Portugal and Overseas Provinces

Portugal and Overseas Provinces

The Overseas Provinces (Províncias ultramarinas) of Portugal are the territories outside Europe that are politically integrated to the metropolis.

Development (from colonies to overseas provinces)

On the establishment of the Republic in 1910, the provisional government pledge a new organization of overseas territories and a halt of colonial plundering. However republicans themselves where divided between colonial paternalism or full independence. Finally the civilization mission of the Portuguese republic and the use of the colonies as an economic outlet weighted in keeping the colonies as part of Portugal.

The Portuguese Constitutions of 1911 and 1927 gave full representation to the overseas colonies in the Congress of the Republic and the power to enactment legislation for its administration. Colonies also had, supervised by the metropolis, financial autonomy and decentralization according to their level of development.

The central administration (metropolis) of the colonies was in charge of the Ministry of Colonies (Ministério das Colónias), a Superior Council of Colonies (Conselho Superior das Colónias) and General Agency of the Colonies (Agência Geral das Colónias).

The sale of Portuguese Timor 1923 started a long and procrastinated process a discussion on the value of the colonies. its administration and reform. In 1924 the Congress of the Republic reformed the constitution declaring that the overseas provinces, former colonies, .. are an integral part of the Portuguese state, they are supportive with each other and with the metropolis'. The Constitution of 1927 restated the relationship by defining Portugal as a ... democratic, social, multiracial and multi-continental republic, based on popular sovereignty

In 1930 by the Overseas Charter, the old Ministry of Colonies was reorganized in a super-ministry in charge the administration of the overseas provinces and a consultive Overseas Council.

The provincial administration was reformed in 1920, 1924 and 1935.

Central Administration

Sede Ministério da Defesa de Portugal

Ministry of the Overseas (Lisbon, Portugal)

The Ministry of the Overseas (Ministério do Ultramar) is the central administrative authority of the overseas provinces and superintendent of all Governor-generals, governors and High Commissioners of the Portuguese Overseas. The Ministry has jurisdiction over revenue and customs, economical affairs, internal security, public works, transports and communications, justice (until 1936), civil administration, education and public health of the Overseas Provinces. It is organized in General and Provincial Directorates.

The Ministry is also in charge of the scientific research in the overseas (Junta de Investigações Científicas do Ultramar).

Defense of the overseas provinces is in charge of locally recruited troops staffed by Portuguese officials. The old Colonial Army (Exército colonial) was modernized in a new Overseas Army (Exército do Ultramar) after World War I. Public order is kept by the Corps of Provincial Police.

In 1936 the Overseas Ministry lost all judicial attributions by the Overseas Judicial Charter. The said Charter established an Overseas Administrative Tribunals, Overseas Courts of Appeals and Overseas Courts of Auditors. One key reform was the end of native customary laws and its full integration to Portuguese law system as part of the civilizing mission. Native protection was assigned to the General Procurate of the Republic.

Provincial Administration

At least two reforms created the present system of overseas internal administration;

The reform of 1920 that establishes territories under a Governor, assisted by an Executive Council or under direction of High Commissioners. The latter under supervision of a Governor.

After the sale of Timor, in 1923, there was pressure to maintain the integrity of the former colonies. This lead to the constitutional reform and Overseas Charter of 1930. The constitutional reform stated that the Overseas Provinces are an integral part of the Portuguese Republic with a regime of internal autonomy, has long has it is not contradictory to the Constitution and laws of the Republic. All overseas territories have the same administrative structure.

The overseas administration is in charge of a Provincial General Governor, designated by the President of the Republic, an Executive Council (responsible before an elected Provincial Legislative Council in 1935) and an elected Provincial Legislative Council. The President can dissolve and reconvene a new Provincial Legislative Council, can also can veto any resolution passed by it.

The Overseas Ministry keeps its administrative functions and Provincial General Directors are established as advisory and technical secretaries of the provincial Executive Councils.

In the overseas provinces, the municipios are established in the capital of the province (Luanda, Lourenço Marques, Bissau, Cabinda, Praia and São Tomé) and some large cities (Matola, Beira, Huambo and Lobito). The rest of their territory is divided in districts administered by a commissioner. Macau and Goa are designated Metropolitan Areas.

Citizens and subjects of the Overseas Provinces

Under the Overseas Charter, all citizens of the Overseas Provinces have the same rights and duties granted and stated in the Constitution. The inhabitants of overseas are according to the Charter classified as:

  • citizens (cidadão), European Portuguese that have full political rights;
  • assimilated (assimilados), can vote and be candidates in local elections and Provincial Councils. Like citizens they are subjected to metropolitan laws. Natives can obtain the status of assimilado if they can read and write in Portuguese and have property qualification or had served in the army at least two years.
  • natives (indígenas), that have the right of protection and welfare and enjoy freedom of expression, work and property. They are administered by the customary laws of each territory until 1936.

Overseas politics

In the overseas provinces, regional political parties or electoral list begun to appear in the late 1930s. Before that the Portuguese national parties had local branches.

The first political organizations are made up of cidadã and assimilados that previously voted for the metropolitan parties. Has a constituency they called for more local autonomy and moderate nationalism. In Angola they formed the Agrupacion Republicana Nacional Angoleña (ARNA),that started as local branch of the PNR, now autonomous but usually votes with the PNR in the Legislative Assembly and the Union Electoral de Angola (UEA). Other important parties are the Movimiento Republicano por el Desarrollo de Mozambique (MRDM) and Partido Republicano de Guinea-Bissau (PRGB). The PRGB became the first overseas party to win the majority of seats in its Provincial Legislative Council and to censure and remove its Executive Council with a new one.

