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The PAIGC’s Political Education for Liberation in Guinea-Bissau, 1963–74

Part 2

Sunday 7 August 2022, by siawi3


The PAIGC’s Political Education for Liberation in Guinea-Bissau, 1963–74 (Part 2)

The Tricontinental

03 Aug 2022

Photo: Students inside of a PAIGC classroom in a primary school in the liberated areas, 1974. Source: Roel Coutinho, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal Photographs (1973–1974)

Liberation struggles are not fought only on the battlefield. The African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) left a legacy of educational decolonization.

This article was originally published on The Tricontinental . This is the second part of the article. The first part can be found here.

“Whether in Cape Verde or anywhere else in the world, education is the fundamental basis that underpins the work of the emancipation of every human being and the conscientisation of mankind1 , not in relation to individual or class needs or conveniences, but in relation to the environment in which he lives, to the needs of the community, and to the problems of the humanity in general. … Today, education aims at the full realisation of man, without distinguishing race or origin, as a conscious and intelligent, useful, and progressive being, integrated into the world and his (geographic, economic, and social) environment, without any sort of submission. For this and because of this, the issue of education cannot be treated separately from the socioeconomic question.”– Amílcar Cabral, 19512

The PAIGC’s Struggle for Liberation (Part 2)

Transforming Pedagogical Materials and Curricula

Political education was obligatory in every front of the struggle and was one of the PAIGC’s highest priorities. As Cabral explained in a seminar to party members in November 1969:

It is necessary to struggle with political consciousness in one’s head. It is necessary that we be aware that it is the consciousness of a man that guides the gun, and not the gun that guides his consciousness. The gun counts because the man is behind it, grasping it. And it is worth more the more the consciousness of the man is worth [and] the more the man’s consciousness serves a well-defined, clear, and just cause.34

The PAIGC’s militant or political education was anti-colonial and African-centred in its objectives, aiming to dismantle the biased, hierarchical, and oppressive education system and practices inherited from Portuguese colonial education. It brought new knowledge and experiences of social life to school manuals and curricula, placing an emphasis on learning about the concrete realities of the African people, the historical processes that they were challenging at the time – that is, colonialism – and the violent and structural relations that emerged from its practices.

Equally as important was the special emphasis placed on learning and teaching strategies of resistance against colonial practices. The experiences of African people, their past, their present, and their future had to be at the heart of this new education. The school curricula needed to grapple with and be shaped by the forms of knowledge that existed in local communities. With these new approaches to knowledge, the PAIGC intended to cultivate in the learners a personal sense of obligation to themselves, their peers, and their communities. As early as 1949, Cabral advocated for knowledge production to focus on the existing African realities through his research experiences of the agricultural conditions in Portugal and its African territories.35 He argued that one of the best ways to defend the land lay in learning and understanding how to use the soil sustainably and consciously improve the benefits we reap from it.36 To know and understand the land was a form of defending the people and their right to better their living conditions.

The curricula developed for the education of the militant student was comprised of several subjects, from mathematics to Portuguese language learning, gymnastics, art, geography, science, theatre, and music. Between 1966 and 1974, the PAIGC developed four school manuals for the first to the fourth grade and four manuals for the fifth and sixth grade. These included one manual on general African history, one on the history of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, another on political lessons, and, finally, a translation of A Short History of Pre-Capitalist Society (the first volume of a two-volume study written by D. Mitropolsky, Y. Zubritsky, V. Kerov, and others in 1965 at the Patrice Lumumba Friendship University in Moscow, USSR). PAIGC school manuals were created collectively by teachers and other militants and printed in Uppsala, Sweden by the printing house Wretmans Boktryckeri. Cabral’s transcribed speeches and writings were also used as teaching materials.

In addition, the party developed a range of media, including newspapers such as Jornal Libertação (‘Liberation Journal’) and the international French-language PAIGC Actualités (‘PAIGC News’) and a youth magazine, Blufo –­ Órgão dos Pioneiros do PAIGC (‘Blufo: Organ of the PAIGC Pioneers’),37 which was also widely read by adults. In addition, the party founded the Rádio Libertação (‘Liberation Radio’), which broadcasted daily news about the struggle and contributed to the PAIGC’s adult education programme.

