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Michel Cahen on the enduring links between 25 April and the liberation struggle in Lusophone Africa


Citizens in Luanda commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the anti-Portuguese armed revolt led by the National Liberation Front of Angola, a starting point for the Angolan War of Independence, 4 February 1976.
Citizens in Luanda commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the anti-Portuguese armed revolt led by the National Liberation Front of Angola, a starting point for the Angolan War of Independence, 4 February 1976. Photo: IMAGO / ITAR-TASS

Fifty years ago, a political, military, and social movement took to the streets of Portugal, culminating in the fall of the dictatorial Estado Novo regime, which had ruled since 1933. Known as the 25 April Revolution or the “Carnation Revolution”, the movement, led by military officers who had participated in the Portuguese colonial wars in Lusophone Africa, not only marked the end of fascism in Portugal, but resulted in the establishment of democracy in the country and paved the way for negotiations with the African liberation movements towards the end of colonialism.

Michel Cahen is the Director Emeritus of Research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and the “Les Afriques dans le monde” Research Centre at the Institute for Political Studies in Bordeaux, France. He has written extensively on the history of Lusophone Africa.

Five decades later, the trajectories of Portugal’s former colonies are quite distinct, while relations between the Lusophone countries take a markedly different form than those between other former colonizers and colonized. To understand the political, socioeconomic, and military context leading up to the revolution in Portugal as well as its relationship with the country’s former colonies in Africa, Fredson Guilengue of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s Southern Africa Office spoke with Michel Cahen, a historian of Portuguese colonialism in Africa and an analyst focusing on the Portuguese-speaking African countries (PALOP).

The late Lusophone African colonies are often seen as an example of African socialism, or more specifically of Afro-Marxism. How would you assess today’s historical research around categories such as Afro-Marxism?

For me, Afro-Marxism never really existed. What happened is that in a specific colonial context, Portuguese colonialism did not permit the emergence of an African elite, except very briefly during the final stage between 1960 and 1974. The African elite was a micro-elite. There was no petite bourgeoisie. There were no farmers and not even a working class, as forced labour prevented one from forming. The micro-elite was composed of the assimilated and mixed-race mestiços, who worked in the third sector doing bureaucratic work.

In reality, this micro-elite was placed within the colonial administration or at its immediate margins. They knew Mozambique, Angola, and Guinea-Bissau, but only through the lens of the colonial state. Those same elites would later try to create independent states inspired by the Portuguese model — only a few spoke about the Chinese or Soviets. However, this was only at the political level — at the level of cultural sociology, what was in the minds of the new leaders was to build their own Portugal. That is, a homogeneous nation with no space for ethnicity, led by a single party, a state with a very strong presence in the economy, and a single language. This is all Portuguese.

However, in the context of fascist Portugal, it became necessary to wage armed struggle. As a result, there was a certain politico-military proximity to the Soviet Union, Cuba, and China. Therefore, so-called “Marxism–Leninism” emerged as a more effective politico-cultural tool. When we speak about Marxism–Leninism in such situations, we need to ask ourselves who was actually Marxist inside these movements. In Angola, I can only think of Viriato da Cruz and maybe Mário de Andrade. In Mozambique, we cannot find real Marxists. We cannot find people who had read Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, or Rosa Luxemburg. Therefore, Marxism–Leninism does not exist and simply never existed in these contexts.

The Carnation Revolution in Portugal was thanks to the liberation struggle of the African people.

Taking Angola as an example, when the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA) officially adopted Marxism-Leninism at its 1977 Congress, the very same year as FRELIMO in Mozambique, Marxist publications were banned in Angola. The followers of Nito Alves, who were advocates of Marxism, were murdered. People who tried to publish texts by Marx, Engels, Lenin, or even Rosa Luxemburg were not authorized to do so by the government.

In this context, Marxism–Leninism appeared in the political discourse of authoritarian modernization not well regarded by international capitalism. Nevertheless, it was not socialist. You cannot build socialism in a single-party regime because society, including African society, is highly heterogeneous, with different political opinions. In a single-party state, power is not given to the people.

Many Portuguese left Mozambique between 1974 and 1976, and small businesspersons were abandoning the factories. Therefore, there was a situation of self-management whereby Mozambican employers took control of the businesses. FRELIMO decided to dissolve workers’ management committees and appoint an administrative committee of party members. As we can see, the power of the people was symbolized by the power of the party. This was a classic phenomenon.

