Coordenação de Raul Mendes Silva
Brazil Returns To Africa.
A Report On A Journey Through Over The Continent
Tudo vale a pena
Se a alma não é pequena.
(Everything It's allis worthwhile
when the soul is not small.)
We did not reach Africa as strangers. All Brazilians, no matter whatever their ethnic origin may be, has a little bit of Africa in his way of feeling, thinking, behaving, just as he also has a little bit of the Portuguese, Indian, Arab, Jew, Spaniard, Italian and so on. Perhaps we are not quite aware of this – and it is good that it should be that way in a country of people of mixed blood, and especially - as Gilberto Freyre showed so splendidly – of mixed cultures.
For a more realistic approach to Africa, I have tried to take into account certain cultural and affective factors. My starting point is the conviction that the moment has arrivedthe time has come for Brazil to set restructure its relations with the African continent on new bases.
I chose the area where we should begin to intensify our diplomatic presence by considering the geographical location, historical tradition and cultural relations, which naturally meant that we should concentrate our first efforts on the Atlantic countries. That is where our first impulse would be made, further ahead we could also approach other areas of the African continent.
In fact, growing closer to Africa was nothing new for Brazil, seeing that until the end of the Empire the relations between the two coasts of the Southern Atlantic were intenseclose. So why were the contacts broken? The truth of the matter is that the European colonial process was responsible for breaking this exchange. Slicing up Africa among the European nations and the colonial system implanted instated there greatly lengthened the distances between the physical frontiers of Brazil and those of Atlantic Africa, our “neighbours to the East,” as I have called them.
A good example is former Benin, an African state whose known history dates from at least the 12th until the late 19th century and which became famous for its bronze sculptures, which are held to be one of the highest pointspeaks reached by universal art. In 1824 the Obá (king) of Benin and his vassal the Obá Agan from Onin (the present city of Lagos) were the first sovereigns to recognise the independence of Brazil.
In the case of Atlantic Africa, the proximity to Brazil is not merely geographical; it is also spiritual and sentimental. And let it not be said that these are secondary values in the modern world and on the level of international relations. The political fact is also influenced by spiritual factors, by the identity or similarity of history, language and customs.
One of the preparatory initiatives of the journey to Africa was to present Chief Sir Anthony Enahoro, then Minister of Information in Nigeria and a descendant of that same Obá of Benin who recognizedrecognised our independence, with an official invitation to visit Brazil. I deliberately arranged for his journey to end in Brasiília, after a visit to Bahia. There we enjoyed a long conversation in which he told me how impressed he and the other members of the entourage had been to find the Nigerian traditions alive in Salvador: they were able to speak to some people in Yoruba, they attended candomblé rituals that were identical to the most authentic ceremonies in Nigeria, they ate dishes with the same ingredients and flavour as those served in their homes. They were deeply struck impressed by the African presence in Brazil.
Apropos, I recall an incident that happened later in Lagos during my visit to Africa, when I was received by President Gowan, a tall, strong and jovial negroNegro who greeted me with a: Welcome home. Encouraged by such a cordial reception, and wishing to score what I hoped would be a point in our favour, I told him: “Chief Sir Anthony felt so at ease when he arrived in Brazil and found out that he could communicate in Yoruba in Bahia.” General Gowan, who belonged to another tribe and did not speak Yoruba, retorted to my disappointment and embarrassment: “Yes, Chief Sir Anthony speaks many languages.” My story had not impressed him, as if it were normal to speak Yoruba in a Latin-American country.
The visit to Africa was carefully prepared at some length in all aspects. The 1972 class of diplomats who graduated from the Rio Branco Institute in 1972, for example, instead of being immediately absorbed by the bureaucratic routine, were engaged to carry out research and prepare information about each of the countries to be visited, checking basic data on the respective history, political and economic conditions, international relations and relations with the former metropolis.
In all aspects of this important initiative of foreign policy – opening to Africa – I should make special mention of the competent, inspired and enthusiastic collaboration that I received from Alberto da Costa e Silva, then my Cabinet Officer, now an Ambassador and a great distinguished scholar of African cultures and civilizationscivilisations.
It is likewise my duty to underscore the inestimable collaboration contributions that I received from Ambassador André Teixeira de Mesquita, my Head of Ceremonial, who on this and all the other visits that I made performed his functions with perfection, both in terms of preparation and execution.
The logistical part proper also called for thorough planning, from the choice of the order in which to visit the eight (later nine) countries to obtaining appropriate means of transportation that would allow me to save time coming and going, as would be the case if commercial airlines were to be used. One of the vestiges of the predominant prevailing philosophy of the colonial period was not providing direct, modern communications between possessions, thus making everything pass through the metropolismotherland. In many cases, in order to go from one country to a neighbouring country, you had to travel to Europe! Had I used the normal means of transportation then, it would have taken me not the one month that it actually did to visit all nine countries one after the other, but all of three months. And it was important that to make the visit be made in one go, without any a stopinterruption, so that the journey could be seen as an intentionally collective action.
As a matter of fact, in each of the countries that I visited, the preceding visits and those still ahead were already known. The journey began to be understood chiefly as a gesture of the opening of our foreign policy to the African continent rather than a set of bilateral visits. Which was precisely the interpretation that best suited us.
So I was greatly helped by the kindness and generosity of the Minister of Aviation, Brigadier Joelmir Araripe, who offered me his Viscount plane which had served previous governments and was perfectly adequate for my purposes. Besides the normal seats, for the delegation and the Brazilian journalists (who otherwise would have been unable to cover the journey), there was an office and a cabin with a bed. This enabled me, between one country and the other, to discuss with my collaborators the matters of the country just visited and prepare those of the one that lay ahead, beginning with the names of the people that I was to talk to, as well as political, cultural and economic characteristics.
The Ivory Coast (now the Côte d’Ivoire), Ghana, Togo, Dahomey, Zaire, Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal. I decided with my staff that this would be the sequence of the journey, less on account of geographical facilities (this trajectory involved some zigzagging) than for political reasons. I wanted to open and close the mission in two countries that were politically moderate and closer to Brazil.
The Côte d’Ivoire, our first stop, was for example a country that advocated a position of negotiation with Portugal with regard to the colonial problem, similar to Brazil’s stance, while at the same time it was quite active in the OrganizationOrganisation of African Union.
Arriving in Abidjan surpassed our expectations. The President, Felix Houphouët-Boigny, offered me his residential palace for my accommodation and went to his hometown, Yamoussokro, where he also invited me to be his guest. I accepted willingly and on the way there stopped at Bouaké to visit the experimental station with reproducers of the zebu cattle that Brazil had donated to that country’s Ministry of Agriculture. From there we proceeded by car as far as Yamoussokro, as suggested by Houphouët-Boigny. This journey took almost four hours, because of the frequent stops to alight from the car and be welcomed by local tribes who awaited us at the roadside. Acclamations, applause, blessings given by the holy man of the tribe with all the cabalistic signs of welcoming. We would return to the car and ten minutes later there would come another tribe, another nation. We would get out once more to receive the same sort of greetings. It was clear that a careful, sensitizingsensitising reception had been organizedorganised.
Upon reaching the outskirts of Yamoussokro, we were asked to enter the town on foot. Yamoussokro is the capital of the Baulê nation (which now belongs to the Côte d’Ivoire), of which Houphouët-Boigny was king. On this stretch of two-three kilometres covered on foot we passed among thousands of people lined up on both sides of the road, all of them waving Brazilian flags and crying out: Vive le Brésil, vive le Brésil! A most moving and extremely delicate tribute that showed the desire for a greater proximity to Brazil and at the same time satisfaction at this first-ever visit in the history of the two countries.