Curricula for Children and Youth

Strongly inspired by the party’s political and ideological orientation and influenced by global circumstances at the time, the PAIGC curriculum for children and youth was divided into two phases: from first to second grade and from third to fifth grade, each with a different scope. Political education for the first and second grade was dedicated to the history of the liberation struggle. Here, themes such as the creation of the PAIGC and its structure and organisations, heroes and heroines, and goals and programme were central. Teaching about the liberation struggle would in turn require discussing colonialism, oppression, exploitation in general, and Portuguese colonialism in particular.

Political education for the third to fifth grade was more comprehensive than the curricula for the first and second grade and centred on the liberation struggle’s dedication to internationalism. The PAIGC taught about similar struggles on the African continent, such as the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO); the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe (MLSTP); the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA); and the Conference of Nationalist Organisations of the Portuguese Colonies (CONCP), an organisation for cooperation between the national liberation movements of the African territories colonised by the Portuguese. Such national struggles were explored in relation to other international issues, including:

Diplomatic struggles such as fighting for international recognition of the colonial occupation of their territories by the Portuguese.
Gender struggles aiming to advance the rights of women and children in a context in which feudal and colonial patriarchal domination were interlaced (which PAIGC leaders like Carmen Pereira referred to as ‘two colonialisms’).
Historical struggles elsewhere such as the socialist revolution in Russia in October 1917 and the labour movement in Africa.
Class struggle highlighting the connection between the PAIGC, trade unions such as the National Union of Guinean Workers, and the international working class.
Racism, freedom, progress, national reconstruction, and African history (including the slave trade and the great empires that predated colonisation).

Writing school texts was central for transmitting the ideas defined in the school curriculum and for assisting teachers in transmitting dense information to school students in an accessible and interesting way. One way of doing this was to transform the liberation struggle of daily life, politics, and ideology into short stories and fables that explored human and militant civic behaviours and complemented the political or militant components of the curricula.

For the first and second grades, the teachers who were entrusted to create school manuals developed a broad range of lesson plans. In the curricula for the first to the fourth grade, political and ideological themes were adapted to school texts, intertwining concrete learning outcomes with texts that directly expressed the objectives of the liberation struggle, including the following titles:

The Major Programme of Our Party, which introduced the party principles to first grade students.
The Great Patriot, which addressed the theme of the militant combatant to second grade students.
The Past of Our People and Centuries of Pain and Hope, concerning the history of Portuguese colonialism for third grade students.
The Poem of a Militant and The Objectives of Our Struggle, which shared the core goals of liberation for fourth grade students.

Unlike past materials that represented far-flung scenes of colonial Portugal, these new materials and learning processes were embedded with the geography, social life, and organisation of the territories where the struggle for liberation was taking place. Now one could find texts with titles such as Life in the Tabanca (‘village’) and The Professions, the latter of which revealed the local social structure and organisation. There was also a dedicated focus on scientific explanations of the natural world. Lessons addressed the marvels of nature such as oceans and the richness of botanical life. The goal was to demystify natural phenomena while taking care not to put into question the students’ religious beliefs. Another important theme explored was how to use natural resources for the country’s development in a sustainable manner.

However, PAIGC school programmes and texts did not always achieve the goals for education, particularly in school manuals from first to third grade. The great emphasis on celebrating the contemporary struggle, battles, and heroes of the PAIGC left topics on African culture and history almost unexplored in the school manuals.

Curricula for Adult Political Education

Adult political education at the Political and Military Instruction Centre of Madina do Boé followed the same topics as youth education but with a deeper analysis. The centre’s instruction curriculum, Programa para a formação do soldado FARP (‘Training Programme for the FARP Soldier’), consisted of 180 hours of classes during a thirty-day period, of which 60 hours were dedicated to ‘political preparation’.

The political education curriculum for adults was divided into five sections. The first section was dedicated to history and geography, addressing themes such as ‘the exploitation of our people by the Portuguese colonial government’, as well as its consequences; ‘the distinction between Portuguese colonialism and the Portuguese people’; and ‘oppression’.38 It was an important part of the PAIGC’s politics to clarify that they were fighting an oppressive colonial structure – not its people. This made two issues very clear: first, that fighting people did not necessarily result in the elimination of the colonial structure and, second, that the Portuguese people were also victims of the oppression perpetrated by an authoritarian regime.

