1973 – Guinea-Bissau’s fight for independence

In September 1973, an insurgent guerrilla force in Guinea-Bissau defeated the Portuguese and won independence. Their resistance and political thinking not only inspired other African independence movements and helped end Portuguese military rule, but also expressed a yearning for universal liberation that inspires movements today.

Independence in Guinea Bissau was won during a wave of African liberation movements that rose up in the years following World War II and ended colonial rule. In Guinea Bissau, the armed struggle was led by the Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC) that took the Portuguese colonial authorities by surprise and from its launch in 1963 captured increasingly large swathes of the countryside.

PAIGC not only fought effectively, through the leadership of Amilcar Cabral, it also put huge emphasis on political education and in turning its liberated zones into models for a more egalitarian society. PAIGC cadres were educated for several months in intensive education programmes and taught to listen and engage with people’s realities. As Cabral argued “Your ideas may be good, even excellent, but they will be useless ideas unless they spring from and interweave with the reality you live in”.

Popular democratic structures were established throughout the liberated zones in which women held political and military leadership roles, the Portuguese currency was banned and replaced by barter, agricultural production was devoted to the needs of the population, and many of the elements of an envisioned society based on humanity, equality and justice began to emerge organically through popular debate and discussion.

Cabral’s life was cut short in the same year of independence, when he was killed by two militants. Cabral is tragically one of a long list of African revolutionaries and visionary leaders assassinated by colonialists and their elite allies that deprived their respective countries and the African continent of their leadership and insights.

However, the PAIGC had set in train a number of developments that would continue beyond his death. Guinea-Bissau’s independence would be followed by other Portuguese colonies and help bring down the Portuguese dictatorship in 1974. PAIGC cadres would also support the Angolan MPLA struggle against Apartheid South Africa

Cabral’s political thought moreover continues to resonate today, as it gives voice to the universal desire for an end to all exploitation. Even before he had died, Cabral had prophetically warned of the emergence of African elites that could replicate systems of exploitation. He argued against replicating colonial state structures, called for a revolution based on cultural revival, and expressed solidarity with all oppressed peoples, from African-Americans in Los Angeles, Palestinians in occupied territories to the Vietnamese suffering US aggression.

In the words of Firoze Manji, his words and the early experiences of PAIGC resonate today because "people have not lost their desire for agency, for making history, for engaging in struggles wherein they both demonstrate and invent their humanity, for constructing the basis for a true universalism. "