It was an excellent start. On reaching the President’s house, where I was to be lodged, he greeted me at the doorstep together with the members of his government. My colleague, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, delivered a welcome speech. After all these courtesies, the President told me: “I have prepared a spectacle show to honour you and your delegation.” We were then taken to a vast piece of land in the middle of which a grandstand had been erected, with a red carpet and three golden chairs in the front row. I sat down on the right, with the President’s wife on the left, on that sort of golden throne. Behind us sat my delegation, the Brazilian journalists, the ministers and high government officials, and so on.
There then began a show of beautiful dancing spectacle. The President had brought in groups from all over the Côte d’Ivoire, from all the different tribes, to perform their typical dances before us. All of a sudden I was greatly very surprised to see one of the groups dance something very like the frevo dance from Pernambuco. I could not contain my feelings. Alberto da Costa e Silva and other members of the delegation, including the journalists, asked me: “Minister, do you mind if we join the dance?” “Feel free. Go ahead and dance if you want to.” And then my delegation literally joined the dance and mixed with the members of the tribe. It was marvellous, quite unforgettable.
We returned to Abidjan, where the diplomatic and commercial negotiations were conducted without any difficultya hitch. I visited the President in the morning, taking him drafts of our joint declaration, discussed these matters with him and then the two delegations gathered together to formalizeformalise the acts.
A close personal relationship developed between us, so much so that a few months later Houphouët-Boigny woke me up twice in the middle of the night (not realizingrealising the time difference) to ask me to send instructions to the Brazilian delegation at the Cocoa Conference being held in London so that Brazil would agree with the delegation of the Côte d’Ivoire. “We would like you to make your country change its position,” he asked me. “I think you’re wrong, President. But I’ll find out and call you back later!” I answered. In fact, the Brazilian position was correct.
I telephoned him to clear up the matter and he answered: “Now I understand. You’re right. I shall instruct my delegation to change its point of view and align with Brazil.” Where previously there was no dialogue, now there had been created a relationship of trust. On leaving, I invited him to come to Brazil. “It’s difficult for me to leave here,” he said. “I can’t leave. But my wife will go.” And indeed she did, a beautiful, elegant and refined lady. She came for the Carnival in Rio and also visited BrasíliaBrasilia.
It is inappropriate here to talk about the speeches made during the journey to Africa. But I believe it is worthwhile to quotinge a part of what I said in the Côte d’Ivoire on the occasion of the official banquet that was offered to our delegation: “Today we rediscover a new neighbourhood in the Atlantic. If in the past this proximity was at the service of an odious trade, now it is up to us to put it at the service of the great human aspirations of integrated progress, shared prosperity, harmonious living together and permanent peace. If we do so, we shall be responding fairly to the great dream of an African, the Mansa of Mali, Abubakar II, who in the early 14th century tried to reach the other end of the surrounding sea. As he failed in his first attempt to reach the lands on the other side of the ocean, he prepared a new expedition and with two thousand fragile boats set out with his men to the open sea, never to return. Today I have come to answer the prodigious daring of his project. I have come to say that on the other side of the ocean there is a country called Brazil, a country whose that opens its arms are open to Africa, a country with three strong roots, and one of these is African.”
The Côte d’Ivoire was a good start. And, just as I expected, the news of our journey echoed all over the continent through the “jungle drums” to the newspapers of all the African countries and was the subject of telephone calls between our governments.
On that first leg I gathered the strength for the difficulties I knew we would have to face in Ghana, the second country on the itinerary, whose political profile and radical active militancy within the African Union OrganizationOrganisation and the United Nations since the days of the Nkrumah socialist government led us to expect a difficult visit.
I was received at the airport in Accra by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, General Nathan Aferi. He was the typical image of an English officer, except black. He walked with the posture of the British military, straight-shouldered and leaning slightly forward, a baton under his arm, red insignia on a khaki uniform, nicely but not effusively courteous, with a strong Oxford accent.
“Mydearcolleague,” he said on welcoming me. Right away he suggested an informal lunch together with our respective delegations so that we could get to know one another better. We left straight from the airport to the place he had reserved at the seaside. When we entered I noticed an enormous statue of Xangô near the door. “Well,” I thought to myself, “I’m at home.”
General Aferi led me to the table where the dishes were handed to us (it was self-service) and told me: “I have ordered a typical lunch for us, which you certainly are not familiar with. This is the way we eat. I shall be very sorry if the food isn’t to your liking, but that’s the way we eat. And I have no wish to pretend to be what we are not.”
I realizedrealised that this was the first of many tests that I would have to face. There I was, a white man at the head of a delegation of white men (the only black man among us was our Brazilian doctor), come to proclaim that in Brazil there was no racial discrimination and that we were proud of our African roots. “Let’s unmask these people,” he must have thought.
“I am very glad to discover new ways of cooking,” I answered. I drew closer and saw that the earthenware pots on the table contained things familiar to me since my childhood in Pernambuco and my visits to Bahia: everything was floating atop a thick layer of cocoanut oil. I thought to myself: “Good, actually I like vatapá, caruru and so on, but all this cocoanut oil just after a working trip and about to start another one that’s likely to be more difficult … well, patience and courage, let’s play their game.”
After helping me to serve myself abundantly, he led me to the main table and said with an unmistakeablyunmistakably sarcastic smile: “It might be too spicy for you.” I tasted it and it really was quite spicy. But I could not give in, so I decided to face the challenge and move to the attack.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“I don’t like it, to be quite frank.”
“Ah! I knew you wouldn’t be able to take all that pepper.”
“No, it isn’t that. It’s just that there isn’t enough pepper. In my country we eat this with a lot more pepper.”
“That can’t be true!”
“But it is.”
Then he said out loud:
“The Minister thinks this dish isn’t spicy enough.”
He tasted it.
“But it’s got a lot of pepper.”
“Not for me. Would you mind asking for more pepper?”
“Anything for Brazil,” I thought. I put on my dark glasses, because I knew that my eyes were going to water. They brought more pepper and he himself served it abundantly and without any pity. I could not taste the food anymore, it was pure pepper. My eyes began to water, but he could not see me, sheltered as I was behind my dark glasses. I pretended I had a slight cold to wipe my eyes.
“Now it’s good.”
Then he said out loud to his entire staff:
“The minister likes pepper. That’s my man!” He patted me on the back and grew more cordial. “He’s really one of us. He eats pepper and he eats our food.”
To which I answered: “This is quite normal for me. This is all I eat at home every day.”
When it came time for dessert, he rose holding a glass of champagne: “Minister, sir, I would like to toast you in Ghana style.” The he spilled a little of the champagne into the ashtray in front of him and said: “Here’s to our ancestors!” Then, raising his glass: “To your good health and to a happy journey.”
I rose and answered: “My dear Minister, my colleagues, gentlemen. I am deeply disappointed at what my eminent colleague the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ghana has just done. It is extraordinary that in Brazil we have preserved the traditions of this noble country better than you have. And it saddens me to see that the traditions of this noble country, that has had such an important influence on us, have been lost here, or altered, whereas in Brazil we have kept them in all their purity. What I mean is that it is not our ancestors that we toast, but Xangô. And this is the way it’s done. With your permission.”
I lifted the glass of champagne, crossed the entire room and in one of the corners spilled some of the champagne saying: “To Xangô!” I returned to the table: “Now I drink to your health.” Now the atmosphere was delirious. He rose to his feet and said: “I apologizeapologise to the Minister of Brazil. It really is a shame that we have reached this point of disrespecting our traditions. And will the head of protocol please take note that from now on this is how it will be done at all our banquets.”
