AFRICA-PORTUGAL: Three Decades After Last Colonial Empire Came to an End
By Mario de Queiroz
LISBON, Nov 23 (IPS) - The 30th anniversary of Angola's independence,
commemorated this month, also marked the same period of time since nearly
six centuries of European colonialism in Africa came to an end.
As in Asia, it was the Portuguese who initiated the long era of colonialism
in Africa, on Aug. 21, 1415, when Henry the Navigator's fleet landed at what
is today the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, in modern-day Morocco.
A total of 560 years passed before Portugal pulled out of its colonies. On
Nov. 11, 1975, then governor of Angola Admiral Antonio D'Alva Rosa Coutinho,
a member of the Armed Forces Movement, handed over the reins of power to
independence leader Agostinho Neto, the first president of Angola, which was
the last European colony in Africa.
Known as the "red admiral", Rosa Coutinho, who one year earlier had taken
part in the revolt staged by a group of left-wing junior officers - the
"captains of April" who overthrew Portugal's 1926-1974 dictatorship - was
one of the main proponents of the decolonisation of Portugal's dying empire.
In 1974, Lisbon recognised the independence of Guinea Bissau, unilaterally
declared a year earlier and recognised by 47 countries. And between June and
September 1975, Mozambique, Cape Verde and Sao Tomé and Príncipe won their
independence. Two months later, Angola followed suit.
In Africa today there are "dependent territories" not formally considered
European colonies, such as the Canary Islands and Ceuta and Melilla, which
are under Spanish control; Madeira, administered by Portugal; the French
overseas territories of Mayotte and Reunion islands; and Britain's Saint
Reserve Colonel Vasco Lourenço, who was a central figure in the Armed Forces
Movement, told IPS that "the independence of the former Portuguese colonies
had important repercussions" because it represented the end of the last
But "obviously not everything has been wonderful in the new independent
countries," said Lourenço, who was a captain and a member of the Council of
the Revolution when he assumed control of the Lisbon military region in
That "is only natural, because you could say the life of these nations is
just beginning, with the difficulties entailed in having been victims of
civil wars that were clearly provoked and influenced by foreign
interventions, despite which these countries have increasingly staked out a
place for themselves in the international community, especially Angola," he
According to Lourenço, Angola and Mozambique "had a strong influence on the
independence of (the former Portuguese colony) of East Timor" and on the end
of the racist apartheid system in South Africa in 1994.
East Timor, located between Australia and Indonesia in the Pacific Ocean,
became independent in May 2002, after a quarter-century occupation by
Indonesia during which one-third of the population of 680,000 was killed.
The colonel also said the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP)
would play "an important role for the future of humanity."
The CPLP, which is made up of Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau,
Mozambique, Portugal, Sao Tomé and Príncipe, and East Timor, was founded in
1996 on the initiative of former Brazilian minister of culture José
Aparecido de Olivera, with the support of then presidents Itamar Franco of
Brazil and Mario Soares of Portugal.
Thirty years after achieving independence, the former Portuguese colonies in
Africa, and Angola in particular, remain heavily dependent on Portuguese
foreign aid and investment, and are countries of strong contrasts, with vast
social and economic differences, largely the result of civil wars or palace
Four decades of war - the 1961-1975 war of independence followed by the
1975-2002 civil war - left Angola in ruins, with little infrastructure still
intact and severe social problems.
Luanda, the capital, is now home to four million people, a full one-third of
the population of Angola, with everything that implies in terms of
unemployment and subsistence in a city that was not prepared to house, or
provide jobs for, so many people.
But despite the lack of public security and the fact that the cost of living
in Angola is among the highest in Africa, according to the Lisbon newspaper
Diario de Noticias, the influx of foreign investment into Angola is larger
than ever before.
That is due to the enormous oil wealth of a country that is now producing
more than two billion barrels of oil a day, at a time when international
prices are soaring and when it seems that the country's output could double
within the next five years.
That would put Angola at the centre of one of the largest inflows of
revenues that Africa has seen in its independent history, which dates back
half a century in the case of most countries on the continent.
Projections by oil market experts cited by Diario de Noticias indicate that
the oil exports of Angola, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and
joint ventures in the Gulf of Guinea could generate total revenues of 349
billion dollars by 2019.
Among those most interested in the role that Angola could play in that
future flow of black gold would seem to be China, which recently opened up a
two billion dollar credit line aimed at rebuilding Angola's infrastructure.
For foreign investors, who are interested in telecommunications, the banking
sector, civil construction works, tourism, agriculture and industry, Angola's
attractive economic growth figures, estimated by independent experts at 14.7
percent this year and projected to reach as high as 27 percent next year,
The dark side of the coin is that the end of the civil war and the current
high levels of economic growth have failed to improve living conditions for
the two-thirds of Angola's nearly 13 million people who survive on less than
two dollars a day and have access to neither clean water nor health care.
Nearly four years after the death in combat of rebel leader Jonas Savimbi,
the president of the United Front for the Total Independence of Angola
(UNITA), the promises of the government of José Eduardo dos Santos that
everything would change with the end of the war have gone unfulfilled in
this country that is not only rich in oil, but in diamonds, coffee and water
Although the country has the resources to feed 50 million people, conditions
remain desperate. Angola ranks 160th on the Human Development Index drawn up
by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and is still among the
most corrupt countries in the world, according to the anti-corruption
watchdog Transparency International.
Shortly before his death in 1979, Agostinho Neto, the father of Angolan
independence, predicted what would occur in the continent, telling the 15th
summit of heads of state and government of the Organisation of African Unity
that "Today Africa is like a motionless body, and every carrion vulture is
anxious to tear out a piece of that body."
Given that grim outlook, IPS asked two writers and journalists from former
Portuguese colonies in Africa, Vladimir Monteiro from Cape Verde and Jõao
Carlos from Sao Tomé and Príncipe, to comment on what independence has
Monteiro said that "today in Cape Verde, one of the five African countries
that achieved independence in 1975, people are no longer so sure of the
advantages of emancipation, and some wonder why a referendum was not held
that year to ask the people whether they wanted to maintain their ties with
That position "is explainable today by purely economic reasons. These are
people who see in that alternative the possibility of having a Portuguese
passport to move around the European Union," he added.
But in 1975, "there was a need for that independence, which allowed Cape
Verdeans to define their identify. For example, the international success of
their music and the rest of the progress they have made were successful
thanks to independence," said the writer.
On the other hand, Carlos deplored the fact that Portugal "handed over power
to the new leaders of the countries in Africa that were demanding their
sovereignty without having clear plans for creating the minimal conditions
necessary for assuming the leadership of the new states with a vision of the
future and a blueprint for the organisation and growth of their respective
Independence "signified at the time a clear victory, liberation from the
colonial yoke, a necessary distancing from the colonising power," said
Carlos. But "Thirty years on, there is a clear perception of the errors
committed in the process of the transfer of power to the nationalists," he
"With the adoption of democratic regimes that replaced monolithic
Marxist-Leninist socialist systems, there is once again a perception that
winning independence was worth it, because the errors of the past, the
political experience that has been acquired, the experience of democracy,
and the challenges of an increasingly globalised world can spur Africa's
leadership to face the future of their countries with another vision," said
In his view, Africa as a whole "has the possibility of carving out a bigger
space for itself on the global scene, if the spirit that prevailed in the
struggle for independence is kept alive, thinking about the progress of
everyone rather than about satisfying the interests of particular groups."