Revisiting Cabral’s ‘Weapon of Theory’

Ndangwa Noyoo
Africa’s post-colonial history is one of unfulfilled missions because the national leadership has been lacking in revolutionary theory and ideology. Since so-called independence, Africa is still awaiting that moment when leaders such as Cabral will once again rise to the occasion and drive an agenda for the total liberation of Africa, from all vestiges of imperialism and neo-colonialism

This article re-traces the weapon of theory thesis that was propounded by the charismatic, intellectually gifted and revolutionary leader of the liberation forces of Guinea Bissau, Amilcar Cabral. The former, under the banner of the Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde or African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), had waged an armed struggle against Portuguese colonial domination and racial oppression. In this paper, it is intimated that this theory not only has relevance in our times, but resonates with Africa’s socio-political and economic pursuits, especially in this era of a highly penetrating globalisation and a Western driven ideological hegemony in matters of development, on the one hand and an ascendant red tide of China, on the other. In this geo-political equation, it looks as if African countries are caught up in a whirlpool, whereby they are unable to determine, let alone, chart their own destinies. They seem to be at the mercy of these dominant forces that are in the main, driving imperialistic and neo-colonialist agendas. Even though African governments may naively deem China as having less ulterior motives in comparison to those of the West, this discussion is of the view that China nonetheless seeks to maximize its access to Africa’s natural resources as quickly as possible at the expense of African people. Unfortunately, the foregoing situation continues to play its self out in Africa in spite of the fact that most of the continent’s countries have either already reached or about to arrive at the 50 year mark of political independence. Cabral’s incisive analysis is not only instructive in these times, but it is actually almost prophetic, because the issues he had warned against seem to have come to pass 41 years after his life was brutally cut short by an assassin.


In this regard, by reiterating Cabral’s thinking, which is clearly articulated in a speech which he had delivered at the ‘First Tricontinental Conference of the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America,’ in January 1966, Havana, Cuba, it is hoped that revolutionary theory and praxis can be clearly discerned. Obviously, with the former, what we are concerned about is how revolutionary theory can propel national development pursuits and ordinary people’s prosperity in the present times. Hence, this article seeks to extrapolate two salient points from Cabral’s speech which pin-point the essence of the weapon of theory and which mirror Africa’s present-day struggles around economic emancipation and sustainable development. Poignantly, in his treatise, Cabral alerts us to “the struggle against our own weaknesses”. This is the starting-point for this discussion. In reality, our inability to come to terms or even to trigger “this battle against ourselves” – no matter what difficulties the enemy may create – was and still continues to be the pitfall of post-colonial Africa’s development trajectory. Following Cabral, this battle is the expression of the internal contradictions in the economic, social, cultural (and therefore historical) reality of each of our countries. Indeed, any national or social revolution which is not based on knowledge of this fundamental reality runs the grave risk of being condemned to failure. Evidently, on the political level, our own reality – however fine and attractive the reality of others may be – can only be transformed by the detailed knowledge of it, by our own efforts, by our own sacrifices (my emphasis added).[1] With the foregoing assertions in mind, it is necessary to note that even though Africa is a continent that is besieged by a plethora of socio-economic and political hurdles, and while many of these impediments are a direct result of the slave trade and colonial domination, however, a good number remain self-inflicted. [2]


How does Cabral’s standpoint find resonance in the daily struggles on the African continent? Well, firstly it is in the way our governments and politicians seem to fumble at every turn in matters of national development. After almost 50 years of independence, most countries are not economically emancipated. Even politically, some continue to exist as semi-servile states, because of their dependent economies – usually on their former colonial masters. Many countries have to constantly beg for aid and as in the case of Malawi, also try their outmost best not to “annoy” their masters. Some of these weaknesses are expressed in the rampant corruption that is championed by the leaders of African countries as well as the plunder of the wealth of their countries. In the process, these leaders also parcel out such ill-gotten loot to their lackeys and sycophants. This amoral stance and lack of empathy on the part of the ruling elites, as in Equatorial Guinea or Angola, for example, stems from the ignorance of the leaders as regards the obtaining material conditions of their societies as well as their inability to grasp their historical mission, which should be predicated on the total liberation of the mass of their people from chronic poverty, destitution and squalor. Another weakness that directly stems from the cited issues and which is directly linked to Africa’s development pursuits is one of tribalism. In many African countries tribalism usurps national development objectives and thus national affairs are reduced to the whims of one tribe or affiliated tribes of one region. Michael Sata of Zambia is one president who has shamelessly promoted the development of his region in the shortest time after he was voted into power in September 2011. He was elected on a populist ticket whilst promising to make the living conditions of Zambia’s poor (who constitute more than 60 percent) for the better, in 90 days. Sadly, he has chosen to promote the well-being of his tribe and other allied tribal groups of the northern region of Zambia and not the whole country. Almost all job appointments he made after he became president, in the government, diplomatic service, parastatal organisations, military, police and intelligence organs, were taken up by members of his tribe. This president is so shameless that he simply decrees that universities are built in his region or that new provinces and districts are created from the same area in order to channel more resources to “his people” and not the Zambian nation. Why are these untenable situations unfolding in African countries? The answer lies in the leadership’s lack of revolutionary theory that could inform their praxis in regard to governance. Undoubtedly, many countries in Africa have not managed to pay sufficient attention to this important deficit in our common struggle, as Cabral had rightly pointed out.