Therefore, I would consider the expression “Afro-Marxism” an impressionist expression. I am not saying there were no Marxists in Africa — there were very few. There were some in South Africa, for example, not necessarily members of the South African Communist Party (SACP). In Mozambique, as leaders, I cannot find not anyone who had a solid knowledge of Marxism, nor who had the knowledge to apply it in a context were there was no working class.

How would you characterize the political and socioeconomic context in Portugal and in its African colonies leading up to the revolution?

Between 1971 and 1973, the portion of the state budget in Portugal allocated to military expenses was about 44 percent. This also meant that the colonial state was hard to defeat militarily in the colonies, except in Guinea-Bissau. However, although not defeated, the Portuguese state was totally asphyxiated by the military costs of the war. The Portuguese bourgeoisie had already decided to adhere to the European Community back in the 1960s. They were scared, and rightfully so, that the fall of the regime would lead to a popular revolt.

Marcelo Caetano, who took over after Oliveira Salazar, made some slight changes in terms of liberalizing the political regime, a period known as the “Marcelist Spring”. It meant that a person could buy a Marxist publication in a bookshop in downtown Lisbon — this was no longer viewed as dangerous. There were also some independent MPs — not really from the Left, but independent — who could be elected. However, it was still a single-party corporatist regime.

Without the armed struggle of the African liberation movements, I believe that the regime still would have fallen eventually. It maybe would have lasted a few more years, but it would end up falling. However, the Carnation Revolution in Portugal was thanks to the liberation struggle of the African people. I call it a revolution because the initial plan of the army, who later became ultra-revolutionaries, was to negotiate the end of the war in Africa and return home. It was never to undertake a revolution.

When the coup d’état began in Lisbon on the night of 24–25 April with the occupation a radio station, the first thing that the soldiers told people was to stay inside — they would take care of everything. But the Portuguese people immediately took to the streets. May Day in Lisbon was a major event — the coup had already produced a revolution. Nevertheless, it was against the will of the soldiers, who were now forced to respect the will of the people.

Portuguese soldiers were not part of the bourgeoisie.

A population that had endured 40 years of fascism intervened to demand more democracy. As a result, the democratic revolution in 1974 transformed into a social revolution in 1975. It was not necessarily a socialist revolution, but it was a social one. The challenges imposed by one stage of the revolution imposed the need to conduct another revolution; this process is called permanent revolution.

The soldiers initially were not revolutionary. In this regard, I agree with my Mozambican colleague, historian Yussuf Adam, who argues that there was no decolonization in Africa — the Africans took power. That said, I think he goes too far, as it was thanks to the Africans that Portugal was liberated from fascism. Fascism in Portugal would have fallen eventually, but it fell in 1974 thanks to the African struggle. As I said, the Portuguese bourgeoisie was in favour of decolonization and of Portugal entering the European Community.

However, it would also not be correct to say that Portugal did not take any initiative. The military coup was a product of the wars in Africa, but it also resulted from a new context that was more liberal, in which the big capitalists in Portugal such as António de Sommer Champalimaud and others were already pushing for decolonization, albeit a neo-colonial type of decolonization.

Did the situation in the colonies favour Portugal?

We need to look at each context separately. Guinea-Bissau was the only country in which the guerrillas could win the struggle militarily. Despite the assassination of Amilcar Cabral, a proclamation of independence was issued. The Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC) already occupied a substantial portion of the country, and the capital was almost under siege.

In legal terms, the auto-proclamation of independence in 1973 transformed the context completely. That is, it was no longer a group of guerrillas rising up against Portugal — Portugal was now occupying a foreign country. A number of countries immediately recognized Guinea-Bissau. Nevertheless, Spinola already understood that he stood no chance of winning the war in Guinea-Bissau and wanted to negotiate with Cabral. That is why the Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado (PID, the International and State Defence Police) killed Cabral to prevent the negotiations from happing.

In Cape Verde, there were plans to do as was done in Cuba: there was an attempt to disembark 50 men trained by the Cubans on Santo Antão Island, but this never really happened. Nevertheless, to understand the situation in Cape Verde we need to go back in history. Cape Verdean society was formed by slaves coming from various parts of Western Africa and by white settlers. It is a very different social formation. The contemporary social formation of Cape Verde shares more similarities with the Antillean societies than with Senegal and Guinea-Bissau. In Cape Verde, there is ethnicity — there is no lineage, no clans, no age-based classes, no chieftaincies, no traditional leaders.

