Sunday, June 8, 2008
Angola shares the same motto as Andorra - Virtus Unita Fortior, a Latin phrase meaning "Virtue united is stronger." However, the Andorrans appear to live peaceably together, with their neighbours and visiting foreign guests (all in accordance with that motto), and thus they enjoy an average lifespan of 83 years or so; whereas the average Angolan can expect to live a meagre 41 years. Let's try to understand why.
Located in south-central Africa, Angola (officially Republika ya Ngola), is the second-largest petroleum and diamond producer in sub-Saharan Africa today. The economy of Angola is, encouragingly, the fastest growing in Africa. Yet its people (Ovimbundu, Bakongo, Chokwe, Ganguela, Nhaneca-Humbe, Ambo, Herero, Xindunga and mestiços) are among the continent's poorest people.
The people of this country have endured 500 years of Portuguese colonisation, 14 years of the Guerra Colonial / Guerra de Libertação, a subsequent long running civil war and the effects of the Cold War between the United States of America and the (since dissolved) Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik.
When Portuguese mariner Diogo Cão landed at the mouth of the Congo River in 1483, two distinct African Kingdoms ruled the region. The Kingdom of the Bakongo reigned in the north. The Ovimbundos Kingdom, also known as Ndongo, dominated in the western and central areas. The land of the Ovimbundos was called "Ngola".
Portuguese colonisers – a hundred families and four hundred soldiers – arrived in Ngola in 1575. Their leader, Paulo Dias de Novais (grandson of Bartolomeu Dias) had his eye on the silver mines of Cambambe. However, the Portuguese were to set about trade in men, not metal. To put sugar in their pantries they had inhabited the islands of São Tomé and Santo Antão (Príncipe) and sought slaves to work on plantations they'd established there. So they launched the Kwata! Kwata! (To Catch! To Catch!), using other Africans to raid, to capture and forceably remove the Mbundu and BaKongo.
Their brisk trade in slaves brought more colonists and the Portuguese settlements around Luanda grew rapidly. Luanda became the greatest slaving port in Africa. By the end of the 16th century an annual average of 5,000 to 10,000 slaves were leaving Luanda for Brazil.
Portuguese rule in Angola was deeply racist. The Portuguese who immigrated to Angola were frequently deserters, degredados, peasants, and others who had been unable to succeed in Portugal or elsewhere in the Portuguese-speaking world. Enslaved Africans were branded with irons, as if they were animals. Besides exporting them, Europeans in Angola kept slaves as porters, soldiers, agricultural laborers, and as workers at jobs that the Portuguese considered too menial to do themselves.
Whilst slaves were used first on the engenhos (sugar plantations) on the nearby Portuguese-claimed islands, the Portugeuse would soon see a need to export and exploit Angloan people elsewhere. The supply of slaves to work the engenhos of Brazil would bleed Angola of its native population. Angolan territory was estimated to have 18 million inhabitants before the Portuguese came to colonise it. In 1850, only 8 million native people remained in their homeland (and there were just under 5 million in 1960). It is estimated that as many as 4 million Angolans were sold into slavery, most of them bound for Brazil. The slave trade severely weakened the cultural and economic integrity of the African tribes and caused resentment between people groups that lasts even to this day.
In time, the independence of Brazil from Portugal (in 1822) ended the export of enslaved Angolans to Brazil. In 1836, the shipping of slaves from Angola was banned, but slavery remained legal in the Portuguese empire until 1875. The Portuguese in Angola looked to make productive use of indigenato who could no longer be sold abroad as slaves. They began using concessional agreements, granting exclusive rights to private companies to exploit land, people, and all other resources within a given territory. Fazendas (farms) and engenhos were established to grow cash crops for export.
From the late 1870s through the early 1890s, Portugal renewed its expansion into the Angolan interior. The encroachment lead to continual outbreaks of warfare with the local rulers of the Kongo, Mbundu and Ovambo peoples. Instead of "slavery," the Portuguese instituted “corrective work” for indigenato on the sugar, coffee and cotton plantations.
In 1884, on the initiative of Portugal, the German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, called on representatives of Austria–Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway (in union at that time), the Ottoman Empire, and the United States to take part in the Kongokonferenz (the Berlin Conference of 1884). Although controlling the slave trade and promoting humanitarian idealism were promoted as the focus of the conference, the conference only passed empty resolutions about the ending of slave trade and providing for the welfare of Africa. In truth, the result of the Conference was a method of dividing the continent of Africa between the European powers.
Other, more powerful European states of the nineteenth century had explored central Africa, so it was they, not Portugal, and certainly not Angolans, who determined Angola's boundaries. The west coast territory Portugal acquired included the left bank of the Congo River and the Cabinda enclave. Britain forced Portugal to withdraw from Nyasaland (present-day Malawi) and Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe and Zambia).