The second quintessential issue that continues to hobble the post-colonial development agenda is ideological deficiency. As Cabral had observed such ideological deficiency or even lack of, is basically due to, again, African politicians’ ignorance of the historical reality which they claim to transform. This constitutes one of the greatest weaknesses of our struggle against imperialism, if not the greatest weakness of all. From the ascendancy of the World Bank’s and International Monetary Fund’s (IMF’s) Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs), to the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), Africa has continued to allow itself be a pawn of the agents of imperialism and neo-colonialism due to its leaders’ weak or even non-existent ideological frameworks. Presently, neo-liberalism’s strangle-hold on Africa’s politico-economic thought can be attributed to its leaderships’ inability to place the continent’s development agenda on a sound ideological platform. It is almost assumed that Africa’s development can transpire from an ahistorical and non-ideological premise with undue interference or even outright sabotage from its former oppressors. The former, who are also agents of imperialism, would even suggest to the African leaders that there is now a new world order, which is inevitable and thus Africa countries cannot choose any other path, apart from the one which was carved out for them. In this regard, independence remains illusory as those who wield political power in Africa, are merely hostages of the imperialists and their agents. Thus, many of the African leaders seem not only to lack the tools of critical analysis, but also a revolutionary consciousness that could enable them to lead their countries to states of material well-being for all citizens. The other side of the coin shows that many African countries are simply “outsourcing” their development prospects to China. Even mundane activities such as the building of roads and clinics are left to China which then exports its labour to undertake these constructions at the expense of local labour.


In the same vein, the various rebel movements littered all over Africa, supposedly fighting for the downtrodden, but in reality fighting only to gain power via the barrel of the gun and the means of violence, are also bereft of any ideological compasses. Arguably, their main purpose is to seize state power and nothing else. Their voracious appetite for power, explains their inability to chart a course of nation-building, inclusive development and genuine peace and stability once they have gained power. For example, the rebel group known as Seleka in the Central African Republic (C.A.R), after it deposed the dictator François Bozize in March this year, has only gone on to engage in orgies of violence, pillage and rape and not putting in place a coherent programme of national reconciliation and development. This has led to the decapitation of the social fabric and resulting in a military intervention by C.A.R’s former colonial master, France, in order to secure some form of peace. Meanwhile, the United Nations is still haggling over a peace-keeping force that should be composed of an African force. The lack of ideology and revolutionary theory in most, if not, all of Africa’s rebel movements have led to the displacement of millions of Africans across the continent. The millions who bear the brunt of these civil wars and armed insurrections are the aged, children and women. Equally, the ideological deficit has also brought forth semi-autocratic and dictatorial political regimes in Africa. In this scenario, presidents rule for decades and have become adept at manipulating electoral systems so that they favour themselves and their political parties during elections. Lack of ideology makes these leaders think that they have a divine right to continuously rule their countries even if they have nothing to offer in matters of raising the quality of the citizens. So Paul Biya in Cameroon or Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe would see nothing wrong in staying in power for eternity, whilst they abuse their subjects and while their citizens suffer from abject poverty, social dislocation and all sorts of human indignities.


Cabral’s thinking and vision will endure for a long time on the African continent as well as globally because his theories were a result of his experiences, beginning as a student in Lisbon, continuing as an agronomist who surveyed the agricultural resources of his country for the Portuguese government and concluding as a nationalist and revolutionist. He expected revolution to be more than just a struggle for independence.[3] In concluding this article, it is contended here that Africa’s post-colonial history is one of unfulfilled missions, because the national leadership had more often than not, been lacking in revolutionary theory and ideology. Hence, the leaders failed to propel a well-thought-out development praxis on one hand and also could not foster dynamic national politics and directed development, on the other. Critically:

The African revolution and the larger liberation struggle of colonial people everywhere, is the fundamental characteristic of the advance of history in this century, according to Cabral. Such a revolution means the transformation of life in the direction of progress which, in turn, means national independence, eliminating all foreign domination, and carefully selecting friends and watching enemies to ensure progress. “The national liberation of a people is the regaining of the historical personality of that people, its return to history through the destruction of the imperialist domination to which it was subjected.” A people must free the process of development of the national productive forces. Thus the struggle is not only against colonialism, but against neo-colonialism as well. [4]

The above-mentioned scenario did not transpire in Africa in the last century due to mainly the continent’s leadership’s lack of understanding in regard to the internal contradictions in the economic, social, cultural (and therefore historical) reality of each of their countries. Even in the new millennium it does not look like things are getting any better. Many examples of the so-called transition to independence were merely false starts and Africa is still awaiting that moment when leaders such as Cabral will once again rise to the occasion and drive an agenda for the total liberation of Africa, from all vestiges of imperialism and neo-colonialism, and then selflessly raise the quality of life of their people to unprecedented higher heights, by harnessing the many minerals and other naturals resources, for the benefit of all Africans irrespective of tribe, gender, creed and religious affiliation. This is what Cabral would have wanted to see on his beloved continent – Africa.


1. Amilcar Cabral, (1966). ‘The Weapon of Theory.’ Address delivered to the first Tricontinental Conference of the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America, January, Havana, Cuba.
2. Ndangwa Noyoo, (2010). ‘Social policy and human development in Zambia.’ London: Adonis and Abbey.
3. Robert Blackey, (1974). Fanon and Cabral: a contrast in theories of revolution for Africa. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 12(2): 191-209.
4. Ibid, p.193.

*Ndangwa Noyoo is a Senior Social Policy Specialist in the National Department of Social Development, Pretoria, South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.