Angola Modern History

By | January 31, 2023

Angola is a country located in Central Africa. With the capital city of Luanda, Angola has a population of 32,866,283 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. In the mid-1900s, organized resistance to the oppression of the Portuguese colony of Angola began. Three rival liberation movements were formed and supported in various political camps abroad. A regime change in Portugal in 1974 opened the way for independence. It was proclaimed in November 1975, but mutual fighting had already erupted. They came on and on until 2002, mainly between the ruling MPLA, which had the support of Cuba and the Soviet Union, and the guerrilla Unita with backing from the US and South Africa. MPLA has retained power even after 2002.

The Portuguese used local contradictions in the colony of Angola and managed to play different groups against each other. Educated Angolans, so-called assimilados (adapted), were largely isolated from society at large. Other population of Portuguese called Indigenas (native), controlled by means of mandatory identification card.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Angola. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

In the 1950s, political opposition to colonial power grew. Educated Africans and mastics had, among other things, come into contact with modern political ideas such as Marxism and anti-imperialism. In the past, individual ethnic groups had resisted Portuguese colonialism, but the young educated men wanted to fight for all the people of Angola. In 1956 they founded the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).

In the early 1960s tensions increased. The opponents moved to fight the colonial power with guerrilla raids, which were answered with severe retaliation against the population. Many well-to-do Portuguese then left the country. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Angola.

Rival liberation movements

The attempt to create a unified national resistance failed. Those who guarded their roots in the tribal culture were dissatisfied with the prominent role of the masters in the MPLA. Holden Roberto from the Bakongo people formed in 1962 his own liberation movement, the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA).

From this movement, the Ovimbundul leader Jonas Savimbi broke out four years later and formed the National League for Angola’s total liberation (Unita). Both Holden Roberto and Savimbi had contacts with the United States and they were encouraged early by the Washington government, which had noted MPLA’s contacts with foreign Communist parties. A special liberation movement for the province of Cabinda in the north, the Liberation Front for the Cabinda Enclave (Frente para a Libertação do Enclave de Cabinda, Flec), was formed in 1963 but eventually split.

The rival liberation movements sought political support abroad. The MPLA received weapons and money from the then Soviet Union. From the Nordic countries, including Sweden, assistance was provided to healthcare and education. FNLA was assisted by the then Zaire (now Congo-Kinshasa) and family members there (FNLA leader Roberto was inducted into Zaires President Mobutu Sese Seko’s family). China, which wanted to counteract a growing Soviet influence in Africa, had contacts with both FNLA and Unita. Savimbi’s movement established its headquarters in neighboring Zambia and received its main support from the US and South Africa. Gradually, the African states’ cooperative organization OAU (now the African Union, AU) joined MPLA.

The rivalry between the movements led to fighting between them, which weakened the struggle against colonial power. However, the situation changed completely through the military coup in Portugal in 1974. The new leaders in Lisbon wanted to withdraw from the colonies. In Angola, however, none of the liberation movements were strong enough to control the entire country. MPLA had a strong position in Luanda and other cities as well as in some rural areas, especially around the capital. FNLA ruled Bakongoland against the border with Zaire, while Unita had dominion over southern and eastern Angola.

The Civil War erupts

The leaders of the three liberation movements nevertheless managed to agree on joint negotiations with Portugal on independence. In January 1975, an agreement was concluded that the colonial rule would end on November 11 and that the three groups would share power in a transitional government that would organize general elections.

However, a few weeks after the agreement, FNLA, encouraged by the US intelligence service CIA and with the support of Zairian troops, attacked MPLA’s positions. MPLA managed to retain the capital and push back FNLA.

Unita gave up its attempts to mediate between FNLA and MPLA and deployed its own troops to try to reach Luanda. The attack was supported by South African soldiers, who in October 1975 crossed the border to the south. The South African government wanted MPLA removed, fearing that an MPLA regime would allow the Namibian liberation movement Swapo to have its bases in Angola.

As the war approached the capital, an overwhelming majority of the approximately 340,000 white residents quickly left the country and brought with them everything they could – cars, machines, factory fittings and more. Other was destroyed so that the Angolans could not benefit from it.

Strongly crowded from two directions, MPLA leader Agostinho Neto asked the former Eastern bloc for help. Cuban troops flew from Havana to Luanda in an Soviet-style air bridge. The Cubans managed to push back the storm. South Africans did not want to increase their efforts without US support. Washington, however, did not dare to support South Africa and its racist white regime, openly in a military operation in Angola, for public and international reasons. Therefore, the South Africans withdrew in early 1976, and the Cubans, together with the MPLA’s forces, were able to defeat the rival liberation movements on the battlefield.

MPLA forms a one-party state

While the fighting was going on, the Marxist MPLA had declared the country’s independence on the day agreed, on November 11, 1975. The aim of the movement was to create a “revolutionary democratic dictatorship”. The economy was nationalized in 1976. However, almost all production fell sharply and behind this was a failed policy, the emigration of the Portuguese and not least the continuing war.

