P180 – New Considerations of Labour, Power, and Resistance in Angolan History with Contemporary Resonances in Africa
9 July, 14:00-15:30

de Grassi Aharon / Department of Geography, University of California, Berkeley
Melnysyn Shana / Department of History, University of Michigan


This panel focuses on how histories of colonial labour regulation and contestation that were key in such countries as Angola now figure into post-colonial national development projects. In Africa, labour – rural, urban, (un)waged, and/or migrant – has been important in defining ownership, belonging/otherness, and personhood, and has pushed scholarship beyond narrow economic conceptions of work even more problematic today. Forced labour was key to colonial economies and administration, and yet early instances of theft, sabotage, or resistance by labourers disrupted the commercial, productive and regulatory structures sustained by such labour. The rising salience of questions of labour in independence transitions are both echoed today and qualitatively different amidst unprecedented inequality, over-production and informalisation.
By interrogating historical formations and contemporary tendencies of labour in Africa, with a focus on Angola, this panel problematizes the paradox of labour in-between processes of domination and resistance. Key questions are: what are the relations between violence and work, theft and ownership, work and freedom, and dependency and resistance? How are mobility, precarity, or stability experienced in and at work? How do these debates shape analyses of shifts in power relations with regard to workers’ leverage? And which concepts common across systems of exploitation are provided by novel, expansive notions of labour derived from African experiences?

Esta mesa-redonda discute como as histórias de regulação e contestação do trabalho colonial figuram agora em projetos de desenvolvimento nacional pós-colonial, no centro dos quais continua a estar o dilema de trabalho. Em África, o trabalho—rural, urbano, (não)pago, e/ou migrante—há muito define questões de propriedade, pertença/alteridade, e personalidade. O trabalho forçado foi central nas economias africanas e a administração coloniais; e no entanto, o roubo, a sabotagem e resistência de trabalhadores africanos perturbava de igual modo as redes, estruturas e dinâmicas comerciais e produtivas que o seu próprio trabalho sustentava. A relevância crescente das questões de trabalho desde as transições para a independência é bem reconhecida. Contudo, as desigualdades globais, o excesso de produção e a informalização em massa tornam os fenómenos actuais do trabalho qualitativamente diferentes.
Ao interrogar formações históricas e tendências contemporâneas do trabalho em África, com um foco em Angola, problematizamos o paradoxo do trabalho entre processos de dominação e resistência. As perguntas chaves são: qual a relação entre violência e trabalho, roubo e posse, trabalho e liberdade, dependência e resistência? Como é a mobilidade, precariedade, ou estabilidade vivida em relação ao trabalho? E que novos conceitos comuns a sistemas de exploração ou relações de poder exercidas pelos trabalhadores são fornecidos hoje por noções de trabalho derivadas das experiências africanas?

Paper 1

Calvão Filipe / Graduate Institute of Geneva

The Labor of Angolanization

For more than a century, the colonial and postcolonial landscape of the Lunda region in northeast Angola has been concomitant with diamond extraction, resting on strict control over the population, spatial mobility, and the region’s connection to the rest of the country. Today, mining companies operating in Lunda generate an estimated billion dollars, placing the country amongst the top five diamond-producing countries in the world and making diamonds Angola’s biggest export after crude oil. Based on long-term field research in Lunda, this paper examines the “Angolanization” of the large-scale mining projects in the country, contentiously defined as the lack of transparency in the sector or the demand for increased Angolan citizens in the ranks of the region’s diamond mines. What exactly does it mean to “Angolanize” the economy and its workforce and, by extension, the country’s particular national rendition of capitalism?

Paper 2

de Grassi Aharon / University of California, Berkeley

How to Create Rural Employment from Oil: Nationalist Agrarian Revolts, Rural Mechanization, and some Roots of Angola’s Contemporary Tractor Modernism

Nationalist agrarian revolts in coffee- and cotton-producing areas of Angola in 1961 provoked a shift by colonial agribusiness towards increasing agricultural mechanization in order to reduce complicated reliance on the compulsion of cheap and tied agrarian labor. The colonial administration also used mechanization for regional economic development as part of a larger counter-insurgency program. The legacies of this trend of mechanization in the late colonial period remain influential today but have received insufficient attention. From the 1960s to the 1980s, the shift toward agricultural mechanization was also related to the mechanization of road construction labor, and was shaped by more global processes in the agriculture and construction sectors (spurred in part by oil and urbanization booms), as well as international experiences with socialist approaches to agriculture. To illuminate such processes, this presentation draws on archival and ethnographic research in Malanje Province in order to outline changes in practices and conceptions of rural labor in three phases of agrarian mechanization – colonial, socialist, and post-war. Only in this light can we more fully understand contemporary emphases on investing state oil revenues in direct and credit-based agricultural mechanization programs and projects to improve rural employment.

