Portugal’s civilizing mission in colonial Guinea-Bissau: Rhetoric and reality

Published: 1/Jan/2003
Source: International Journal of African Historical Studies

Peter Karibe Mendy, “Portugal’s Civilizing Mission in Colonial Guinea-Bissau: Rhetoric and Reality” International Journal of African Historical Studies Vol. 36, No. 1, Special Issue: Colonial Encounters between Africa and Portugal (2003), pp. 35-58


This article explores Portugal’s “civilizing mission” in Guinea-Bissau (former Portuguese Guinea) during a colonial presence that was firmly established in the early years of the twentieth century, and which ended abruptly in 1974, following a decade-long bloody war of independence.’ According to Marcelo Caetano, former Portuguese minister for the colonies and prime minister of the New State from 1968 until 1974, Portugal’s colonial presence in Africa was “not imperialistic in the sense of constituting a process of racial domination and economic exploitation.” Instead, he explained, “when we talk about Empire, we just mean “community of peoples.” We live together, we do not subjugate. We practice, it is certain, with regards to the native populations of Africa, a paternalistic process of government and administration, but in this paternalism are implicit loving care, human solidarity, Christian communion.”  While this perspective was promptly dismissed by the nationalist leaders in Portugal’s African colonies as the mere propaganda of a fascist ideologue, and its hollowness was amply demonstrated in such cases as Angola and Mozambique by the critical studies of Gerald Bender and Allen and Barbara Isaacman  among others, the nature of the Portuguese-African colonial encounter nevertheless needs to be re-examined in its specific historical and geographic contexts.

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Themes: Discrimination, Ethnic/Racial/Religious, State Succession
Regions: West Africa, Guinea-Bissau
Year: 2003