There was a tendency within the elite to think of the Cape Verdean identity as Portuguese, to place the small motherland within the bigger motherland, Portugal. There was also an antifascist struggle, but not anticolonial. This was an attempt to transform Cape Verde into an autonomous region of Portugal. If fascism had not existed, it could have been the way the archipelago evolved, similar to what happened in France, where the Islands of Martinique, Guyana, Guadalupe were integrated into the French republic.

The economic situation In Angola was very good thanks to the oil discovered in Cabinda in 1958. The African elite in Angola has always been more important than in Mozambique. In many aspects, the city of Luanda was more modern than Lisbon. However, the three liberation movements — the MPLA, the Frente Nacional para a Libertação de Angola (FNLA), and the União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (UNITA) — were divided and constantly fought. In Angola, Portugal could have won the war against independence. However, there was also the psychological aspect of the war: the soldiers questioned the need to continue fighting when all other African countries had already achieved independence.

In Mozambique, FRELIMO was already progressing towards Manica and Sofala in 1973 after consolidating its presence in Tete. This was a complete surprise for the settlers, because colonial government propaganda claimed that the guerrillas were confined to the northern part of the country, when in reality they were already penetrating the central provinces. They realized that FRELIMO was near Beira, the second-most important port of the country.

That said, Portugal was managing the situation. In fact, in 1974 FRELIMO believed that it would need ten more years of armed struggle to defeat Portugal militarily. However, because of the first confrontations in Manica and Sofala — in which a Portuguese farmer was killed, which was very rare in Mozambique — the white population demonstrated in front of the army headquarters in Beira. This demonstration was also accompanied by acts of violence.

Portuguese soldiers were not part of the bourgeoisie. They already felt marginalized and increasingly realized that the settlers who had big houses were demonstrating against the army’s ineffectiveness. This created a sentiment within the army that they were dying for the rich. The MFA was born in Mozambique in this context of a divide between the white population and the military hierarchy.

There are two dominant narratives about the 25 April Revolution in Portugal and independence in Africa. One seems to claim that the revolution led to independence in Africa, while the other seems to argue otherwise. Which is closer to the truth?

After ten to 14 years of war, depending on the context, the progress of the guerrillas began to have a psychological impact on the colonial army, who began to realize that they could not win the war. Having realized that, they also began to question the need for the war itself. Thus, there was some form of de-colonization, because the army and the bourgeoisie began to move in that direction because of the struggle of the African people. The African liberation movements did not defeat Portugal militarily, but they created a new political context.

The 25 April Revolution had different outcomes in Portugal and its colonies. While in Portugal, the Revolution is celebrated for paving the way for democracy, in the African colonies the outcomes were regimes that, despite bringing about independence, cannot be considered democratic. How would you explain this? Is there any link between the revolution and the nature of postcolonial regimes in Lusophone Africa?

There was a dialectical relationship between the revolutionary process in Africa and the revolutionary process in Europe. In the twentieth century, there were three sectors of revolution: the capitalist countries, the socialist countries, and the third world. In this case, 25 April was a conjugation of three sectors of the global revolution. It is true that 25 April brought democracy. However, it was also a result of the process of permanent revolution.

If you look at the political structure designed by the MFA, including its left-most wings, you realize that they were not proposing legislative elections for Portugal. They were proposing a military approach to structuring society. This remained on paper only, because the situation on the ground did not allow for its implementation. The Portuguese people wanted democracy and elections, free trade unions, etc.

However, you asked a very important question. Whenever I meet former members of the Movement of the Captains or of the Armed Forces, I ask them if they agree that they dismantled the single-party regime in Portugal, which they do. When I ask if they realize that they also helped establish the one-party regime in Africa, I am left with the impression that they do not understand the connection. Their response is always that what they did was to end the war and decolonize.

The reality, however, is that the MFA not only allowed but also supported the establishment of single-party regimes in Africa. We must pay attention to what I mean here. I am not criticizing independence. Samora Machel was right to say that they were not going to conduct a referendum, because you do not ask a slave if they want to be free or not. It that context, it was obvious that everyone wanted freedom. But that does not mean there should not be elections. The absence of a referendum should not mean that power is handed over to a single party.