Paper 3

Melnysyn Shana / University of Michigan

Caravan Labor, Violence, and Resistance in Early 20th Century Angola

Violence was a central feature of colonial projects everywhere. In early 20th century Angola, when Portugal was just beginning to secure its foothold in the interior of the country, the scrutiny of British journalists, along with changing rhetoric about the nature of the “civilizing” project, were brought to bear on Portugal’s occupation of the chaotic hinterland. Colonial demands for African labor, most prominently in the form of caravan porters, depended on coercive measures, very often including physical violence and threats. But colonial expansion and trade also depended entirely on the willingness of porters to work. As Portugal managed its international image moving into the 20th century, how were violent labor practices justified as acceptable tools of conquest, even as officials condemned their use in writing? How did Ovimbundu caravan workers in Angola’s central highlands employ and resist violent acts? What happened when they refused to work? This paper explores how recruitment and employment of caravan labor played out in various situations documented in late 19th and early 20th century Angola, where missionaries, state officials, and African traders and kings employed porters. It analyzes porters’ individual and collective acts of covert and subtle sabotage, subversion, and resistance.

Paper 4

Waldorff Pétur / University of Iceland and the Nordic Africa Institute

Åkesson Lisa / University of Gothenburg and the Nordic Africa Institute

Representations of Changing Post-Colonial Power Relations in Contemporary Luanda

For the first time in Sub-Saharan African post-colonial history, citizens of a former European colonial power are seeking improved conditions in an ex-colony on a massive scale. Until recently Angolans have moved to Portugal in search of economic and personal security, but in the last seven years this migration has been reversed. The Portuguese who leave for Angola are motivated by the strong economic growth in Angola and the economic crisis in Portugal. Estimates have put the figure of Portuguese nationals in Angola anywhere between 150 to 250,000 and remittances sent from Angola to Portugal in 2013 were 21 times the size of remittances transferred in the reverse direction. This represents a reversal in patterns of mobility as in the recent past it were mostly Angolans who migrated to Portugal for work. A change is also discernible in power relations between the ex-colonizers and the ex-colonized. At the same time as Portuguese supremacy, higher wages and benefits, and colonial attitudes are condemned by Angolans; Portuguese nationals are dependent on Angolans for employment and work visas. Complex post-colonial relations surface and resurface, for example, in workplace clashes between Portuguese and Angolan employees. The paper argues that to fully understand the complexity of this phenomenon it is necessary to move beyond classic post-colonial theoretical frameworks and ponder new configurations of power relations between the two countries and their nationals.

Paper 5

Ovadia Jesse / Newcastle University

Global Value Chains and Local Linkages in the Petroleum Industry: Potential Issues for Angolan Labor

With the popularity of global value chains analysis (Gereffi and Korzeniewicz, 1994; Gereffi, 2014), new attention has been focused on ‘upgrading’ along the petroleum value chain as a way of producing higher value exports. In theory, such a strategy involves the encouragement of forward, backward and sideways linkages along the petroleum value chain as well as maximizing the benefit from consumption and fiscal linkages (UNIDO 2011; Morris, Kaplinsky and Kaplan, 2012). While a great deal has been written about such approaches—and in theory they should indeed lead to economic growth, diversification and increased employment—there is very little empirical evidence that they can produce such outcomes in the oil and gas industry for resource-rich countries in Africa. In Angola, such policies are pursued are part of the government’s local content strategy of ‘Angolanização’. With little independence from the governing MPLA, oil and gas labor unions in Angola rarely speak about government policy. This paper assesses the potential of global value chain analysis and local linkages for Angolan development as well as the impact of these strategies on Angolan labor. With reference to the experience of Nigeria, it argues that there are several important issues in the implementation of local content policies that greatly affect labor in Angola.

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