Guinea-Bissau: Reflecting on behalf of future generations

Here is something to think about —

— From the onset of its history, Guinea-Bissau has always been a diverse country. If you read the cultural bulletins and/or other publications issued by the Portuguese authorities during the colonial era, you will discover that the territory that constitutes Guinea-Bissau was even more diverse in the 1940s than it is today.

By Umaro Djau*

After the independence, most particularly in the 80s, Guinea-Bissau’s national authorities started to give us a false sense of cultural hegemony under the cover of a vibrant national unity. This forged national unity was thought to be the firewall for a continued political survival of what many would describe as a “Unitarian” regime, propelled to hold onto its power and avoid relinquishing its sense of dominance. 

Mirroring many other independence movements and political parties across the African continent, from the ideological and political viewpoints, Guinea-Bissau recused itself from multiculturalism, which was historically perceived as the enemy of socio-political hegemony. This was also “the gateway” towards the country’s political consolidation, under one rule, one political party, and one elite. Indivisible.

As more people become educated and academically fit – thanks to that same political rule, to be fair, — today, many of the country’s political and institutional structures are unable to cope with the insurgency of the intellectual multiculturalism. Result: apprehension, despair, failed (and often reactionary) political ideas and actions, all of which entrenched in an array of political culture that equates Guinea-Bissau to a sole political party.

Now, for many decades, the entire political and administrative structures of Guinea-Bissau were interconnected through a simplistic top-down and centralized power approach, unquestionably bonded by an ideology with no accountability to the general population. Having forgotten or ignored this umbilical link to its political past, manifestations such as diversity, ethnicity, religious practices, traditionalism, and multiculturalism all seem to have lost their meaning and significance. To put it bluntly, politicians have chosen to forget or blur their own rich-cultural and ethnic backgrounds for the sake of political hegemony, which is often disguised as national unity.

All these political developments and historical facts beg the following question: have you ever wondered why Amilcar Cabral and other great leaders of PAIGC were able to successfully unite an even more diverse and less educated Portuguese Guinea in the 1960s? As we search for answers, many of us are laser-focused on the issues of political unity as the easy way out. But, believe it or not, political unity will eventually emerge or solidify, but it will be through a lengthy natural process that will take years to build through awareness and education, while valuing and respecting the essential premises of social, cultural, and religious elements of our societies.

Through historical footage of videos and photographs, many of those who have followed and studied Amílcar Cabral may have seen him roaming through villages across then provincial territory of Portugal. And those who have studied him would tell you that, as much as Cabral was eager to encounter and recruit villagers to join the fight, he did not try to force hegemony (cultural or political) among Guineans. On the contrary, Cabral chose to respect the diversity and maximized its potential. Most importantly, he gracefully embraced every single member of the “indigenous” population of then Portuguese Guinea.

Furthermore, as much as I have been inspired by Cabral and learned from his speeches, writings, and other casual essays, I would not dare to claim being an expert on “all-things-Cabral;” but it is widely understood his ability to build bridges between urban and rural areas and, most importantly, across all ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. By the same token, he genuinely embraced all the brilliant ideas from the few countrymen who were academically and technically equipped and willing to give their time and their lives to a greater common cause — the independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde.

Amílcar Cabral

Indeed, Cabral was able to defy the conventional thinking and — against all odds and challenges — he conducted exceptional political, diplomatic, and military campaigns, which are often referenced as the best examples of national victories against the colonial powers in Africa. Now, let us fast-forward to today and get ready to be confronted with a very unconventional nation whose institutions are willing to lay low in the muddy waters of political intolerance, coupled with greed, corruption, and selfishness.

But, remember this: Cabral had far less intellectual and technological resources available to him than those available to us today. Nevertheless, he humbly overcame challenges and succeeded through understanding, commitment, teamwork, and sacrifice.

As Guinea-Bissau struggles to find a viable path forward, we should not forget the ultimate price Cabral and others paid, so that Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde can become independent nations. In the light of this profound and heroic struggle for freedom, many of our citizens as well as the international community may be wondering whether there any cultural, sociological, and political lessons to be learned from one of the most patriotic and courageous’ guerrilla movements in Africa.

I am absolutely sure that there are many lessons, if the generations that have followed only dared to look around and learn from history and from those who are still around. And I am also absolutely sure that any kind of hegemony does not constitute a national pre-condition and will not lead to a peaceful social and political co-existence. As shown in many countries, including in Africa, multiculturalism can be compatible with unity and democracy, as long as we do not lose the human spirit of the mankind and the sense of humanity and community.

You might be wondering whether the themes that I have just exposed here are the main issues preventing the country from taking off. If you were to ask me, I would probably answer with a resolute “No.” As a matter of fact, many of these themes, problems, issues, and concerns are so blended that you might have to look very hard to understand the scope of the problem(s) that Guinea-Bissau are faced with. Nevertheless, my present exposé – though a reflection of a personal opinion – may offer some indicators about the “socio-cultural” complexity of a seemingly never ending political turmoil.Guinea-Bissau Children

Thus, the challenge of finding all the root causes of our problems is on us, all of us. But, will you dare to look around and challenge yourself as a true patriot on behalf of every Bissau-Guinean, regardless of their social, cultural, and religious background or will you be willing to flush down the river everything for which all those people who came before us stood for, fought for, and lost their lives for? And finding all the root causes has to start with a true understanding of our social fabric – including values and assumptions — which gives meaning to our history and existence as a pluralistic nation.

Hopefully, it is still not too late and Guinea-Bissau will be able to speak in harmony and with one voice but the measure of our progress should also rely on the richness of our opinions, positions, and actions. So, even when speaking with different voices, our national goals should be geared towards the very noble promises: dignifying our people, rebuilding confidence, lifting up the hopes and the aspirations of many generations who pride themselves today as being the true followers of Amilcar Cabral and many other heroes. It is imperative remembering that they once dreamed of a peaceful and prosperous nation, for which they thought it was worth their sacrifices and dying for.


**Umaro Djau is a journalist native of Guinea-Bissau and his views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of CNN, his employer.                                                          

2 Responses to Guinea-Bissau: Reflecting on behalf of future generations

  1. Mario Djedjo diz:

    This article is interesting indeed, But the problem is that there are things that we attribute to Cabral and we make him as a savior of our country, but he is not. I personally respect him but I do not think he is what people thing he is by following the writings and sayings of Mario Sissoko and his critics on Amilcar Cabral.

  2. My name´s is Manuel Fernandes. I was born in Sta Candelaria Guine-Bissau 1963. Today i´m living Lisbon-Portugal. I like to read news about the country were i was born. I´m not the right person to speak about political ideas, … but … the visionaries and historical persons have intelligence, goodness to the people (give then a house, a work/job, an education, hospitals)respect to the academics (enterprises and political/economics), and vision to prosperity the diversity of éthnics groups and religions in base of respect and friendship. That´s why the popularity of Cabral is so easy to understand. His had all this values !!

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