Amílcar Lopes Cabral (1924-1973)

Amilcar Cabral, Guinea-Bissau, February 1964
Public Domain Image, Courtesy Casa Comum (05221.000.030)

Amílcar Cabral, also known as Abel Djassi, was a leader in the struggle for independence in Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde.  Cabral was a writer, agronomic engineer, and Marxist nationalist. He was born on September 12, 1924, in Bafata, Portuguese Guinea. His father, Juvenal Cabral was Cape Verdean and his mother Iva Pinhel Évora was Guinean. In 1932, his family moved to Cape Verde, and Cabral began working at the National Printing Office in 1944.  In 1945, at the age of 21, he received a scholarship to study at the Agronomic Institute in Lisbon, Portugal, graduating in 1950.  During his time in Lisbon, he founded student organizations centered on African nationalism, including a Center for African Studies and married a Portuguese woman named Marie Helena Rodrigues.

In 1952, Cabral returned to Bissau to work for the Agricultural and Forestry Services of Portuguese Guinea. The next year he was commissioned to conduct a government-sanctioned agricultural survey of the colony.  After a year of traveling throughout rural Guinea, Amílcar Cabral became convinced that independence would be possible only through military engagement. Due to Cabral’s anti-colonialist activities, the governor of Guinea-Bissau insisted he leave the colony in 1955. Cabral moved to Angola to join the Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).  On September 19, 1956 during a clandestine visit to Ghana, Amílcar Cabral, along with his half-brother Luís Cabral, Júlio de Almeira, Fernando Fortes, and Elisée Turpin, founded the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde and Guinea (PAIGC).

In 1960, with permission from Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah, Cabral established military training camps in Ghana for PAIGC guerilla forces.  Cabral and PAIGC members emphasized pan-Africanism and the importance of building a rural nationalist movement that could give rise to a stable, independent State. By 1962, PAIGC was involved in guerilla attacks on the Portuguese government.  Open war was declared on January 23, 1963. By 1966, the PAIGC claimed control of over 60 percent of Guinea-Bissau.

Cabral was an outspoken advocate for Guinean independence in the international arena.  His speeches and writings were widely published, with printings in England and the Soviet Union, among other countries. In 1970, Cabral and a PAIGC delegation were granted an audience with Pope Paul VI to garner support for the revolution.  In 1972, Cabral spoke at the 163rd session of the Security Council of the United Nations, asking for an observation delegation to assess the conflict between Portugal and PAIGC forces.

After significant military victories in 1972, Cabral began formal preparations for an independent Guinea.  On January 20, 1973, however, he was assassinated by PAIGC veteran Inocêncio Kani and Portuguese agents at the PAIGC headquarters in Conakry.  Cabral’s assassination was part of a broader attempt to establish a PAIGC leadership that was more conciliatory towards the Portuguese.  The liberation movement continued, with PAIGC leadership taking office in October 1974 after democratic elections delivered PAIGC 90 percent of the popular vote. Amílcar’s half-brother Luís Cabral became the first president of Guinea-Bissau.