Vivek Menezes recalls an Indian revolutionary’s role in the freedom struggles of East Africa.
When India celebrates its diaspora, the emphasis is always on NRIs in the West. Silvia Braganca’s newbook on her huband, Aquino de Braganca, theGoa-born advisor to a host of African leaders, offers a startling look at a barely-known thread in NRI history, peopled by anti-colonial activists who helped to steer the nationalist movements of sub-Saharan Africa.
Battles Waged, Lasting Dreams is a labour of love that was put together quite idiosyncratically, but that can be forgiven for the sheer achievement of pinning down the contours of this riveting narrative, full of excitement and energy, deeply evocative of the era of decolonisation.
If anyone knows about Indian revolutionaries in Africa, it is via the prism of South Africa, where Mahatma Gandhi found his feet as a political leader. In later years, several South Africans of Indian descent played an important role in the African National Congress.
But there was another set of anti-colonialists who streamed out of Portuguese Goa in the first half of the twentieth century and became role models for later struggles in Africa. Many of them had similar influences: nationalist Indian politics, anti-Portuguese sentiment and then further radicalisation by study in Europe and contact with Marxist revolutionaries there.
This was already happening by the 1920s, when Goa-born Tristao Braganza Cunha was studying at the Sorbonne and became the conduit for the Indian National Congress in France. His accounts greatly influenced Romain Rolland’s influential biography of Gandhi.
By the 1940s, there were several Goans (often European-educated) at the forefront of the liberation struggles in British and Portuguese colonies in Africa. They included Pio Gama Pinto, the ideologue of the Kenya African National Union, which came to power in 1961 (he was assassinated four years later by political rivals), and Fitz de Souza, who represented the Mau Mau in court during the height of the British battle to retain control of its colony. De Souza later helped to draft the Kenyan constitution. Joseph Murumbi, the son of a Goan-Masai marriage, went on to become Vice-President of Kenya.
Most influential of all was Aquino de Braganca, born into a family from Mapusa, in North Goa. Like almost all Goan boys of some means in those days, he was educated at the Lyceum in Panjim but then had to leave the territory for lack of further opportunities. In his case, a desire to study physics and mathematics led him first to Karnatak College in Dharwar and then to join the steady outflow of young Goan fortune-seekers to Mozambique, in Portuguese-held East Africa. He was changed forever by the harsh apartheid-like circumstances in the colony. Within a few months, he headed to Grenoble in France to pursue further studies.
In France, Braganca met the philosopher Frantz Fanon, and was inspired by his anti-colonial views. He founded a political party for the freedom of Goa and plotted the liberation of all the Portuguese colonies in Africa. He and other revolutionaries from across Africa gathered under the banner of CONCP – the Conference of Nationalist Organisations of the Portuguese Colonies. In the end, every one of these movements succeeded, and the Portuguese were eventually compelled to leave Africa. “Aquino de Braganca was a great revolutionary,” Nelson Mandela said. He “prepared the ground”.
When freedom came to Mozambique in 1975, it was Aquino de Braganca who negotiated it in secret meetings between FRELIMO (the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique) and the Portuguese, on behalf of his close friend, Samora Machel, who soon became president. That relationship led to Braganca’s death. He was accompanying Machel on a presidential tour in 1986 when their plane crashed in mysterious circumstances.
But he’s still remembered as a giant of the time of decolonisation. Silvia Braganca quotes Joaquim Chissano, the ex-President of Mozambique, recounting how he’s often asked about this Goan revolutionary: “Many Presidents remember. Mugabe remembers. Kaunda certainly remembers. How many times did I not hear Nyerere talking about Aquino de Braganca? People have something that they keep and they use. I am sure that this happens with Aquino.”
Battles Waged, Lasting Dreams , Goa 1556, Rs.350.