It was not because these parties were Marxist-Leninist that they adopted the one-party system. On the contrary, it was because they wanted to adopt the one-party system in a particular cultural context that they adopted Marxism–Leninism.

In the case of Angola, the Portuguese had to hand over power because there were three major parties. A civil war stated immediately because all three parties were not democratic. At the beginning, during the coalition government in January 1975, there was a sort of single-tripartism, meaning that these three parties could exist, but only these three. Only the parties that were signatories to the Alvore Treaty — FNLA, MPLA, and UNITA — were allowed to operate in Angola. In the minds of the parties, it was a transition period to decide who among them would become the only party.

The idea of the single party was very dominant in that period. It was strongly linked to the idea of the nation. Yet, the Creole elites formed in the ranks of the colonial administration, always referred back to the colony when imagining the new country — a country that was not a nation. As you might know, I do not use the expression “liberation struggle”, because a liberation struggle is aimed at liberating a nation that already exists. In the African context, the struggle was to liberate the African peoples, pre-colonial nations. I do not wish to delegitimize these struggles. On the contrary, what I mean is that these struggles were not to liberate nations but rather liberate peoples. Later, they would maybe produce nations.

This speaks to what I call the paradigm of “authoritarian modernization”, the idea that a nation has to be built rapidly and at all costs. In this paradigm, all other forms of identity are regarded as obscurantism, tribalism, ethnicism, etc. This was even more pronounced in Mozambique than in Angola. The idea was that to unify these peoples, ethnicities, tribes, etc., which in reality were precolonial nations, a single ruling party had to be established. In reality, the ruling parties did not unify anything. Instead, they caused considerable divisions including within the parties themselves.

When the UN recognized a particular movement, it recognized it as the sole and legitimate representative of a particular people. This was the case for the South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO) in Namibia, and FRELIMO in Mozambique. However, the idea of single parties has nothing to do with Marxism-Leninism; it was a justification that emerged at a later stage. This is Stalinism.

For example, Mobutu in Zaire, who had nothing to do with the Left, also established a single party, the Popular Movement of the Revolution (PMR). The PMR’s political structure was very similar to MPLA and FRELIMO: the idea that in order to create the nation, you needed to unify the people with authoritarianism. The ruling elite, since it was not a bourgeoisie with its own capital to invest, survived because it had control of the state. To maintain that control, it was better to have a single party.

Nevertheless, despite the emergence of these one-party states, de-colonialization must be seen as democratic progress. That said, this type of democracy could not move forward. We can suggest that the African revolutions stopped when the single parties took power. I do not mean they did not accomplish any positive things, but the authoritarian regimes prevented the continuation of the revolutionary, democratic process. It prevented the people from taking power.

What I am trying to stress here is that the single parties in the PALOP countries in 1974-5 have nothing to do with Marxism-Leninism. It was not because these parties were Marxist-Leninist that they adopted the one-party system. On the contrary, it was because they wanted to adopt the one-party system in a particular cultural context that they adopted Marxism-Leninism.

Fifty years after the April Revolution, one of the main critiques of its outcome for the former Portuguese colonies is the fact that Portugal decided on an automatic transfer of power to the liberation movements instead of opting for elections or referendums for the people to decide who would govern them. Would you relate the way these movements, including and especially FRELIMO and MPLA, approach power today to their path to power?

Concerning their path to power, it is true that the 7 September accords between the Portuguese and FRELIMO did not mention democratization. Portugal simply agreed to transfer total power to FRELIMO after a period of coalition government. Between 7 September 1974 and 25 June 1975 there was a mixed government run by both Portugal and FRELIMO. However, everyone knew that FRELIMO would take power without elections after that.

Had there been elections, FRELIMO certainly would have won, because the other parties were not part of the armed struggle. The Mozambique Revolutionary Committee (COREMO) had waged armed struggle, but was massacred by the Portuguese and by FRELIMO itself. COREMO suffered from double repression. Other small parties emerged during the period between 25 April and 7 September, but they did not have any social base and probably would have received only 5 percent of the vote at the national level, perhaps more at the local level. One of these was Uria Simango, the former vice-president of FRELIMO who returned to Mozambique. He would have managed to win some votes.

