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History of Angola
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Precolonial history KingdomNdongo1711.png (Prehistory-1575)
Colonization Flag Portugal (1578).svg (1575-1641)
Dutch occupation Prinsenvlag.svg (1641-1648)
Colonial history Flag Portugal (1578).svg (1648-1951)
Portuguese overseas province Flag of Portugal.svg (1951-1961)
War of Independence Waricon.svg (1961-1974)
Civil War Flag of Angola.svg (1975-2002)
Post-war Angola (2002-Today)

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Angola is a country in southwestern Africa. Portugal explored the region and founded settlements and trading posts. Luanda was founded by Paulo Dias de Novais in the 16th century. The annexed territories in the region were ruled as a colony from 1655, and Angola was incorporated as an overseas province of Portugal in 1951. After the Angolan War of Independence (1961–1974) which ended with a leftist military coup in Lisbon, Angola's independence from Portugal was achieved on November 11, 1975 through the Alvor Agreement.


From prehistory to the sovereign country

The area of current day 'Angola' was inhabited in prehistoric times, as attested by remains found in Luanda, Congo and the Namibe desert, but it was only thousands of years later, at the beginning of recorded history that more developed peoples arrived.

The first to settle were the Bushmen, great hunters, similar to Pygmies in stature and with light brown skin. This changed at the beginning of the sixth century AD, when the Bantu, already in possession of metal-working technology, began one of the greatest migrations in history. They came from the north, probably from somewhere near the present day Republic of Cameroon. When they reached what is now Angola they encountered the Bushmen and other groups considerably less technologically advanced than themselves, whom they easily dominated with their superior knowledge of metal-working, ceramics and agriculture. The establishment of the Bantu took many centuries and gave rise to various groupings that took on different ethnic characteristics. The first large political entity in the area, known to history as the Kingdom of Kongo, appeared in the thirteenth century and stretched from Gabon in the north to the river Kwanza in the south, and from the Atlantic in the west to the river Cuango in the east.

The wealth of the Kongo came mainly from agriculture. Power was in the hands of the Mani, aristocrats who occupied key positions in the kingdom and who answered only to the all-powerful King of the Kongo. Mbanza was the name given to a territorial unit administered and ruled by a Mani; Mbanza Congo, the capital, had a population of over fifty thousand in the sixteenth century.

The Kingdom of Kongo was divided into six provinces and included some dependent kingdoms, such as Ndongo to the south. Trade was the main activity, based on highly productive agriculture and increasing exploitation of mineral wealth. In 1482, Portuguese caravels commanded by Diogo Cão arrived in the Congo. Other expeditions followed, and close relations were soon established between the two states. The Portuguese brought firearms and many other technological advances, as well as a new religion (Christianity); in return, the King of the Congo offered plenty of slaves, ivory, and minerals.

The Portuguese colony of Angola was founded in 1575 with the arrival of Paulo Dias de Novais with a hundred families of colonists and four hundred soldiers. Luanda was granted the status of city in 1605.

The King of the Kongo soon converted to Christianity, and adopted a similar political structure to the Europeans; he became a well-known figure in Europe, to the point of receiving missives from the Pope himself.

To the south of the Kingdom of the Kongo, around the river Kwanza, there were various important states, of which the Kingdom of Ndongo, ruled by the Ngola (King), was the most significant. At the time of the arrival of the Portuguese, Ngola Kiluange was in power, and by maintaining a policy of alliances with neighbouring states, managed to hold out against the foreigners for several decades. Eventually he was beheaded in Luanda. Years later, the Ndongo rose to prominence again when Jinga Mbandi, known as Queen Jinga, took power. A wily politician, she kept the Portuguese in check with carefully-prepared agreements. After undertaking various journeys she succeeded in 1635 in forming a grand coalition with the states of Matamba and Ndongo, Kongo, Kassanje, Dembos and Kissamas. At the head of this formidable alliance, she forced the Portuguese to retreat.

Meanwhile, Portugal had lost its King and the Spanish took control of the Portuguese monarchy. By this time, Portugal's overseas territories had taken second place. The Dutch took advantage of this situation and occupied Luanda in 1641. Jinga entered into an alliance with the Dutch, thereby strengthening her coalition and confining the Portuguese to Massangano, which they fortified strongly, sallying forth on occasion to capture slaves in the Kuata! Kuata! Wars. Slaves from Angola were essential to the development of the Portuguese colony of Brazil, but the traffic had been interrupted by these events. In 1648, after Portugal has regained its independence from the Spanish rulers in 1640, a large Portuguese force from Brazil under the command of Salvador Correia de Sá retook Luanda, leading to the return of the Portuguese in large numbers.