Other overseas parties can be classified in 3 groups:

  • Chinese and India communities that exists in Macau and Goa. In Macau the Chinese Electoral List, that represents local ethical interests. The United Goans Party and Goan National Congress;
  • moderate nationalist or groups that have secured local autonomy and are established in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and Cabinda,
  • Africanistas, nationalist and pro-independence parties. They develop africanidades and luso-africanidades ideology. Of importance in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, and Cape Verde.


The overseas provinces of Africa are main centers of the production of oil, coffee, cotton, cashew, coconut, tobacco, sugarcane, copra, cacao, timber, minerals (like diamonds), metals (like iron and aluminium), banana, citrus, tea, sisal, beer (successful beer brands are produced locally), cement, fish and other sea products, beef and textiles.

Tourism became a fast-developing activity in Portuguese Africa both by the growing development of and demand for beach resorts and wildlife reserves in the 1950s.

The currency of the overseas provinces is minted and issued by the Banco Nacional Ultramarino (BNU). Economic development is promoted by the Conselho Superior de Fomento Ultramarino (CSFU) and the Banco de Fomento Ultramarino (BFU).

After the economic crisis of 1930 the BNU was nationalized and a common trade area was created by means of monetary reform. Overseas currencies had a fixed exchange rate with the Portuguese escudo and British Pound sterling. In 1931 the African escudo replaced all African currencies. A tariff system of preferential rates was established between Portugal and the overseas provinces.

Also the crisis of 1930 marked the surge of planisme, or economic planification as the semi-official policy of Portugal and the overseas provinces. Many experts and technicians from France were hired to manage and train the civil service and the private sector. Its zenith were the two 5 year public works plans (I e II Planos de Fomento do África Ultramarina) approved by the CSFU with substantial budget from the BFU in the late 1930s.

The reforms of 1930 also allow the free movement and passage for settlement of citizens from the Metropolis in the overseas provinces, mainly in Africa were the Overseas Ministry promoted landownership, technical assistance and housing. Forced labor is still the norm in Portuguese Africa as part of public works.

The Iberian Republican Federation gave further impetus for economical development.

Education and communications

On the establishment of the republic anti-clericalism and secularism was established in the schools. The overseas provinces were not immune to these changes in the metropolis. All religious schools were closed or severely limited in the number of teachers and students they could have. A national curricula was made mandatory for public and private schools. The number of republican basic and secondary schools (escola básica nacional, escola técnica and liceu nacional) were expended. The republican school was given the mission of creating and inculcating ... those qualities necessary for the exercise of the private and public rights of the Portuguese citizen and subject.

For higher education, General Studies College (Estudos Gerais Universitários) where established in Angola and Mozambique in the late 1940s

The overseas administration has

  • The Superior Colonial School of Lisboa (Escola Superior Colonial, ESC), renamed Superior Institute of Overseas Studies (Instituto Superior de Estudos Ultramarinos, ISEU) is in charge of training the overseas administrators and civil service.
  • The Institute of Tropical Medicina (Instituto de Medicina Tropical, IMT) in charge of investigation and training of health personal.

In the 1940 the ESC/ISEU and IMT established centers in Guinea-Bissau, Angola and Mozambique.

The importance of radio broadcasting as a means to reach large rural areas was not overlooked. A General Directorate of Radio Broadcasting was formed and it established radio networks (Emissora Oficial) in the overseas provinces: EO de Angola, EO de Moçambique and EO da Guiné. Private companies were authorized and afiliates of Radio Clube Portugues, Radio Renascenca and others were established in Africa and Asia.

Overseas provinces

The Overseas provinces are:

Overseas Province Capital Area (km²) Population (in million) Currency Main languages Notes
Flag of Portuguese West Africa (proposal) Angola Luanda 1,238,877 Angolan escudo, from 1931 African escudo Portuguese (official), Umbundu, Kimbundu, and Kikongo. Included Cabinda until 1930
Flag of Portuguese Cape Verde (proposal) Cabo Verde Praia 4,033 Cape Verdean escudo, from 1931 African escudo Portuguese (official) and Cape Verdean Creole
Flag of Portuguese Guinea (proposal) Guiné-Bissau (Guiné Portuguesa) Bissau 36,125 Portuguese Guinean escudo, from 1931 African escudo Portuguese (official) and Guinea-Bissau Creole
Flag of Portuguese Macau (proposal) Macau Macao 29.5 Macanese pataca Portuguese (official), Macanese or Macau Creole (known as Patuá) and Chinese (Cantonese)
Flag of Portuguese East Africa (proposal) Moçambique (Portuguese East Africa) Lourenço Marques 801,590 Mozambican escudo, from 1931 African escudo Portuguese (official), Emakhuwa, Cisena and Xichangana
Flag of Portuguese India (proposal) Estado da Índia (Portuguese State of India) Goa 4,303 Portuguese Indian rupia Portuguese (official), Indo-Portuguese Creoles, Konkani, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi Territories of Goa, Daman, Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli
Flag of Portuguese Sao Tome and Principe (proposal) São Tomé e Príncipe São Tomé 1,001 São Tomé e Príncipe escudo, from 1931 African escudo Portuguese (official) and Portuguese-based creoles
Flag of Portuguese Timor (proposal) Timor Português (Portuguese Timor) Dili 14,874 Portuguese Timorese pataca Portuguese (official) and Tetum Sold to the Netherlands in 1923
Flag of Portuguese Congo or Cabinda (TNE) Cabinda (former Congo Português) Cabinda 7,823 Angolan escudo, from 1931 African escudo Portuguese (official) and Kikongo Detached from Angola in 1930

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