Regulating the Colonial Rural: Wartime Villagization in Late Portuguese Colonialism

18 months

At a time of unequal urban division in late colonial Africa and Asia in the 1950s and 60s, in rural areas European armies aimed at putting an end to itinerant territorialities by concentrating peasants in camps. During the 3 wars that from 1961 onwards aimed for the liberation of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau from Portugal, so-called villagization schemes were part of occupation by the Portuguese Army of regions bordering independent African countries, in the framework of a white settlers’ alliance with Rhodesia and Apartheid South Africa. Up to 2 million peasants in the 3 territories were forcibly moved to thousands of camps. While villagization was conceived by Europeans as an element of military “psychological action,” in the case of Portugal’s schemes it involved the whole colonial state apparatus, as it attempted not only to separate peasants from their liberation movements, but also a late colonial regulation of rurality through fossil development and new forms of dispossession. Yet, the lived experience of villagization was also one of situated frictions, around the nature of labour or temporality; and ultimately the schemes did not impede the political independences in 1975. While many camps were abandoned both before and after independence, others became thriving border towns, including as communal villages in postcolonial Mozambique. This research project hopes to contribute to an understanding how, under violent conditions of incarceration through wartime villagization, African and Asian peasants continued regulating their own spaces according to their demands and visions for the future, rearticulating a spatiality of circulation.

Aharon De Grassi
Ana Vaz Milheiro
Aniceto Afonso
Mark Gillem
Paul Jenkins
camps, Africa, spatial planning history, lived experience
Funding Entity
Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology