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Durham University

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Publication details for Professor Marcus Power

Power, M. (2001). Geo-politics and the representation of Portugal's African colonial wars: examining the limits of 'Vietnam syndrome'. Political Geography 20(4): 461-491.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

Portugal's defence of its African colonies between 1961 and 1974 destroyed the Estado Novo fascist dictatorship of António Salazar, impoverished Portugal, and nearly made the colonies go bankrupt. Portuguese involvement with colonial conflict in Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Cabo Verde, which was heavily structured around the US experience in Vietnam, has had major and continuing consequences for the national ‘psyche’ and national cultural identification. In ‘post-colonial’ times the process of decolonisation has reshaped the ways in which these conflicts are remembered, and many recent reconstructions have provided quite partial, dehistoricised accounts. This paper examines a particular example of a series of 50 supplements and five accompanying films produced by a national Portuguese newspaper in the summer of 1998. Guerra Colonial represents an interesting form of ‘popular geo-politics’, (re)scripting the various political processes and events of colonial conflict from a particular perspective. However, the demoralisation and frustration of Portuguese troops is neglected in this account in favour of a focus on bravery, heroism and integrity while the role of African conscripts recruited to defend Portugal's African empire is down-played and marginalised. The multiple silences and absences of these textual interventions are highlighted here as is the need to consider a range of other critical and contending versions of the conflicts. The paper concludes by arguing that the role of ‘Africanization’ represents a ‘celebration in waiting’ and a necessary condition for further understanding the messy and mediated nature of Portuguese involvement with conflict in Africa.