However, even if FRELIMO had won 90 percent of the vote, that would have resulted in some non-FRELIMO MPs, which would have prevented the total fusion between the state and the party. FRELIMO only wanted elections to integrate the population, such as encouraging the people to take part in the nomination process for its candidates — not to discuss its political orientation.

Your question mentions two important things that I think are part of the political process and the sociology of power throughout history. Let me compare Cape Verde with Mozambique, for example. In Cape Verde, after the democratic changes in 1991, the opposition took power. They remained in power for ten years. After ten years, the PAICV comes back to power. It remained for ten years. After that, the opposition came back. These different parties are Grosso mode applying the same policies.

One could almost think that this kind of change is unnecessary, but in reality it is necessary, because it is no longer the very same families enjoying power and wealth for 50 years. This is very different. Even if the Movimento para a Democracia (MPD) and the PAICV in Cape Verde implement the same kind of policies, in general the outcome would be very different if the same people would have remained in power.

In Angola and in Mozambique, there is a very strong feeling of family within the ruling political elite. FRELIMO is no longer a political party; it is social corpus that controls the state. The MPLA is exactly the same. It is unthinkable for these two forces to lose power. They were forced to hold elections after the respective civil wars, but these elections serve only to keep them in power. This again speaks to your question about the way they gained power. Without elections, FRELIMO’s Central Committee proclaimed Mozambique’s independence. The result of this was the fusion between the state, economy, and party. The party is hegemonic, both practically and ideologically.

The single party destroys the party itself, because it ceases to be a party and becomes a social corpus of power.

Even in the rare cases where a local municipality falls to the opposition, FRELIMO still controls the district government. This happens even in urban areas, leading to an administrative and budgetary struggle between the municipality and the district, because funds are first allocated to the district government, and the municipality does not have the money to invest in schools as promised during the election campaign.

During the 2018–19 peace agreement between then president of RENAMO Afonso Dhlakama and the former president Filipe Nyusi, the agreement was that all district governments were to be elected. This was to be a step towards democratization, instead of district governments being appointed by the ruling party even in areas dominated by the opposition. Initially, FRELIMO agreed to these changes, but later said they were too costly. This stems from the notion that FRELIMO is the state and the state is FRELIMO, and also has implications for the opposition. RENAMO acts the very same way.

Going back to the historical process, since we are talking about the fiftieth anniversary, FRELIMO was more popular than the MPLA. The MPLA was extremely repressive against the movement in 1977, resulting in probably 30,000 deaths. The MPLA rapidly became pro-Soviet. Samora Machel enjoyed a good relationship with the Soviet Union and also with China, Cuba, and left-wing Christians.

FRELIMO was more independent than the MPLA. Mozambique was a de facto non-aligned state, and the global Left was more sympathetic towards FRELIMO. Many of my colleagues were impressed by the popular democracy in Mozambique, by the fact that people would gather to discuss potential candidates for the popular assembly. 

After the revolution and independence, postcolonial Lusophone Africa was dominated by prolonged civil wars in Angola and Mozambique and recurring coups and political instability in Guinea-Bissau. The movements that waged the liberation struggles in those countries were led by very well-educated and progressive intellectuals aspiring to modernize their societies, but when in power, these same movements exhibit tremendous challenges in adhering to principles of democracy like free and fairs elections. How would you analyse this failure to adhere to democratic principles?

This challenge is not confined to Lusophone Africa. We can compare it to the French Revolution. Born out of the struggle against the absolute monarchy in 1789, the French Revolution mutated into terror in 1793 and 1794. One of the revolutionaries himself, Louis de Saint Just, said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I think this very important to understand.

The single party destroys the party itself, because it ceases to be a party and becomes a social corpus of power. There were many intellectuals involved the creation of FRELIMO, MPLA, and PAIGC. The same applies to same smaller movements like the FLING in Guinea and COREMO in Mozambique. When Agostinho Neto came to power in the MPLA during the struggle in 1962-3, he immediately marginalized Mario de Andrede, Viriato da Cruz and imposed a very hard dictatorship. People associated with Viriato da Cruz were massacred. This happened immediately after he took power. Neto was a medical doctor, an intellectual.

In 1974, there were ten people with Master’s degrees in the MPLA and 200 with Bachelor’s degrees. I do not mean to say you need diplomas to be regarded as an intellectual, but these same intellectuals imposed one-party rule. They imposed an authoritarian structure controlled by a very small minority. In order to remain in power, this small minority had to be extremely violent. Otherwise, they would have been overtaken by African society. The traditional leaders would have claimed that they were the legitimate leaders, etc.