In 1899, Henrique Mitchell de Paiva Cabral Couceiro published a volume in which he advocated white colonisation, decentralisation of administration from Lisbon, and the necessity of inculcating in the Africans the "habit of work." As governor general of Angola between 1907 and 1910, Couceiro prepared the basis of civil administration in the colony. Military officers were to oversee administrative divisions, and through them "European civilisation was to be brought to the Africans."
The alleged justification for Portuguese colonisation in Africa had long been "to bring civilisation" to Africans. Yet during the first four and a half centuries of Angolan colonisation, the Portuguese had treated the Africans as little more than a resource of unpaid labour. Prior to the second half of the nineteenth century, most of the battles between Portuguese and Africans revolved around the slave trade. Following the Berlin Conference Portuguese attacks were principally motivated by desires for territorial conquest and the subjugation of the African peoples.
Portuguese attacks and African counterattacks in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries — euphemistically called the 'wars of pacification' — began in the south against the Ovambo, who battled for more than a quarter of a century. The wars spread to the Bie Plateau in 1902, when the normally pacific Ovimbundu revolted against labour conditions, the rum trade, and Portuguese interruption of the rubber trade. The Portuguese then attacked the Dembos in the north, sparking a conflict that continued until 1920. One by one the local polities were overwhelmed and abolished.
In 1912 diamonds were discovered in Angola. Five years later a consortium of Belgian, British, and Portuguese investors created the Companhia de Diamantes de Angola (Diamang) and monopolised diamond mining in Angola. Diamond mining started in earnest in the 1920s. Portuguese control over Angola tightened.
In 1921 the colonial administration divided the Angolan civil service into European and African branches and assigned mestiços and a few African assimilados to the latter, thereby limiting their chances of rising in the colonial bureaucracy. By 1929, the Portuguese had enacted statutes limiting the bureaucratic level to which mestiços and assimilados could rise to that of first clerk.
At this point we must look at a little Portuguese history. For in 1926 a military coup led to the establishment of a one party state in Portugal.
General Antonio Carmona ceased the role of prime minister. By 1928 he was "elected" president for life and instituted Ditadura Nacional. In 1932 Carmona passed his power to Salazar, António de Oliveira Salazar, who had worked as his minister of finance and then as also as prime minister. A year later Salazar introduced a new constitution. It gave him wide powers, establishing an anti-parliamentarian and authoritarian, almost fascist government and corporatist state.
In terms of colonial economic policy this meant an attempt to maximise wealth extraction, coupled with autarchic trading policies which made the colonies captive markets for Portuguese goods. Foreign investment in the colonies was generally discouraged; commercial opportunities were to be exploited by Portuguese alone. Along with this went compulsory production in the colonies of the raw materials needed to feed the industries of Portugal. Compulsory crop cultivation was supplemented by forced labour and higher taxation levels.
Portugal's policies toward Angola in the 1930s and 1940s were based on the principle of national integration. Economically, socially, and politically, Angola was to become an integral part of the Portuguese nation. Salazar's settlement policies contributed to the spread of anti-colonial resentment in Angola, especially after 1945. His policies resulted in increased competition for employment and growing racial friction. In 1951 the Portuguese dictator changed the status of Portugal’s colonies to overseas provinces in his Estado Novo (New State).
The authoritarian Salazar regime frequently used African informants to ferret out signs of political dissidence. Censorship, border control, police action, and control of education all retarded the development of African leadership. Angolans studying in Portugal -- and therefore exposed to "progressive" ideas -- were sometimes prevented from returning home. Political offences brought severe penalties, and the colonial administration viewed African organisations with extreme prejudice.
Yet the Africans of Angola did form organisations to resist Portuguese colonial rule. Forms of anti-colonial protest did arise in Angola in the late 1940s. In Luanda, mestiços and assimilados began cultural protests calling for Angolan identity and self-determination. The Movimento dos Jovens Intelectuais (MJI) was formed in 1948 under the leadership of an Angolan poet, Viriato Clemente da Cruz. In 1950, Africans in Angola sent a letter to the United Nations calling for condemnation of Portugal and for Angola to be given protectorate status under United Nations supervision.
In 1953 Angolan nationalists founded the Partido da Luta Unida dos Africanos de Angola (PLUA), the first political party to advocate Angolan independence from Portugal. The Partido Comunista Angolano (PCA) was formed in October 1955 under the leadership of brothers, Mário Coelho Pinto de Andrade (a poet) and Joaquim Pinto de Andrade (a catholic priest).
