Amilcar Cabral: Constant Conscience and Companion
Several years ago, I attended a conference where one of the speakers was a Portuguese scholar who had conducted research on Cabral’s life. At the very end of his speech he reprimanded Cape Verdeans and Guineans (there were mostly Cape Verdeans in the audience) for not sufficiently “caring” to celebrate the life of Cabral and for not creating enough monuments that display his magnificence. He was silent regarding his own “whiteness” and form of class privilege, which was largely determined by Portugal’s historic exploitation of Africa.
There are reasons why there are far too many European and American scholars conducting research in Africa and not nearly enough Africans conducting this valuable work. The majority of American and European writers utilize the people only to establish their careers and never care of involving themselves in struggles for continued liberation. I wanted to ask him what the Portuguese were doing to celebrate the life and work of Cabral. After all, his work contributed to the liberation of Africans as well as the Portuguese and European poor and working classes. During the height of the revolution, Cabral noted “we are making an effective contribution towards the defeat of Portuguese Fascism.” I refrained from asking the question because I know all too well that it is possible to create monuments for Cabral and other anti-colonial leaders in Europe only to symbolically appropriate it so as to render their ideas acceptable and non-threatening. The real question was, what is Portugal doing to further the work of ending exploitation in places like Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau.
He was silent about a great deal. He was silent regarding the reality that far too many Guineans and Cape Verdeans are to preoccupied with survival in a neo-colonial context where the majority are living on economic cliffs and lifelines. Had he searched in the correct places, he would have found that Cabral is celebrated in discourse and in creative cultural production. Instead, he was searching for forms of activity that already conformed to European standards of what qualifies as celebrations honoring the distinguished. Had he read the person he was researching in greater depth, he would have realized that Cabral would have likely disapproved.
” To heroify Cabral is to convert him into a person so full of perfection that no one can emulate.”
Amilcar Cabral would have been against forms of hero worship so common in the United States and Europe. He would have questioned the use of images of the likes of himself, Nelson Mandela, Angela Davis, Che Guevera (to name a few) for the purpose of marketing goods, particularly when there is no teaching associated with those activities. Far too many wear Cabral t-shirts, but cannot engage in any serious reflection of his life, work, context and/or an analysis of how the work relates to our present conditions. He would have also certainly questioned the manner in which the elite of our own people attempt to heroify social and political leaders in the effort to anaesthetize the masses.
The memory of his work is important only when it opens up a space that allows us to reflect about how we might be contributing to human misery and how we are also capable of struggling to end the exploitation of those who bear the most social cost. To heroify Cabral is to convert him into a person so full of perfection that no one can emulate. It abstracts the struggles of countless people who courageously gave their lives, but never reached his status. Cabral is often represented in ways that attempt to convince us that his work and struggle was complete. The sad reality is that most, if not all, of the African continent is not in a post-colonial stage as is often claimed.
“Parts of Brockton, New Bedford, Dorchester and Roxbury, Massachusetts are experiencing “Third World” conditions”
The anti-colonial struggle must continue. For those of us living in the United States and Europe, we have a particular responsibility to resist the imperialist exploitation of Cape Verde, of Africa, of Central and South America, and of Asia. We also have the responsibility to engage in the resistance against policies within the U.S. and respective European nations that seek to dehumanize us. Under-development or what is often derisively termed “the Third World” is not just out there. Parts of Brockton, New Bedford, Dorchester and Roxbury, Massachusetts are experiencing “Third World” conditions with all of the entailed states of emergency. We see these conditions in East St. Louis, in New Orleans, in Gary, Indiana, in parts of Chicago and New York (to name a few locations). Cabral would not want another statue or another t-shirt bearing his image. He would want another social struggle!
“Cabral would likely question all major political parties”
Cabral would likely question all major political parties of Cape Verde and really see the unfolding political process as a distraction that serves the interest of the ruling elites. The liberation of Cape Verde would certainly be in question. Foreign multinationals continue to exploit the country and utilize the Cape Verdean elite to facilitate economic transactions that shift wealth to banks in Europe. The country has five star hotels owned by Italians who pay little to no taxes. Water is in control of foreign companies. Telecommunications is controlled by Portugal and Spain. Electricity is controlled by Portugal. The National Bank is in the hands of Portuguese investors.
The government consistently attempts to awe the people with the building of roads and infrastructural projects made possible by aid such as the Millennium Challenge Account. Companies outside of Cape Verde often undertake these projects. The funds reverse back to corporations. Of course, the Millennium Challenge Account also stipulates that for aid to be “given,” the country must demonstrate evidence of good governance, which means that state subsidies must be eliminated, the public sphere must be perpetually privatized and social services to the poor and basic life sustaining goods must be cut. This is criminal and inhumane.
All of these corporations and the forms of exploitation in which they are involved are protected by the state. At the level of culture one notes that the Camoes Institute-Instituto de Livro (CPLP) is hard at work in institutionalizing Portuguese culture. Cultural sovereignty and democracy is an abstraction. RTP Africa, a major visual medium in Cape Verde, promotes the view that people in Africa are less civilized.
“If Cabral were alive he would have evolved…”
If Cabral were alive he would have evolved and questioned the continued dominance of the Portuguese language in Cape Verdean institutions. He would have understood it for what it is – the isolation of the majority of the population from the democratic process. He would question the continued double standard for women in the labor market. He would be opposed to the vehement patriarchy that has been normalized and manifested in savage practices such as violence against women and children.The same patriarchy is also, partly, responsible for extreme forms of violence in our communities given the way that young men are socialized regarding what it means to be a man.
He would question unjust wars for corporate pillaging of the Earth. He would question the political responsibility of leaders such as Barack Obama, his continued policies that transfer wealth upward, while providing crumbs to the masses, the bank bailouts while people suffer, the depressing unemployment and underemployment rates, and the unprecedented deportations.
We should never accept the heroified sterilized narrative that the ruling attempt to inject us. The work and radical spirit of Amilcar Cabral should always be our constant conscience and companion. He would have most certainly advised that we stay awake, stay connected to our roots; stay courageous; and committed to social struggle against all forms of human and environmental exploitation.
by Ricardo D. Rosa