H-Diplo Article Review 1034 on Gruffydd Jones. “Race, Culture and Liberation: African Anticolonial Thought and Practice in the Time of Decolonisation.”

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H-Diplo Article Review 1034

12 May 2021

Branwen Gruffydd Jones.  “Race, Culture and Liberation: African Anticolonial Thought and Practice in the Time of Decolonisation.”  The International History Review (2020).  DOI:  https://doi.org/10.1080/07075332.2019.1695138.

Editor: Diane Labrosse | Commissioning Editor: Frank Gerits | Production Editor: George Fujii

Review by Marcos Cardão, Centro de Estudos Comparatistas. Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa

This article examines the contribution of Amílcar Cabral and his fellow militants to debates over culture, race, African-ness and liberation from the time their studies in Lisbon in the 1950s to the years of armed struggle in the 1960s and 1970s.  The article suggests that in their thought and practice the leading figures of the liberation movements fighting against Portuguese colonial rule made a significant contribution to these debates.  Situating, particularly, the thought of Cabral in the circulation of anticolonial thought and practice around the world, the article shows how the understandings of culture and the consciousness of African-ness was articulated in different ways, and contributed to a reformulation of understandings about race and culture. In addition, the article also examines the divergence between the Cabralian and Senghorian strands of anticolonial thinking through the debate on race, specifically the debate on negritude.  This is an excellent article, both in terms of its contents and substance, one that is contextualized and historically situated, and clear in its intentions and purposes.  It is written in a concise and rigorous way, and the argument is solid and historiographically detailed.

Cabral’s writings and the decolonisation process of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde is a particularly interesting subject on multiple levels.  On the one hand, between 1963 and 1974, Portuguese Guinea was the stage of one of the most violent anticolonial conflicts, culminating in an unilateral proclamation of independence (in September 1973), which was recognised by most members of the United Nations. The African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) also stood out as a movement fighting for the liberation of two colonies, later pursuing a unitary political project.  Alongside Franz Fanon, French West Indian psychiatrist, and Kwame Nkrumah,Ghanaian nationalist leader,  Cabral was a political actor with global projection, widely regarded as one of the key thinkers of African anticolonial thought and decolonisation. Cabral’s interventions have become a central thread to explore how anticolonial thought was forged worldwide through a multiplicity of debates and practices.

Establishing a dialogue with the main secondary words on the subject[1], including primary sources which have rarely been analyzed, namely the works of fellow militants from the African liberation movements, such as Agostinho Neto, Mario de Andrade, Viriato da Cruz, Marcelino dos Santos, Alda Espírito Santo, the article shows that Cabral’s thought emerged from a practice of collaborative debate among the leading figures of the anticolonial liberation movements.  Of particular interest is that the article also discusses the importance of three international events – the Tricontinental conference in Havana, the Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar and the Pan-African Festival in Algiers – showing how they shaped the African anti-colonial debate.  The author’s decision to articulate the national/local and the international allows him to avoid the methodological pitfalls of nationalism, and thus to situate the development of Cabral’s thought in a global context, sustaining the importance of pan-African, internationalist and international anti-colonial thought to the anti-colonial debate.  The article thus fully fulfills the purpose of illuminating the multiple paths of “African Anticolonial Thought and Practice in the Time of Decolonisation.”

Regarding decolonization, it would be interesting if the article could enter into dialogue with recent of understandings about decolonization, both as concept and as a practice, and its political resonances in movements like Black Lives Matter, Rhodes Must Fall, or with the “decolonial practices” developed by South America scholars in order to decolonize knowledge.[2] Such a discussion could take into account the different understandings of decolonization today, as a process that is not limited to political independence or national sovereignty, as the African liberation movements imagined, but as a process that is embedded in categories, concepts and knowledge. The dialogue could be extended by comparing the different current understandings of race, in particular with the return of a more essentialist conception of race by different movements and political struggles, labeled, sometimes pejoratively, “identitarian,”[3] perhaps closer to a Spivakian notion of “strategic essentialism” than Senghor’s negritude.[4]

Obviously, this would require another article, one with different aims and concerns.  It is interesting to note that both Cabral and Fanon, who are today seen as theoretical references for different civic movements, had different, even diametrically opposed, understandings of race.  As the article clearly demonstrates, Cabral’s analysis of the national liberation struggle as an act of culture, “liberated the idea of African culture from the trappings of race” (15).


Marcos Cardão holds a Ph.D. in Modern and Contemporary History from the ISCTE – Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (2013).  He is a post-doctoral researcher at Centro de Estudos Comparatistas, author of Fado Tropical.  Luso-tropicalismo na cultura de massas (1960–1974) (Lisboa: Tigre de Papel, 2020), and co-author of Gilberto Freyre: novas leituras, do outro lado do Atlântico (São Paulo: Edusp, 2015).


[1] Patrick Chabal and Amílcar Cabral: Revolutionary Leadership and People’s War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983); Jock McCulloch, In the Twilight of Revolution: The Political Theory of Amílcar Cabral (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983); Ronald H. Chilcote, Amílcar Cabral’s Revolutionary Theory and Practice (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1991); Reiland Rabaka, Concepts of Cabralism.  Amílcar Cabral and Africana Critical Theory (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2014); Firoze Manji and Bill Fletcher Jr., eds., Claim No Easy Victories: The Legacy of Amilcar Cabral (Dakar: CODESRIA, 2013).

[2] See Walter Mignolo, The Darker Side of Western Modernity Global Futures, Decolonial Options (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2011).

[3] See Linda Martín Alcoff, Michael Hames-García, Satya P. Mohanty, and Paula M. L. Moya, Identity Politics Reconsidered, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).

[4] Strategic essentialism is often seen as a political strategy whereby differences (within a group) are temporarily downplayed, and unity assumed for the sake of achieving political goals.  See Gayatri Spivak, “Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography?” In Donna Landry and Gerald MacLean, eds., The Spivak Reader (London: Routledge, 1996) 203–237.