In December 1956, the PCA merged with the PLUA to form the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA). Viriato da Cruz, the President of the PCA, became its Secretary General and Dr António Agostinho Neto was its President. Other movements soon merged into the MPLA, such as the Movimento para a Independência Nacional de Angola (MINA), which was formed in 1958, and the Frente Democrático de Libertação de Angola (FDLA), which was initially set-up as a parallel structure to the MPLA with support from the government of Congo-Brazzaville.
In 1960, Portuguese police arrested (for the third time) the MPLA's President, Agostinho Neto. His patients and supporters marched for his release from Bengo to Catete. Portuguese soldiers fired upon them, killing 30 and wounding 200 in the Massacre of Icolo e Bengo.
In January 1961 Angolans in the region of Baixa de Cassanje, in Malanje, boycotted working on the cotton fields of Portuguese, British and German owned COTONANG. They demanded fair wages and better working conditions. The Portuguese military responded to this "rebellion" by bombing villages in the region (allegedly using napalm) killing several thousand Angolans.
Several Angolan nationalist organisations had set up training camps and attracted external military aid. So in the summer of 1961, the Unão das Populações de Angola (UPA), which had strong support among the Bakongo and some rural Mbundu, formed a force of about 5,000 untrained and poorly armed troops. MPLA guerrillas, members of the Exército Popular de Libertação de Angola (EPLA), went to Morocco and Tunisia to train with Algerian forces (which was then fighting for their own national independence).
Soon they had carved out control of some of the country creating what the Portugeuse called Zona Sublevada do Norte (the Rebel Zone of the North). Early on the morning of 4 February 1961, several hundred Africans armed with knives and clubs attacked the principal political prison in Luanda. None of the prisoners were freed, yet forty of the MPLA men died and a vicious cycle commenced. Seven Portuguese police had been killed and following the funerals of the policemen, whites shot dead a number of African bystanders.
Militant Angolans attacked a second prison on 10 February 1961. The Portuguese reaction was brutal. The colonial forces responded by raining napalm and defoliants in a 'scorched earth' assault on 'nationalist' villages. The human cost was enormous: up to 50,000 Africans died, and about 10 percent of Angola's African population fled to Zaire.
Within a month, an insurrection broke out across a wide swathe of northern Angola. The UPA took advantage of the uprising and with its force of 5,000 took farms, government outposts, and trading centers. They killed everyone they encountered, whites, mestiços and blacks, particularly farm labouring Ovimbundu. Commenting on the insurrection, the UPA leader Holden Álvaro Roberto said, "This time the slaves did not cower. They massacred everything."
A month later, on 25 April 1961, Roberto, who had been inspired to begin his political career after witnessing Portuguese officials abusing an old man, shook the hand of John F. Kennedy, President of the United States of America. The U.S. government began aiding the UPA. In June 1961, the UPA formally established an armed wing, the Exército de Libertação de Angola (ELNA).
Portuguese reinforcements began to arrive at the beginning of May 1961. The Portuguese retaliation was fierce and indiscriminate. Aircraft bombed and strafed villages in and outside the affected area, while troops and settler militias conducted a terror campaign on the ground. The Portugeuse unleashed their Batalhões de Caçadores Pára-quedistas (Paratrooper Hunter Battalions) and Caçadores Especiais (Special Hunters). Six months later some 40,000 Africans had been killed and the Portuguese took back control of Pedra Verde, the UPA's last base in northern Angola. Guerrilla actions spread to other regions of Angola, such as Cabinda, the east, the southeast and the central plateaus.
A year later the UPA joined with the Partido Democrático de Angola (PDA) to form the Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola (FNLA) and the FNLA, still under the leadership of Holden Roberto, immediately proclaimed a Govêrno revolucionário de Angola no exílio (GRAE), a revolutionary government of Angola in exile (based in Kinshasa).
By 1963, with training and arms from Algeria, bases in Congo, and funds from the Organisation de l'Unité Africaine (OUA), the FNLA military and political organisation was becoming formidable. The FLNA drew support from various sources. After winning their independence in 1962, the Algerians supplied the FNLA with arms and ammunition. The French government also supplied it with men and an interest-free loan of 1 million pounds sterling. It also obtained aid from the United States and China.
Roberto declared his organisation to be the sole authority in charge of anti-Portuguese military operations inside Angola. He refused to merge his organisation with other budding nationalist movements, preferring to build the FNLA into an all-Angolan mass movement over which he would preside. Consequently, the anti-colonial Angolan guerrillas were seriously weakened by dissension and the conflict became stalemated.
Jonas Malheiro Savimbi, whom Roberto had appointed to be GRAE's Foreign Minister, left the FNLA in 1964. In response to Roberto's unwillingness to spread the war outside the traditional Kingdom of Kongo, he conceived the União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (UNITA) with Antonio da Costa Fernandes. Savimbi went to China for help and was promised arms and military training.
