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Angola -- Independence, Civil War, and Today

Updated on May 23, 2009


One of the major stages where the Cold War played out, Angola has remained war-torn into the 21st Century. The many factions, sides, and supporters get confusing very quickly. Here is an outline of major events, people, and issues -- in normal, human language, no crazy academic talk here -- to help you get a basic understanding of what has been going on.

Events Leading up to Revolution

  • Portuguese moved into Angola while looking for routes to India and China
  • Many of the soldiers, traders, and settlers took Angolan wives, creating a race of Afro-Portuguese. Resulting race became the prominent class in Angola
  • Afro-Portuguese defended middle-man position by balancing natives and Europeans.
  • Portuguese and the natives started a huge slave trade within Angola. More than 12 million forcibly shipped to America (Angolans selling their own people)
  • Late 19th century, Afro-Portuguese threatened by presence of British in their interior
  • Portugal exiled the poor Portuguese to Angola and gave them the good jobs and the money. As a result, less than 40% of Angolans had any income

Some Direct Reasons for War

  • End Cuban military presence in Angola, fix tension between Cubans and Angolans.
  • To keep the oil flow and income going through Angola.
  • To give Angola its independence from Portugal.

Important Events in the Revolution

  • Africa split up by Europe, Angola given to Portugal. Angolans worked to fight Portugal’s presence in 1880s to 1970.
  • February 1961 members of MPLA, led by Antonio Neto, attacked Sao Paulo fortress and police headquarters in Luanda (the key port city in Angola).
  • At the same time, series of attacks in northern Angola against Portuguese coffee growers.  Led by the organization UPNA.
  • 1960s -1974:  Three main movements (MPLA, UNITA, FNLA) fought against Portuguese and each other with no clear results.
  • In 1974 a rebellion against President Getano brought General Spinola into power.
  • 1975 power shifted from conservative Spinola to younger, more left-oriented, USSR-educated officers (open doors for Angolan independence).

Jonas Malheiro Savimbi

  • Born 1934, attended school in Angola, continued education in Europe.
  • Joined the UPA/FNLA, fought for liberation from Portugal
  • Signed a UN peace agreement to be presidential candidate in elections
  • Rejected results of elections, reunited UNITA, and resumed civil war
  • Supported heavily by the United States, but were some big problems when it came to diamond trade due to his corruption.

Role of the USA and USSR

  • Neither of them started revolution; already problems in Angola long before Cold War
  • US and USSR fueled problems in Angola: took sides and gave aid
  • The Soviet Union:

o Backed the MPLA
o Had educated all Angolans of higher education, thus instilling Soviet ideas

  • The United States:

o Used CIA to support National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA)
o Several hundred million dollars overall
o Ultimately of no use to well-being of Angolans
o Congress passed act to ban aid to Angola (expired in 1986)

Overall Outcome

  • First War with UNITA

o May 1991
o Signed deal promising to end hostilities
o Promised ceasefire within a month, demobilize forces
o Planned UN-monitored election to stabilize government
o But the time constraints were too strict, not enough time for total ceasefire
o Fighting continued

  • Second War with UNITA

o November 1994
o More relaxed/flexible negotiations, no rushing this time
o UN gave $1 billion and several thousand peacekeepers
o UNITA disbanded into a political party (no longer military force)
o Fighting continued despite all these attempts

Basic Concepts

  • Rollback

o    Angolan forces wanted a form of socialism
o    Push those ideas back to their roots: USSR

  • Unsuccessful, no one “won”

o    Fighting has continued
o    Neither US nor USSR fully implemented/endorsed its ideology
o    Angolans lost people, resources, etc, never gained freedom

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Justified American Intervention?

  • Traditionalist: Yes

o Soviets should have no influence in Africa
o Needed to get their ideas away from impressionable people
o Concerned for interests of America’s future security
o Needed to protect Angolans from being subjected to communism

  • Revisionist: No

o US mixed up in irrelevant affairs
o Just trying to “beat” USSR in endorsing ideology
o No real care for the people of Angola or their well-being


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    • profile image


      8 years ago


    • SXP profile image


      8 years ago from South Africa

      Whatever the history is or was, the current situation is really bad for most Angolans. The president, his family and a select band of cronies, control everything in Angola, while ordinary people suffer and live a very hard life. So-called free and fair elections, was actually not free and fair. I speak to many Angolans, as I work there, and not one of them like the president or think that the elections was free or fair.

      It's all about money and those in power have no plan to let the riches go from their grubby paws. The large international oil companies also do not care, as they get their share, so in my view they and their countries are just as guilty for causing Angolans so much misery.

      Lastly, most "Angolan" oil, is in Cabinda, which is not strictly speaking part of Angola. Cabinda was always independant, but Portugal governed Angola and Cabinda as one. When they left, Angola just kept Cabinda by military force and this is still so today.

    • helenathegreat profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Manhattan

      Hey Amy Rose, I'm glad you found this page informative, but it should not be your final source for any academic work. I'm not a professional, and I'm certainly no better than Wikipedia. This hub hasn't even been edited or peer-reviewed. It is just to give you an overview of the subject before you dive in to "credible" sources.

    • profile image

      Amy Rose 

      9 years ago

      I had to write an essay on this war, and this was the only site I used. This was sooo helpful and really very easy to comprehend.

    • helenathegreat profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Manhattan

      Hi James, thanks for stopping by! It's crazy that your friend was a mercenary in Angola; I bet he has experienced things I could not imagine. I'm really glad you liked this hub and hope you enjoy some of my other ones.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      I am a new visitor to your Hubs and this first one (for me) is very well done.  It is fair and balanced, and well presented.  I have a friend who was a mercenary in Angola.  He was captured and held prisoner for quite some time.  Not good.

    • helenathegreat profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Manhattan

      Thanks for the comment, DynamicS. So many developed countries fight out their wars on the turf of developing nations like Angola, and it's really a terrible shame. Maybe if more people were educated, countries like the US would be less gung-ho about running into conflicts where they don't belong.

    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 

      9 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Helena, very nice account of US/USSR relation with Angola. Unfortunately many third world countries experience this type of foreign intervention to their detriment. Even though the intent of some countries like the US might be well intended, it usual end up in a struggle between both powers for control. I have witnessed this in my country of origin.

      Thanks for sharing. The world needs to remember that we are still feeling the negative impact of colonialism/imperialism.


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