Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Angolan Civil War (1975–2002)

Angolan Civil War (1975–2002)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: The Popular Movement for the
Liberation of Angola (MPLA) vs. the National Movement
for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and
National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA)


DECLARATION: No formal declaration

wrest control of the government from the Marxist
Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).

OUTCOME: UNITA and the government agreed to share
power in 1991, but war broke out again in 1992.

MPLA, 30,000; UNITA, 10,000; FNLA, 20,000; South
Africa, 5,200; Cuba, 55,000

CASUALTIES: Angola, 340,000 soldiers and civilians; Cuba,

TREATIES: Several, but none lasting

After Portuguese West Africa secured its independence
from Portugal on November 11, 1975, delegates from the
three liberation movements met in Alvor, Portugal, to
attempt to create a unified government. The Movimento
Popular de Libertaçao de Angola, or Popular Movement for
the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), under Dr. Agostinho
Neto (1922–79), the União Naçional para Independencia
de Angola, or National Union for the Total Independence
of Angola (UNITA), under Jonas Savimbi (1934–2002),
and the Frente de Libertaçao de Angola, or National Front
for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), under Holden Alvaro
Roberto (b. 1923), agreed to form a coalition, but any unity
they created was temporary. In March and April of 1975
Cuba began shipping arms and advisers to support Neto’s
MPLA, and civil war intensified. Later that year South
Africa sent forces into Angola to battle the MPLA and its
Cuban supporters, and at the Battle of Bridge 14 on
December 12, 1975, the Cuban troops, despite their threeto-
one advantage, were defeated by the South Africans.
Two months later, however, Neto’s MPLA and the Cubans
took control of the FNLA stronghold at Huambo and
forced many FNLA members to flee to Zambia. The South
African government then withdrew from the war in April
1976 following an agreement with the MPLA guaranteeing
protection of South African economic interests in Angola.
That withdrawal cleared the way for Cuban troops to strike
UNITA and force Savimbi’s troops to withdraw from central
Angola into the southeastern corner of the country. However,
the new cold war aggressiveness of the United States
under the administration of Ronald Reagan (1911–2004)
in the early 1980s, with its no-strings-attached support for
any kind of anti-Soviet movement, helped UNITA not only
to continue its guerrilla warfare against the MPLA but to
expand and strengthen its hold in the north, center, and
south. Aided as well by South Africa’s renewed effort to
suppress the South West African People’s Organization
(SWAPO), which had bases in Angola, Savimbi had by the
middle of the decade taken control of nearly one-third of
the country.
But the MPLA acquitted itself well in the long Battle of
Cuito Canavale, which lasted from March 1987 to March
1988. The loss of UNITA’s military superiority, along with
the dislike of South Africa’s public, both white and black,
for the war, soured the conflict for Pretoria. Talks resulted,
leading to the December 1988 Angola-Namibia Accord and
linking both Cuban and South African withdrawals from
Angola to the independence of Namibia. Thus, the external
actors, themselves about to enter a post–cold war era,
now were urging negotiations on both sides of the Angola
UNITA soon broke the cease-fire, and in June 1989 it
was almost destroyed by the MPLA’s nine-month counteroffensive.
This near defeat and the MPLA’s carefully calculated
decision to renounce Marxism-Leninism in favor
of social democracy cleared the ground for the Bicese and
Estoril Agreements of April–May 1990. These talks specified
a UN-orchestrated integration of the Angolan military
and set multiparty elections for September 1992. In May
of 1991 Eduardo Dos Santos (b. 1942), who assumed
leadership of the MPLA after Neto died in 1979, and Savimbi
signed a peace agreement in Lisbon that resulted in a
new multiparty constitution. Despite some backsliding
the peace generally held until Dos Santos won the UN-certified
election with 49.6 percent of the vote. Savimbi
rejected the results and full-scale civil war resumed.
UNITA captured Soyo, which produces one-third of
Angola’s oil. It launched a 55-day siege of Huambo, where
10,000 people died and after which 100,000 fled for the
coast. But when peace negotiations sponsored by the
United Nations in 1993 at Addis Ababa and Abidjan failed
to yield results thanks mostly to Savimbi’s intransigence,
the United Nations imposed sanctions against UNITA and
Washington recognized the MPLA. South African mercenaries
now flocked to the MPLA military, which began to
make significant advances. By November 1994 Savimbi
was ready to sign new peace accords.
The Lusaka Protocol, ending the so-called Third War,
was ratified in May 1995 when Dos Santos and Savimbi
met to confirm their commitment to peace. Under the
agreement Savimbi accepted Dos Santos as president in
return for the vice-presidency once UNITA disbanded.
Later that year the first of 7,000 UN peacekeepers arrived
in the capital of Luanda. But low-level conflict simmered as
mutual distrust prevented Savimbi from either disbanding
his forces or joining the new Angola government. Dos Santos
moved against UNITA strongholds, especially in the
diamond-rich northeast. The Luanda government, anxious
to shut down UNITA bases in Zaire, supported the ouster
of UNITA-backed President Mobutu (1930–97) in May
1997. Then Luanda’s successful replacement candidate,
President Laurent-Desire Kabila (1939–2001), came under
attack by rebel forces in the newly renamed Democratic
Republic of Congo in August 1998. By autumn 1998 fullscale
fighting had resumed in Angola, a UN plane had been
shot down, and Angola had intervened in the Congo’s civil
war. In 1999 the United Nations, chased out of the country
by UNITA, abandoned its peacekeeping mission, and there
was no end to the fighting in sight.
Then in February 2002 Savimbi was killed by government
troops, and in April the Luanda government and
UNITA signed a new cease-fire agreement. By May UNITA’s
military commander reported that 85 percent of his troops
had gathered at demobilization camps. Many officials,
both within Angola and internationally, remained concerned
that food shortages and starvation in the camps set
up for the thousands of refugees returning home after the
cease-fire could threaten the peace process. Poverty ruled
the countryside, and not just refugees but villagers as well
were under pressure from famine. In June 2002 the United
Nations launched broad appeals for aid for refugees while
the medical charity, Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors
without Borders) estimated that half a million Angolans
were facing starvation as a legacy of the long-running civil
war. Nevertheless, in August 2002 UNITA officially disbanded
its army and Angola’s defense minister proclaimed
that the war had ended.


Further reading: Fernando Andresen Guimaraes, The
Origins of the Angolan Civil War: Foreign Intervention and
Domestic Political Conflict (Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan,
1998); Tony Hodges, Angola from Afro-Stalinism to Petro-
Diamond Capitalism (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 2001).

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