Friday, October 12, 2012

Struggle for independence

Independence: from AD 1975
During 1975, before the official Portuguese withdrawal, the civil war in Angola intensifies. In fighting for control of the capital city, Luanda, the MPLA succeeds in driving out both its rivals. UNITA, which claims to enjoy wider popular support than the other groups, argues that Portugal must fulfil its last colonial duty and supervise elections.
But the Portuguese, eager to leave as quickly as possible, abandon the country without formally handing over control to any succeeding government. The MPLA, in possession of the capital and with guaranteed support from the USSR and Cuba, declares itself the government of independent Angola. Agostinho Neto, a distinguished poet who has led the MPLA since 1962, becomes president.
  UNITA and the FNLA set up a rival government in the mountainous region of Huambo, inland from Benguela. Here they enlist the support of South African forces in neighbouring Namibia to oust the Marxist MPLA.
The conflict in Angola thus becomes an extension of the Cold War. The United States sends funds to UNITA and the FNLA and encourages South African involvement. The USSR provides similar support to the MPLA, while president Castro, eager to spread communism in Africa, sends large contingents of Cuban troops to Angola. As early as November 1975 South African and Cuban troops clash in a battle at Ebo, with victory on this occasion going decisively to the Cubans.
  South Africa's involvement increases over the years because of the situation in neighbouring Namibia, where the insurgent group SWAPO receives support from Angola's MPLA. From South Africa's point of view, maintaining control in Namibia and fighting communism in Angola become one and the same cause. But in 1988 exhaustion leads to a pact with Cuba. Both sides will withdraw their troops from Angola. South Africa will also pull out of Namibia.
This leaves Angola's civil war as an internal affair. The FNLA has by the late 1980s declined in importance. The rivals now are the MPLA, led by José dos Santos since the death of Neto in 1979; and UNITA, still under the control of its founder, Jonas Savimbi.
  From 1989 there are several attempts by the two men to achieve a ceasefire. A solution is made easier when the MPLA decides to give up Marxism-Leninism and the one-party state. An agreement is reached in 1991 on a new constitution, the merging of the two rival armies and the holding of multiparty elections.
The elections duly take place in 1992 and the MPLA beats UNITA into second place. Savimbi refuses to accept this result. Civil war breaks out again, even more violently than before. During two years of fighting, it is calculated that some two million people are driven from their homes (20% of the population). More than 20 million land mines are planted by the warring factions.
  In November 1994, under UN mediation in Lusaka, a somewhat shaky peace is agreed. It involves the gradual demobilization of UNITA's forces and the participation of UNITA in government as a political party, with Savimbi as vice-president of the nation.
However progress is far from convincing. The demobilization soon falls behind schedule. Savimbi reconsiders his decision to serve as vice-president. And UNITA proves reluctant to relinquish control over regions which include Angola's valuable diamond mines. (Of the nation's two main sources of wealth, oil has been exclusively in MPLA hands while diamonds have funded UNITA).
  All trace of agreement ends in December 1998, with a return to full-scale civil war. During 1999 UNITA wins control of some 75% of the countryside, forcing terrified peasants into government-held cities where starvation and illness threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands. The UN World Food Programme desperately tries to truck in emergency supplies along roads mined and ambushed by UNITA forces. Meanwhile the rest of the world hardly notices, with Kosovo exhausting the available supply of compassion.
No country in the world has had such a continuously appalling start to independence as Angola, potentially so prosperous from its natural resources but suffering from lethal self-inflicted wounds.