In 1964, António Agostinho Neto, the MPLA's leader, met the Argentine Marxist revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, and soon the MPLA received funding from República de Cuba, Deutsche Demokratische Republik (East Germany), and Sovetsky Soyuz (Soviet Union). After the independence of Zambia in 1964, the MPLA launched a guerrilla war, a Guerra de Libertação, starting in the Cabinda Province, an exclave separated from the rest of Angola by a strip of land belonging to Zaire. The going was tough. The MPLA encountered hostility in Cabinda not only from the Portugeuse, but also from a Cabindan seperatist movement, the Frente para a Libertação do Enclave de Cabinda (FLEC).
As it dragged on into the second half of the 1960s, the Guerra de Libertação became stalemated and soon the three nationalist groups (FNLA, MPLA and UNITA) also spent as much time fighting each other as they did fighting the Portuguese.
In 1965, Savimbi visited the United States. He stayed for a month and came back to Africa with military plans and U.S. support. In March 1966, he formally founded UNITA.
In May 1966, Daniel Chipenda, an Ovimbundu and member of the MPLA, opened the Eastern Front in the Moxico and Cuando-Cubango districts. This significantly expanded the MPLA's reach into Angola and the MPLA had become a greater threat to Portugal's colonial rule than the FNLA.
On Christmas Day in 1966, UNITA carried out its first attack on the Portugeuse. At Teixeira de Sousa on the border with Zambia it attempted to stop trains using the Benguela railway. Militarily it was a disaster; almost 300 guerrillas were killed. Politically it placed UNITA on the map. By 1970 UNITA was attempting to extend its influence westwards along the Benguela railway into the centre of the Ovimbundu communities. It met with opposition, not only from the Portuguese security services but also from MPLA forces.
The infighting amongst Angolans increased. The conflict in Angola was becoming an extension of the Cold War. The United States encouraged South African and involvementsends funds to the FNLA and UNITA.
Portugal was also able to receive support from South Africa in its Angolan campaign. South Africa saw itself as the only country on the continent that could stave off the "onslaught of communism" (and all the African independence movements struggling against colonial/white powers were considered "communist"). South African Air Force helicopters were sent to support the Portuguese against UNITA in 1967.
South African Defence Force (SADF) units engaged the MPLA forces in Moxico in February 1972, destroying the Eastern Front. Consequently, up until 1973, the Portuguese forces were able to inflict serious losses on the MPLA. As a result the MPLA was being wrenched apart by factionalism. In 1973, Daniel Chipenda led a rebellion of 1,500 former MPLA followers, the Revolta do Leste, in protest against the MPLA's mestiço-dominated leadership. That same year the Tanzanian President, Julius Nyerere, convinced the People's Republic of China, which had begun funding the MPLA in 1970, to ally with the FNLA against the MPLA. Roberto visited the PRC in December 1973 and secured Chinese support. By 1974, Mário Coelho Pinto de Andrade had also broken with the MPLA, forming another faction – the Revolta Activa. This lead the Soviet Union to cut off aid to the MPLA.
Portugal was winning the Guerra do Ultramar as the independence fighters fought each other, but then came the Revolução dos Cravos in Lisbon and on 25 April 1974 the government of Marcelo José das Neves Alves Caetano (Salazar's successor) was ousted, ending the Estado Novo. It also spelt the end of Portuguese rule in Angola.
The FNLA was once again by far the most formidable of the Angolan movements at this time, with greater size and more equipment in the hands of its armed wing. Roberto set about building upon this advantage by expanding his force of some 10,000 guerrillas (2,000 were operating inside Angola). Throughout July and August, the FNLA began to move additional forces into northern Angola, and stepped up its military activities against the Portuguese.
At first the MPLA, FNLA, and UNITA each negotiated peace agreements with the transitional Portuguese government and began to fight each other for control of Luanda and the country. By July 1974, Neto (MPLA), Roberto (FNLA), and Savimbi (UNITA) had met in Zaire and agreed to negotiate with the Portuguese as one political entity. In January 1975, they met again in Kenya and agreed to stop fighting each other, further outlining constitutional negotiations with the Portuguese. A week later they met for a third time in Alvor (in Portugal) and signed what became known as the Alvor Accords.
In accordance with the Alvor Accords, Agostinho Neto, the leader of the MPLA, declared the independence of the People's Republic of Angola on 11 November 1975. However, UNITA and the FNLA each also declared Angolan independence as the Social Democratic Republic of Angola based in Huambo and the Democratic Republic of Angola based in Ambriz. In Paris, FLEC, which was armed and backed by the French government, declared the independence of the Republic of Cabinda. A bloody struggle for power began.
