TODAY small Portugal is still mistress of three African territories which are the oldest European colonies (or, as the Portuguese insist, "overseas provinces") in the world, and with a little luck she may soon regain an earlier distinction of being the only colonial power in Africa. In the course of her long history in Africa, Portugal has survived at one time or another every manner of crisis, and from Prime Minister Oliveira Salazar ("This is the mission of our life") down to chiefs of post in the remote Angolan bush, the Portuguese seem serenely confident that they will once more ride out the storm.

The stakes are high. No other European nation has been so long accustomed to possessing an African empire, and for the majority of the Portuguese people the thought that their small country owns African territories equivalent in size to the area of Western Europe has always been reassuring. Nor is the attraction only sentimental. In recent years the two largest of the colonies, Angola and Mozambique, have come to occupy an important position in the nation's total economy. The Portuguese colonies are not as materially prosperous as some neighboring areas, particularly the Congo, the Rhodesias and South Africa, but they are not as naturally poor as many of the new independent states. Angola and Mozambique are paying their own way, in spite of the reluctance of Portuguese capital to invest in Africa and the relative lack of investment capital from abroad. A large part of Portuguese exports, notably wine and cotton goods, is destined for Africa, and increasing percentages of Portuguese African products--coffee, tea, sisal, copra, diamonds--go into the world market. The economic picture is not entirely favorable, but it has never been better, and without the African provinces continental Portugal's economy would suffer seriously.

But, as the Portuguese themselves acknowledge, the problems which must be solved have never been greater and the room for manœuvre has never been less. The relative tranquility of Angola, Mozambique and Portuguese Guinea is not necessarily an accurate indication of political reality. But it is certain that outside the colonies, Portuguese African opposition groups, particularly those in Leopoldville and Conakry, grow daily in size and influence. Elsewhere in the continent African national sentiment is united against the continuing presence of Portugal in Africa. Abroad, Asian and Communist nations, with the support of anti-colonial groups elsewhere, have taken up the attack against alleged Portuguese repressions, and each United Nations session rings with denunciations of Portuguese policy. This concerted opposition lost Portugal a seat on the Security Council last December. There is a question how much longer Portugal may count on even qualified support by Britain and the United States. Finally, in Portugal itself, where there are unrest and dissent and the Salazar era may be coming to an end, the turn of political events could have unpredictable repercussions in Africa. To devise an African policy which can meet even several of these challenges will test the capacities of any Portuguese Government.

The first, and easiest, task which the Salazar Government has recently undertaken has been to strengthen Portugal's sense of solidarity with the African territories. Not since the 1930s, when the régime in a moment of imperialist zeal concocted the concept of the Third Empire and created an overseas mystique which is still the basis for its African policy, has the Government labored so conscientiously to develop and sell the spirit of Lusitanian identity at home and overseas. The purposes of the program are three: to assure popular support for the Government's position in Africa; to distract attention from unrest at home; to convince the growing number of Portuguese citizens in Africa that the mother country has not forgotten them and stands ready to meet the emerging crisis.

Twice before, in the years following the Conference of Berlin in 1885 and again in the 1930s, Portuguese governments were successful in creating and exploiting a consciousness of Africa in order to solidify the Portuguese position in Angola and Mozambique. The technique is by now a familiar one. Speeches, colonial congresses, exhibits and postage stamps keep Africa constantly in the public eye. High officials make publicized visits to the territories. Journalists, teachers and students are sent on government-sponsored tours of Guinea, Angola and Mozambique, and groups of old colonists are brought back from Africa to visit--and be seen--in Portugal. A steady diet of colonial news is fed the controlled press and radio. Street rallies are organized to demonstrate popular support for Portuguese colonial solidarity.

In 1960 the campaign reached an extended climax in the ceremonies attending the five-hundredth anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, the man most responsible for Portugal's overseas expansion. In Portugal and Brazil, in Africa and the remaining fragments of the vast sixteenth-century empire, the particularly Portuguese contribution of Prince Henry was extolled in thousands of speeches and articles. The words had a certain sameness, for one of the calculated purposes of the celebrations was to abstract from Henry's life and works the traditional ideals of Portugal's overseas conduct: Christianity, racial tolerance and human idealism. Dr. Pedro Theotónio Pereira, Minister of the Presidency (Dr. Salazar's administrative assistant), spoke at the formal opening of the commemorative sessions in these familiar phrases: "We live in an age of renascence which links us with the past and which we will try to project into the future . . . Our national values are more vigorous and rejuvenated than ever. The unity and solidarity which hold together the pieces of Portuguese territory have never been stronger, and the sentiment of all the peoples has never been more unanimous."