Indeed, he did so some days later at the official banquet that was offered me. Rising from the table, he went over to the corner of the dining room, spilled some champagne and cried out: “To Xangô!” From that moment on a far more favourable atmosphere was created than when I first arrived. But the difficulties were not over. They had only started.
Once lunch was over, Aferi took me straight to an official conversation at the Ministry. There my colleague from Ghana, in the presence of both our delegations, launched into a violent upbraiding, using surprising and absurd terms, of Brazil’s actions in respect to the Portuguese colonial problem in Africa.
“We cannot admit that a country like Brazil, with its African traditions, as you have said and just given proof of, is allied in such a way to Portugal in its colonial war. For example, the prisoners captured by Portugal in Guinea are taken to Brazil and put in concentration camps and then tortured until they die. All the armament used in this war comes from Brazil. And you are about to sign with Portugal and South Africa a Defence Treaty for the Southern Atlantic.”
I heard everything in silence without interrupting him. The amount of misinformation was so great that at a certain moment I stopped worrying. Because it was easy to answer such really hallucinated charges. Had they been allegations of another sort based on intelligently constructed arguments, my I could have been in an awkward position could have become difficult. In this case the task was relatively easy: just tell the truth.
“May I speak, my dear colleague? I would like to say that there is not a single word of truth in what you have said. Not a single one. How did you come to know of this? Who gave you such absolutely false information? And how can you divulge such irresponsible accusations? Let me make a proposal: come to Brazil and see for yourself, or else send us someone you trust. Never has anyoneNo one has ever accused us of such things, believe me, you are the very first. As to this Treaty for of the Southern Atlantic, we are against it and will never accept it. I give you my formal word on oath. And I am prepared to sign a denial of all the accusations you have just made.”
“Well, I really don’t have any proof, I no longer have no more reliable sources of information. But that’s what I was told.”
“I am sorry for that, but on the other hand I am glad that you have given me the opportunity to deny such utterly false accusations.”
This alone would have justified my going to Africa: to be able to deny personally such barefaced lies with power of conviction when you know you are telling the truth. He gave me credit. And from then on our relationship became easier and friendlier. Some time later he came to Brazil on an official visit on my invitation, when he was no longer a minister. He loved our country, went to Rio, São Paulo, BrasíliaBrasilia and Bahia, warmly praised the cordial harmony between whites, blacks and mestizos. When he said goodbye, he made a confession: “I said such stupid things when you arrived in Ghana. It was really stupid of me. But I did it a little to provoke you. I wanted to know how far you would go to deny the accusations.”
On that occasion Ghana had just gone through a brusque change of government. A military junta was in power and all the members of the government were military personnel. The head of the junta, Colonel Ignatius Acheapong, was still young, inexperienced and misinformed, as I was able to gather. The best dialogue was the one I had with my colleague Aferi.
As on the previous visit to the Côte d’Ivoire, I negotiated and signed together with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ghana an important and dense joint statement as well as trading and cultural agreements. The statements that I signed in conjunction with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the countries visited on the journey to Africa followed a more or less identical format, save for the occasional local peculiarity.
Accordingly, these declarations contained:
– general principles such as legal equality of the States, self-determination of nations, non-intervention in the internal affairs of other States, peaceful settlement of disputes, repudiation of all forms of racial, social and cultural discrimination;
– strengthening of the United Nations;
– transferring technology from industrializedindustrialised to developing countries;
– the sovereign right of States to protect and freely dispose of their natural resources. In some countries I was successfulsucceeded in having my colleagues agree expressly to consign “the right and duty of setting the extension of their jurisdiction over the seas adjacent to their coasts, bearing in mind the preservation and rational exploitation of the resources of their sea, soil and subsoil”. The Brazilian government, unanimously supported by the National Congress, had decreed the extension of our territorial sea to two hundred miles, which was submitting us to very strong international pressure, as I mentioned above, especially on the part of the United States. Accordingly, it was important to obtain as much support as possible for our position;
– condemnation of protectionist tendencies on the part of some industrializedindustrialised countries;
– re-assertion of the right of nations to self-determination and independence;
– re-ordering of international trade on fairer and more equitable terms;
– the need for close cooperationco-operation between the countries that supply primary goods, in order to ensure fair and stable prices;
– in some cases, creating a shipping line for Lloyd Brasileiro to local ports and studying a possible direct air link through VARIG.
Another important visit I made in Ghana was to the king of the Ashantis in Comaci, a poor-looking city today that was of great importance in the past when Ghana was called the Gold Coast (it is still a major exporter of gold, manganese and diamonds, in addition to being the world’s leading producer of cocoa). The king of the Ashantis is the leader of one of the most important nations in all of Africa. He enjoys great political importance, regardless of the country’s successive governments and regimes, and has a great deal of autonomy. I was impressed not only by his enormous physique (he must have weighed about 150 kilos) but also by the royalty of his bearing and every gesture. He received me seated on his throne and covered with gold pendants and bracelets, conversing courteously in more than one language but always keeping a distance of king to plebeian. We arranged to exchange cultural missions, discussed trade questions and agreed upon joint positions in international forums.
The next countries on my itinerary, Togo and Dahomey, were perhaps the closest to Brazil in terms of culture and blood ties.
In Togo I expected strong historical, cultural and even family links. But the identities that I came across were much deeper than I had imagined. Already at the airport I was greeted not only by the authorities but also a group of people who claimed they were from the “Barbosá Nation,” black men and women who had come to welcome me as a relative.
Even bigger surprises awaited me in Atuetá, a small town that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Togo, Joachim Hunledé, insisted on including on my itinerary. Atuetá was founded in the 19th century by Joaquim de Almeida, the Brazilian grandfather of Hunledé’s wife. At the entrance to the town stands a monument in his memory, where we learn that he arrived from Brazil in 1835 and founded that community. Hunledé was therefore by affinity the grandson of a Brazilian who had set up a township in Togo.
Shortly after we reached Atuetá, we lunched in a pleasant restaurant alongside a beach much like those in the Northeast of Brazil, as are nearly all the beaches that I visited in West Africa; the same cocoanut trees, sand and green sea. To me it was as if I were at home in Olinda. Before lunch I walked over to a boat filled crowded with musicians and dancers who were tossing flowers into the sea. It was just like one of our maritime processions, one of those feasts in Bahia. I could not refrain from going over to greet the boat. During lunch, to the sound of music produced mainly by percussion instruments, my entourage, including the Brazilian journalists, began to dance with the Africans. When the French Ambassador sitting beside me saw that fraternizationfraternisation of Brazilians and Africans, he turned to me and said: “You Brazilians are unbeatable here in Africa. My Prime-Minister, Georges Pompidou, will be coming to visit Togo and other African countries next month, so I’m here to make all the careful preparations for his visit. But this we are unable to do, we cannot dance with them, we don’t know how to do this. Brazilians have an African trait in their make-up, and it’s impossible to compete with you on that.” He said this not only in all seriousness but also even with a certain concern, fearful that he was of any comparison that might be made between our visit and Pompidou’s. And this despite the fact that France held close and permanent links with her former colonies, because the French de-colonisation, thanks to the genius of De Gaulle, was very wise, whenever possible moulding peacefully the political autonomy of the colonies and keeping strong economic and cultural ties. For example, the French Ambassador to these former colonies enjoyed a special status as automatic dean of the diplomatic corps regardless of his tenure in the position, as happens with the Papal Nuncio in Catholic countries.