An estimated 500,000 people were killed in the next 27 years as the Angolan Civil War became the largest, longest and most prominent armed conflict of the Cold War.
Cuba had been involved in Angola with the MPLA since the early 1960s and was, by the spring of 1975, actively training MPLA guerrillas. By May 1975, Cuban officers functioned as a form of general staff for Neto and the MPLA leaders. Consequently South Africa, with the covert assistance of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, began assisting UNITA and the FNLA in a bid to counter-act the rise of the MPLA and ensure that a pro-Western government prevailed.
The United States under President Gerald Ford, still stinging from the defeat in Vietnam, started a quarter of century of war in Angola when it backed a two-pronged invasion by Holden Roberto’s Front for the National Liberation of Angola (FNLA) from the Congo/Zaire and from South Africa in support of Savimbi’s UNITA. Ford had approved covert aid to UNITA and the FNLA through "Operation IA Feature" on 18 July 1975.
The South African Defence Force launched "Operation Savannah" and invaded Angola in force on the 2 October 1975. The bulk of the Cuban combat troops arrived after major South African attacks. Sixty Soviet officers that had been based in the Congo joined the Cubans on 12 November. The Soviet leadership expressly forbid the Cubans from intervening in Angola's civil war, focusing the mission on containing South Africa.
Afterwards Henry Kissinger, the U.S. Secretary of State under Presidents Nixon and Ford, would claim that the United States knew nothing about the South African invasion. Documents reveal that not only were the U.S. authorities forewarned, but they helped airlift men and materiel up to the front line. Their intention was to seize the capital, Luanda, before the MPLA could establish itself as Angola’s first independent government. The then U.S. Secretary of Defence, James R. Schlesinger, who had also been a member of Nixon's administration, is recorded saying that the U.S. "might wish to encourage the disintegration of Angola. Cabinda in the clutches of Mobutu would mean far greater security of the petroleum resources." Hundreds of Americans also fought as mercenaries and U.S. spotter planes flew missions over Angola from Zaire.
On 10 November the MPLA forces in the north defeated the FNLA in the Battle of Quifangondo and the FNLA retreated to Zaire. The New York Times of 16 December 1975 claimed that it was only the United States' "assistance" to UNITA and FNLA that stopped MPLA from taking the whole country.
By March of 1976, Cuba had sent around 36,000 troops to the region, mainly to provide logistical support to officers of Forças Armadas Populares de Libertação de Angola (FAPLA), Angola's official armed forces under the MPLA government. The MPLA offered bases in Angola to the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO); bases from which the Nambian liberation movement could launch attacks against the South African military. The ANC was also allowed to establish guerrilla training camps in Angola.
Now, not only was Angola caught up in its own civil war, it was drawn into the Namibian War of Independence. At first things went well for the MPLA trying to manage these two "fronts". With the assistance of Cuban troops, FAPLA had control over all southern cities by 1977, though roads in the south faced repeated UNITA attacks. Then the SADF planned to launch "Operation Bruilof," but instead launched its second major military operation in Angola — "Operation Reindeer" — attacking Chetequera and Dombondola (near to the then-South-West Africa/Angola border), as well as launching a heliborne assault on SWAPO's Omepepa-Namuidi-Henhombe base complex east of Chetequera. Also included was the attack the operation is most known for — an airborne assault by paratroopers on the town of Kassinga, 260 km inside Angola.
The massacre at Kassinga in May 1979, in which between 800 and 900 people were killed by the South African paratroopers, has been described as South African's equivalent of My Lai. Journalists reaching the town a day after were confronted by the horrific sight of the carnage caused by the SADF attack. Two mass graves – one covered up and apparently containing the bodies of 122 children and the other an open trench in which 582 victims were awaiting burial – provided evidence of the scale of the massacre.
In July 1979, Agostinho Neto issued a decree requiring all citizens to serve in the military for three years upon turning the age of eighteen. In September 1979, after Neto died, José Eduardo dos Santos took office as President of Angola, President of the MPLA, and Commander-in-Chief of FAPLA. Under dos Santos' leadership, Angolan troops crossed the border into Namibia for the first time in October 1979, going into Kavango.
In the 1980s, fighting spread outward from the southeast, where most of the fighting had taken place in the 1970s, and it involved increasing incursions by the SADF. The Angolan government recorded 529 instances in which South African forces violated Angola's territorial sovereignty between January and June 1980.
In June 1980, the SADF launched a full-scale invasion of Angola through Cunene and Cuando-Cubango. They succeeded in destroying the operational command headquarters of the Nambian liberation movement, in what then South African Prime Minister Botha described as a "shock attack."