To give greater substance to the claim that the Portuguese world shares a unique cultural tradition, the Salazar Government has begun to talk of a Lusitanian community made up of continental and overseas Portugal and Brazil. Although a treaty of friendship and consultation has been signed by the two nations, the new Brazilian Government of President Janio Quadros may not be altogether sympathetic to Portugal's aspirations. Certainly, the Santa Maria affair has demonstrated that Quadros will not dance to Salazar's tune. However this may be, it is apparent that for the Portuguese the creation of a Portuguese-Brazilian commonwealth would be a resounding demonstration of their claims for the spiritual unity of the Lusitanian world. Brazil, whose population is in large part Negro or Mulatto, has long been heralded as the success story of Portugal's overseas policies, and her presence in a commonwealth would, Portuguese planners hope, offer a convincing argument against anti-colonial attacks. While for the moment the creation of a Lusitanian community would be exploited by the Portuguese primarily for diplomatic and propaganda purposes, ultimately the commonwealth could be Portugal's last trump in Africa; it could provide a framework in which Portuguese Africa could be granted independence.

To achieve the maximum benefits from what will at best be an amorphous commonwealth, and to heighten the implied analogy between Brazil and the African territories, Portugal must make Angola, Mozambique and Guinea overseas provinces in fact as well as in name. Historically, the three areas have always been colonies, no matter whether they were called "overseas provinces," as in the nineteenth century, or "colonies," as in the early days of the Salazar régime, or, as in the 1950s when the régime began to build up its case for remaining in Africa, "overseas provinces" again. The fact is that more than 95 percent of the population of Portuguese Africa are not enfranchised citizens of Portugal; they have no civil rights and are legally regarded as wards of the state governed under a regime do indigenato administered by officials of the Overseas Ministry, formerly the Colonial Ministry. At the United Nations, Portugal has been increasingly harassed by African and Asian delegates who argue that the African territories are colonies, no matter what they are called, and that Portugal has a responsibility to report on conditions there to the General Assembly's Trusteeship Committee. Although the Portuguese delegate responds that "Portugal is a unitary state with the overseas provinces and the homeland considered as a single entity," Portugal's vulnerability to this attack grows each year, and present indications are that the regime do indigenato will soon be modified, or even abolished, and a substantial portion of the African population granted token rights of citizenship or possibly even the same civil rights as the white and assimilated Portuguese citizens possess.

The formation of a Lusitanian community and the granting of meaningless citizenship to Portuguese Africans are gestures intended to bolster the persuasions of Portuguese diplomacy. Portugal has survived in Africa during the last 100 years chiefly through the skill of her diplomats, and recently she has effectively used the political leverage derived from her membership in NATO. For the last eight years the United States, and usually England, has sided with Portugal on almost every issue touching the Portuguese colonies. But this close association is coming to an end. One of the more important repercussions of Captain Galvão's seizure of the Santa Maria may be that it precipitated a change in Portugal's relations with her three major allies, Brazil, Britain and the United States. Portugal deeply resented the hasty about-face of the British and American Navies and began to speak, sotto voce, of "reëxamining the NATO Alliance." Early in its life the Kennedy Administration took a public stand which embarrassed Portugal, and she must sense that this was the beginning of the United States' reëxamination of an alliance which has already cost us a great deal in Africa.

Within the continent of Africa, Portuguese diplomacy, to be successful, must face in two directions--toward the free African nations and toward the white governments of the Central African Federation and the Union of South Africa. The former must be conciliated while the bonds with the latter must be strengthened. The second task is the easier, for it seems clear that Southern Rhodesia, South Africa and Portuguese Africa will be the last white pockets in a black continent, and the simple question of survival has in recent years led the three governments to exchange numerous ceremonial visits and to emphasize the firm bases of their economic and political associations. With the African countries, the problem is quite different, and Portuguese diplomacy has followed a course of discretion and, where possible, coöperation. Criticism of the leaders or policies of the independent nations seldom appears in the Portuguese press; Emperor Haile Selassie has been welcomed to Lisbon. Portugal diligently takes part in all African conferences on health, education and economic matters to show that she is a reasonable and good neighbor. So far, Portugal has been rebuked by African governments mostly in the United Nations. But as the frontiers of independent black Africa are extended, it seems certain there will be a burgeoning traffic of men and ideas into Angola and Mozambique, a traffic which diplomacy alone will be hard put to contain.


The intent of all Portuguese policy in Africa itself is to preserve the status quo. Tradition rests heavy in the Portuguese African world. Over the centuries, colonial attitudes have formed which dominate Portuguese life in Africa and the making of overseas policy in Lisbon. The attitudes include a kind of racial tolerance, a self-acknowledged Christian paternalism toward the African, suspicion of outside interference in the colonies, the notion that the African must be obliged to work, and the simple faith that the Portuguese way is the right way, perhaps the only way. At one time or another in the last century these concepts have been written into Portuguese colonial legislation, and to a large extent they explain the present state of affairs in the territories.

That the administration of the African colonies is paternalistic the Portuguese themselves admit. The chain of authority passes in unbroken succession from the Overseas Ministry in Lisbon down to the hand-picked village chiefs. Political rights for Africans do not exist. Nor has paternalism brought measurable material benefits to the African population. The imbalance between the cost of living in Angola and Mozambique and the average wage (about $6 a month) is extreme. Education for the Africans, less than 3 percent of whom are literate, is totally inadequate; the possibilities for the African child to obtain more than three years of so-called rudimentary education are remote. Beyond the cities, large towns and several mission stations, health services scarcely exist. Partly by necessity, but also partly by intent, the African has been maintained in a world of medieval ignorance and isolation.

The Portuguese admit that such conditions do exist, but they argue that the spiritual advantages of their traditional policies more than compensate for material shortcomings. They refer repeatedly to the good will and understanding between the races. They boast that there are no real political or racial problems in Portuguese Africa. They insist that independence has led to Communism in Ghana and Guinea, to bloody chaos in the Congo, and to African racism in the rest of the continent. They speak of the Mau Mau terror in Kenya, uprisings in the Union of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, armed strife in several of the new African republics, and of the "American-controlled dictatorship" in Liberia. We Portuguese have been here a long time, they say; we know Africa and we know the African. Whether or not the recent bloody rioting in Angola has shaken Portuguese faith in the rightness of their policies, it is certain that it will be increasingly difficult from now on to advertise the colonies as peaceful multi-racial paradises.

The Portuguese have indeed been in Africa a long time, and their policies have consistently been distinguishable from those of other colonial powers. Since the fifteenth century the Portuguese have followed an informal policy of individual assimilation--that is, the social and political acceptance without strong prejudice of Africans who were able to obtain an education and who chose to accept Portuguese cultural values. Although this easy relationship never affected more than a small percentage of the native population--hardly more than the number of settlers or traders who were assimilated by the African--it did provide a safety valve for potential resentments and it has given the Portuguese a basis for justifying their presence in Africa. On the other hand, a massive slave trade (which in its day took from four to six million people from the lands of Guinea, Angola and Mozambique), various forms of forced labor within the colonies and the destruction of tribal institutions have contributed to the subjugation of the African will.

Now, as Portuguese Africa enters the most critical decade of its history, Lisbon's goal is to reconcile the two opposing characteristics of Portuguese practice in Africa--the simultaneous acceptance and exploitation of the Africans. The reconciliation is to be accomplished by the assimilation of the Africans into a Portuguese world. What in essence the Government proposes to do is to convince the Africans that it is better to be Portuguese than to be independent.