A folk-show of dancing was prepared for us in the town of Atuetá. I sat down beside my Togo colleague, who explained to me: “We’re not quite sure what this dance is. It’s a tradition here. And they sing in a language that I’m not sure about either. Every now and then I seem to recognizerecognise a word, but then I don’t understand what it’s all about. I answered with a smile on my face: “My dear colleague, they happen to be dancing the bumba-meu-boi and singing in Portuguese. He was taken aback: “Oh, yes? Here we call it la burrinha.” “Burrinha is the name they also give to the bumba-meu-boi in some parts of the Brazilian Northeast.” I went on to say: “This is a bumba-meu-boi sung in Portuguese, I’ve known this dance since I was a child in my home state, Pernambuco. This is all so familiar to me, I even know the verses.” And then I began to translate for him the words that were being sung. Such an extraordinary thing goes to prove the tie that is kept with Brazil, certainly through former slaves returning to their original homes.
The official talks and drawing up the items of the Brazil-Togo joint statement took place without any problema hitch, with a perfect understanding of all the political and trade aspects, and stressing the need for close collaboration between the two countries in the International Coffee Convention, as well as in defending the world cocoa prices.
The journey to Dahomey (now Benin) was preceded by an embarrassing chance incident: as a result of a coup d’état, the government was overthrown just a few days prior to the date scheduled for my arrival. Were I to cancel the visit, this would be taken as a hostile act vis-à-vis the new situation. Were I to keep to the programme, this would be an ipso facto recognition of the new government. Either attitude would bear a political sense. I decided to maintain the visit, as we ended up recognizingrecognising the new government which was unquestionably in charge of the situation. The country was pacified, there was no resistance whatsoever. And the new government pledged, as usual, to fulfil the country’s international commitments. So to recognizerecognise the new government through my visit presented no inconvenience. I decided to go. Naturally the situation, albeit peaceful, was still tense, and the government was not yet even completely installed, which certainly made my business all the harder. But to call the visit off would have been an unfriendly act and might be exploited as interfering in the country’s internal affairs.
In Dahomey I paid some extremely interesting and important visits. Setting out from the capital, Cotonou, first I went to a lakeside town in the interior of the country called Ganvié. This was an utterly unforgettable experience. My delegation and the Brazilian journalists went out in motor boats until we lost sight of the banks of the lake and from that point in the centre we began to see on the horizon some dots that were drawing closer and closer. This was a fleet of dugout canoes carrying people wearing ceremonial clothes and bearing spears and shields. They were singing and dancing in the small and narrow boats, all shouting greetings to Brazil. They surrounded our vessels and took us to the city in the middle of the lake, without bridges or any connection with the land, just houses built on stilts. There we were awaited by the inhabitants of the small community, they too singing and dancing away in their fragile crafts. A glorious moment on that luminous morning of sun and joy, with our boat surrounded by canoes leading us down the streets, which were nothing but canals, now narrow and now wider. It was all a big party, a welcoming feast in which communication was done not through speeches or words but rather through music, dancing and smiles.
I was touched by such exuberant hospitality. And I thought how much we Brazilians owe to that joy of living that we received from Africa, that we have incorporated into our way of being, and that explodes in our popular feasts, the greatest synthesis of which is Carnival.
We returned to the mainlandterra firme and proceeded by car to visit the king of Abomei in the Northeast of Dahomey. There we were officially received in the Royal Palace by the monarch and his court. A poor and humble palace made of adobe and earth floors. But the King of Abomei was an important personality respected all over the country. His ancestors engaged in very intense slave trading with Brazil through the supply station of São João do Ouidá, São João da Ajuda, a seaside village from where the slaves were sent to Brazil, most of them sold by the King of Abomei himself. For the Africans, the cruelty of the slave traffic trade was relative, since this was an alternative to summary execution as defeated warriors.
In the early 19th century, with Brazil still a Portuguese colony, the head military officer in São João da Ajuda was a mulatto from Bahia called Francisco Félix de Souza, who became very famous in that area. Officially installed in the seaside fort, in a few years he became the xaxá of Ouidá (the xaxá is a kind of King). As a friend of the King of Abomei, he exchanged arms for slaves. He grew very rich, had many wives and left a numerous family.
I was received by some of his descendants when I visited Ouidá after Abomei. The main house is still inhabited. In the spacious master bedroom there is an enormous bed made of Bahia jacaranda wood brought from Brazil by the xaxá, who lies buried beside the bed with a marble headstone with the following inscription in Portuguese: “Here lies xaxá Francisco Félix de Souza.” I was honoured in this house with a Carnival parade in the courtyard. A Brazilian Carnival from the beginning of the century. A Carnival party with a masked parade, updated with a mask of General De Gaulle.
When I served in the United Nations, in the discussions on the Portuguese colonies in Africa I imagined São João da Ajuda as an enclave of some importance. Imagine my surprise on seeing on my visit that the colony was no more than a fort, or rather, a fortified house. No more than that. That was all. At the seaside. And for that house, which had lost all and any significance, the Portuguese government had fought in the Assemblies of the United Nations as if it were defending something of capital importance! When they finally left, the Portuguese set fire to the modest fort. The local inhabitants hastened to put out the fire, restored the house and still keep it as a museum, without any resentment, conserving the signs of former domination, coats-of-arms, Portuguese names and so on, in recognition of the role played by that tiny possession in the saga of the Discoveries when the ships bound for India came round the African coast and there received their water and victuals, before becoming a supply station for slaves bound for Brazil.
The King of Abomei received me with great solemnity, seated on a sofa on top of a small pallet. I was invited to sit by his side. The ministers were on their haunches on the floor all around us. And the people formed a square on the earth floor in front of us. The interpreter placed himself between the two of us and said to me in French:
“First of all, I should explain to you that His Majesty is paying you a great honour in inviting you to sit beside him on the sofa, because that is a royal privilege.”
“I am quite aware of that. Please tell His Majesty that I am deeply thankful.”
“His Majesty asks after the President of the Republic of Brazil.”
“Tell His Majesty that I am most grateful for his concern for the health of the President of the Republic, who very particularly instructed me to ask after the health of His Majesty and all his family.”
“His Majesty thanks you for your President’s demonstration of interest and requests that you convey his thanks.”
I took out a cigarette and asked whether I might smoke, the interpreter spoke to the King, who smiled at me and motioned that I might. I asked whether the King would like to smoke. He said something to the interpreter, who told me: “His Majesty says he does not smoke because it is bad for the teeth.” At that moment he called the interpreter and told him something that astonished him so much that he raised his arms as if to say: “What? It’s not possible!” The King nodded his head. The interpreter turned to me and said:
“His Majesty asks me to tell you that he is going to dance in your honour.”
“Ah! That will be a great pleasure for me.”
“No, you don’t understand. The monarch can only dance twice during his reign. Once when he assumes the throne. And the other time on any occasion he chooses. After dancing for you now, he will never again be able to dance. So this is absolutely exceptional. There can be no greater honour, no higher tribute.”
Then the interpreter announced to the people that the King was about to dance, which caused an enormous uproar. They all lowered their heads not to see the King dance, as the tradition dictates, but I could see that they were watching out of the corners of their eyes. The King rose, an enormous, strong and muscular man, threw off his cloak, came down the two small steps of the pallet, went into the courtyard and executed a few steps of some ritual dance. Then he turned towards me, held out his hand and invited me to dance with him. I descended and tried out some steps beside him, thinking to myself: “This is certainly a great honour, but my good Brazilian journalist friends are going to take my picture and tomorrow I’ll be all over the front page of our papers with the malicious caption: “This is what he went to do in Africa: dance!” And in fact, a few days later I received a Brazilian newspaper and saw there on the front page, under my photograph with the King of Abomei: Gibson dancing in Africa.