Jinga's coalition began to fall apart; the absence of their Dutch allies with their firearms, and the strong position of Correia de Sá, delivered a deadly blow to the morale of the native forces. Jinga died in 1663; two years later, the King of the Congo committed all his forces to an attempt to capture the island of Luanda, occupied by Correia de Sá, but they were defeated and lost their independence. The Kingdom of Ndongo likewise submitted to the Portuguese Crown in 1671.

Trade was mostly with the Portuguese colony of Brazil; Brazilian ships were the most numerous in the ports of Luanda and Benguela. By this time, Angola, a Portuguese colony, was in fact like a colony of Brazil, paradoxically another Portuguese colony. A strong Brazilian influence was also exercised by the Jesuits in religion and education. War gradually gave way to the philosophy of trade. The great trade routes and the agreements that made them possible were the driving force for activities between the different areas; warlike states become states ready to produce and to sell. In the Planalto (the high plains), the most important states were those of Bié and Bailundo, the latter being noted for its production of foodstuffs and rubber. The colonial power, Portugal, becoming ever richer and more powerful, would not tolerate the growth of these neighbouring states and subjugated them one by one, so that by the beginning of this century the Portuguese had complete control over the entire area.

From 1764 onwards, there was a gradual change from a slave-based society to one based on production for domestic consumption. Meanwhile, the slave trade was abolished in 1836, and in 1844 Angola's ports were opened to foreign shipping. By 1850, Luanda was one of the greatest and most developed Portuguese cities in the vast Portuguese Empire outside Mainland Portugal, full of trading companies, exporting (together with Benguela) palm and peanut oil, wax, copal, timber, ivory, cotton, coffee, and cocoa, among many other products. Maize, tobacco, dried meat and cassava flour also began to be produced locally. The Angolan bourgeoisie was born.

The Berlin Conference compelled Portugal to move towards the immediate occupation of all its colonial territories. The territory of Cabinda, to the north of the river Zaire, was also ceded to Portugal on the legal basis of the Treaty of Simulambuko Protectorate, concluded between the Portuguese Crown and the princes of Cabinda in 1885. After a difficult and complicated process of implementation, the end of the nineteenth century saw the establishment of a colonial administration based directly on the territory and the people to be ruled.

With regard to the economy, colonial strategy was based on agriculture and the export of raw materials. Trade in rubber and ivory, together with the taxes imposed on the population of the Empire (including the mainland), brought vast income to Lisbon.

Car in Angola, in 1949.
Ford Taunus in Angola, in 1972

Portuguese policy in Angola was modified by certain reforms introduced at the beginning of the twentieth century. The fall of the Portuguese monarchy and a favourable international climate led to reforms in administration, agriculture, and education. With the advent of the New State regime (Estado Novo) extended to the colony, in 1951 Angola becomes a province of Portugal (Ultramarine Province), called the Província Ultramarina de Angola (Overseas Province of Angola).

The situation was calm and stable, with notable developments in the fields of local economy, education, civil rights, standard of living and transportation across the territory. But in the second half of the twentieth century, this calm was disrupted by the appearance of the first nationalist movements. More overtly political organisations first appeared in the 1950s, and began to make organized demands for their rights, initiating diplomatic campaigns throughout the world in their fight for independence. The Portuguese regime, meanwhile, refused to accede to the nationalist's demands of separatism, thereby provoking the armed conflict that started in 1961 when black guerrillas attacked both white and black civilians in cross-border operations in northeastern Angola. The war came to be known as the Colonial War.

In this struggle, the principal protagonists were the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola), founded in 1956, the FNLA (National Front for the Liberation of Angola), which appeared in 1961, and UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola), founded in 1966. After many years of conflict, the nation gained its independence on 11 November 1975, after the 1974 coup d'état in the metropole's capital city of Lisbon against the Portuguese regime. Portugal's new leaders began a process of democratic change at home and acceptance of its former colonies' independence abroad.

Civil war

A 1974 coup d'état in Portugal established a military government led by President António de Spínola. The Spínola government agreed to give all of Portugal's colonies independence, and handed power in Angola over to a coalition of the three, largest, separatist movements, the MPLA, UNITA, and the FNLA, through the Alvor Agreement. The coalition quickly broke down, however, and the country descended into civil war. The MPLA gained control of the capital Luanda and much of the rest of the country. With the support of the United States, Zaïre and South Africa intervened militarily in favor of the FNLA and UNITA with the intention of taking Luanda before the declaration of independence. In response, Cuba intervened in favor of the MPLA (see: Cuba in Angola). In the meantime the South Africans and UNITA had come as close as 200 km to the south of the capital, the FNLA and Zairean forces as far as Kifangondo, 30 km to the east.