This new policy is intended to go far beyond the rigorously selective assimilation of the past 30 years. In numerical terms selective assimilation has been an admitted failure (there are about 35,000 assimilados in Angola, out of an African population of some 4,500,000, and about 5,000 of Mozambique's 5,500,000 Africans are assimilados). The African who chooses to become assimilated, that is, to be governed by Portuguese common law instead of the regime do indigenato, is obliged to demonstrate, among other things, that he has severed all tribal contacts, is self-supporting, and can read and speak Portuguese with facility. The requirements have been stringently applied. Several assimilados have recently reached the upper echelons of the colonial and military services, still more have distinguished themselves in the professions, while others, to Portugal's dismay, have become leaders of opposition groups in exile. The Portuguese African intellectual is naturally viewed with suspicion in these troubled days, but at the same time the Salazar Government needs to encourage, if only for propaganda purposes, the emergence of a responsible élite committed to the Portuguese cause in Africa. In consequence, it is willing to permit the training and education each year of a handful of Africans.

But total assimilation means something else. What colonial theorists have in mind might be called psychological integration, and what the Government hopes to achieve in a few years is to transform African society into a semblance of Portuguese peasant society: devout, diligent, semi-literate and politically conservative. To an outsider, the proposal to make more than 11,000,000 Africans into loyal Portuguese citizens before the winds of change sweep across the colonies seems visionary, but the Portuguese are apparently undisturbed by the scope of the task. They regard it as the next logical step in their overseas history.

The elaboration of the Salazarian mystique of faith, toil and family into a practical program of change in Africa is not yet accomplished. The policy was vaguely formulated, however, in a speech made in July 1960 by Adriano Moreira, Under Secretary of State for Overseas Administration, whose appointment to the key administrative position of the Overseas Ministry has generally been interpreted as a positive step toward a more liberal course in Africa. Sr. Moreira points out that while the number of assimilados is insignificant, the number of African Catholics in Angola and Mozambique is nearly 2,000,000. He emphasizes that although "political loyalty does not depend upon Christian qualifications . . . Catholic missionary activity is inseparably linked to patriotism" and that the formation of Christian qualities leads to the formation of Portuguese qualities. According to Sr. Moreira, the Catholic Church can play a vital role for Portugal, as historically it always has, in developing and consolidating national institutions and in helping to confront materialistic influences with spiritual values.

Christianity and the family are, in the Portuguese view, interdependent, and the Under Secretary goes on to stress the need for social action among African women as a second important aspect of the policy of assimilation. Instead of being a reactionary force within the society that passively resists the process of acculturation, the African woman must be made a dynamic force whose interests center in the home and the family. "The effort for integration must be directed . . . toward attracting native women to our culture, for they are simultaneously a stabilizing factor . . . and precious agents for accelerating the integration of [African] men into the social forms which correspond to the objectives of our action." Sr. Moreira envisages various programs of assistance and education for African women.

The more spiritual side of the new African program is to be accompanied by changes in the contract labor system, although there does not for the time being seem to be any real change in the deeply rooted belief that the African must be obliged, one way or another, to work. The moral justification for the obligation has been, and still is, that through work the African's traditional mode of existence is altered and he is made a productive member of his society, responsible to his family and his country. But a minimum wage law has recently been introduced into Portuguese Africa, penal sanctions for breach of labor contracts have been abolished, and sentences of forced labor for political crimes forbidden. It remains to be seen whether these changes are implemented--for it is axiomatic in Portuguese Africa that only the repressive clauses of the labor code are carried out--and whether they will lead to a more enlightened labor legislation. Finally, Sr. Moreira speaks of large-scale advances in health and social programs to assist the work of assimilation. These are, of course, desperately needed in Portuguese Africa, as in fact they are in most of the continent. But progress can only be slow.


Will the Portuguese succeed? Can they convert Angola, Guinea and Mozambique into overseas provinces which are patriotically, as well as legally, extensions of the mother country? Can they convince 11,000,000 Africans to resist the tide of nationalism which has swept the continent? Can they lead them to believe that they are Portuguese, not Africans? Leaving to one side such imponderables as a change in government in Portugal (and there is no reason to believe that another government, even a democratic one, would immediately cast off the African provinces), and the possibility of an invasion of the colonies from neighboring nations, it is difficult to see how Portugal can prevail in Africa on her own terms.

There are several crucial factors working against Portugal. The first is time. One senses that history is at last catching up with Portuguese Africa. Portuguese policy for the future is, with some modifications, only an intensification of policies which various governments, liberal and conservative, have tried to effect for the last one hundred years; and the Africans are not appreciably closer to assimilation than they were in the 1850s. Does Portugal have another hundred years in which to inoculate the African people against the fever of independence? In the last several years, sporadic open resistance has flared up in all three colonies. The resistance has now reached dangerous proportions.