In June 1985, American conservative activists held a symbolic meeting of anti-Communist militants, what they called the "Democratic International", at UNITA's headquarters in Jamba. Participants included Citizens For America members Lewis Lehrman and (now notorious neoconservative ex-"superlobbyist") Jack Abramoff, Jack Wheeler (an American conservative policy advocate), U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, Adolfo Calero (then leader of Nicaraguan Contras), Pa Kao Her (then Hmong Laotian rebel leader), Abdurrahim Wardak (an Afghan Mujahideen leader), members of South African security forces, and others.
By 1986, American conservatives increased their support for Savimbi's UNITA and the Soviet Union, Cuba and other East bloc nations were reacting by extending their support for the MPLA government.
In a January 1986 interview with Foreign Policy magazine, Savimbi had called the old Gulf Oil (by that time Chevron Corporation's) platforms in Angola a "target" for UNITA. U.S. President Ronald Reagan invited Savimbi to meet with him at the White House and following the meeting, Reagan spoke of UNITA winning a victory that "electrifies the world." Two months later, Reagan announced the delivery of Stinger surface-to-air missiles as part of a $25 million aid package UNITA received from the U.S. government.
In addition to escalating its military support for UNITA, the Reagan administration and its conservative allies also worked to expand recognition of Savimbi as a key U.S. ally in an important Cold War struggle. In response the Soviet Union gave an additional $1 billion in aid to the Angolan government and Cuba sent an additional 2,000 troops to the 35,000-strong force in Angola to protect Chevron oil platforms.
UNITA forces attacked the Cuanza Norte province town of Camabatela in February 1987, and in the following month UNITA massacred civilians in the town of Damba.
Between October 1987 and June 1988, the SADF fought pitched tank and artillery battles with the FAPLA and its Cuban supporters in the south of Angola. It was a turning point in the Angolan civil war, leading to the departure of Cuban, South African and other foreign troops from Angola and Namibia.
In August 1987, four brigades of the FAPLA forces departed from the Angolan city of Cuito Cuanavale with the aim of capturing the UNITA stronghold at Mavinga, which was the gateway to Jonas Savimbi's capital of Jamba (in the southeast of the country just above the finger of land called the Caprivi Strip).
The South African government responded to this FAPLA offensive by launching a series of military operations in conjunction with UNITA forces. They began with "Operation Modular", which involved SADF mechanised battalion equipped with "Olifant" Centurion Main Battle Tanks. FAPLA forces, not expecting the South Africans to attack directly from the south, were virtually destroyed in the Battle of the Lomba River.
Having gained the upper-hand with Operation Modular, South African and UNITA forces then launched "Operation Hooper" to inflict maximum casualties on the retreating FAPLA forces. After a string of defeats, FAPLA forces retreated to the strategically important town of Cuito Cuanavale.
The MPLA, fearing defeat, requested more help from Cuba and Fidel Castro responded by sending - in what was called Maniobra XXXI Aniversario de las FAR - more materiel and 15,000 elite troops to the MPLA's rescue. The first Cuban reinforcements arrived by helicopter in Cuito Cuanavale and repaired some damaged FAPLA equipment. This enabled FAPLA to halt the SADF advance. The SADF moved up reinforcements and then launched the first of what would prove to be five major ground assaults over several months on entrenched FAPLA positions east of the Tumpo river.
By 1988, it had become clear to all sides that a stalemate had been reached, and that a victory would not be achievable without a considerable escalation in the conflict. Since June 1987 there had been a series of peace discussions mediated by U.S. President Reagan's Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Chester Arthur Crocker. A Cuban delegation joined negotiations in January 1988, the South Africans participated from May, and in August "a de facto cessation of hostilities" was jointly announced by Angola, Cuba and South Africa.
UNITA, which at that time had an army of some 25,000 in Angola, was not party to the agreement and insisted that it would continue fighting. Its position was heavily supported by an American right-wing "think tank," the Heritage Foundation which called for continuing U.S. aid to UNITA "freedom fighters.".
A peace accord was finally signed by the parties in December 1988. South Africa and Cuba both agreed to the withdrawal of their troops from Angola, though the SADF had already effectively withdrawn from Angola some months earlier. The withdrawal of the SADF from Angola did not end the war. The army of UNITA continued fighting.
When George Bush senior came to power in the United States, American support for Savimbi's UNITA had reached a record $50 million. Two military supply flights a day maintained a UNITA campaign that became increasingly brutal and destructive. Whilst in the beginning Savimbi had enjoyed some support among his own Ovimbundu people, by the late 1980s he was reduced to naked coercion, forcing to fight for his army, forcing women into sexual slavery, and seizing the food of poor peasant farmers. Those who challenged his authority would be accused of witchcraft and burnt alive along with their families.
