The regime that came to power in Portugal after the coup on April 25, 1974 and the subsequent “carnival revolution” aimed to end the colonial wars in Africa. In practice, this meant independence for Angola and the other colonies in Africa. When this became clear, a massive and chaotic emigration of hundreds of thousands of predominantly white residents – most Portuguese, but also other Europeans and people who considered themselves Angolans began. A dramatic consequence of this was that both capital and technical-administrative competence disappeared from the country, with major negative consequences for the industry and the infrastructure.
For Angola, independence was set for November 11, 1975, in accordance with the so-called Alvor agreement between the new Lisbon regime and the three Angolan liberation movements.
The Alvor agreement was to form a national unity government, establish an integrated army and hold free elections prior to independence. None of the parts could be put to life, because even before independence, fighting for power in the country was in progress between the three movements. Anyone who controlled Luanda’s Independence Day would be able to proclaim independence and sit in power. The MPLA succeeded in driving the rivals out of the capital.
At midnight on November 11, 1975, MPLA leader Agostinho Neto was able to proclaim the People’s Republic of Angola as an independent state, and himself president. The next day, Holden Roberto proclaimed “The Independent People’s Democratic Republic of Angola” and then, together with Jonas Savimbi, formed a National Revolutionary Council. This “republic” was never recognized by any state, nor by Zaire or South Africa.
MPLA’s one-party state
Agostinho Neto quickly established an authoritarian regime, proclaiming Angola as a socialist republic led by MPLA, the country’s only legal party. The party established Marxism-Leninism as its ideological foundation, taking over all control of civil administration, the judiciary and political institutions, as well as all economic infrastructure. The Neto Board did not tolerate organized opposition in the form of parties or independent civil society organizations or trade unions.
On May 27, 1977, an uproar ensued in the MPLA, and a coup attempt was turned down. In the following months, tens of thousands of people, both involved and innocent, were probably killed in the MPLA’s internal “cleansing”. In 1979, the president died, and he was succeeded by José Eduardo dos Santos.
The causes of the Civil War
After independence, there was continuous civil war in the country, mainly between the government / MPLA and UNITA, right up to the first ceasefire in 1991. FNLA was quickly defeated by MPLA, and since then played little role. The so-called Bicesse agreement enabled the first free elections in October 1992. The conflict erupted again before the second round of elections was completed, and in the years 1993-1994 the war raged with greater intensity than ever before. A fragile ceasefire went on in the years 1994-1997. The next four years of intense warfare brought UNITA more and more into retreat before the leader Savimbi was killed in February 2002, and the war ended.
The war in Angola was greatly intensified by great international interference, both during the liberation struggle and after independence. But the war originated in internal affairs. The independence movements had different visions for an independent Angola, they had different roots, and the contradictions had strong historical causes. MPLA was based in the urban elite, especially in Luanda. FNLA has strong roots in northern Angola and the Bakongo population, while UNITA has its roots in the Ovimbundu areas of the populous Highlands and Central Provinces, with leaders trained at the Protestant mission stations. The movements failed to agree on a joint project. On the other hand, all had totalitarian traits, and in practice sought to eliminate each other rather than to make compromises.
The First Stage of the Civil War (1975–1991)
While the liberation movements received military and financial support from different teams, the two main actors after independence, the MPLA government and the UNITA rebel force, were primarily supported by each superpower; The United States and the Soviet Union. This happened directly and through straw men, Cuba and South Africa respectively. Both were for many years militarily involved in the conflict; the Cuban forces by agreement of the Angolan government, the South Africans as an invasion force and sometimes occupying power. UNITA established itself with a main base at Jamba in the southeast of the country. Under the leadership of Jonas Savimbi, UNITA gradually took control of increasingly large parts of the country and set up a civil administration in its areas. But UNITA’s ultimate goal was to take Luanda and govern the MPLA board there.
South Africa’s military involvement was crucial to Angola’s development until 1990. A number of times, South African forces entered southern Angola, occupying parts of the country at times. The South African invasions and cooperation with UNITA were destabilizing Angola and undermining the government’s authority.
The many battles in which South Africa was involved culminated in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1987–1988, in which some 50,000 Cuban soldiers also participated. The battle was unsuccessful for South Africa, and it became a turning point in the civil war because it led to negotiations that eventually resulted in independence for Namibia and the removal of all Cuban forces from Africa. It also led to progress in the negotiations between the Angolan government and UNITA.
A United Nations military observer force (United Nations Angola Verification Mission, UNAVEM), with participation from Norway, among others, was established to monitor the Cuban withdrawal (UNAVEM I). The UNAVEM forces remained in Angola until 1997, but were never able to have a decisive influence on the warring parties.