The second section of the curriculum was dedicated to the PAIGC’s history and ideology, which more or less followed the same lines that were implemented in the curriculum for school children. However, greater focus and detail were given to the PAIGC’s history, especially concerning its early mobilisations and the beginning of the armed struggle and its development, difficulties, and reality at the time. Discussions also focused on the party programme and principles as well as some of the struggle’s weaknesses. Here, socialist and Leninist concepts such as criticism, self-criticism, democratic centralism, and revolutionary democracy were expounded upon in greater detail, shedding light on the political influences that the party received from other ideologies and how it intended to adapt them to the Guinean context.

The third section of the curriculum was dedicated to international issues. The purpose here was to contextualise the PAIGC’s liberation struggle in the broader context of struggles that were happening around the world and to establish the connections between them. This aimed to highlight international themes such as the contemporary liberation struggle and decolonisation in Africa, Asia, and Latin America; the Cold War; imperialism; and anti-colonial organisations around the world. Discussions of topics such as imperialism, socialism, the ‘Third World’, and the liberation struggle against imperialism were central.

The fourth section focused on the sociological and ethnographic character of Guinea-Bissau in the present and future. Here, they covered topics such as religion, ethnicity, and racism, as well as the economy, organisational work, development, and planning methods. Religion needed to be confronted given its dominant role in social life and given that there was a concern that the strong influence of religious leaders could jeopardise the development of the struggle.

The last section of the programme was focused on the training and civic behaviour of the militant armed forces. This included gender equality and the expectation that combatants behave with discipline and comradery both amongst each other and with civilians.

Education, Revolution, and Resistance

The PAIGC’s liberation struggle and political education were not just ideals. They were a continuous process of reflection, organisation, and action that sought to develop a militant, anti-colonial, and decolonial consciousness in the minds and bodies of the people of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. Despite the fact that this iteration of the PAIGC’s political education system existed only for a brief period (1963–74) and within a small territory, it remains an important part of the larger liberation struggle. The study of the PAIGC’s educational practices during its liberation struggle forces us to leave the realm of the theoretical and engage with the concrete historical processes that unfolded. Delving into the material realm of how the struggle’s ideals were put into practice in daily life and how they were transmitted to future generations pays homage to the revolutionary principles that guided the liberation struggle.

Early in the struggle, the party and its militants understood the crucial role and power of education to fulfil the goals of the liberation struggle. This led them to put into practice revolutionary ideals and initiatives such as:

Creating schools across the liberated zones for youth, adults, and combatants. In addition to teaching, reading, and writing, the schools emphasised the development of education curricula based on the realities of the people and their struggle.
Carrying out mobilisation campaigns to educate and raise the political consciousness of the population.
Establishing political education as central in the process of national liberation and basing education in anti-colonial and decolonial practices.
Developing school curricula and materials that reflected the reality of Africa in relation to other international struggles with the aim of pursuing the goals of total liberation.
Valuing the importance of teachers’ work, their role in the vanguard of the struggle, and their responsibility to the country’s advancement.
Establishing international networks for educational support. This included countries such as Cuba, Hungary, Yugoslavia, the USSR, Romania, the German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria, where students could continue their technical and higher education studies as well as cadre training.
Producing and publishing media via their own platforms and channels for communication (newspapers, magazines, and radio), which functioned as additional educational material throughout the liberation struggle.

Together, political education and the revolutionary process became crucial for producing political consciousness and facilitating the struggle that led to national liberation. Political education was the most important way to keep the party’s ideology alive and the only way to solidify the roots of independence required to imagine and create the future. Ideology, education, and conscious politicisation worked together in the PAIGC’s political education process in a way that allows us to see the liberation struggle as both a political process and an educational praxis.

The PAIGC’s experience of building schools in the forest, their pioneering form of political education, their development of emancipatory curricula specific to their context, and their establishment of international networks supporting this education process are both our legacy and inspiration. They are processes from which we must learn and advance as we envision and enact our struggles today.

We would like to thank Sónia Vaz Borges for producing this study in collaboration with Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.


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34 Cabral, Resistance and Decolonization, 79.

35 Vaz Borges, ‘O trinómio terra, agricultura e camponeses na modelação revolucionária de Cabral’, 97–100.

36 Cabral, ‘Em defesa da terra’, 15–17.

37 Blufo is a creole-derived word with several meanings, one of which is ‘inexperienced young person’.

38 Vaz Borges, Sónia. ‘PAIGC, CIPM curriculum’, Militant Education, Liberation Struggle and Consciousness: The PAIGC Education in Guinea Bissau, 1963–1978, 137.