With Cuban support, the MPLA held Luanda and declared independence on November 11, 1975, the day the Portuguese left the country. Agostinho Neto became the first president. FNLA and UNITA proclaimed their own shortlilved Republics (Democratic and Social Democratic Republic of Angola) on November 24, 1975, for the zones they controlled with Holden Roberto and Jonas Savimbi as co-presidents (dissolved after January 30, 1976). By the end of January 1976 the Angolan army (FAPLA) and the Cubans had all but crushed FNLA, Zaireans and UNITA, and the South African forces withdrew.

The proxy war continued. Internationally recognised, albeit not by the US, the Angolan government requested Cuban forces to remain in the country. Led by Jonas Savimbi, UNITA received clandestine support from the U.S. and other nations and took up military resistance in the southeast of the country while the Angolan government was supported by the USSR and Eastern Bloc countries. South Africa continued to pursue SWAPO-forces in Southern Angola, soon established bases and increased support of UNITA, which gained control of more and more territory. In an effort to deliver a final blow to UNITA and to drive South Africa out of the country, in 1987 FAPLA, with Soviet support, launched a campaign frought with failures and defeats. Again, the Cubans intervened, stopping UNITA and South African advances, leading to the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in January 13 to March 23, the largest battle in African history since World War II.

Angola and the U.S. had been in negotiations for a peaceful solutuion since June 1987. The US agreed to include Cuba in direct talks which joined the negotiations January 28, 1988; South Africa joined March 9. Angola, Cuba and South Africa signed the Tripartite Accord on December 22, 1988, in which the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola was linked to the retreat of South African soldiers from Angola and Namibia.

The Bicesse Accord in 1991 spelled out an electoral process for a democratic Angola under the supervision of the United Nations. MPLA won the first round with 49% of the votes, against 40% for UNITA. Opponent Savimbi refused the results and returned to war. A second peace accord, the Lusaka Protocol, was brokered in Lusaka, Zambia and signed on November 20, 1994.

The peace accord between the government and UNITA provided for the integration of former UNITA insurgents into the government and armed forces. However, in 1995, localized fighting resumed. A national unity government was installed in April 1997, but serious fighting resumed in late 1998 when Savimbi renewed the war for a second time, claiming that the MPLA was not fulfilling its obligations. The UN Security Council voted on August 28, 1997, to impose sanctions on UNITA. The Angolan military launched a massive offensive in 1999 that destroyed UNITA's conventional capacity and recaptured all major cities previously held by Savimbi's forces. Savimbi then declared that UNITA would return to guerrilla tactics, and much of the country remained in turmoil.

The extended civil war rendered hundreds of thousands of people homeless. Up to 1.5 million lives may have been lost in fighting over the past quarter century. It only ended when Savimbi was killed in 2002.


A Russian freighter delivered 500 tons of Ukrainian 7.62 mm ammunition to Simportex, a division of the Angolan government, with the help of a shipping agent in London on September 21, 2000. The ship's captain declared his cargo "fragile" to minimize inspection.[1] The next day, the MPLA began attacking UNITA, winning victories in several battles from September 22–25. The government gained control over military bases and diamond mines in Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul, hurting Savimbi's ability to pay his troops.[2]

Angola agreed to trade oil to Slovakia in return for arms, buying six Sukhoi Su-17 attack aircraft on April 3, 2000. The Spanish government in the Canary Islands prevented a Ukrainian freighter from delivering 636 tons of military equipment to Angola on February 24, 2001. The captain of the ship had inaccurately reported his cargo, falsely claiming the ship carried automobile parts. The Angolan government admitted Simportex had purchased arms from Rosvooruzhenie, the Russian state-owned arms company, and acknowledged the captain might have violated Spanish law by misreporting his cargo, a common practice in arms smuggling to Angola.[1]

Government troops captured and destroyed UNITA's Epongoloko base in Benguela province and Mufumbo base in Cuanza Sul in October 2001.[3] The Slovak government sold fighter jets to the Angolan government in 2001 in violation of the European Union Code of Conduct on Arms Exports.[4]

Government troops killed Savimbi on February 22, 2002, in Moxico province.[5] UNITA Vice President António Dembo took over, but died from diabetes twelve days later on March 3, and Secretary-General Paulo Lukamba became UNITA's leader.[6] After Savimbi's death, the government came to a crossroads over how to proceed. After initially indicating the counter-insurgency might continue, the government announced it would halt all military operations on March 13. Military commanders for UNITA and the MPLA met in Cassamba and agreed to a cease-fire. However, Carlos Morgado, UNITA's spokesman in Portugal, said that the UNITA's Portugal wing had been under the impression General Kamorteiro, the UNITA general who agreed to the ceasefire, had been captured more than a week earlier. Morgado did say that he had not heard from Angola since Savimbi's death. The military commanders signed a Memorandum of Understanding as an addendum to the Lusaka Protocol in Luena on April 4, Dos Santos and Lukambo observing.[7][8]