Another example is the PAIGC. They created a unique situation in the world, where a single party was in power in two distinct states, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. Amilcar Cabral’s brother, Luis Cabral, was the president of Guinea-Bissau, and Aristides Pereira, a long-time comrade of Amilcar Cabral, was the president of Cape Verde. In Cape Verde, the party never killed people, it applied very little torture, and there was an opposition newspaper, Terranova, the newspaper of the Catholic Church, which was never banned. In Guinea-Bissau, however, the very same party committed numerous atrocities, there were mass graves, etc.

In Mozambique, independence came on 25 June 1975, and a day after, on 26 June, FRELIMO decided to eliminate the role of traditional leaders. They decided to make it look as if traditional leaders never existed. They were immediately very violent in order to control power.

For the Bolsheviks, for example, it was hard to maintain political pluralism during the civil war, because other parties, including the left Socialist Revolutionaries, had allied with White generals. However, after the Bolshevik victory in 1921, they did not re-establish party pluralism. They kept the soviets, they kept soviet pluralism, and the pluralism of the trade unions — they did not conceptualize the single party established by Stalin in the 1936 Constitution. If you read the Soviet Constitution of the 1920s, you will not even find a reference to the Communist Party. It held state power, but it did not exist constitutionally. It was a tremendous mistake of Trotsky and Lenin not to re-establish political pluralism.

I believe that the single party exacerbates the social and cultural challenges in a country. It is hard to build a state where the majority of the population is illiterate, but there were very good leaders who were illiterate. You could listen, debate, understand, etc. For me, the single party is a great tragedy.

Some form of paternalism vis-à-vis Africa also influenced the debate. Some argued that that there could be no democracy in Africa because most of its population could not read and write, because there were no nations, and it was important to first build the nation, to modernize the people, etc. This authoritarian paternalism was also dominant in the anti-imperialist Left.    

In a 2013 interview with Plural, you argued that there were currently no left-wing parties in Mozambique — more concretely, that there were only right-wing parties. In your understanding, FRELIMO, a formerly Marxist-Leninist party, is now a bourgeois-capitalist party, RENAMO a right-wing party, and the Movimento Democrático de Moçambique (MDM) a centre-right-Christian party. In Angola, the situation is similar. Given that these two countries came from a radical postcolonial tradition, what might have caused the disappearance of left-wing parties there, and what do you think is blocking the emergency of new parties today?

In Angola, the situation is a little bit more complicated. I maintain what I said in that interview with Plural that there are no left parties in Mozambique. I do not mean that there are no left movements in Mozambique.

In Angola, there is at least one left party, the Democratic Bloc. The Democratic Bloc is a distant descendant of the Organização Comunista de Angola (OCA), which was banned by the MPLA and its militants went to prison for many years. Some fled to Portugal in exile. This was the party of the Pestana family. It is a very small party, but I can honestly say that they are of the Left.

In Guinea-Bissau there was the Partido da Renovação Social (PRS), the party of Kumba Lalá. In 1994, this party had left-wing demands. Later on, it changed and embraced an ethnicist narrative.

In Mozambique, there have never been left-wing parties. Was FRELIMO left? In my understanding, to be left means to be in favour of putting the people in power, it means listening to the people and answering to the people’s demands. I think FRELIMO stopped being left-wing the day it became a ruling party. Before that, it expressed a single-party ideology, especially after its biggest internal crisis in 1968-9 with the death of Eduardo Mondlane. However, it was not yet in power. When it came to power, it turned itself into a social corpus of power. The Marxist-Leninist party from the so-called “worker-peasant alliance” transformed itself into the party of the most modern capitalist sector in Mozambique.

In Angola and Mozambique, everything will depend on social movements. The people need to believe that they can bring about transformation.

This inversion also speaks to what happened in the past. Take the Cuban Communist Party as an example. If it were to officially abandon Marxism, that would to lead to internal turmoil. In the case of Mozambique, it was not debated at the Central Committee, nor was it discussed in the Congress. Claiming that Marxism was causing problems, Joaquim Chissano decided it and it was implemented. The fact that FRELIMO and the MPLA abandoned Marxism so easily shows the nature of the Marxism they were using, that it was just a tool of power. That is why I insist that these parties ceased to be Marxist when they became ruling parties, regardless of their narratives.