Episodes such as these may sound like folklore or even comical, but that is not how they should be seen. They are rather the respect owed to a culture from which we have received so many influences, and they represent an important aspect of my pioneer visit, as examples of the peculiarity of Brazilian relations with Africa, or rather with Atlantic Africa south of the Sahara. This is a basic cultural perspective in search of our own identity as a nation.
So the visit to Africa, as I conceived it then and still see it today, did not consist exclusively solely in opening paths for exchanging trade and mutual cooperationco-operation, signing agreements, proclaiming general principles of international harmony. It also involved acknowledging and reclaiming one of the roots of our background that had been abandoned by the heedlessness or prejudice of generations ashamed of the fact that we are a mestizo nation and ignoring that precisely here lies one of the predominant features of our individuality as a nation.
From Dahomey we went to Zaire, formerly the Belgian Congo, one of the most important countries in Africa due to its enormous potential. At that time under the iron rule of General Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Waza Banga (the name he adopted in plto substituteace of the one he was known by in colonial times - Joseph Désiré – thereby marking an assertion of chauvinistic nationalism), the country was the theatre scene of the most ferocious and cruellest episodes of all the wars that decolonised the African continent. Its fine capital, Kinshasa, surprised us when we arrived, with its wide and well-paved avenues, squares, gardens and comfortable buildings that attested the high quality of Belgian colonizationcolonisation.
Few colonial powers enjoyed such a deep intimacy with their territories as Belgium did with the Congo. The only other cases that come to mind are Portugal with Angola and Mozambique and Great Britain and India. (The latter, however, is a phenomenon apart, marked as it is by a love-hate relationship, with the awareness of fundamental accomplishments and an undisguisable feeling of guilt that is still perceptible today by those who, like me, who have spent years in London).
When I served in the Embassy in Brussels, I was able to verify this close link between Belgium and the Congo. Nearly everyone you met knew that colony personally. Oddly enough, I observed in the Zaire government a situation of pragmatic tolerance towards Portuguese colonialism, despite the militantly radical positions assumed by Mobutu in the Organisation of African Union and the United Nations. In Zaire I found little interest in discussing the problem of the Portuguese colonies, except in the many lengthy conversations with my colleague Nguza Karl I Bond, who became my friend and correspondent. Once Nguza even told me that if Portugal were to continue in immobileits immobilism and as a result aggravatinged “Africa’s impatience,” then Zaire, if it were deemed necessary and desirableed, “would not hesitate nor have any difficulty in sending its military to occupy the enclave of Cabinda.” However, the air with which he pronounced such a grave statement said prevented me from taking him too seriously. I realizedrealised that more than anything else, this was a message for Portugal. A message that I delivered at the opportune moment.
Time for a brief aside: when I visited Zaire, Nguza was, politically speaking, number two in the hierarchy of the (only) Party. Later on, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, on Mobutu’s order he was arrested and condemned to death. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, shortly afterwards he was pardoned and again appointed Minister.
The Zaire government’s tolerance towards Portuguese colonialism showed itselfwas clearly demonstrated concretely through by the role of Kinshasa functioning as a “commercial office” for Portugal, a country with which it had broken relations, as had the rest of Africa. In this office, covered by the Spanish Embassy, the protector of Portuguese interests in the country, four Portuguese diplomats worked alongside several administrative auxiliaries, enjoying all the immunities and privileges of a genuine diplomatic mission and with direct, unrestricted access to the local authorities. A large and prosperous Portuguese community controlled a substantial part of the local commerce. Certainly a pragmatic solution: in the United Nations and the Organisation of African Union the discourse was one of violent condemnation of Portugal, but internally all the facilities and incentives to increasing bilateral exchange were available.
Mobutu found himself personally involved in the war to liberate Angola, where ostensibly he favoured one of the three factions, that of his brother-in-law Holden Roberto, following an orientationa trend similar to that of in the West, especially the United States. In the case of Zaire, there were special reasons for this connection (besides the family one, which after all would not be so relevant were it not for the other greater interests at stake): Holden Roberto led the nation that dominated the north ofNorth Angola and the south ofSouth Zaire – the Bacongos - on both banks of the Congo River, arbitrarily separated by the whims of the colonial powers, who often split up one nation and joined together others that were irreconcilable enemies, with tragic results in bloody civil wars, as in the case of Biafra, for example.
In my conversations with Mobutu Sese Seko, I was struck by his intense lively interest in the matters he discussed both on the international level and those to do withconcerning bilateral relations. Still young, athletic, physically and intellectually agile, sure of himself, arrogant, every bit of him exuded authority. Always dressed in safari clothes, with a leopard-skin military helmet, the symbol of power and at the same time of the party that ruled the country, he also exuded had a certain charm in his energetic but courteous ways.
At a certain momentone point in our conversations I asked my colleague Nguza Karl I Bond to explain how the party worked and how the country was governed. He gave me a long explanation that led me to point out to him that both the party and the government resembled the pattern in place in the Soviet Union, such as the designation “commissars” for the ministers, “central committee,” “supreme committee,” and so on. His answer was a loud, ironic laugh: “No, my dear friend, we are quite different, beginning with the fact that the Communist Party is a party of the elite, whereas ours is totally of the people. The entire population of the country is a member of the party, which is unique.”
“But I don’t understand, what do you mean, the whole population? And what if someone does no’t want to be a member of the Party?”
“He cannot, because as soon as he is born he is registered in the Party. If later on he renounces, he all but loses his citizenshipcitizenship.”
Not even Machiavelli managed to conceive such absolute control on the part of the Prince. Accompanied personally by Nguza and travelling in an official Zaire plane, I saw a large part of the country and many timesvery often followed the course of the mighty Congo River. I visited the works on the great hydro-electric dam at Ingá near the mouth of the river and exchanged ideas on the Itaipu project, offering him our experience on the matter. It was a visit that produced real and effective results in terms of collaboration in international forums and mutual cooperationco-operation in several areas.
From Zaire we headed for Gabon, which certainly came as a surprise, and a good pleasant surprise at that. The visit was the result of one of my conversations with President of the Côte d’Ivoire, Houphouët-Boigny, in his house in Yamoussoukro. At a certain moment in one of our tête-à-têtes, all of a sudden he surprised me by saying: “Mr Minister, why did you exclude Gabon from your visit to Africa?” “But, Mr President, I didn’t exclude any country, it’s just that I couldn’t possibly visit all of them. Quite simply, Gabon isn’t on my itinerary, it’s not a question of my having declined any invitation by its government.”
“But I insist, you should visit Gabon, whose President is a friend of mine.”
“In the light of your interest, President, I shall study my travel arrangements to see if I can make some adjustments, but I think it’s going to be difficult.”
At lunchtime that same day, Houphouët-Boigny was called to the telephone. When he returned to the table, he said: “That was President Bongo, who wants to talk to you, he’s on the phone.” I went over to the telephone and received there and then an express invitation to visit Gabon. I accepted and had to squeeze this in between Zaire and Cameroon, thus cutting out the last free weekend that I had reserved for myself and my entourage.
