Angolan Civil War
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|Angolan Civil War|
|Part of the Cold War|
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Republic of Cuba
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|José Eduardo dos Santos||Jonas Savimbi|
|Civilians killed = hundreds of thousands|
Following the end of Portuguese colonial rule in April 1974, newly-independent Angola descended into a devastating civil war which became Africa's longest running conflict. Formally brought to an end in 2002, an estimated 500,000 people were killed and tens of thousands more were displaced during the 27-year civil war.
The conflict, which is generally considered one of the largest Cold War conflicts of the non-developed world, involved three main belligerent factions:
- the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), with a base among the Kimbundu and the mixed-race intelligentsia of Luanda, and links to the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc;
- the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA), with an ethnic base in the Bakongo region of the north and links to the United States, the People's Republic of China and the Mobutu regime in Zaïre; and
- the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), led by Jonas Savimbi with an ethnic and regional base in the Ovimbundu heartland in the center of the country, and supported by the United States, apartheid South Africa and several other African leaders.
 1960s: Fight against Portuguese colonialism - Portuguese Colonial War
From the early 1960s, elements of these three movements fought against Portuguese colonial rule. In their war for independence, which began in 1961, Angolans were divided. The tribal-based FNLA, the Maoist UNITA, and the Marxist-Leninist MPLA were all strong groups fighting the Portuguese.
 1974 to 1976: Coalition rule
A 1974 coup d'état in Portugal established a military government that promptly ceased the war and agreed to hand over power to a coalition of the three movements. However, the coalition quickly broke down and turned into a civil war. The United States, Zaïre and South Africa intervened militarily in favor of the FNLA and UNITA. In response, Cuba, backed by the Soviet Union, intervened in favor of the MPLA. In November 1975, the MPLA had all but crushed UNITA, and the South African forces withdrew. The U.S. Congress barred further U.S. military involvement in Angola.
 Operación Carlota
On November 6, 1975, the Brazilian government, led by General Ernesto Geisel was the first to recognize the independence of Angola and the MPLA as its legitimate government. In control of Luanda and the coastal strip (and its increasingly lucrative oil fields), the MPLA declared Angolan independence on November 11, 1975, the day the Portuguese abandoned the capital.
Portugal recognized the declaration of independence. Agostinho Neto became the first president, followed by José Eduardo dos Santos in 1979. The opposition movements, FNLA and UNITA, responded by creating joint government in the zones they controlled. The self-proclaimed "Democratic Republic of Angola" was founded on November 24, 1975, with Holden Roberto and Jonas Savimbi as co-presidents and Jose Ndele and Johny E. Pinnock as co-prime ministers. This government was dissolved after January 30, 1976, when FNLA forces were crushed by a joint Cuban-Angolan attack, known as "Operación Carlota".
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 Civil war
Following the dissolution of the coalition government, Savimbi retreated to his historical base in southwestern Angola, and began to organize a large resistance movement, which began resisting the MPLA government. The war ultimately became part of the global Cold War conflict, with the Soviet Union and Cuba supporting the MPLA and the United States and South Africa coming to the aid of UNITA. Both Cuba and South Africa had significant contingents of combat support personnel as well as combat troops within Angola's borders during this time.
 Cold War conflict
Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, the war greatly intensified as both the Soviet Union and U.S. poured extensive military and other resources into the country. Savimbi's UNITA was aided greatly by support from the United States government and from political and military guidance from U.S. conservatives. U.S. conservative organizations, including the influential Heritage Foundation, supported Savimbi and succeeded in persuading the U.S. Congress to overturn its previous ban on covert military aid to UNITA.
Savimbi also forged close relations with influential U.S. conservative leaders, including Michael Johns, Grover Norquist and others, who visited regularly with Savimbi in his Jamba, Angola base camps. In a major political victory for UNITA, Savimbi ultimately was invited to meet with U.S. President Ronald Reagan at the White House in 1986. Reagan spoke of UNITA winning a victory that "electrifies the world."
The Heritage Foundation's Michael Johns was one of several U.S. conservatives who urged Savimbi to make a ceasefire in Angola contingent upon the withdrawal of Soviet and Cuban troops and the MPLA's agreement to "free and fair elections". Savimbi embraced this idea rhetorically, though many Western governmental leaders questioned his commitment to democratic pluralism. In various meetings in Angola and other nations in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Johns and various U.S. governmental personnel warned Savimbi that he risked losing U.S. support if he backed off from his support of free elections in Angola.
 Battle of Cuito Cuanavale
Civil war between UNITA and the MPLA continued until January 10, 1989 when Cuba began withdrawing its forces. For much of this time, UNITA controlled vast swaths of the interior and was backed by U.S. resources and South African troops. Similarly, tens of thousands of Cuban troops remained in support of the MPLA, often fighting South Africans on the front lines. In 1988, UNITA and the MPLA met in the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, generally considered the largest ground battle in Africa since World War II.
Following the battle, South Africa and Cuba appeared to meet at least some of Savimbi's demands, agreeing to the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Angola, linked to the negotiations of the independence of Namibia. However, no provision was made for "free and fair" elections, so Savimbi refused to a ceasefire and fighting actually intensified as both the MPLA and UNITA positioned for military strength in preparation for the withdrawal of foreign troops.
 1991 ceasefire
The following year, a cease-fire agreement was brokered by eighteen African nations. This led to the Bicesse Accord in 1991, which spelled out an electoral process for a democratic Angola under the supervision of the United Nations. UNITA's Savimbi failed to win the first round of the presidential election in 1992. Savimbi won 40% to dos Santos's 49%, which required a runoff under the electoral guidelines. Savimbi called the election fraudulent and returned to war. Another 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 of 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.
 Savimbi's death and aftermath
On February 22, 2002, with his relations with the U.S. government and his traditional U.S. conservative allies strained, Savimbi was killed in a military ambush. UNITA and the MPLA agreed to sign a cease-fire six weeks later, on April 4.
In August 2002, UNITA declared itself a political party and officially demobilized its armed forces, ending the civil war. Since then, all parties involved in the conflict (MPLA, UNITA, FNLA) and those not involved (PLD, PRS, PD-PANA) formed the Government of National Unity and Reconstruction, known as GURN.
Known for its natural resource riches such as oil, diamonds, mercury, iron, copper, fisheries, and wood, Angola is currently recovering from the war. Angola expects foreign investment and international support may assist its development efforts.
 Further reading
- Victoria Brittain, Death of Dignity, Red Sea Press, 1998. ISBN 0-86543-636-3. Presents an account of the conflict from the MPLA point of view.
- "Savimbi's Elusive Victory in Angola", by Michael Johns, U.S. Congressional Record, October 26, 1989.