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This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published
by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action
from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived
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Angola: APIC Background Paper 001 (March 1995)
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Angola: APIC Background Paper 001 (March 1995)
Date Distributed (ymd): 950316
Angola: Country Profile
**With oil and many other resources, Angola could be one of
Africa's most prosperous countries. Even now it provides
abundant opportunities for international trade and
investment. But it also presents one of the worst
humanitarian crises on the continent. Turning from crisis
to reconstruction depends on peace.
In past centuries, Angola was among the areas most
devastated by the slave trade. In recent decades, it has
been afflicted with wars which like the slave wars have
pitted African against African. In both eras, much of the
violence was driven by powerful external forces. As
Angolans try to put their country together again,
international factors will also have much to do with their
chances of success.
The latest war began after the losing party rejected the
results of elections in 1992. A new peace treaty was signed
in November 1994, and the United Nations has approved a new
peace mission of up to 7,000 troops. But peace is still not
guaranteed. Even if it is secured, the legacy of conflict
poses a host of challenges.**
Current Policy Issues:
The most fundamental issue is implementation of the peace
treaty. The United States, stressing the need for both the
Angolan government and the rebel group Unita to demonstrate
their commitment to peace, has insisted on numerous
restrictions on the timetable for sending international
forces. African critics stress that the previous peace
process, in 1991-1992, failed largely because the
international community did not commit enough forces and
turned a blind eye to Unita's resort to war after losing the
election. They fear that Unita leader Jonas Savimbi will
again take advantage of international ambivalence to delay
the process or even turn to war again. For more information:
Africa Policy Information Center.
Specific concerns particularly needing international
response include landmine clearance necessary for
recovering a minimum of security in the countryside and
press freedom, essential for encouraging public debate on
the country's other problems.
Landmines: Angola has one of the worst mine problems in the
world, with between 8 and 20 million mines, many on roads or
agricultural land. Among groups involved in landmine
clearance is Norwegian People's Aid, which focuses on
building local capacity for dealing with mines. It is
cooperating with the Holland Committee on Southern Africa in
raising international awareness. For more information:
Holland Committee on Southern Africa, O.Z. Achterburgwal
173, 1012 DJ Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Tel: 31-20-6270801.
Free press: The precarious status of new press freedom in
Angola was emphasized by the assassination in January 1995
of independent journalist Ricardo de Mello. There are new
critical voices, both in the government-owned media and
small independent media ventures. But some forces within the
government, concerned with covering up corruption or
military secrets, have been involved in harrassment of the
media. No one has yet been arrested for the de Mello
killing. In Unita-held areas, journalists are even more
restricted. For more information: Media Institute of
Southern Africa (MISA), Private Bag 13386, Windhoek,
Namibia. Tel: 264-61-232975. Fax: 264-61-248016. Email:
Capsule History (pre-1960s): As early as 1,000 years ago,
Angola was inhabited by peoples speaking Bantu languages,
engaged in agriculture with iron tools and trade over long
distances. Before the Portuguese arrived on the coast in the
16th century, African states included the Kongo kingdom and
Mbundu kingdoms inland from Luanda. Ovimbundu kingdoms arose
later on the central plateau.
Among leaders prominent in early Angolan history were King
Afonso I of the Kongo and Queen Nzinga of the Mbundu kingdom
of Matamba. In the 16th century King Afonso adopted
Christianity, but his efforts at a constructive relationship
with Portugal were frustrated by the slave trade. In the
17th century Queen Nzinga resisted Portuguese influence for
The Portuguese soon established control over the port cities
of Luanda and Benguela, but they did not conquer most of the
country until the late 19th century. The dominant feature of
European-Angolan relations was the slave trade, mostly to
Colonial Portuguese rule in the 20th century was
characterized by rigid dictatorship and exploitation of
African labor. Despite theories of cultural assimilation,
racial hierarchy prevailed. After World War II many new
Portuguese settlers arrived, making up 5% of the population
by the early 1970s.