Welcomed in Libreville with all the honours and courtesy that without any exception marked our visit to Africa, I had a string of meetings with the President, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Georges Ranviri, the Minister of Mines, Industry, Energy and Resources and the High-Commissioner for Culture and the Arts. It was a short visit, concluded with the signing of a joint declaration according to the format already described, with the specific and important addendum: “the interest of both parties in Brazil participating in oil exploration in Gabon,” as well as an invitation to Brazilian specialists to study forms of cooperationco-operation with Gabon in the area of mineral exploration in general. These proposals later materializedmaterialised and bore real fruits.
From Libreville we set out for Yaoundé, capital of Cameroon, where the visit was short and without any dense political significance. It especially served to set common objectives as to the coffee and cocoa trade sector. We established a solid shared position with regard to refining the mechanisms of the International Coffee Agreement in order to ensure better and fairer real prices for growers. As regards cocoa, here too we agreed on measures of mutual interest in defending the international quotations for the product and arranged to join forces to conclude an international agreement. Furthermore, it was decided to reactivate resume the bilateral trade agreement signed in 1965, to which end we called a meeting of the mixed commission to be held in April 1973 in BrasíliaBrasilia. Two new agreements were signed, one of a cultural nature and the other involving technical cooperationco-operation.
All the negotiations flowed quite easily, given the identity of the interests of Brazil and Cameroon as producers of raw-materials.
From Yaoundé we travelled to Lagos, where we were to experience a country with a very different profile, a tougher visit and one at the same time charged with content not only in the political but also in the commercial area, primarily as a result of the country’s great importance in the international, and specifically the African, community.
Historically and culturally, Nigeria had held – and still holdas – to occupy a key position in our international relations due to its vast potential as a consumer market and its prominent position as oil producer, which opens the way to develop an important and materially effective exchange of trade.
Old historical ties join unite us. I have already mentioned the pioneer recognition of our independence by the Obás of Benin and Onin. In Lagos can be found the most eloquent testimony of a curious opposite inverse phenomenon: the influence of Brazil on Africa. There a Brazilian community actually settled, originally made up of former slaves who came mostly from Bahia and returned to their country of origin bringing the customs, techniques, forms of religious cults, styles of architecture and even the Portuguese language. They concentrated in a district there known today as the BrazilianQuarter and there they built a mosque (some of them were Moslems) and the first Baroque church, in addition to that typical Brazilian colonial construction: two-storey houses. On visiting this neighbourhood, one has the impression of being in Brazil, especially the Northeast. All the members of that community, direct descendants of the founders, dress differently from the rest of the population: the men in white denim, white shirts, green ties, black shoes, Panama hats with a green ribbon with the words “BrazilianDescendants’Association” in yellow; the women wear a typical loose Bahia skirt with an enormous coloured peacock design, a smock, turban, beads, and so on.
Everything indicates that they want to be seen as owners of a peculiar special identity, different from the other nationalities that make up the population. This was confirmed by me by my colleague, the Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Okoi Arikpo, who told me of the difficulty that his government had had trying to convince the members of the community to register themselves and their families as Nigerians. They insisted that they were Brazilians. They finally reached a compromise: they began to register themselves as “BrazilianNigerians”.
How to explain such touching loyalty to Brazil? When I returned home, I talked about this to my dear old friend Gilberto Freyre, who was unaware of the existence of that community, and I ventured an explanation without any grounds in proper, deep research: in Africa, even today there prevail to a large extent tribal forms of association. And often the State, as we know it, is an artificial creation that does not actually substitute the Nation. So, for example, in Nigeria itself the Yoruba nation recognizesrecognises itself as such more rather than as Nigerian. The same happens in Zaire with the Bacongos and the Catanguenses (today the province of Chabas), again in Nigeria with the Biafrans, and so on. When they were carried overseas to Brazil as slaves, the natives of what is now known as “Nigeria” in the course of time eventually lost their tribal roots and their sense of nation. When they came back to where their ancestors originated, they realizedrealised that they no longer belonged to any nation, or rather that their nation had become ... Brazil.
I do not feel qualified to propose a theory about this. I thought up this explanation because I had found no other that would justify such utterly spontaneous and gratuitous fidelity to our country. Gilberto Freyre heard me out attentively and answered that the theory made sense. I do not know whether he investigated the question any further. In this BrazilianQuarter I was officially received by the community in its civic hall, so to speak, the WaterHouse, so called because it was there that an intelligent and hard-working former slave from Bahia built an artesian well, a technique he had learned in Salvador and which was unknown locally. He began to sell drinking water, such a prosperous business that when he died his fortune was estimated to be three million pounds sterling.
As I said, I was received in the WaterHouse, where a white-headed, elderly-looking black man unsteady on his feet greeted me with a speech he himself had written in a quite adulterated Portuguese, at times mumbling but nonetheless understandable. This was a moment of great emotion. I invited the community to the farewell thanksgiving reception that I offered, as in all the other countries on the visit. Practically all of them turned up (there were not many of them, maybe a hundred), all together in special buses. I can still see them alighting from the buses and lining up in single file to greet me. I held my hand out to the first one, who bent down and kissed it, saying: “Your blessing, father.” I pulled my hand away in shock without knowing what to dounwittingly, but then I realizedrealised from the look he threw at me that he was even more shocked at my refusal, not to say repulsion. From then on, in embarrassment, I found myself oddly allowing them to kiss my hand and saying in return: “God bless you, my son.”
It was in Nigeria, during the conversations I held with my colleague Arikpo, that I encountered the hardest strongest opposition to Portugal. In addition to the country’s active, radical militancy in the United Nations and the Organisation of Africa Union, Nigeria has special and specific reasons for this: according to Arikpo, during the cruel civil war in Biafra, he himself had gone to Lisbon to make a formal complaint against the help that the Portuguese government was sending to the Biafrans through Portuguese territories, in particular São Tomé and Príncipe. Franco Nogueira, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, had allegedly promised to cease this type of undue intervention but had failed to keep his promise. So Arikpo bore a deep resentment towards Portugal and her colonial regime in Africa, comparable only to his feelings towards France, which had intervened openly in the conflict, taking sides with Biafra.
Yet not even there in Nigeria did I undergo any pressure for Brazil to change position with regard to the Portuguese colonial problem, nor did I feel the least resentment against our country. Neither in Nigeria nor in any of the other countries visited. Remember that we were in the month of November, when voting starts in the plenary of the General Assembly of the United Nations on most of the projects approved in the various committees. This, then, was the moment for complaints to be formulated as to Brazil’s position. I received none. For the very understandable reason that they were more concerned about the possible success of the mediating action that they knew that Brazil was secretly engaged in with the Portuguese government than about winning another simple vote in the United Nations in favour of the resolutions condemning Portugal. And that was expressly told to me.
Of course I did hear strong criticism of Portuguese colonialism everywhere. But at the same time they understand and respected Brazil’s special position vis-à-vis Portugal. And they encouraged me to continue efforts towards obtaining a peaceful - but not delayed – solution to the problem. Otherwise – and I confess that this surprised me – in all the local newspapers in all the capitals that I visited, there was very scant news about what was going on in the United Nations. In some cases there was no news whatsoeverat all. I could only conclude that the international attitude of the militant African governments against Portuguese colonialism did not necessarily correspond to the posture shown to the internal public, for whom the matter was not of prime importance. Which nevertheless did not mean that they were not willing to pass from rhetoric to action.
On the cultural level, I spoke with the Nigerian authorities about the Brazilian participation in the important Second Festival of Black and African Art to be held in Lagos in 1974, with Brazil having been distinguished with the honourable designation to coordinateco-ordinate, as one of the few Commissioners, the official representations of a large bloc of countries.
