Amílcar Lopes da Costa Cabral was a Guinea-Bissauan and Cape Verdean agricultural engineer, writer, and a nationalist thinker and politician. Also known by his nom de guerre Abel Djassi, Cabral led the nationalist movement of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde Islands and the ensuing war of independence in Guinea-Bissau. He was assassinated on 20 January 1973, about 8 months before Guinea-Bissau’s unilateral declaration of independence.
He was born on September 12, 1924 in Bafatá, Portuguese Guinea, to Cape Verdean parents, Juvenal Lopes da Costa Cabral and Iva Pinhel Évora. Cabral was educated at Licéu (Secondary School) Gil Eanes in the town of Mindelo, Cape Verde, and later at the Instituto Superior de Agronomia, in Lisbon (the capital of Portugal, which was then the colonial power ruling over Portuguese Guinea and Cape Verde ). While an Agronomy student in Lisbon, he founded student movements dedicated to the cause of liberation of the Portuguese colonies in Africa.
He returned to Africa in the 1950s, and was instrumental in promoting the independence causes of the then Portuguese colonies. He was the founder (in 1956) of the PAIGC or Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (Portuguese for African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde) and one of the founders of Movimento Popular Libertação de Angola (MPLA) (later in the same year), together with Agostinho Neto, whom he met in Portugal, and Angolan nationalists.
From 1963 to his assassination in 1973, Cabral led the PAIGC’s guerrilla movement (in Portuguese Guinea) against the Portuguese colonialists, which evolved into one of most successful war of independence in African history. The goal of the conflict was to attain independence for both Portuguese Guinea and Cape Verde. Over the course of the conflict, as the movement captured territory from the Portuguese, Cabral became the de facto leader of a large portion of what became Guinea-Bissau.
In preparation for the liberation war, Cabral set up training camps in neighboring Ghana with the permission of Kwame Nkrumah. Cabral trained his lieutenants through various techniques, including mock conversations to provide them with effective communication skills that would aid their efforts to mobilize Guinean tribal chiefs to support the PAIGC.
Amílcar Cabral soon realized that the war effort could be sustained only if his troops could be fed and taught to live off the land alongside the larger populace. Being an agronomist, he taught his troops to teach local crop growers better farming techniques, so that they could increase productivity and be able to feed their own family and tribe, as well as the soldiers enlisted in the PAIGC’s military wing. When not fighting, PAIGC soldiers would till and plow the fields alongside the local population.
Cabral and the PAIGC also set up a trade-and-barter bazaar system that moved around the country and made staple goods available to the countryside at prices lower than that of colonial store owners. During the war, Cabral also set up a roving hospital and triage station to give medical care to wounded PAIGC’s soldiers and quality-of-life care to the larger populace, relying on medical supplies garnered from the USSRand Sweden. The bazaars and triage stations were at first stationary until they came under frequent attack from Portuguese forces.
In 1972, Cabral began to form a People’s Assembly in preparation for the birth of an independent African nation, but disgruntled former rival Inocêncio Kani, with the help of Portuguese agents operating within the PAIGC, shot and killed him before he could complete his project. The Portuguese colonialists’ initial plan, which eventually went awry, was to enjoin the help of this former rival to arrest Amílcar Cabral and place him under the custody of Portuguese authorities. The assassination took place on 20 January 1973 in Conakry, Guinea. His half-brother, Luís Cabral, became the leader of the Guinea-Bissau branch of the party and would eventually become President of Guinea-Bissau.
More than a guerrilla leader, Cabral was highly regarded internationally as one of the most prominent African thinkers of the 20th century and for his intellectual contributions aimed at formulating a coherent cultural, philosophical and historical theoretical framework to justify and explain independence movements. This is reflected in his various writings and public interventions.
Comrade Amílcar Cabral was one of the most lucid and brilliant leaders in Africa, who instilled in us tremendous confidence in the future and the success of his struggle for liberation.
— Fidel Castro, 1966 Tricontinental Conference in Havana, Cuba
Cabral is considered a “revolutionary theoretician as significant as Frantz Fanon and Che Guevara”, whose influence reverberated far beyond the African continent. Amílcar Cabral International Airport, Cape Verde’s principal international airport at Sal, is named in his honor. There is also a football competition, the Amílcar Cabral Cup, in zone 2, named as a tribute to him. In addition, the only privately owned university in Guinea-Bissau is named after him—Amílcar Cabral University—and is in Bissau. Jorge Peixinho also composed an elegy to Cabral in 1973.