The Portuguese created the first worldwide empire as early as the 1500s when they established a series of ports connecting Africa, the Middle East, India, and Asia. Their influence continues, with many of these regions retaining components of the Portuguese language, customs, and culture. Today there are more than 30 million people in Africa who speak Portuguese. People and nations that speak Portuguese are called Lusophones. African countries with Portuguese as an official language are referred to as PALOP (Países Africanos de Língua Oficial Portuguesa.) They are Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, and São Tomé and Príncipe. In addition, South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Mauritius, Senegal, and Nigeria have Portuguese-speaking minorities.
Let’s have a look at some interesting facts about Portuguese speaking countries in Africa.
List of Portuguese Speaking Countries in Africa
The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama first explored Mozambique in southeast Africa in 1498. Portugal colonized the area in 1505 and defended it from Europeans, Arab Muslims, and other Africans for the next four centuries. The country obtained independence in 1975 after a protracted war that lasted a decade. Portuguese was made the official language of Mozambique because it was commonly held to be the lingua franca of the ethnically diverse nation. Today about 50% (14,5 million) of Mozambicans speak Portuguese, making Mozambique one of the African countries that speak Portuguese.
Diogo Cao, of Portugal, was the first European to arrive in Angola, in 1484. Although the country, as it is currently defined, was only established in 1891. A struggle for independence was initiated in 1961, but formal independence from Portugal was only granted in 1975. Portuguese was maintained as the official language, and today, 40% of the population speaks the Angolan variant of Portuguese at home. Increasingly, young, urban Angolans are speaking Portuguese exclusively as parents choose to raise their children as Portuguese-speaking.
Slaves from Angola were regularly traded with Brazil until Portugal banned slavery in 1836. Today, Angola is a major producer and exporter of oil and one of China’s main suppliers. It became a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries OPEC in 2007. Angola also has significant diamond deposits. However, 40% of the population lives in poverty, and the country is still recovering from the destruction of civil war that raged for 27 years after independence.
3. Cape Verde
The next country in Africa that speaks Portuguese is Cape Verde. Before being discovered by Portuguese sailors in 1460, there was no evidence of human habitation on Cape Verde, an archipelago in the central Atlantic Ocean. The Portuguese settled the islands as a critical port of call and a maritime trading post between Portugal, Africa, the Caribbean, and South America. The Portuguese government also granted many Spanish and Italian seamen land. Slaves from nearby West Africa were brought in to work on the plantations, and were also a key trading “commodity.” More Europeans arrived in the form of exiled Portuguese Jews during the Inquisition of the late 1400s. In time Dutch, French, British, and Arabs made the islands their home. Today, the majority of Cape Verdeans are of mixed-race origin, with Cape Verdean Creole being the home language of most. However, Portuguese is the country’s official language and is used exclusively for education and administration.
4. Equatorial Guinea
Equatorial Guinea in central Africa was part of a group of Portuguese colonies between 1474 and 1778, and then a colony of Spain between 1778 and 1968. Spanish, French, and Portuguese are the three official languages, and there are fifteen other recognized languages. Spanish has been an official language since 1844, and 70-90% of the population (totaling 800,000) speak it. French was declared official in 1988 to strengthen ties with surrounding francophone countries. It is spoken by only 10% of the population, but this is increasing as French-speaking immigrants from Cameroon, Gabon, and other African countries, make Equatorial Guinea their home. Portuguese was made an official language in 2010 to strengthen links to the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP.) While trade and other co-operative efforts with CPLP have increased, there are still very few Portuguese speakers in the country. Annobonese, a Portuguese-based creole, is spoken on the islands of Annobón and Bioko.
Equatorial Guinea is one of the largest oil producers in Africa, making it also one of the richest. However, this wealth is not distributed, and most of the country’s residents live in poverty. Equatorial Guinea ranks number 144 on the United Nations Human Development Index. Widespread human rights abuses and an authoritarian government make Equatorial Guinea one of the least free countries in the world according to the annual Freedom in the World survey.
5. Guinea Bissau
Guinea-Bissau in West Africa is an ex-colony of Portugal that achieved independence in 1973. Portuguese is the only official language of this country in Africa, and there is significant diversity in its indigent African languages. Only 10% of the population totaling 1,8 million speak Portuguese at home. However, Guinea-Bissau Creole, a Portuguese-based creole, is spoken by almost everyone as a second or third language. Once a part of the infamous Slave Route, this fifth poorest country in the world, has become a transit hub for the cocaine from Columbia into Europe. It has been dubbed “Africa’s first narco-state.”
6. São Tomé and Príncipe
São Tomé and Príncipe consists of two archipelagos on the western coast of Central Africa. The islands were uninhabited until the Portuguese settled there in the late 1400s, and it became a depot for the African slave trade. Portuguese Jews were expelled here too during the Inquisition. In the 16th century, the settlement was the leading exporter of sugar, but today its main export is coca. 95% of its population of 200,000 speaks Portuguese, and the rest speak Portuguese-based creoles. The first multi-party elections were held in 1991, and since then, free and fair elections have regularly taken place in contrast to most other African countries.
Portuguese is the sixth most spoken language in the world. I hope that this article on Portuguese Speaking Countries in Africa was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Country Rankings Page!