The MPLA did not allow opposition parties and did not allow for free debate. In March 1976, the party leadership turned down an attempt to protest against the hard line of the party and against what was seen as a new privileged class made up of government members and government officials.

The following year, a faction within the MPLA with support from parts of the military tried to overthrow the government. The direct background was dissatisfaction with the great influence of the masters in government and government, but also a reaction to President Neto’s way of ruling the country and to the exclusion of intellectuals from leading positions. The government turned down the coup attempt and between 4,000 and 6,000 people are estimated to have “disappeared” in a persecution campaign against trade union, women’s and youth movements as well as provincial bodies and armed forces.

Nor was the civil war over. Admittedly, FNLA and Flec ceased to be serious threats following a rapprochement between President Neto and Zaire’s President Mobutu in 1978. But Unita was able to continue its military struggle thanks to the loyalty of the movement’s traditional sympathizers among the Ovimbundu people and not least the support of the US and South Africa. President Neto died in 1979 and was succeeded by the then relatively unknown José Eduardo dos Santos.

Peace agreement concluded 1991

In practice, there was war between the governments of Angola and South Africa. Angola supported Swapo’s demand for independence for Namibia. Swapo was allowed to operate from Angola and South African troops went far inland to strike the guerrillas. The MPLA government stopped using oil revenues off the Atlantic coast and widened its international contacts with China and the EC (the current EU).

In connection with a Namibia independence agreement in 1988, Angola and Cuba agreed with South Africa that the close to 50,000 Cuban soldiers would be gradually withdrawn from Angola. This also happened according to the plans.

At the same time, US involvement in Angola increased. In the early 1990s, Unita received large military and financial resources from Washington and was able to establish itself in northern Angola where the country’s diamond deposits are located. As a result, a 1989 ceasefire was broken and the country was thrown into devastating civil war again. The strengthened Unita challenged the MPLA government and threatened for the first time since independence the capital Luanda.

However, with the support of Portugal, the US and the Soviet Union, a peace agreement was reached in 1991 between the MPLA, which had now officially abandoned Marxism-Leninism, and Unita. Thus, for the first time in 15 years, a period of peace began in Angola. The parties agreed, among other things, that their soldiers would be partially disarmed and merged into a new national army and that multi-party would be held 18 months after the signing of the agreement. Unita was the largest of the many opposition movements that could now form legal political parties. But UN-led disarmament surveillance was inadequate and Unita hid large armed forces. However, elections to the presidential post and the National Assembly were carried out as planned in September 1992 with close to 90 percent participation.

Multi-party systems are introduced; war breaks out again

Neither of the two candidates, MPLA’s José Eduardo dos Santos and Unitas Jonas Savimbi, achieved the 50 percent required to win the presidential election in the first round. When the official results of the parliamentary elections showed victory for MPLA with 129 seats against Unitas 70, Savimbi accused the government and the Election Commission of cheating. Unita withdrew from the newly formed national army and a few weeks after the election, new fighting broke out. No other round in the presidential election came to fruition. The UN designated Unita as responsible for the new outbreak of war and banned the supply of arms and oil to the movement.

The devastation was now greater in two years than during the previous two decades of war. At least half a million people were killed and maybe three million were forced to flee their homes. Infrastructure, education, health care and industry were razed. The worst affected were the Huambo Province. Unita was initially given a military takeover, as the MPLA army had given away more weapons and the Cuban soldiers had gone home. But the government hired South African “advisers”, ie mercenaries, and eventually recovered lost land.

In the fall of 1994, the new government army had almost killed Unita in ruins, which led to a peace agreement between dos Santos and Savimbi at the end of the year in Zambia’s capital Lusaka. Unita pledged to surrender its lands to the government and to disarm its forces.

However, Unita disagreed about the agreement. Parts of the government army also protested, believing that Unita could have been finally crushed unless the government bowed to the US’s willingness to spare Savimbi. Both sides mobilized again and Angola entered a period of minor clashes but without full war.

At a meeting between the two in 1995, Unital leader Savimbi said he would accept dos Santos as president and promised to support a national reconstruction. An agreement was made on an amended constitution with two vice presidents, one post reserved for Unita, which was also offered several ministerial posts in the government. The following year, the parties decided that a national unity government should be formed.

Unita is split and radicalized

But in essence, Savimbi never accepted the 1992 election defeat, and Unita’s participation in the peace process became half-hearted. It was not until 1997 that the Unity and Reconciliation Government could take office, but Savimbi himself was absent on the grounds that he feared for his safety. At the end of 1997 and in 1998, Unita was pressured to hand over control of key diamond districts to the government.

In addition to MPLA and Unita, the Unity Government included a dozen smaller parties. However, the political slump was short-lived. Despite tightened UN sanctions against Unita, the movement delayed the surrender of important lands to the unity government. In 1998, the party was excluded from government and parliament. Then a number of Unita’s members and parliamentarians broke with Savimbi and formed a new party, which, however, failed to gather any strong support abroad.

