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To Cabral, the liberation struggle was a revolution to overthrow the oppressive system of domination and exploitation of one human being by another. This has not been fully achieved in Africa, despite the end of formal colonialism. The liberation movements and current regimes lack an astute ideology grounded in the history and aspirations of their own people

Cabral’s perception about the end of colonial rule remains outstanding, if not prophetic. His analyses of the African liberation struggle, with which he closely associated, was borne out of his active involvement in the armed revolution in his native Guinea-Bissau and other colonised African societies. Cabral was an outstanding student of colonial and postcolonial politics. He indicted both European colonialism and the incipient neo-colonialism where there was perpetuation of the colonial matrix of power despite the change of guard.

In the aftermath of colonial armed conquest there was complete destruction of the economic and social structure of African societies. These developments were tied to racial discrimination and contempt of Africans, who were forced to labour for little or nothing and treated like chattel (Cabral 1969, 1980). Colonialism usurps fundamental rights, essential freedoms and human dignity and leads to other social malaise. Internal conditions and daily realities of people's lives are enough to cause them to aspire for national liberation and to seek liquidation of colonialism. However that struggle is both part of a larger undertaking whose teleology is the abolition of colonial rule in the whole of Africa and dismantling of capitalist colonialism and imperialism. The fight for liberation has in the end positive results as it raises political awareness, national consciousness, political thought and action of the masses. It also intensifies a sense of unity of all Africans thereby erasing differences fostered and cultivated by colonialists.

The principle of the struggle is of and for the people themselves who must wage and own it and reap its rewards. The basis of the struggle is the realisation of their dreams, aspirations, and of justice and progress as a whole, not just a few groups and individuals. Ultimately the liberation struggle enables sub-human beings engendered by colonialism to be fully human. This was the promise of the liberation struggle. However, much to the chagrin of Cabral and other committed Third World revolutionaries, hopes of full humanity were betrayed by the African elite who had led the struggle. An egalitarian society where oppression and exploitation of man by another is abolished would not be realised. Cabral realised through his erudite analyses that whatever vice and ill that has fallen the postcolony are steeped in the paucity of an astute ideological, theoretical and political clarity and coherence. Nyerere (1968), Cabral (1979) and Fanon (1961) all argue that this stems from a lack of ideological content during the liberation struggles. Ideological deficiency and total lack of ideology in the national liberation movements which is explained by ignorance of historical reality which these movements aspire to transform constitute the greatest weakness in the struggle against imperialism and ‘nobody has yet successfully practised revolution without revolutionary theory’ (Cabral 1979: 123).

The lack of ideological thrust by liberation movements meant they could not marry theory and practice in envisioning the kind of post-colonial society that they desired. Former liberation leaders, become, at the end of colonial rule, trapped in venality and rapacious extraction of their countries’ resources. This they do in cahoots with former colonisers. The African comprador bourgeoisie becomes pre-occupied with making their pockets fatter and the majority of the masses remain inured in penury, need and want. Thus the postcolony is a refraction of the system it purportedly replaced. This redolent arrangement means political power is in the hands of the African elite, while economic power is interlocked with the global financial systems – a curse of agreements hammered out through negotiated settlements even in societies where colonialism faced the prospect of outright military defeat. This elite is pacifist-apologetic, who at the decisive moment could not defeat imperialism. Instead they become junior partners with imperialist forces in a neo-colonial arrangement. The understanding liberation leaders made with colonialism would have deeper and far-reaching implications; the consequences are reduction of Africans to sub-human existence; corruption by the elite; dictatorships which are propped by western imperialism and other social malaise. The negation of the teleology of the liberation struggle is disheartening.

Cabral writes:

‘Obviously a peoples' struggle is effectively theirs if the reason for that struggle is based on the aspirations, the dreams, the desire for justice and progress of the people themselves and not on the aspirations, dreams or ambitions of a half a dozen persons, or a group of persons who are in contradiction with the actual interests of their people’ (Cabral 1979: 75).

National liberation of a people is the regaining of their historical personality; a return to history through destruction of the imperialist domination which they were subjected to. In a postcolonial Africa this is yet to be, or not realised and fulfilled at all. National liberation exists only when the national productive forces are completely freed from all and any kind of domination (Cabral 1979). Since imperialism usurps the historical development of the people through violence, national liberation has to grant the right of the people to have their own history. Any liberation movement that doesn't consider this is certainly not struggling for national liberation because the principal aspect of national liberation is the struggle against neo-colonialism. If this involves freeing of productive forces, then national liberation necessarily corresponds to a revolution and ‘national liberation struggle is a revolution’ (Cabral 1979: 134). Fanon (1961: 39) believes that the settler never ceases to be ‘the enemy, opponent, the foe that must be overthrown’ because he has always been part of a process of domination and exploitation. If the revolution is not realised the national liberation continues because it ‘is not over at the moment when the flag is hoisted and the national anthem is played...’ (Cabral 1979: 134)

The postcolony is an illusion, reinforced and spurred by native elements controlling political or state power. The postcolony is an illusion because this class is subjected to the whims and impulse of imperialists (Fanon 1961; Cabral 1979). This pseudo bourgeoisie, however, strongly nationalist, cannot fulfil a historical function; ‘it cannot freely guide the development of productive forces, and in short cannot be a national bourgeoisie’. (Cabral 1979:129).

Cabral’s analyses remain true. Although he died on the eve of his country’s independence and would not live to see its political and economic direction, he had seen the fate of other African countries newly ‘independent’ from colonial rule. His treatise on the postcolony is always a template for a new generation of pan-African revolutionaries who would at some good time build on the foundations of Cabral’s revolutionary theory and take the struggle against imperialism to its logical conclusion.

* Chimusoro Kenneth Tafira is a post-doctoral fellow at Archie Mafeje Research Institute, University of South Africa. He holds a doctorate in Anthropology from the University of the Witwatersrand.


Cabral, Amilcar 1979. Unity and Struggle: Speeches and Writings. London: Heinemann.
______1973 Return to Source: Selected Speeches of Amilcar Cabral. Africa Information Service, ed. New York: Monthly Review Press.
______1969 Revolution in Guinea: An African People’s Struggle. London: Stage 1.

Fanon, Frantz 1961. The Wretched of the Earth, trans Constance Farrington. London: Penguin Books.
Nyerere, Julius Kambarage. 1968 Freedom and Socialism. Uhuru na Ujamaa. Selection from Writings and Speeches 1965 – 1967. Nairobi: Oxford University Press.



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