A second reason is economic. Portugal, even if she wanted to, cannot afford to carry out any large-scale program of social and educational reform. Portugal is a poor country. She has the lowest per capita income in Western Europe--slightly over $230 a year--as well as the highest illiteracy rate, about 45 percent. A considerable portion of her people live on a subsistence level. The infant mortality rate is very high, as is the incidence of tuberculosis. These conditions in part explain why colonial spokesmen in Africa refer constantly to spiritual values and deprecate the materialism they see dominating life and thought in the rest of the continent. Social reform in Africa, of course, carries implicit dangers, as the Portuguese well realize, but human poverty and ignorance are no less dangerous fuel for the fires of resentment. So far, there has been no African leadership to fan them, but the isolation of the colonies from outside influence and the containment from within of dissident elements cannot for long continue.

A part of the economic picture of Portuguese Africa is the perennial problem of contract labor. Angola and Mozambique, and, to a lesser extent, Guinea, are committed to a policy of economic growth. Large sums are being spent on development projects. Most of the funds go for dams, port facilities, expansion of transportation systems and colonization projects, from all of which the white population obtains the greater benefit. To carry out the program of development, and to work the plantations, fisheries and mines, a steady supply of cheap African labor must be assured. Forced or contract labor has been the answer. Every African male must prove that he is productively employed six months out of the year. Those who cannot--and many of those who can--are rounded up and taken to work for the Government or for private employers. The system leads to abuse and corruption. The Portuguese speak of the African's obligation to learn the dignity of labor, but as countless critics have declaimed, the disruptive influences of the contract labor system more than counteract the theoretical advantages. The effect of the system on African life can scarcely be measured. Each year hundreds of thousands of African workers cross the frontiers into the Congo, the Rhodesias and even into the Union of South Africa to escape the labor draft. Contract labor is the most obvious form of human injustice in the colonies; it provides the focus abroad for the condemnation of Portuguese rule, and in Africa itself it is becoming the source of growing African unrest.

Another factor working against the Portuguese is racialism. The white population of Mozambique and particularly of Angola has shown an extraordinary increase in the last 20 years, from about 45,000 to approximately 160,000 in Angola, and from about 27,000 to 70,000 in Mozambique. White immigration is to a large extent the success story of contemporary Portuguese Africa. It explains the growth of the colonies' economic life, the emergence of cities and large towns along the coast and in the interior, and the urgency of development programs. Poverty and overpopulation in Portugal are driving more and more peasants and laborers to try their luck in Africa. Although in Mozambique the local administration has attempted to be selective, in Angola the door is open to all. The Government has expanded its program of colonization projects for Portuguese peasants in both provinces. The pressures of the white influx are already being felt. The economic mobility of the African worker, never high, is now being contained at a low level by Portuguese skilled or semi-skilled workers.

But the ultimate effect of the white immigration is not merely economic. It is also racial. The Salazar Government apparently has assumed that the Portuguese lack of racial prejudice, so evident in Portugal, would keep tensions to a minimum between the new white population and the Africans. What has happened is that the Portuguese are creating exclusively white communities in the colonies and that racist tendencies are now intruding into what was once a situation of relative tolerance. The Portuguese peasant or worker often has little with which to justify his presence in a strange land, and his fears and uncertainties lead him to assert a racial superiority. Life in Angola and Mozambique has begun to follow sharply segregated patterns. The Portuguese speak of cultural and economic distinctions, but these are not very meaningful arguments, and the Portuguese will discover, if they have not already, that white racialism creates its opposite image in the African.

The Salazar Government is perfectly aware that the direction of Angola and Mozambique is toward a Rhodesian, if not a South African, way of life. Such a possibility does not seem to upset Portuguese colonialists. Since the Conference of Berlin, the Portuguese have smarted under a sense of inferiority; they have seen their neighbors in Africa prosper while their own lands and resources remained undeveloped. Now it is Portugal's turn, and it appears that nothing will be allowed to stand in the way. The Portuguese are sincere when they talk about assimilation, but it is doubtful that they intend the assimilated African population to have any more voice in national affairs than does the Portuguese peasant. And what meaning can assimilation have when the Government permits and encourages the establishment of two worlds in the provinces, one white and one black, with an ever-deepening frontier between them?