The United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1404 on April 18, extending the UNAVEM III mission by six months. Resolutions 1412 and 1432, passed on May 17 and August 15 respectively, suspended the UN travel ban on UNITA officials for 90 days each, finally abolishing the ban through Resolution 1439 on October 18. UNAVEM III, extended an additional two months by Resolution 1439, ended on December 19.[9]

In August 2002, UNITA declared itself a political party and officially demobilized its armed forces.[10] That same month, the United Nations Security Council replaced the United Nations Office in Angola with the United Nations Mission in Angola, a larger, non-military, political presence.[11]

The civil war internally displaced four million people, one-third of Angola's population. The government spent $187 million settling IDPs between April 4, 2002 and 2004, after which the World Bank gave $33 million to continue the settling process. Militant forces laid approximately 15 million landmines by 2002.[11] The HALO Trust charity began demining in 1994, destroying 30,000 by July 2007. There are 1,100 Angolans and seven foreign workers who are working for HALO Trust in Angola, with operations expected to finish sometime between 2011 and 2014.[12]

Human Rights Watch estimates UNITA and the government employed more than 6,000 and 3,000 child soldiers respectively, some forcibly impressed, during the war. Human rights analysts found 5,000 to 8,000 underage girls married to UNITA militants. Some girls were ordered to go and forage for food to provide for the troops. If the girls did not bring back enough food as judged by their commander, then the girls would not eat. After victories, UNITA commanders would be rewarded with women who were often then sexually abused. The government and U.N. agencies identified 190 child soldiers in the Angolan army and relocated seventy of them by November 2002, but the government continued to knowingly employ other underage soldiers.[13]

Fernando Vendrell produced, and Zézé Gamboa directed, The Hero, a film about the life of average Angolans after the civil war, in 2004. The film follows the lives of three individuals; Vitório, a war veteran crippled by a landmine who returns to Luanda, Manu, a young boy searching for his soldier father, and Joana, a teacher who mentors the boy and begins a love affair with Vitório. The Hero won the 2005 Sundance World Dramatic Cinema Jury Grand Prize. A joint Angolan, Portuguese, and French production, Gamboa filmed The Hero entirely in Angola.[14]

Further reading

  • Some of the material in this article comes from the CIA World Factbook 2000 and the 2003 U.S. Department of State website.
  • Graziano Saccardo, Congo e Angola con la stgoria dell'antica missione dei Cappuccini (3 vols., Venice, 1982-3)
  • David Brimingham, Trade and Conquest in Angola. Oxford University Press, 1966.

See also


  1. ^ a b "The Oil Diagnostic in Angola: An Update". Human Rights Watch. 2001. Retrieved 2007-09-20.  
  2. ^ Stearns, Peter N.; Langer, William Leonard (2001). The Encyclopedia of World History: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, Chronologically Arranged. p. 1065.  
  3. ^ Martin (2004). Page 166.
  4. ^ "NATO/EU: Reform Slovakia's Arms Trade". Human Rights Watch. 2004. Retrieved 2007-09-28.  
  5. ^ Arnson, Cynthia J.; I. William Zartman (2005). Rethinking the Economics of War: The Intersection of Need, Creed, and Greed. p. 120.  
  6. ^ Charles Zorgbibe (2003). "Angola in Peace". African Geopolitics. Retrieved 2007-09-28.  
  7. ^ Crocker, Aall, and Osler (2004). Page 224.
  8. ^ "Angolan military meets Unita rebels". BBC News. March 16, 2002. Retrieved 2007-09-28.  
  9. ^ "Security Council Resolutions Concerning the Situation in Angola Pursuant to Resolution 864 (1993)". United Nations. Retrieved 2007-09-28.  
  10. ^ "Polity IV Country Report 2005: Angola" (PDF). Center for Systematic Peace. 2005. p. 3.  
  11. ^ a b Furley, Oliver; Roy May (2006). Ending Africa's Wars: Progressing to Peace. p. 147.  
  12. ^ Scott Bobb (2007). "Work intensifies to clear Angola's landmines". Voice of America News. Retrieved 2007-09-28.  
  13. ^ "IV. Use of children in the war since 1998". Human Rights Watch. 2006.  
  14. ^ Unknown (2005). "The Hero". California Newsreel. Retrieved 2007-09-07.  

External links

  • — Angola list of rulers for Angola
  • WorldStatesmen
  • The African Activist Archive Project website has material on colonialism and the struggle for independence in Angola and support in the U.S. for that struggle produced by many U.S. organizations including documents, photographs, buttons, posters, T-shirts, audio and video.


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