted this group to have Cabral replaced with someone willing to reach a negotiated settlement for Guinea-Bissau only.

Cabral wrote extensively. His poems sought to capture the travails of Cape Verdeans, the fragility of their culture in a rapidly emaciating economy, and the social and emotional consequences of such hardships on culture, identity, and social cohesion. Of his numerous professional monographs, none surpass in importance the 1956 200-page fieldwork document evaluating Guinea-Bissaus agricultural demography. The study took several years to complete and entailed traveling some 37,000 miles to visit 2,248 peasant holdings.

Cabrals work on race and colonialism is steeped in his lived-in experience. He deeply felt the need for Africans, and for that matter anyone under colonial rule, to re-racializeto return to the source. He saw this as an imperative for self-determination, a preconditional rediscovery of ones identity and culture, as it were, to begin the real overt fight to set oneself free from coloniality and colonialism.

SEE ALSO Anticolonial Movements; Colonialism; Geography; Identity; Liberation; Liberation Movements; Self-Determination


Cabral, Amílcar. 19761977. Unidade e Luta. 2 vols. Lisbon, Portugal: Seara Nova.

Dhada, Mustafah. 1993. Warriors at Work: How Guinea Was Really Set Free. Niwot: University Press of Colorado.

Mustafah Dhada