The policy of total assimilation cannot work. At its best it is paternalism, at its worst it is obscurantism. Portuguese policy is implicitly founded on the time-worn concept that the African is a child with no culture or civilization worthy of recognition. His language is forbidden in schools, his traditional chiefs have been subverted or eliminated. The majority of the Africans are landless; African agricultural production is sharply controlled, and even exploited, as in Mozambique where African-grown cotton is sold at a fixed price, processed in Portugal and sold in the colony at a price few Africans can pay. Corporal punishment for Africans is common procedure; suspected trouble-makers are jailed or exiled. Portuguese Africa, like Portugal, is increasingly dominated by police action. These repressions are hardly the way to persuade Africans of the advantages of assimilation.

For centuries the Portuguese have been able to contain discontent in the African territories and to ignore sporadic humanitarian protests from outside. Now the protests are constant, they are louder and they reach a larger, more sympathetic audience. Two important African organizations have been formed to work for the independence of Angola, Mozambique and Guinea. The first, the "União das Populações de Angola," has its headquarters in Leopoldville where it publishes a newspaper and is attempting to organize the Angolans living in the Republic of the Congo. The second group, the "Frente Revolucionaria para a Independencia Nacional das Colónias Portuguesas" (FRAIN) is a combination of four opposition groups. It has its headquarters in Conakry. Both are growing in size and importance. They have the support of a number of African nations, and they maintain representatives at the United Nations and in several world capitals. They have begun to talk of underground activities in Portuguese Africa, of sabotage and reprisals against collaborators.

The Portuguese Government is preparing for whatever may come. Beneath the optimistic phrases about assimilation and brotherhood there is determination to resist. "We are not," said President Américo Thomaz last November, "in Africa . . . like so many others. We will continue as always our policy of integration. . . . To this end it is necessary for us to be what we have always been, and we will not change." The present Government is not bluffing. Military garrisons have been augmented; naval patrols are posted along the Angola coast; paratroop and bombing manœuvres have taken place; military plans have been made for emergencies; pistol-shooting clubs have sprung up among the Portuguese population. There is nothing conciliatory in the Government's attitude or in that of the white residents. In a recent speech in Mozambique, Dr. Castro Fernandez, head of the National Union, Portugal's ruling party, said bluntly, "Portugal is in Africa and Portugal will remain in Africa."

On November 30, 1960, at the peak of anti-Portuguese sentiment at the United Nations, Dr. Salazar chose to address the National Assembly on the subject of "Portugal and the Anti-Colonialist Campaign." His stern remarks were the most extensive statement he had made in recent years on Portugal's overseas policy, and they reveal that his government has no intention of abandoning its position.

Surely they [the Portuguese people] are not going to suppose that the fate of millions of men, the order and peace of their way of life, the fruit of their work, the principles of the civilization they have adopted, can be handed over to the emptiness of speeches at meetings and the anarchy of the so-called movements of liberation. . . .

A multi-racial society is therefore possible, whether of Luso-American stock, as in Brazil . . . or Luso-African stock, as we see in Angola and Mozambique. . . . It would be most unwise for us now to innovate with practices, feelings and concepts different from those which have been the secret of the work we have achieved and which are still the best safeguard for the future. . . .

I do not see that we can rest in our labors nor can we have any other care than to hold with one hand our plough and with the other our sword. . . . Great sacrifices will be called for, as well as the most absolute devotion and, if necessary, also the blood from our veins.

In the face of such unyielding attitudes it is difficult to foresee any area of compromise. Certainly the Portuguese are not following the example of the English, and they looked upon Belgium's action in the Congo with a mixture of scorn and disbelief. Their words and deeds find a closer parallel with Afrikaner policy in South Africa. Perhaps a concert of international pressures would persuade Portugal to change her course in Africa. Perhaps popular uprisings would have the same effect. But such possibilities are speculative. In Portuguese Africa there will be no easy answer.

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  • JAMES DUFFY, Professor of Spanish, Brandeis University; author of "Portuguese Africa" and (with Robert Manners) a forthcoming volume, "Africa Speaks"
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