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Angola - Government and Politics

AFTER THIRTEEN YEARS of guerrilla warfare, Angola finally escaped from Portuguese colonial rule in 1975, but with few of the resources needed to govern an independent nation. When an effort to form a coalition government comprising three liberation movements failed, a civil war ensued. The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola -- MPLA) emerged from the civil war to proclaim a Marxist-Leninist one-party state. The strongest of the disenfranchised movements, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola -- UNITA), continued to battle for another thirteen years, shifting the focus of its opposition from the colonial power to the MPLA government. In late 1988, the social and economic disorder resulting from a quarter-century of violence had a pervasive effect on both individual lives and national politics.

Angola's 1975 Constitution, revised in 1976 and 1980, ratifies the socialist revolution but also guarantees some rights of private ownership. The ruling party, renamed the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola-Workers' Party (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola-Partido de Trabalho--MPLA-PT) in 1977, claimed the power of the state. Although formally subordinate to the party, the government consolidated substantial power in its executive branch. The president was head of the MPLA-PT, the government, the military, and most important bodies within the party and the government. In his first nine years in office (1979-88), President José Eduardo dos Santos further strengthened the presidency, broadening the influence of a small circle of advisers and resisting pressure to concentrate more power within the MPLA-PT. His primary goal was economic development rather than ideological rigor, but at the same time dos Santos considered the MPLA-PT the best vehicle for building a unified, prosperous nation.

Among the first actions taken by the MPLA-PT was its conversion into a vanguard party to lead in the transformation to socialism. Throughout the 1980s, the MPLA-PT faced the daunting task of mobilizing the nation's peasants, most of whom were concerned with basic survival, subsistence farming, and avoiding the destruction of the ongoing civil war. Only a small minority of Angolans were party members, but even this group was torn by internal disputes. Factional divisions were drawn primarily along racial and ideological lines, but under dos Santos influence within the MPLAPT gradually shifted from mestiço to black African leadership and from party ideologues to relative political moderates.

Mass organizations were affiliated with the party in accordance with Marxist-Leninist dogma. In the face of continued insurgent warfare and deteriorating living standards, however, many social leaders chafed at party discipline and bureaucratic controls. Dos Santos worked to build party loyalty and to respond to these tensions, primarily by attempting to improve the material rewards of Marxist-Leninist state building. His greatest obstacle, however, was the destabilizing effect of UNITA and its South African sponsors; Angola's role as a victim of South Africa's destructive regional policies was central to its international image during the 1980s.

In December 1988, Angola, South Africa, and Cuba reached a long-sought accord that promised to improve Luanda's relations with Pretoria. The primary goals of the United States-brokered talks were to end South Africa's illegal occupation of Namibia and remove Cuba's massive military presence from Angola. Vital economic assistance from the United States was a corollary benefit of the peace process, conditioned on Cuba's withdrawal and the MPLA-PT's rapprochement with UNITA. Despite doubts about the intentions of all three parties to the accord, international hopes for peace in southwestern Africa were high.

The Constitution
<>Executive Branch
The President
<>Council of Ministers
Defense and Security Council
<>Legislative Branch
<>Judicial System
<>Local Administration
Mass Organizations
<>Interest Groups
Peasant Farmers
Traditional Elites
Religious Communities

Angola - Government and Politics - BACKGROUND

Political units in southwestern Africa evolved into complex structures long before the arrival of the first Portuguese traveler, Diogo C o, in 1483. The Bantu-speaking and Khoisan- speaking hunters the Portuguese encountered were descendants of those who had peopled most of the region for centuries. Pastoral and agricultural villages and kingdoms had also arisen in the northern and central plateaus. One of the largest of these, the Kongo Kingdom, provided the earliest resistance to Portuguese domination. The Bakongo (people of Kongo) and their southern neighbors, the Mbundu, used the advantage of their large population and centralized organization to exploit their weaker neighbors for the European slave trade.

To facilitate nineteenth-century policies emphasizing the extraction of mineral and agricultural resources, colonial officials reorganized villages and designed transportation routes to expedite marketing these resources. Colonial policy also encouraged interracial marriage but discouraged education among Africans, and the resulting racially and culturally stratified population included people of mixed ancestry (mestiços), educated Angolans (assimilados who identified with Portuguese cultural values, and the majority of the African population that remained uneducated and unassimilated indígenas. Opportunities for economic advancement were apportioned according to racial stereotypes, and even in the 1960s schools were admitting barely more than 2 percent of the school-age African population each year.

Portugal resisted demands for political independence long after other European colonial powers had relinquished direct control of their African possessions. After unsuccessfully seeking support from the United Nations (UN) in 1959, educated Luandans organized a number of resistance groups based on ethnic and regional loyalties. By the mid-1970s, four independence movements vied with one another for leadership of the emerging nation.

The MPLA, established by mestiços and educated workers in Luanda, drew its support from urban areas and the Mbundu population that surrounded the capital city. The Union of Peoples of Northern Angola (União das Populações do Norte de Angola -- UPNA) was founded to defend Bakongo interests. The UPNA soon dropped its northern emphasis and became the Union of Angolan Peoples (União das Populações de Angola -- UPA) in an attempt to broaden its ethnic constituency, although it rebuffed consolidation attempts by other associations. The UPA, in turn, formed the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola -- FNLA) in 1962, when it merged with other northern dissident groups.

