he Angolan War of Independence began in March 1961, with uprisings on coffee plantations against forced labour and inhumane working conditions.
The conflict evolved into a multi-faction struggle to control Portugal’s overseas province of Angola. The overthrow of Portugal’s Prime Minister, Marcello Caetano, on April 25, 1974, marked a turning point for Portugal’s former colonies. Angola gained independence on November 11, 1975, but ethnic tensions and international pressures led to a prolonged civil war. This article provides an overview of the Angolan War of Independence and Civil War, covering key events and their aftermath.
A brief account of the Independence War
The Union of Peoples of Angola (UPA), led by Holden Roberto, launched an incursion into northern Angola in March 1961. This marked the beginning of the Angolan War of Independence and the wider Portuguese Overseas War. The conflict resulted in numerous casualties and massive displacement of civilians. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly appointed a subcommittee to investigate the situation, producing a report unfavourable to Portuguese rule.
In 1962, the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA) was formed, and in 1966, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) began its operations. In the late 1960s, the FNLA and the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) often fought against each other. The conflict persisted until the overthrow of the Lisbon government in April 1974.
End of Independence War
The revolutionary Portuguese government removed colonial forces and agreed to hand over power to the nationalist African movements quickly. This ended the independence war against Portugal but opened the door for a bitter armed conflict among the independent forces and their respective allies.
Origins of the Civil War
A primary reason for the continuation of the civil war after independence was the reluctance of the dominant liberation movements to share power within a multi-ethnic society. While a power-sharing arrangement was agreed upon after independence, power struggles ensued almost immediately as the agreement collapsed.
Brief account of the Civil War
The MPLA declared itself the government of independent Angola and won recognition from many African countries. UNITA and the FNLA set up a rival government in Huambo and called on South African forces to eject the MPLA from Luanda. Cuban troops defended the MPLA, pushing the South Africans out of Angola and gaining control of all provincial capitals.
The civil war persisted for decades, with numerous failed cease-fires and peace agreements. In November 1994, the government signed the Lusaka Accord and UNITA, allowing UNITA to be reintegrated into the government, provided fighting ceased.
End of the Civil War
The assassination of Jonas Savimbi, the leader of UNITA, on February 22, 2002, led to negotiations between UNITA and the MPLA, resulting in a peace agreement in April 2002 and ending the 27-year civil war. The conflict left Angola with a humanitarian crisis, internally displacing 4.28 million people. The Angolan government faced the daunting challenge of rebuilding the country’s physical and social welfare infrastructure, much of which was utterly destroyed.
In the years following the civil war, Angola faced significant challenges. Large portions of the population had been displaced, infrastructure was in ruins, and a landmine crisis plagued the country. Despite these difficulties, the Angolan government began working to rebuild and stabilise the nation.
The Angolan economy, heavily reliant on oil, experienced substantial growth. Oil revenue allowed the government to invest in infrastructure projects and public services. However, the country’s economic growth was highly unequal, with wealth concentrated in the hands of a few while a large portion of the population remained in poverty.
The government focused on rebuilding infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and public buildings and investing in healthcare and education. This reconstruction process was essential for the country’s progress, but progress needed to be faster and more balanced. The Angolan government faced criticism for corruption and mismanagement of resources, which hindered the effectiveness of many rebuilding efforts.
Landmines were another significant challenge for post-war Angola. During the civil war, millions of landmines had been placed throughout the country, posing a substantial threat to public safety and hampering reconstruction efforts. Demining projects, supported by international organisations and the Angolan government, have made progress in clearing landmines. Still, many areas remain contaminated, risking lives and hindering agricultural development.
The peace agreement led to the demobilisation of thousands of former combatants, many of whom had to reintegrate into civilian life. The Angolan government and international organisations initiated programs to provide former soldiers with skills, training and support to help them find employment and reintegrate into society. These efforts have met with varying degrees of success, and challenges remain in addressing the needs of these individuals.
In the political sphere, Angola moved towards a more democratic system, although significant challenges remained. The MPLA has dominated the political landscape, with José Eduardo dos Santos serving as president until 2017. João Lourenço succeeded him, and while his presidency has seen some efforts to tackle corruption and improve governance, concerns about political repression and limitations on freedom of expression persist.
In summary, Angola has made progress in rebuilding and stabilising the country following the end of the civil war. However, significant challenges remain, including addressing corruption, improving governance, and ensuring economic growth benefits are more equitably distributed. The legacy of the civil war continues to impact the nation, and it will likely take many more years of sustained effort to address the consequences of this devastating conflict entirely.