There are left-wing movements in both countries, but they have not yet managed to become parties. Many NGOs and feminist movements are genuinely left-wing. A left party could emerge if the NGOs decide to unite, bring their demands into the political sphere, and contest elections. It might take 30 years to win power, but would be more effective than waiting for splits inside FRELIMO or RENAMO.

Mozambique needs a political party that defends the people every day that is not only there during elections. One of the main problems of RENAMO is that it does not do anything between elections, even when there are injustices taking place in a particular area of the country. RENAMO does not build the party outside elections — but that is precisely what democracy is. Neither FRELIMO nor RENAMO share this concept.

Despite emerging from the same colonial past, Cape Verde stands out from the rest of Lusophone Africa. Civil wars, coup d’états, and political instability never seem to have gained ground in the country. Today, the island republic is one of the most democratic nations in Africa. What institutions led to Cape Verde’s current stability?

Cape Verde is regarded as a model, although there have also been corruption scandals there. Nevertheless, I agree that it is a model not only for the PALOP countries, but also for the rest of Africa. There are not many places where political change does not lead to a political crisis. Does it have to do with particular institutions in Cape Verde? I think not.

In Portugal’s African colonies, the status of indigina and the Código do Trabalho Indigena was to establish the limits of who was not considered assimilated, and would be subjected to forced labour. This forced labour lasted for six months per year in Mozambique and one year every two years in Angola. The title of indigenato was never implemented in Cape Verde for a simple reason: there were no farms, no big plantations, not many construction projects, etc. Therefore, the Portuguese began to encourage or even force Cape Verdeans to migrate to Sao Tome and Principe. However, Cape Verdeans have always migrated, because the English ships would stop in Cape Verde on their way to South Africa. Cape Verdeans would jump onto the ships and later be sold in the US and Canada.

Indigenous status was abolished in Cape Verde in 1947. This means they were no longer regarded as subjects but citizens. It did not mean, however, that they acquired the right to vote. In order to vote in fascist Portugal, one was required to know how to read. The type of colonialization in Cape Verde was not the same compared to other countries. There was no bourgeoisie in Cape Verde, but an intellectual elite that was more important than in Angola and Mozambique.

It is also important to note that Portuguese colonialization is not older than other European colonialisms. Some point out that the Portuguese arrived at the end of the fifteenth century, but they only managed to reach some small areas along the coast. They then managed to penetrate the Zambezi River. However, the effective domination of the territories of Angola and Mozambique — 95 percent of what constitutes these two countries — was only at the end of the nineteenth century or even the 1920s.

In Cape Verde, colonialization started in 1460. This means that the creation of the identity began there. Cape Verde is a nation-state, I do not know if we can speak of a Mozambican or Angolan nation. I do not know if the national feeling in Angola and Mozambique is sufficiently shared among the native population. Therefore, it was not the same type of colonialization.

Nobody has ever contested the state in Cape Verde. In Mozambique, I remember a FRELIMO cadre from the south who went to the north for a meeting with the peasants, who asked him to return to Mozambique. They meant return to the capital. This shows that in their perception, Maputo is the nation. People have a feeling of exteriority. The relationship between the population and the state is not stable in Mozambique. In Cape Verde, however, this does not exist. Fortunately, there is also no oil, diamonds, or gas in Cape Verde — there is tourism. Oil and gas create many problems.

In Mozambique, and to some extent Angola and Guinea-Bissau, violence, including state and non-state violence, seem to be a recurring issue post-independence. Both FRELIMO and RENAMO in Mozambique as well MPLA and UNITA in Angola relied on violence to obtain and maintain legitimacy. Based on this historical role of violence, is it possible to expect any form of peaceful power transfer, and what do you believe needs to be done?

We can dream about it. However, you spoke about the historical role of violence. We need to be careful not to make a reductionist interpretation of Weber when he speaks about the state as having a monopoly over legitimate violence. If the state represents its people democratically, it has a monopoly over legitimate violence. The police will certainly arrest a bandit and use violence if necessary, but that does not mean all forms of violence are legitimate.

In South Africa in particular, there is a reductionist reading of Franz Fanon about the role of violence. When you read Fanon’s entire work, you find that he studied violence, but that does not mean he was apologetic of violence per se. The same Fanon who justified the violence of the Algerian National Front was a doctor who treated ill settlers. That is to say that there is a violence of liberation and a violence of oppression. Therefore, there are different forms of violence.