After the split of Unita, Savimbi’s line hardened and his army escalated the war. The UN had failed to control Unita’s disarmament and the movement had left about 35,000 soldiers equipped with tanks as well as air defense. Savimbi conquered a large number of rural towns and was considered to control more than half of Angola by the end of 1998. Then the government army went on a broad offensive with the goal of crushing guerrillas. Again a full civil war prevailed.

Despite the sanctions against Unita, the rebel movement took over, partly because thousands of government soldiers were included in the Congo-Kinshasa civil war (see Foreign Policy and Defense). Unita surrounded the cities of Kuito, Huambo and Malanje, among others. Most inland roads were cut off and auxiliary columns were attacked by guerrillas. In early 1999, UN personnel warned of a humanitarian disaster in Angola. The country was estimated to have around one million internal refugees and a large part of these could only be reached by air bridge. Two of the UN transport plan were postponed, the blame was laid on Unita and the UN withdrew its observer power from Angola.

Savimbi is killed; peace agreement 2002

However, the war hardened Unita’s resources and the movement increasingly turned to guerrilla warfare. In 2001, Unita carried out several bloody attacks in the metropolitan area. The situation changed in February 2002, when government forces tracked Savimbi to the Province of Mexico and killed him in a firefight.

Following pressures from the outside world, UN-supervised negotiations began to revive the 1994 Lusaka agreement. In April 2002, Savimbi’s temporary successor Paulo “Gato” Lukamba and President dos Santos met in Luanda and a ceasefire agreement was signed. The 27-year civil war was thus over.

According to the amnesty law for Unita members adopted in Parliament, the approximately 80,000 Unitas soldiers would return to civilian life or be integrated into the country’s armed forces. Initially, they would gather in special detention camps. The new government that was formed included four Ministers from Unita. The UN Security Council abolished the sanctions against Unita.

Unita’s control over large parts of the diamond-rich provinces in the northeast had funded its war and secured some support from the western world. Diamond smuggling had brought in many billions of dollars. In 2002, Unita handed over its last diamond mines to the government. However, the extensive illegal extraction and smuggling continued in the often lawless areas at least until 2004 (see Foreign Policy and Defense).

Unita’s participation in the unity government created problems for the party. Internal disagreement increased, and the MPLA-controlled intelligence service managed to infiltrate Unita and bribe members to switch sides. Several were excluded and a breaker fraction was formed.

Reconstruction with oil money

The military was now relatively calm after the war years, which gave momentum to the oil industry and made it possible to start rebuilding the broken country. The oil and construction boom boosted the collapsed economy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated in 2007 that Angola had a GDP growth of 23 percent. At the same time, the IMF noted that there was no transparency in the lucrative state oil and diamond companies. The answer to the criticism of corruption was that Angola broke with the IMF.

The general elections that would have been held as early as 1997 had been delayed repeatedly, first by the resumed war. Then the government argued that the infrastructure needed to be improved and the disarmament of civilians – especially former Unitas soldiers – would be terminated. A complicated registration of voters would also be implemented. Finally, the MPLA-dominated election commission set the date for parliamentary elections until September 2008.

Unita’s election message was about the major economic injustices. Despite five years of peace and despite the oil wealth, a large part of the population lived in poverty and suffered from malnutrition. Unita invested in the residents of Luanda’s and Lobito’s large slums, where over a third of the country’s voters lived. At the same time, MPLA’s candidates, of which more than 40 percent were women, claimed that an increasing number of Angolans benefited financially, not least from the construction boom.

Big rolling victory for MPLA

MPLA won the election overwhelmingly and received almost 82 percent of the vote and 191 of the 220 seats (excluding three seats from Angolans abroad). Just over 10 percent of the vote went to Unita, which received only 16 seats and thus lost much of the state party support.

Union leader Isaias Samakuva accused the regime of electoral fraud. The political elite’s almost complete control over the mass media and other institutions had favored the MPLA in the election. It was also reported that opposition activists were harassed, and that voters were both mutilated and threatened to vote for the MPLA. Many voting lengths were missing, polling stations were closed and voting had to be extended an extra day. However, both Unita and the EU broadcast observers accepted how the election was conducted.

In 2009, presidential elections would have been held, but it was postponed pending a new constitution. In January 2010, Parliament voted for a new constitution. It abolished direct presidential elections and strengthened the president’s power. Unita boycotted the vote and accused the government of trying to crush democracy.

In connection with the so-called Arab Spring 2011, calls for protests against social divisions, corruption and human rights violations began to circulate in Angola as well. The messages were spread through social media and young activists organized peaceful demonstrations in the capital Luanda and in the provincial capitals. The activists demanded the departure of President dos Santos. Although the protests never gathered more than a few hundred protesters at a time, those who protested death threats and arrests, according to human rights organization Human Rights Watch. Protests against the arrests were met by indiscriminate violence. In May 2012, two activists were murdered by the security service and in November of the same year another activist was killed by a member of the President’s Guard.

Despite the unrest, the MPLA won the parliamentary elections in August 2012. As in the 2008 election, the MPLA emerged as the only real guarantor of continued peace and stability, but the party made a worse election than 2008 (read more about the election in the Calendar).

Angola Modern History