In the negotiations held, we arranged important and highly promising measures to further bilateral trade, which soon after the visit were made concreteconsolidated in significant operations that represented a relevant increase in the volume of our exports.
In Lagos I was most saddened by the news of the unexpected death of Ambassador MárioMario Tancredo Borges da Fonseca, one of the most righteous, intelligent and sensitive men I have ever known. He was my colleague in the Itamaraty course and we became really true friends. The news of his death hit struck me like a bolt of lightning. He was the Head of the Department of the Americas, a function position that he undertook held with the brilliance, competence and dedication that marked his personality. I admit that I had to make a great effort to proceed with the journey, so affected was I by that unexpected event, which made me feel that the effort that I was making was of no use. For what purpose? Why?
In Senegal, deliberately chosen as the last leg of the journey, I engaged in highly significant and important political conversations: there I discussed the Portuguese colonial problem in depth. I met an interlocutor of great stature, a true statesman in the person of Léopold Senghor. A fine intellectual, a notable poet, a man of vast public experience, ex-former senator in France when Senegal was still a French colony, he managed obtained for the University of Dakar to be ranked third ranking in the French budget, after the Sorbonne and Montpelier, a position it held after independence. This did not prevent the government of Senegal from maintaining in international forums a position of loftiness and independence towards France.
The process of French decolonisation was the work of fine political engineering, the model that I would like to see followed by Portugal, and so different from the English process with all its violence. The French managed succeeded in shakingto shake off its Empire, leaving behind an atmosphere of good will in the former colonies and preserving a close rapport with them, in which they exercised an economic predominance while conceding granting all sorts of help, subsidies, technical and cultural assistance, and so on. And they became the defenders of their formerex- colonies in all international negotiations.
Even in the case of Algeria, the stage for the most violent episodes, the final solution ended up beingeventually was a rational and beneficial one, mainly due to the inspiration, courage and determination of De Gaulle, who risked his own life when he began to sponsor independence for Algeria, provoking the incomprehension of many inside his own country and being accused by former supporters of being a “traitor” to the motherland.
In the Africa that I visited, France was in an excellent situation. In the Côte d’Ivoire, for example, the French presence was far more numerous after independence than before, according to what President Houphouët-Boigny told me. Not only as investors but also in cultural, educational and even military areas, as instructors of the country’s Armed Forces. This was without any doubt the most intelligent model to be followed adopted by Portugal – and this is what I urgently endeavoured to convey to the government of Marcelo Caetano, for there was no time to lose. Portugal was already on its own.
From Léopold Senghor I heard extremely important views on the problem. This serene and well-balanced man saw the Portuguese presence in Africa with long-range prospects and constructive bases. I had two long and deep conversations with him. There actually should have been only one, when I paid him a protocol visit, since my interlocutor was naturally the Minister of Foreign Affairs and not the President of the Republic. But in this case the talks with my colleague lost all their importance, because President Senghor assumed took over the discussions himself. Thus it was that our first meeting in the Presidential Palace stretched out for over four hours. When I took my leave I bid bade him farewell, because the next day he was to receive the King of Saudi Arabia on an official visit, which would prevent me from returning for another conversation. Senghor made a sign of disdain with his hand and told me: “Oh! the king. I would prefer to continue our chat. We have far more serious things to talk about. Come back tomorrow.” And the King of Saudi Arabia, who was so important in any case, was so especially even more so for Senegal, with its very high Moslem population, which makes him a sort of spiritual leader there as holder and defender of the sanctuary at Mecca.
Senghor told me that the Portuguese language had to be maintained in Africa, in the Portuguese colonies and territories that one day would become independent but should not lose the “civilizingcivilising language” of Portuguese. “They speak several languages, but Portuguese is the lingua franca, and it must not be abandoned. It would be a disaster if Portugal were thrown out of Africa by the use of armed force, as this could mean the end of Portuguese culture on the continent. “For me,” he went on, “it is indispensable to keep the Portuguese language and culture in Africa, because I feel that the Latin countries are pacifying by nature.” After theorizingtheorising brilliantly about this, he added: “The refugees that I receive here are whole families that come from Guinea-Bissau, often with many school-age children. I don’t want to put them in a French-speaking school to lose their Portuguese. So I have contracted Portuguese language teachers so that they can go on with their primary and even secondary studies in Portuguese and hold on to their language. That is something I insist upon.”
“The role of Portugal in Africa,” said Senghor, “has been extraordinary as a civilizingcivilising factor. But today, because of Portuguese colonialism and the immobilism inertia of Portugal in seeking a solution to this problem, the flag of the Lusíadas is in the hands of Brazil.” He used this poetic image, which I shall never forget and which moved me as I sat there listening to him. “The flag of the Lusíadas passed from Portuguese hands to Brazilian hands. You are the ones we are counting on, it’s Brazil, the great Brazil that we are counting on. Help us to find a peaceful solution.”
The talks I had with Senghor strengthened my conviction concmade me more convinced abouterning Brazil’s historical responsibility to try to find a peaceful solution as mediator between Portugal and Africa.
“That’s why I’m am here, President.”
“I know that. I’ve have been following your trip through Africa. And I also understand why you have visited me last of all. I take this as a proof of high distinction, for you wanted to visit me after having talked with all my African colleagues.” His interpretation was correct. I conveyed my impressions to him, told him about conversations that I had had, every so often interrupted by pertinent and clarifying edifying comentscommentsobservations, as well as important information.
Then he told me that he had been holding secret talks with General AntônioAntonio Espínola, then military governor of Portuguese Guinea (Guinea-Bissau), for whom he had a deep respect. For Senghor believes that, Espínola could turn out to bebecome the “Portuguese De Gaulle.” He used this expression: “If tomorrow he holds the power in Portugal, we will enjoy a fine understanding with one another and he could become the De Gaulle of Portugal. President Senghor also confided in me how he viewed what was happening in Guinea-Bissau. Less than a month ago before he had presented - after personal and secret discussions with General Espínola and Amílcar Cabral, the leader and inspiration of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) – a plan for the progressive concession of self-government in that territory, with Portugal gradually ceding powers. This process was to be accompanied by a truce, both in the battle field and verbally, in the United Nations in order to abate the attacks on the government of Lisbon, which would be given a vote of confidence. General Espínola had agreed to the plan, convinced that there was no other way, since in his mind it was impossible for the war in Portuguese Guinea to go on. But he had failed to obtain the agreement of his government. And the rejected plan had been overtaken by events, with Amílcar Cabral consequently taking more radical initiatives such as purely and simply proclaiming the territory liberated as an independent country, for which he was asking international recognition and admission to the United Nations.
Amílcar Cabral sent me a telegram when I was in Dakar, welcoming me and expressing his confidence that in the future Guinea-Bissau would enjoy as close relations with Portugal as the latter had with Brazil, in the interest of a Portuguese-speaking spiritual community. What I actually found all over the parts of Africa that I visited was an understanding by the respective governments of the special relations between Brazilian and Portugal. They not only understand our reasons but also presented us as a model to be followed by the Portuguese territories in Africa when these became independent. I might even say that for the African countries the political importance of Brazil grew as a result of our special relations with Portugal, provided, of course, that this was not expressed as support for Portuguese colonialism.
The case of Guinea-Bissau was the subject of an important discussion I had with President Marcello Caetano, a discussion with the participation of President Senghor, who for obvious reasons held that territory high in his list of preoccupations.
