Decolonizing the “undecolonizable”? Portugal and the independence of Lusophone Africa

The historiography of the decolonization of Portuguese Africa tends to describe a quite linear order of events. In this rendition, decolonization is the product of the Carnation Revolution, in April 1974, that put an end to the dictatorial regime of Estado Novo. However, I argue here, the description of these events is less linear for two sets of reasons that have been overlooked in such narrations. Firstly, independence of Guinea-Bissau took place before the Carnation Revolution itself, in September 1973. Secondly, by the time Portugal left its African possessions, in 1975, there were no colonies anymore. In fact, Portugal had replaced the word “colony” for “overseas province” in the constitution reform of 1951. I will demonstrate in this article that, contrary to what has been written, this was more than a rhetorical gesture. I use this to open up new ways of thinking about postcolonial trajectories of those countries that not long ago belonged to the Portuguese empire in Africa.

About the Author

António Tomás received his doctoral degree in Anthropology from Columbia University, in New York. He is the author of a study on the African nationalist Amílcar Cabral titled O Fazedor de Utopias: Uma Biografia de Amílcar (The Maker of Utopias: A Biography of Amilcar Cabral (Lisbon [Portugal]; Praia [Cape Verde], Tinta da China; Spleen, 2007; 2008). He taught in the Makerere Institute for Social Research, at Makerere University (Kampala, Uganda) and he was Ray Pahl Fellow at the African Centre for Cities, at University of Cape Town, working on a book called In the skin of the city: Luanda, or the dialectics of spatial transformation. Currently, he is lecturer in the department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Stellenbosch University.


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