Cabo Verde’s PAICV: From Liberation Movement to Trampoline Party | by Abel Djassi Amado

“If there has been any kind of ideological suicide, it is only of everything that Amilcar Cabral believed in. The end result has been the moral degeneration of the PAICV for the shabby profit of the party’s hoi oligoi.”

Photo: Amilcar Cabral on a Guinea-Bissau stamp
Photo: Amilcar Cabral on a Guinea-Bissau stamp

Former president of Cabo Verde and leader of the African Party for the Independence of Cabo Verde (PAICV) in the 1980s, Aristides Pereira, wrote in his 2012 autobiography that his party had long ceased to be a party of causes. For Pereira, the PAICV and its political forerunner, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cabo Verde (PAIGC), were built on the leadership’s positioned high moral standards. Noble political principles of national independence, development and social justice had steadfastly guided their political actions. Writing in 2012, Pereira noted that the PAICV had become a “trampoline” political organization. It had morphed from an organization of integrity and societal progress to an instrument used by individuals merely to facilitate personal socio-economic advancement.

The case of the PAICV is neither unique, nor singular. A similar decline can be witnessed in the trajectories of the liberation movements of other Lusophone African Countries. FRELIMO in Mozambique or the MPLA in Angola, are merely two cases in point. Why, then, have Lusophone African liberation movements degenerated into political organizations whose modes of operation are characterized by corruption, clientelism, fraud, abuse of power, and the neo-patrimonialization of the state?

From PAIGC to PAICV

At its foundation the PAIGC, like other nationalist parties in the West Africa of the 1950s and early 1960s, positioned itself as a mass party advocating political strategies that resembled Kwame Nkrumah’s positive action. The urban areas of Guinea-Bissau was where the party focused its strategy of political mobilization. The colonial state lashed back with a brutal state repression, causing the party to change its political strategy. Conakry became the organization’s home base, and as early as 1961, the PAIGC’s Nkurumah influenced positive action was swapped out for a violence-based approach to liberation. Following two years of intensive preparation and mobilization of the rural population and immigrant communities, the PAIGC launched an armed struggle that would last for the eleven years between 1963 and 1974.

What Cabral called “the best sons and daughters of our people” became one of the fundamental principles on which rested the PAIGC’s political ethics. The other was class suicide.

The armed liberation struggle had a significant impact on the PAIGC’s ethos. It not only transformed the party’s institutional architecture but also its political ideology; pushing the party a little further left. While the PAIGC never considered itself a Marxist platform, its official political discourse, often deriving from its leader Amilcar Cabral, had Marxist traces all over.

The process of national liberation had also solidified the PAIGC as an organization bound by ethical correctness. One of the first institutional changes in the party was the abandonment of its ethos as a mass-party open to all who believed in the party line. Instead, the party was placed in the hands of a few individuals characterized with extreme altruism and moral uprightness in order to fulfil its aim of being in the Leninist vanguard, accelerating and guiding the ongoing revolution. What Cabral called “the best sons and daughters of our people” became one of the fundamental principles on which rested the PAIGC’s political ethics. The other was class suicide.

The successful struggle led by the PAIGC became a political juggernaut that ultimately led to the fall of the dictatorship in Lisbon and the subsequent withdrawal of Portugal from Africa.

The PAIGC, unlike previous generations of West African political parties, such as Nkrumah’s own Convention People’s Party or Sekou Touré’s Democratic Party of Guinea, rejected the idea of a classless African society. For the PAIGC, the conspicuousness of class cleavages across African social landscapes was a fact on which to capitalise. The party’s ideology made a distinction between a “revolutionary class” that guides and manages the revolutionary process; and a “revolutionary force”, which was to be the reserve that feeds the party’s military apparatus. The petty bourgeoisie represented the revolutionary class, while the peasantry was classified as the revolutionary force.

While the petite bourgeoisie maintained the leadership of the national liberation struggle, it was never to be for the realization of its own class interests. On the contrary, the party ideology called for a “class suicide” of the petite bourgeoisie. That is, a voluntary act of annihilation as a social class in order to embrace and advance the interests of the popular masses.