In the 1950s and 1960s the economy grew rapidly, with
coffee, diamonds and then oil. But Portugal denied the
possibility of independence, claiming that Angola was an
integral part of the Portuguese nation. Angolan nationalists
were not allowed to organize openly.
Capsule History (since 1960): In their war for independence,
which began in 1961, Angolans were divided. The National
Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) was based among
Kikongo-speaking people in the north. Jonas Savimbi's
National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita)
claimed leadership of Umbundu-speaking Angolans. The Popular
Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) had a national
appeal, but its strongest base was among Kimbundu-speaking
people in the Luanda area.
Portuguese control began to crumble in 1974, and rivalry led
to war the next year. U.S., Zairian and South African
military intervention in favor of the FNLA and Unita was
countered by Cuban forces and Soviet supplies aiding the
MPLA. After Angola's independence in November 1975, the
victorious MPLA soon gained international recognition,
except from the U.S. and South Africa. The U.S. Congress
barred further U.S. military involvement in Angola. The
South African troops then also withdrew.
Over 90% of the Portuguese settlers fled. Since they had
monopolized almost all skilled jobs, the economy was
devastated. State companies took over from the Portuguese,
but lacked management skills. Only the oil sector, where the
government worked with foreign companies, prospered.
From 1976 through 1991, Angola suffered guerrilla warfare
plus direct South African attacks. In retaliation for
Angolan support for the freedom of South African-occupied
Namibia, South Africa backed Unita on a massive scale until
Namibia's independence in 1990. Conflict over Unita-occupied
southeastern Angola led to large-scale battles involving
South African and Cuban troops as well as Angolan government
and Unita forces, ending in a military setback for South
Africa in 1987/88.
Agreements in 1988 on Namibian independence and withdrawal
of Cuban troops from Angola ended major South African
military involvement. But the U.S. increased military aid to
Unita, leading to a military stalemate with government
forces. In May 1991, after two years of talks, the Angolan
government and Unita signed a treaty providing for a cease-
fire, troop demobilization and multi-party elections.
In the September 1992 elections, judged free and fair by UN
observers, the MPLA won 54% and Unita 34% in the legislative
race. President Jose' Eduardo dos Santos, of the MPLA, fell
just short of 50% in the presidential contest, while Unita
leader Savimbi had 40%.
After Savimbi refused to accept the results, Angola returned
to war. Unita, aided by supplies from Zaire and South
Africa (then still under the previous apartheid regime),
launched offensives around the country. The government
responded, expelling Unita from Luanda while armed civilians
took reprisals against Unita supporters. In 1993-94, Unita
controlled much of the countryside and some inland cities.
Bitter fighting raged in most areas. In mid-1993 an
estimated 1,000 people were dying each day from war and war-
Critics charged that inaction by the U.S. and the United
Nations, which failed to protest Unita's failure to disarm
before the election or to react quickly when the war
resumed, was in part responsible for the catastrophe. In May
1993, the United States finally recognized the elected
In September 1993 the UN imposed an arms and fuel embargo on
Unita. New peace talks began in Lusaka, Zambia, in November
1993. A year later came a new peace treaty, including troop
demobilization in exchange for a share of ministries and
provincial governorships for Unita.
In 1994, the government army advanced, while Unita's access
to outside arms declined after South Africa's new government
under President Nelson Mandela took office in May. Huambo,
Unita's headquarters city, fell just before the November
[graphic in typeset version: This widely reproduced
sculpture by an anonymous Angolan artist is entitled "The
Agostinho Neto, Farewell at the Hour of Parting
(all the black mothers
whose children left them)
you taught me to wait and to hope
as you waited in the hard times
But in me
life killed this mysterious hope
I no longer wait
I am one who is awaited
It is I, my Mother
we are hope
on the road to a faith that feeds life
we are the naked children in the bush sanzalas
the unschooled urchins playing with rag balls
in the sandlots at mid-day
we ourselves are
the contract workers burning out our lives in
the coffee plantations
the ignorant blacks
who must respect the white man
and fear the rich man
we are your children
of the black ghettos
with no electric lights
drunks falling down
abandoned to the rhythm of the death drum
ashamed of calling you Mother
afraid to cross the street
afraid of men
That's who we are.
we will sing songs of freedom
when we celebrate
the date this slavery ends
We are going in search of light
your children Mother
(all the black mothers
whose children left them)
are going in search of life.