As per the Brazzaville Protocol and the December 1988 New York Accords, Cuban troops began withdrawing from Angola January 1989. They had completely withdrawn by May 1991.
With the Cubans completing their part of the agreement, UNITA and the Angolan government began six rounds of negotiations in April 1991. The sessions were mediated by the Portuguese government while officials from the U.S. and Soviet governments observed. The result was the Bicesse Accords, also known as the Estoril Accords, which laid out a transitional path to multi-party democracy in Angola under the supervision of the United Nations' UNAVEM II mission.
The Angolan government and UNITA agreed to form a Joint Verification and Monitoring Commission and a Joint Commission on the Formation of the Angolan Armed Forces. The first was to oversee political reconciliation, while the latter monitored military activity and demobilise the 152,000 active fighters, integrating into a 50,000-strong Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) some FAPLA troops and some UNITA rebels. Multi-party elections, monitored by the U.N., were held in September 1992.
After he failed to win the 1992 presidential election, which the U.N. declared the presidential generally "free and fair," Savimbi attacked all the provincial capitals. The siege of Huambo went on for 55 days. Bombarded with heavy artillery, Cuito was besieged for eight months with 50,000 civilians trapped in the town. 1,000 people a day were dying in Angola by mid-1993. By late 1993, UNITA had gained control over 70% of the country. 120,000 people were killed in those first eighteen months following the 1992 election, nearly half the number of casualties of the previous sixteen years of war.
Then the tables turned on UNITA and it was forced to sue for peace. Savimbi called the situation UNITA's "deepest crisis" since its creation. By October 1994, FAPLA units had begun their final push toward Huambo forcing UNITA into "strategic retreat." Within a month UNITA had lost most of its significant urban and commercial footholds forcibly conscripted hundreds of civilians. Retreating from these towns, UNITA's troops looted extensively and killed a number of civilians.
By November 1994, when the Lusaka Protocal was signed, the MPLA had taken back control of 60% of the country. Yet the Lusaka Protocol called for the government and UNITA to agree a ceasefire and demobilise and then, favouring UNITA, it called for 5,500 UNITA members to join the Angolan National police, 1,200 UNITA members to join the rapid reaction police force, and UNITA generals to become officers in the Angolan Armed Forces. It also gave UNITA politicians homes and a headquarters, and the Santos government agreed to appoint UNITA members to head the Mines, Commerce, Health, and Tourism ministries, in addition to seven deputy ministers, ambassadors, the governorships of Uige, Lunda Sul, and Cuando Cubango, deputy governors, municipal administrators, deputy administrators, and commune administrators. The government would also release all prisoners and give amnesty to all militants involved in the civil war.
Nevertheless, not only did UNITA not demobilise, but it purchased a large quantity of weapons from private sources in Albania and Bulgaria, and from Zaire, South Africa, Republic of the Congo, Zambia, Togo, and Burkina Faso. The U.N. did not effectively enforce the provision prohibiting UNITA from building these weapon stockpiles, and the U.N. Security Council did not authorise a significant peacekeeping force in the area until 1995 and delayed full deployment until late 1996. Despite the Protocol, localised fighting, including targeting of humanitarian agencies, continued throughout 1995. Half of these cease-fire violations were attacks on civilians designed either to control the movement of food aid in contested areas or to stop people from moving into areas controlled by the MPLA. Roads previously cleared of mines had mines laid again overnight, aimed at keeping roads closed and delaying U.N. patrols. By December 1995, the Angolan government and UNITA were again in a state of war.
UNITA was determined to maintain its grip on its remaining diamond assets. The fighting was particularly fierce in the diamond areas throughout 1995. Between 1992 and 1998 UNITA raised about US$2 billion from diamond sales, far more than it ever received from international donors. Its success in mining diamonds, often by exploiting child labour, and then selling them abroad at an inflated price had allowed the war to continue even as the Savimbi's support in the Western world and among the local populace withered away.
Aside from the diamond mines, Angola had at that time, according to a 1999 BBC News report, the greatest concentration of land mines in the world. Fifteen million land mines (one mine to every Angolan) were scattered all over the country effectively rendering a third of the land unusable. There were 70,000 Angolans believed to have lost limbs to land mines, and close to a million that have perished due to the war by the end of the century.
As if gun battles and land mines were not enough to contend with, in 1999 Angolans face a related and equally deadly menace: starvation. Starvation was claiming more than 200 Angolan lives every day. In early 1999, UNITA had laid siege to several provincial centres including Kuito, Malanje and Luena. It also briefly occupied and reportedly looted the northern town of Mbanza Congo. UNITA engaged in a rural depopulation campaign, committing terrible atrocities against what they themselves considered 'their own people' in Central Angola. An estimated one million were forcibly removed,fleeing to the cities and turning them into death traps. Huambo had been been cut off following successive UNITA attacks. Aid workers in Huambo said they could only watch as women and children died, as no food was available.
