Accepted Paper:

Barbed wire fencing, African resilience and agricultural experts in late colonial Angola  


Cláudia Castelo (Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade de Lisboa)

Paper short abstract:

In Southwestern Angola during the 1960s, the agro-pastoralists way of life was menaced by the establishment of “modern” ranches. The paper discusses the role of barbed wire as a tool and symbol of developmentalist late colonial state, and agricultural experts and African communities’ responses.

Paper long abstract:

The paper explores the confrontation of two cattle raising systems in Southwestern Angola in the last years of Portuguese colonial rule: the "traditional" system practiced by African agro-pastoralists; and the "modern" large-scale concessions of European breeders. In the colonial war context of high anxiety for the colonial government and the military authorities, the African agro-pastoralist practices, in particular transhumance, were perceived negatively as a security and political threat to the state and an obstacle to economic development of the livestock industry. Subject of study by agricultural experts, the agro-pastoralists practices were instead valued as ecological response and adaptation to an adverse natural environment; a system that should be improved rather than substituted. In the Cunene and Benguela-Moçâmedes coastal regions barbed wire fences were a visible and material translation of settlers control over and access to land and natural resources (water and pastures), but also a symbol of the repressive nature of the late colonial state developmentalism. Driven from recent work on resilience of agro-pastoral communities, the paper discusses the responsive and adaptive capacities of southwestern Angola agro-pastoralists both to shifting physical environment, and to modernization projects and political acts, namely state violence. Finally it addresses the competing models of development, ambiguities and contradictions within the colonial administration, and the unexpected alliances between state technicians and the agro-pastoralists, enhanced by local African assistants of the Angola Agricultural Surveys Mission.

Panel P141
Lines of Control - Lines of Desire: Towards an Integrated History of Fencing in Southern Africa