Agostinho Neto, first president of independent Angola, was
also one of Africa's most distinguished poets. This poem was
first published in 1957.
: Republic of Angola.
: 481,353 sq. mi. (1,247,000 sq. km.) larger than
Texas and California combined.
: 9.9 million (est. 1992) roughly the same as
Michigan or Ohio.
: November 11, 1975.
: Luanda (population est. 1990 as much as 2
: Huambo (population est. 1990 over
400,000), Benguela and Lubango (population est. 1990 each
: A lowland strip stretches along the
Atlantic coast, about 1000 miles (1600 km) from the dry
southwest to the Congo River in the north. The enclave of
Cabinda, across the Congo River, is also part of Angola.
Major oil deposits are offshore of Cabinda and northern
Angola. Railways run inland from the coastal cities of
Luanda, Lobito, Benguela, and Namibe.
The inland highlands of open grassland and brush around
Huambo and Lubango are the location of much of Angola's rich
farmland. To the south and east there is less rain, and much
of the country is very sparsely populated.
: Portuguese (spoken to some extent by
about half the population).
: Umbundu (spoken by Ovimbundu
people, roughly 38% of African population), Kimbundu (spoken
by Mbundu people, roughly 23% of African population),
Kikongo (spoken by Bakongo people, roughly 14% of African
population). Smaller groups include the Chokwe and the
: Maize (corn), cassava, cattle
(in some areas).
: Oil, diamonds. Assuming peace,
there is much potential for resumed development of iron
mining, commercial crops such as coffee and maize,
transportation and industry.
: $6,010 million (1989) ranked
12th in Africa, 7th in sub-Saharan Africa.
(1991) ranked 24th in Africa, 19th in sub-Saharan Africa,
roughly 4.5% of U.S. level.
: Under Portuguese rule few Africans in
Angola had access to education; at independence in 1975 it
was estimated that less than 5% of adults could read and
write. Primary education expanded rapidly after
independence, but outside the cities over half the
population was not reached by primary schools. In the mid-
1980s in Luanda, only 12% of the labor force had completed
primary school. There were only a few hundred university
: With a life expectancy of only 47 years,
and an Under 5 Mortality Rate in 1993 of 292 per thousand
(close to the highest in the world), Angola had only 550
physicians in 1985. There are estimated to be as many as
70,000 amputees as a result of injuries by land mines.
: Rough estimates put Catholics at
somewhat over 50% of the population; Protestants at over 20%
and growing rapidly. Major Protestant denominations include
Baptists, Methodists and Congregationalists. Many Angolans
still adhere to traditional African religions.
* All urban populations have grown rapidly since war
resumed in 1992.
** Given lack of data, both figures are very rough
estimates, and have declined since war resumed in 1992.
[UN map of Angola included in typeset version]
Copies of the four-page typeset version of this background
paper will be available by early April from APIC at $1 each,
$0.80 each for 20 or more. Add 15% for postage and handling.
Payment in advance by check or money-order. Both text-only
and typeset versions may be freely reproduced with
attribution to APIC.
This material is made available by the Africa Policy
Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is
to widen the policy debate in the United States around
African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by
concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant
information and analysis usable by a wide range of
groups and individuals. APIC is affiliated with the
Washington Office on Africa (WOA), a not-for-profit
church, trade union and civil rights group supported
organization that works with Congress on Africa-related