On closing this narrative of my trip to Africa, I think I should summarizesummarise the various positions that I found there in respect to the Portuguese colonial territories: the most belligerent countries were the English-speaking ones, especially Nigeria and Ghana. It is not hard to explain why: for them the process of decoloniszation had been violent. Furthermore, they had no close links to Portugal, their background being Anglo-Saxon. As for the French-speaking countries, these felt closer and above all, having found deeper comprehension on the part of France during the decoloniszing process, they hoped and expected the same for the Portuguese territories.
Thoese are the differences. Now for the points in common. With obvious shades of difference, these could be summed up as follows:
– overly prolonged maintenance of the status quo would not be tolerated;
– they wanted a peaceful and negotiated solution to the problem;
– if Portugal failed to negotiate, an opening, collective armed action would be implemented, which they nevertheless admit would be very difficult, especially in Angola and Mozambique;
– once independence was obtained, it would be highly desirable to preserve close ties between Portugal and her former colonies (as happened in the case of France and her ex-colonies) and even more, to form a Portuguese-African community.
In none of the countries visited did I come upon any opposition to these points, that is, to the line proposed by Brazil. In all the countries I received the impression that they expected Brazil to continue what they called its “mediating” efforts.
As regards the results of the journey, I would say that these were felt even before my departure: Brazil’s becoming aware of the problems of Africa, and the complementary discovery by the African elites of the Brazilian reality and the possibility of seeing Brazil as a useful partner and a valid alternative in the foreign-policy schemes of the African countries.
I do not hesitate to assert that just by making the journey made both sides of the Atlantic became awaken aware ofto the need to see one another as neighbours. Not as parties separated by an ocean but rather united by it: our neighbours to the east.
The impact of the visit on forming an image of Brazil in the African mind was considerable. For an entire month the press, radio and television of the countries visited offered allocated ample space not only to the activities related toof the actual visit proper but also to what goes on in Brazilian reality, by means ofby showing films shown on the local television channels, an audiovisualaudio-visual programme and collective press interviews, which I gave personally, with total freedom to ask questions and give answers, in each and every country visited.
I do not consider my journey to Africa as a finished definitiveact but rather as an initialthe first step to opening of up Brazil’s foreign policy which could not and cannot ignore such a vast and important area under the incomprehensible and mistaken notion that our preference should be for the so-called First World. For me there are simply no excluding preferences; at most there are time priorities, without jeopardizingjeopardising a global foreign policy, as Brazil’s should be.
During the rest of my term at Itamaraty, we exchanged several missions with Africa, opened up lines of maritime and air communications, and signed economic and trade agreements aton the a bilateral level and in international forums. When my period as head of the Portfolio came to an end, I had opened in Salvador the Afro-Brazilian Museum in Salvador and set up the Programme for Cultural CooperationCo-operation with Africa. To this end, I signed a convention in Itamaraty on 4 March 1974 together with the Minister of Education and Culture, Jarbas Passarinho, the Governor of Bahia, AntônioAntonio Carlos Magalhães, the Mayor of Salvador, Cleriston Andrade, and the Rector of the Federal University of Bahia, Lafayete de Azevedo Pondé.
The Museum was to be divided into two dynamically complementary sections. One would be dedicated devoted to the African cultures per se, with special attention to those of that most influenceddeepest influence on Brazil, as is in the case of the Yorubas, Jejes, Fons, Minas, Hausas, Malinhês and so on. The other section would be devotdicated to showing the impact of Africa on the life and culture of Brazil through the historical contribution of the negroNegro in to the large major cycles of our economy and in formitowardsng our nationality, folklore, music, dancing, art, cooking cuisine and literature. The setting up of the Museum was set up with the supportenjoyed the collaboration of UNESCO.
With regard to theThe idea of the Programme of Cultural CooperationCo-operation with Africa was to obtain, this envisaged scholarships for training and specializationspecialisation of Africans by establishing setting up centres to welcome students and intellectuals from Africa and stimulating to encourage studies on Afro-Brazilian themes, editing publishing books and different a number of publications. The Programme was in fact a Centre for Afro-Brazilian Studies, with its own magnificent building, donated to us for that purpose: the old School of Medicine located in the Terreiro de Jesus in Salvador. And the Programme was adequately financed with funds already earmarked in the budget of the Ministry of Education budget. The faculty was to be chosen by Itamaraty, which would be responsible for the supervision and general management of the project.
Ten days after the singning of this Convention, my term of office at Itamaraty came to an end. I never again heard of the outcomewhatever became of this plan, which in fact was a concrete reality. Such a pity. A golden opportunity just waiting to be takenseizedseized.
At the moment I amAs I write writing these words at, the beginning of 2002, I have to admit that our policy towards Africa has not been successful inhas failed to lay the foundations establishing the principal bases of our presence in the world as I had idealizedidealised it when the responsibility was given me to conceive and undertake our opening in that continent. The truth is that Africa has been distanced from our foreign-policy initiatives and marginalized ignored in our diplomatic agenda. It has even been suggested that Brazil’s option to forge closer relations with Africa in 1972 was a wrong decision and that the right thing would have been to choose Southeast Asia instead, this being a more promising area as a profitable economic relationship.
This assertion contained implied a serious mistake, in all senses. Firstly, in 1972 Southeast Asia was an area tragically stricken by one of the most disastrous, cruellest and most violent conflicts in modern history: the Vietnam War. Secondly, there was in fact no “option” in the sense of a choice between one thing and another. Opening to Africa did not imply closing some other region of the world to our sphere of diplomatic activity. A third point asks how can the African factor be compared to the Asiatic factor in our formation as a nation. It would seem unnecessary to explain what is so obvious. A further argument against the assertion is that our approximation with Africa was - and remains – unconcerned with purely commercial market factors of losses and gains.
The truth is that because of the Brazilian way of beinglife, because of our culture, which is in part influenced by the various African cultures, because of the geographical and climatic similarities, which at times make us feel that we are at home there in sub-Saharan landscapes that we are at home, because of the African religious cults, mixed and interlaced as they are with the Christianity brought imported and implemeanted by the Portuguese discoverer, thereby moulding in many parts of the country a syncretism unknown in other regions of the world, because of our food, seasoning, habits customs inherited from the Africans, including our music and our rhythms – for all these reasons, Africa is unquestionably a factor of paramount importance in our formation as a nation.
Like no No other country, we enjoys such a unique and spontaneous acceptance on the African continent as Brazil does. Today, with Africa relegated to a secondary rank in the power games of the rich nations, we should not follow the same line but rather strengthen the ties that join us to our “neighbours to the East” with whom we share many of the evils of an under-development that is in large measureto a large extent imposed on us by a pitiless ruthless financial-commercial mechanism that sooner or later will have to settle accounts with a great huge geographical and population mass that inhabits our planet.
Why do we not try again to grow closer to Africa, as we did so auspiciously in 1972? Why ignore this enormous capital that lies available toawaits us, even if this means accepting that we are only being materialistic and utilitarian? Why ignore disdain such an important source of our background? If the moment is ripe for “globalizationglobalisation,” how can we exclude a whole continent that is, after all, the birthplace of Western civilizationcivilisation?
Africa has to be seen regarded as an important force in Brazil’s overseas policy.
(Translated by JM)
J. M. Rugendas, Slaves on a farm
President Nkruma of Ghana
Official visit to Kenya, Mario Gibson Barboza with Jomo Kenyata
Gibson Barboza (second to the right), with the King of Abomei, Benin, to his left
On the visit to Senegal, the Brazilian Chancellor is decorated by President
Signing of agreements in the Côte d'Ivoire