A peaceful transfer of power happened in Cape Verde. As I said, Cape Verde is not just a moral and ethical expression — there are specific historical conditions behind this context. In Guinea-Bissau, for example, there were various power shifts, a number of coup d’états. These coups were not meant for liberation or for any other party to return to power — it was the military trying to control power regardless of which party ruled.

The neo-colonial force in Angola and Mozambique is no longer a country, but the neo-colonial institutions of international capitalism, the World Bank and the IMF.

It might sound strange, but that is the case in Guinea-Bissau. It is a country without a state where the army is the only state institution. This is a negative consequence of the important historical role the guerrillas played during the liberation war, in which they could have defeated Portugal militarily. The number of soldiers in relation to the population is more significant in Guinea-Bissau than in Mozambique. The army as a social corpus has too much power. However, the type of violence that it practices is not linked to shifting the balance of forces.

In Angola and Mozambique, everything will depend on social movements. The people need to believe that they can bring about transformation. If the MPLA and FRELIMO lose power in this context, I believe that the use of violence may be superfluous. For example, there was not much violence during the fall of Mobutu in Kinshasa. The same applies to Burkina-Faso, where there was a real revolution ten years ago.

There were hunger riots in Mozambique in 2008 and 2010, but they did not have any political consequences. If something similar happened today, the riots organized by hungry subjects could be transformed into riots of citizens demanding change. The government may decide to kill everyone, but this could create internal divisions within the security services and the army. Nevertheless, the biggest problem for Mozambique’s democracy is not the existence of FRELIMO as a hegemonic party, but the lack of a capable opposition. If RENAMO, even defeated, would defend the people systematically and organize them, it would be advantageous for democracy in Mozambique.

Former French colonies in Africa are currently experiencing what some call a “new wave of decolonization” characterized by movements like France Degage and one coup d’état after the other. In the former Portuguese colonies, however, except in Guinea-Bissau, coups do not seem to be frequent, and the Portuguese postcolonial presence is not contested. Would it make sense to identify two forms of decolonization, whereby one, the Lusophone, could be regarded as complete, and the other, Francophone decolonization, as incomplete?

I think the contexts are completely different. I believe movements like France Degage express the feelings of a population living under difficult conditions. However, I do not think it is the French presence that they are criticizing; it is the French army’s lack of military capacity to defeat the jihadists they are criticizing. In order to protect themselves from the dissatisfaction of the local population, the soldiers of these countries use anti-French propaganda.

I am French, but I am not worried that the narrative is against France. I have always been absolutely against France’s military presence in Africa. Precisely because France is a former colonizer, if there is a country that should never be involved militarily in Africa, it is France. For me, the return of French solders to France is very good news. However, it should not be regarded as the end of French colonialization. French companies are still there. The CFA Franc is there. Migrants from those countries continue to look at France as a destination, etc.

It is true that direct state-to-state relationships are declining. We are experiencing the weakening of the infamous Françafrique, which is positive. It is the end of this particular quasi-paternalistic relationship between France and its former colonies in which, for example, the son of a certain dictator can invest in a luxurious apartment in Paris without any reaction from the French authorities. This is becoming weaker. However, we should not call it a new process of de-colonialization.

The context is completely different for Portugal. Portugal has an extraordinary history: a small country, with 9 million people in 1974 and something around 1 million in 1492, managed to colonize a large swathe of the planet. I do not mean to say it was positive, but we must admit it is extraordinary. When decolonization took place, Portugal was not even the most important Lusophone country. It was a poor country of 10 million people that modernized by joining the European Community. Angola, for example, was three times bigger than Portugal. Mozambique was seven to eight times bigger.

Today, the Portuguese population is stagnating, while Mozambique’s population has already reached 35 million. Even within the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), Portugal is not the most powerful country. It is probably Brazil, building on its renowned South–South relations. The most important country in the CPLP is not the former colonizer, whereas in the Francophone equivalent, France, the former colonizer, is the most important country.

Angola and Mozambique no longer need to decolonize from Portugal, despite the presence of Portuguese companies in those countries. The neo-colonial force in Angola and Mozambique is no longer a country, but the neo-colonial institutions of international capitalism, the World Bank and the IMF.