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Story of Independence


Angola, officially the Republic of Angola (Portuguese: República de  Angola), is a country on the west coast of Southern Africa. It is the  second-largest lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) country in both total  area and population (behind Brazil), and is the seventh-largest country  in Africa. It is bordered by Namibia to the south, the DR Congo to the  north, Zambia to the east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Angola  has an exclave province, the province of Cabinda, that borders the  Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The  capital and largest city is Luanda.

Angola has been inhabited since the Paleolithic Age. Its formation  as a nation-state originates from Portuguese colonisation, which  initially began with coastal settlements and trading posts founded in  the 16th century. In the 19th century, European settlers gradually began  to establish themselves in the interior. The Portuguese colony that  became Angola did not have its present borders until the early 20th  century, owing to resistance by native groups such as the Cuamato, the  Kwanyama and the Mbunda.

After a protracted anti-colonial struggle, Angola achieved  independence in 1975 as a Marxist–Leninist one-party Republic. The  country descended into a devastating civil war the same year, between  the ruling People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), backed  by the Soviet Union and Cuba, and the insurgent anti-communist National  Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), supported by the  United States and South Africa. The country has been governed by MPLA  ever since its independence in 1975. Following the end of the war in  2002, Angola emerged as a relatively stable unitary, presidential  constitutional republic.

Angola has vast mineral and petroleum reserves, and its economy is  among the fastest-growing in the world, especially since the end of the  civil war. However, economic growth is highly uneven, with most of the  nation's wealth concentrated in a disproportionately small sector of the  population. The standard of living remains low for most Angolans; life  expectancy is among the lowest in the world, while infant mortality is  among the highest. Since 2017, the government of João Lourenço has made  fighting corruption its flagship, so much so that many individuals of  the previous government are either jailed or awaiting trial. Whilst this  effort has been recognised by foreign diplomats to be legitimate, some  skeptics see the actions as being politically motivated. Angola is a  member of the United Nations, OPEC, African Union, the Community of  Portuguese Language Countries, and the Southern African Development  Community. As of 2019, the Angolan population is estimated at 31.83  million. Angola is multicultural and multiethnic. Angolan culture  reflects centuries of Portuguese rule, namely the predominance of the  Portuguese language and of the Catholic Church, intermingled with a  variety of indigenous customs and traditions.

Angolan Civil war and independence

Throughout the war of independence, the three rival nationalist  movements were severely hampered by political and military factionalism,  as well as their inability to unite guerrilla efforts against the  Portuguese. Between 1961 and 1975 the MPLA, UNITA, and the FNLA competed  for influence in the Angolan population and the international  community. The Soviet Union and Cuba became especially sympathetic  towards the MPLA and supplied that party with arms, ammunition, funding,  and training. They also backed UNITA militants until it became clear  that the latter was at irreconcilable odds with the MPLA.

The collapse of Portugal's Estado Novo government following the 1974  Carnation Revolution suspended all Portuguese military activity in  Africa and the brokering of a ceasefire pending negotiations for Angolan  independence. Encouraged by the Organisation of African Unity, Holden  Roberto, Jonas Savimbi, and MPLA chairman Agostinho Neto met in Mombasa  in early January 1975 and agreed to form a coalition government. This  was ratified by the Alvor Agreement later that month, which called for  general elections and set the country's independence date for 11  November 1975. All three factions, however, followed up on the ceasefire  by taking advantage of the gradual Portuguese withdrawal to seize  various strategic positions, acquire more arms, and enlarge their  militant forces. The rapid influx of weapons from numerous external  sources, especially the Soviet Union and the United States, as well as  the escalation of tensions between the nationalist parties, fueled a new  outbreak of hostilities. With tacit American and Zairean support the  FNLA began massing large numbers of troops in northern Angola in an  attempt to gain military superiority. Meanwhile, the MPLA began securing  control of Luanda, a traditional Ambundu stronghold. Sporadic violence  broke out in Luanda over the next few months after the FNLA attacked  MPLA forces in March 1975. The fighting intensified with street clashes  in April and May, and UNITA became involved after over two hundred of  its members were massacred by an MPLA contingent that June. An upswing  in Soviet arms shipments to the MPLA influenced a decision by the  Central Intelligence Agency to likewise provide substantial covert aid  to the FNLA and UNITA.

In August 1975, the MPLA requested direct assistance from the Soviet  Union in the form of ground troops. The Soviets declined, offering to  send advisers but no troops; however, Cuba was more forthcoming and in  late September dispatched nearly five hundred combat personnel to  Angola, along with sophisticated weaponry and supplies. By independence,  there were over a thousand Cuban soldiers in the country. They were  kept supplied by a massive airbridge carried out with Soviet aircraft.  The persistent buildup of Cuban and Soviet military aid allowed the MPLA  to drive its opponents from Luanda and blunt an abortive intervention  by Zairean and South African troops, which had deployed in a belated  attempt to assist the FNLA and UNITA. The FNLA was largely annihilated,  although UNITA managed to withdraw its civil officials and militia from  Luanda and seek sanctuary in the southern provinces. From there, Savimbi  continued to mount a determined insurgent campaign against the MPLA.

Between 1975 and 1991, the MPLA implemented an economic and  political system based on the principles of scientific socialism,  incorporating central planning and a Marxist–Leninist one-party state.  It embarked on an ambitious programme of nationalisation, and the  domestic private sector was essentially abolished. Privately owned  enterprises were nationalised and incorporated into a single umbrella of  state-owned enterprises known as Unidades Economicas Estatais (UEE).  Under the MPLA, Angola experienced a significant degree of modern  industrialisation. However, corruption and graft also increased and  public resources were either allocated inefficiently or simply embezzled  by officials for personal enrichment. The ruling party survived an  attempted coup d'état by the Maoist-oriented Communist Organisation of  Angola (OCA) in 1977, which was suppressed after a series of bloody  political purges left thousands of OCA supporters dead.

The MPLA abandoned its former Marxist ideology at its third party  congress in 1990, and declared social democracy to be its new platform.  Angola subsequently became a member of the International Monetary Fund;  restrictions on the market economy were also reduced in an attempt to  draw foreign investment. By May 1991 it reached a peace agreement with  UNITA, the Bicesse Accords, which scheduled new general elections for  September 1992. When the MPLA secured a major electoral victory, UNITA  objected to the results of both the presidential and legislative vote  count and returned to war. Following the election, the Halloween  massacre occurred from 30 October to 1 November, where MPLA forces  killed thousands of UNITA supporters.

Image by Andy Brunner

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