The second half of 1999 saw a turnaround, fuelled by a massive arms buying spree by the Angolan government. This time the Angolan government was roundly supported by new-found allies Great Britain and, despite its earlier backing of UNITA, the United States.
In accordance with policies set out by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank the Angolan government began to liberalise its economic policies and move to a more market orientated economy in the early 1990s. The Angolan government passed laws
allowing foreign mining companies to apply for and be granted mining concessions. Angola's other key resource, oil, was also of interest to foreign firms.
In the '90s the Angolan Government sought and received millions of dollars from multinational oil companies in exploration rights. Platforms anchored in the ocean off Cabinda were operated by Chevron, and the enclave, which contains some of the richest oil deposits in the world, was being referred to in certain circles as the "Republic of Chevron." The U.S. was Angola's largest trading partner in 1995, purchasing 90 percent of its oil exports. By the turn of the century, those oil companies granted explortion rights wanted to exploit their discoveries and Angolan oil production was set to double.
According to an Associated Press report in October 2000, the U.S. Embassy in Luanda assisted Halliburton in securing a $68 million US Export-Import Bank loan for Angola in 1998. The AP cited a cable from the US Embassy in Luanda to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that states, "Our commercial officer literally camped out at the offices of the national oil company, petroleum ministry and central bank, unraveling snag after snag to obtain the transfer of funds . . . The bottom line: thousands of American jobs and a foot in the door for Halliburton to win even bigger contracts."
In 1999, the Angolan government, now supported by an array of US-based private mercenary companies like MPRI and AirScan, reversed UNITA's gains and in October it took UNITA's central highlands strongholds of Andulo and Bailundo. But by 2000 it was clear that in spite of having lost its de facto capital, UNITA could continue to wreak havoc. Despite U.N. sanctions, UNITA rebels still smuggled at least US$100 million worth of diamonds out of the country that year. The U.N. highlighted the problem of illegitimate "blood diamonds" in a March 2000 report that accused the presidents of Burkina Faso and Togo of accepting diamonds from Savimbi in exchange for illegal weapons and fuel.
In April 2000, UNITA guerillas, scattered after the taking of their headquarters, regrouped and launched a counter-offensive on government troops in the east of Angola near the border with Zambia and Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). The U.N. Security Council unanimously voted to tighten its sanctions against UNITA and undertook to consider additional measures - use of armed force not included. In July, UNITA forces overran an orphanage in Huambo (at the time a declared safe area), abducting many of the children staying there.
Some stability returned to Angola following Savimbi’s assasination in 2002. A ceasefire between UNITA and the MPLA was signed six weeks after Savimbi's death.
According to US government sources, Savimbi had been tracked by the military forces of U.S. NATO ally Portugal, who were aided by private mercenaries from Israel and South Africa. Jardo Muekalia, who headed UNITA's Washington office until it was forced to close in 1997, said that that the Angolans were supported by commercial satellite imagery and other intelligence support provided by Houston-based Brown & Root. Both the U.S. State Department and Pentagon vehemently denied any U.S. government role in the killing of Savimbi.
In 2001, the Angolan government had earned around US$3-5 billon from oil, most of it supplied to the United States. Soon after the death of Savimbi, President dos Santos visited the U.S., meeting with President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney.
In the year that followed, Walter Kansteiner, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa visited Angola. His public statements focused on the important role that the private sector would play in the new phase begun with the end of the war, and on the importance of the Angola's oil exports to the U.S. By that time, Angola, not a member of OPEC, supplied 5 percent of U.S. oil needs, and that was projected to triple within ten years. In late 2002, the Angolan government deployed some 30,000 soldiers to Cabinda, their mission was to secure the so-called "Chevron Republic."
The FFA's focus on Cabinda led to the virtual destruction of FLEC guerilla forces by mid-2003. It also led to an increase in violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses against the civilian population by the FFA, including killing, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence, and the denial of access to agricultural areas, rivers, and hunting grounds through restrictions on civilians’ freedom of movement.
In early 2005, the Angolan government and opposition political parties negotiated a “package” of electoral laws that would form the legal basis for parliamentary and presidential elections. In 2006, Angola’s planned first national elections since 1992 were postponed yet again. The 29-year conflict in oil-rich Cabinda purportedly ended with the formal signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the government and representatives of an umbrella organization, the Cabinda Forum for Dialogue (FDC), which included FLEC and other groups aiming to achieve self-determination.
Wikimedia Atlas of Angola
Amnesty International: Human Rights in Angola
Global Peace Index Rank 2010: 86
Human Development Index: 0.484 (Rank 2008: 157)