Excerpt from “Lusotropicalism and the Legitimisation of Exploitation: Colonialism in Mozambique under the Estado Novo, 1930-1964”

Published: 2019/12/11 Number of words: 3505


This introduction first sets out the research problem and then discusses its rationale by contextualising it within criminology and in the light of extant research. Next it outlines how this dissertation intends to answer the question before briefly summarising the contents of the succeeding chapters.

The Research Problem

As the process of decolonisation began to unfold during the first half of the twentieth century, Portugal was actively increasing its presence in and control over its five African colonies (Angola, São Tomé, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde and Mozambique). This raised questions as to why one of the poorest countries in Europe was able to maintain the grand trappings of empire as wealthier nations slowly lost theirs (Wästberg, 1963; Munslow, 1983). From 1926 until 1974, Portugal was governed by an autocratic regime known as the Estado Novo (New State). Making use of censorship and the violent suppression of dissent, the Estado Novo and its leader, António Salazar, constructed a civilizing mission in order to legitimise ongoing colonial occupation. Based on a theory called lusotropicalism (Freyre, 1956; 1961), people were encouraged to believe that through 500 years of miscegenation, Portuguese colonisers had coexisted peacefully with natives. Further it the belief was disseminated that because Portugal’s unique brand of imperialism was one of racial equality, Portugal’s right to keep its colonial dependencies was jingoistically attributed to its legacy as a pioneering explorer nation that could return to its fifteenth-century prowess (Chilcote, 1967). Thus its colonies were maintained ostensibly in order to pursue its civilising mission and spread Christianity and enlightenment (Agozino, 2004; Sidaway and Power, 2005), though in reality, the over-riding economic motivation was that the colonies were to help fund Portugal’s own development (Chilcote, 1967).

When considering the critiques of colonialism by people such as Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire, it is possible to see that Portugal was no different from any other European power in that it relied on capitalist tools such as forced labour to increase its own wealth (Fanon, 2001) at the expense of native life and culture (Césaire, 1972). This was characteristically accomplished by implicit and explicit racial constructions to legitimise one group’s domination over another (Arendt, 1944; 1973), and yet the Estado Novo continuously portrayed its policies in Africa as benevolent and based on racial tolerance. This is perhaps due to the depth which Estado Novo’s propaganda and ideology, with its ubiquitous iconography celebrating the country’s historic achievements overseas, permeated Portuguese culture. This notion of empire has overshadowed the realities of Portuguese colonialism (Sidaway and Power, 2005). The implications for this legacy in research is that it has stunted the development of a postcolonial consciousness in Portuguese academia, where issues of culpability are often minimised (Campos, 2008; Figueiredo, Valentim and Doosje, 2011). Censorship led to a dearth of research on social conditions and colonial policy being conducted in the actual time period. Any work that was likely to be critical of Portuguese policies was highly opposed and researchers met with great difficulties in negotiating access, risking interrogation and imprisonment (Harris, 1958; Galvão, 1961; Wästberg, 1963; Chilcote and Mondlane, 1965).

This project addresses this lacuna by discussing the effects of native and labour policy in one colony, Mozambique. The country was chosen as it was the most populous colony (Harris, 1958), and its system of forced crop cultivation was perhaps one of the most repressive and damaging features of twentieth-century Portuguese colonialism (Isaacman, 1992a). The project discusses the middle colonial period (Munslow, 1983), from the enactment of the Colonial Act in 1930 until the outbreak of the Independence War in 1964, though in some instances pertinent work slightly outside this time frame or regarding the other territories is cited. The research question, then, is how sharply do Portugal’s civilising mission claims contrast with the reality of conditions faced by Mozambicans? This will be answered by exploring to what extent colonial native and labour policy can be said to have been a method of protecting colonial capitalist interests and subjugating indigenous peoples and culture on the basis of racist myths and nationalist propaganda. Now that the research question has been laid out, this introduction will elaborate on the rationale for the dissertation and its relationship to what has already been achieved in the relevant areas of research.


The rationale for this study is two-fold: firstly, it seeks to contribute to the developing understanding of colonialism within criminology; secondly, it reassesses a period of Portuguese history by verbalising the narratives of colonised people to counteract the myths of racial harmony.

There is an element of criminality against indigenous people in the foundation of modern state building (Cunneen, 2010), but criminology has yet to study the transgressions of imperialism outside civilised space in any significant way (Morrison, 2006). The problems inherent in colonialism are therefore lacking in criminology, possibly because colonialism generally predates the burgeoning global awareness of human rights in international law. Yet few other fields of social science are as well equipped to identify these problems as international law asks ‘broader questions about crime, victimisation, punishment and justice, and [requires us] to provide a more nuanced understanding of social reality’ (Cunneen, 2011: 264). For example, the relationship between racism and power is well established within the notion of a culture of control, while criminology has so far failed to fully establish the relationship between racism and marginalisation in the colonial setting (Oriola, 2006). While it may be understandable to view criminology as being concerned with crime and punishment within the clear, prescribed definitions of a criminal justice system, critical criminology has sought to expand the concept of ‘crime’ beyond legal constructions and include other ‘harms’ (Brisman, 2011: 55). Many theorists have moved beyond reductivist conceptions of the criminal justice system by embracing the concepts of punishment as well as power, and how the latter is produced by, among other instruments, discipline and surveillance (Foucault, 1982). In the light of these ideas, critics have faulted Foucault for not addressing colonialism sufficiently, despite the adequacy of his concepts for such a discussion (Young, 1995; Agozino, 2003).

One of the aims of critical criminology is to analyse how power dynamics condition those who are marginalised (Hudson, 2011); thus colonialism should naturally present a concern for criminology as it perpetuated a power imbalance between the viewer and the viewed, the dominant and the dominated (Betts, 1998). This research examines the period of history immediately preceding decolonisation in Mozambique and contends that Portugal’s native and labour policy, while ostensibly enacted in accordance with its harmonious civilising mission, actually upheld and enforced a racial power imbalance. Variants of this problem have been addressed by non-European criminologists, studying the consequences of colonial rule in their states, but it has not been examined from the European perspective (Agozino, 2004; Oriola, 2006). This lack is noticeable when examining Portuguese colonial history. Historical research from Portugal has focused primarily on the colonial war that ended in independence and any guilt attached to it (Campos, 2008; Figueiredo et al., 2011). Work on collective memories reveals divergent attitudes towards colonialism and a lack of awareness and acknowledgement of Portuguese culpability and responsibility for the country’s actions, while their Mozambican counterparts are well aware of this sordid history (Cabecinhas and Feijó, 2010). This dissertation therefore accepts the invitations of Mozambican historians to ‘debate the course of historiography of the collective Portuguese memory from this period’ (Meneses, 2012: 129), by exploring the ‘conceptual tightrope’ (Duffy, 1959: 294) that the regime trod in expressing views of racial equality and yet enacting legislation based on principles of cultural inequality and inferiority. Overall it intends to link these disparate notions and in doing so, bridge a gap in knowledge on this subject (Semmens, 2011).

Extensive archival and ethnographic research has been carried out into particular aspects of the Mozambican colonial experience and their exploitative nature, such as Jean Penvenne’s work on urbanisation in the capital, Lourenço Marques (now Maputo), and the lack of black social mobility (1979a; 1979b; 1982; 1985; 1989; 1995; 1996; 1997; 2005), and Allen Isaacman on the coercive cotton plantation schemes (1985; 1988; 1992a; 1992b). While these authors and others cited here tend to place their findings within the context of colonial capitalism, this dissertation proposes to take the analysis further and integrate the existing research on colonial Mozambique with theory and literature on power relations, control and punishment. In so doing, it will demonstrate how punishment can function as more than a mere tool of the judicial system and is in fact a social phenomenon and expression of power (Garland, 1995).

This concludes the discussion on how the dissertation relates to existing research. The argument that it supports will now be further explained.

Outline of the Argument

This project seeks to outline how the Estado Novo propaganda and historical revisionism informed Portugal’s twentieth-century colonial policy in Mozambique. It argues that while the civilising mission preached values of anti-racialism and harmonious integration, the actual policies of assimilation resulted in cultural subjugation and manipulation of native Mozambicans’ education and acculturation in order to produce a subservient workforce. In terms of working definitions, the discussion will show that Portuguese native and labour policy did not constitute non-racism (the ‘lack of social and other discrimination based on racial differences’) but rather that of racism (the ‘belief in the natural inferiority of some racial groups and in the need for social and legal measures to reflect that inferiority’) (Allport, 1958 cited in Abshire and Bailey, 1969: 202). Overall, this paper will discuss how racism informed administrative attitudes and reinforced colonial relations of dominance’ (Isaacman, 1988). As will be made clear, it is immaterial whether the Estado Novo’s policies were sincerely paternalistic or overtly racist, as the result is the same (Rodney, 1982).

It has been said that any notions of Portuguese colonialist benevolence in Mozambique and other nations ought to be dispelled, since it amounts to nothing more than ‘culturally arrogant and racist myths’ (Bender and Isaacman, 1976: 220). This dissertation will analyse the administrative policy which was supposedly weaved from anti-racial, paternalistic beliefs in view of studies of racist discourse which contend that it creates the categorisation of superior and inferior groups and allows for dominance over the latter by the former (Wetherell and Potter, 1992). It discusses how far colonial policy can be regarded as the bureaucratic normalising of native marginalization, resulting in exploitation and dehumanisation (Bauman, 1999) and also assesses the claim that Mozambique’s most profitable natural resource was its labour force (Harris, 1958). Portugal’s use of forced labour and compulsory cropping will be analysed from a penological perspective to illustrate how penal labour, corporal punishment and other punitive sanctions existed within the economy of punishment as a colonial statement of power and method of control (Rusche and Kirchheimer, 1939; Foucault, 1982; Betts, 1998).

Overall, the dissertation seeks to show how existing evidence does not support the notion that Portugal’s unwillingness to decolonise (Munslow, 1983) was a product of its civilising endeavour or cultural presence in Africa. Rather, the scale and ruthlessness of its native and labour policy in Mozambique and its vision of Mozambique as a means of enriching and supporting the metropole trump the façade of paternalism and reveal that colonial administration sought to protect capitalist interests and accomplished very little in diminishing racial inequality.

Overview of Content

The methodology chapter briefly touches on the effectiveness of secondary data analysis and the processes of data collection and analysis before discussing issues pertaining to the validity of sources and positionality. Following this is the body of the research, organised thematically rather than chronologically. Chapter one elaborates on the construction of the civilising mission as the combination of historical revisionism and lusotropicalism, which served as the basis for colonial native and labour policy, discussed in the ensuing chapters. The second chapter discusses the extent to which acculturation acted as a mask for social and political domination, and analyses how, despite the absence of explicit racial segregation, the natives of Mozambique were effectively second class citizens and deprived of equal opportunities in employment, education and society. Chapter three looks at labour policy and how forced labour and corporal punishment, among others, constituted tools of control to maintain a subservient workforce for the benefit of the metropolitan economy. The conclusion summarises the key findings of the dissertation discussion and examines what this means in the context of critical criminology, as well as implications for further research.

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