The successful struggle led by the PAIGC became a political juggernaut that ultimately led to the fall of the dictatorship in Lisbon and the subsequent withdrawal of Portugal from Africa. Cabo Verde became independent on July 5, 1975, as a one-party state under the PAIGC. The post-colonial configuration meant that the PAIGC ruled concomitantly in both Guinea-Bissau and Cabo Verde. On November 14, 1980, a coup d’état in Guinea-Bissau, carried out by disgruntled Bissau-Guineans provoked a political earthquake within the party. Two months later, the Cabo Verdean section of the party decided to break away from the Guinean section and formed the African Party for the Independence of Cabo Verde (PAICV).

The Capo Verdean state has become progressively nepotised and nepotisable

By the end of the 1980s, the PAICV’s party-state regime in Cabo Verde was facing a serious crisis of legitimacy and accumulation. Economic liberalization and small steps towards political opening were the regime’s proposed antidote. The third wave of democratization that swept the continent ultimately forced the regime to democratise. Cabo Verde’s first elections in 1991 resulted in the victory of the then recently formed opposition party, the Movement for Democracy (MpD). The PAICV would go on to spend ten years as the country’s loyal opposition. In 2001, now under new and younger leadership, the PAICV was back in power. Presently, the party has managed to win the last three consecutive elections and has now ruled post-colonial Cabo Verde for thirty of the country’s forty years of independence.

Becoming A Trampoline Political Organization

The PAICV, which had defined itself as a leftist liberation movement, ethically engaged in ending man’s exploitation of himself, has become an army of champagne socialists. There is a wide distance between the party’s political discourse and the operation of its top leadership. What Thorstein Veblen calls “conspicuous consumption” has come to characterise the lifestyle of the PAICV’s top leadership. The leadership’s engagement in the consumption of luxury goods, which is not kept in private, but has become a means of political expression in the public sphere. Luxury indulgence is now used by the party to lavishly display the government’s new elite.

The logic of the modern bureaucracy prizes the principles of rationality, legality, and impersonality. Under the PAICV, access to high-paying state jobs and other perquisites have become increasingly based on hereditary connections. The Capo Verdean state has become progressively nepotised and nepotisable.

the neo-patrimonizalition of the post-colonial Lusophone African state is the direct outcome of the neoliberal economic order of the late 1980s

This nepotistic political culture is falsely propagated on the idea of exceptionalism. That those who gain entrance into high positions of the party or state administration through personal connections are justified in doing so because of the leadership qualities they are alleged to possess as a result of their ‘heritage’. It is a notion rarely evidenced in real life.

One such prominent example is José Luis Neves, son of Prime Minister José Maria Neves. José Luis returned to Cabo Verde in 2010 after finishing his studies in Portugal. Despite very little professional experience, Mr Neves entered an executive position at Cabo Verde’s stock exchange.  From Heimir Inocêncio, who became  chief financial officer of the ENAPOR parastatal, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Infrastructures, then headed by his father, Manuel Inocêncio, to the well-known Janira Hopffer Almada, the PAICV’s use of the state as a personal resource for rewarding and advancing personal connections has become corrosive to the country’s future development.

The French political scientist, Michel Cahen, argues that liberation movements turned towards neoliberalism in the second half of the 1980s; this coupled with their own tradition of political paternalism, “created a favourable context for the fast expansion of neopatrimonialism.” If Cahen is right, then the neo-patrimonizalition of the post-colonial Lusophone African state is the direct outcome of the neoliberal economic order of the late 1980s.  What explains the political degeneration of the PAICV can, therefore, be found within and outside the dynamics of the party.

Both the party’s foundational paternalism and a global neoliberalism have come together to create a political culture in Cabo Verde that is increasingly characterized by a widening gap between the elite and the masses. From advancing the cause of an independent and rebellious liberation of the masses, the Cabo Verdean state has become the last guarantor of the elites’ predatory consumption; and class has been resurrected to maintain the privileged position of the bourgeoisie. If there has been any kind of ideological suicide, it is only of everything that Amilcar Cabral believed in. The end result has been the moral degeneration of the PAICV for the shabby profit of the party’s hoi oligoi.

Abel Djassi is a native of Cabo Verde. He holds a doctorate in Political Science from Boston University. Abel is a lecturer of ‘African Politics’ and ‘Politics of Race and Ethnicity’ at Boston College. He is also a board member of the West African Research Association, a network of scholars with a focus on West Africa. Find his other articles here

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