A variety of interpretations of Marxist philosophy emerged during the 1950s and 1960s, a period when Western nations refused to pressure Portugal (a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization--NATO) to upgrade political life in its colonies. The Portuguese Communist Party (Partido Comunista Português--PCP) helped organize African students in Lisbon and encouraged them to press for independence. A campaign of arrests and forced exile crushed most Angolan nationalist leadership, but in Portugal underground antifascist groups were gaining strength, and Angolan liberation movements flourished. The MPLA established its headquarters in Léopoldville, Belgian Congo (present-day Kinshasa, Zaire), and in 1962, after a period of exile and imprisonment, Agostinho Neto became head of the MPLA.

Neto, a physician, poet, and philosopher, strengthened the MPLA's left-wing reputation with his rhetorical blend of socialist ideology and humanist values. He also led the group in protests against enforced cotton cultivation, discriminatory labor policies, and colonial rule in general. MPLA and UPA leaders agreed to cooperate, but long-standing animosities led members of these two groups to sabotage each other's efforts. Within the MPLA, leadership factions opposed each other on ideological grounds and policy issues, but with guidance from the Soviet Union they resolved most of their disputes by concentrating power in their high command. Soviet military assistance also increased in response to the growing commitment to building a socialist state.

In April 1974, the Portuguese army overthrew the regime in Lisbon, and its successor began dismantling Portugal's colonial empire. In November 1974, Lisbon agreed to grant independence. However, after centuries of colonial neglect, Angola's African population was poorly prepared for self-government: there were few educated or trained leaders and almost none with national experience. Angola's liberation armies contested control of the new nation, and the coalition established by the Alvor Agreement in January 1975 quickly disintegrated.

Events in Angola in 1975 were catastrophic. Major factors that contributed to the violence that dogged Angola's political development for over a decade were the incursions into northern Angola by the United States-backed and Zairian-backed FNLA; an influx of Cuban advisers and, later, troops providing the MPLA with training and combat support; South African incursions in the south; UNITA attacks in the east and south, some with direct troop support from Pretoria; and dramatic increases in Soviet matériel and other assistance to the MPLA. Accounts of the sequence of these critical events differed over the next decade and a half, but most observers agreed that by the end of 1975 Angola was effectively embroiled in a civil war and that growing Soviet, Cuban, South African, and United States involvement in that war made peace difficult to achieve.

International recognition came slowly to the MPLA, which controlled only the northern third of the nation by December 1975. A small number of former Portuguese states and Soviet allies recognized the regime, and Nigeria led the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in granting recognition. The FNLA and UNITA attempted unsuccessfully to establish a rival government in the Angolan town of Huambo, but no one outside Angola recognized their regime. By the end of 1976, Angola was a member of the UN and was recognized by most other African states, but its domestic legitimacy remained in question.

MPLA leader Neto had avoided ideological labels during the struggle for independence, although the MPLA never concealed the Marxist bias of some of its members. Neto viewed Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy as a means of unifying and organizing Angola's diverse society and of establishing agricultural growth as the basis for economic development. He also hoped to avoid disenfranchising urban workers or encouraging the growth of a rural bourgeoisie, while maintaining crucial military support from the Soviet Union and Cuba.

One of the MPLA's many slogans, "people's power" (poder popular), had won broad support for the group before independence, especially in Luanda, where neighborhood self-help groups were formed to defend residents of poor and working-class neighborhoods against armed banditry. This movement was quickly curtailed by the police, but people's power remained a popular symbol of the demand for political participation. After independence, despite constitutional guarantees of people's power, the slogan became a symbol of unrealized expectations. President Neto, despite his democratic ideals, quickly developed an autocratic governing style. He introduced austerity measures and productivity campaigns and countered the resulting popular discontent with an array of security and intelligence operations.

Industrial workers, who were among the first to organize for people's power, found their newly formed unions absorbed into the MPLA-controlled National Union of Angolan Workers (União Nacional dos Trabalhadores Angolanos--UNTA), and the party began to absorb other popular organizations into the party structure. Students, laborers, and peasant farmers agitated against what they perceived as a mestiço-dominated political elite, and this resentment, even within the ranks of the MPLA itself, culminated in an abortive coup attempt led by the former minister of interior, Nito Alves, in May 1977.

In the aftermath of the 1977 Nitista coup attempt, the MPLA redefined the rules for party membership. After the First Party Congress in December 1977 affirmed the Central Committee's decision to proclaim its allegiance to Marxist-Leninist ideals, the MPLA officially became a "workers' party" and added "-PT" (for "Partido de Trabalho") to its acronym. In 1978 its leaders began a purge of party cadres, announcing a "rectification campaign" to correct policies that had allowed the Nitista factions and other "demagogic" tendencies to develop. The MPLA-PT reduced its numbers from more than 100,000 to about 31,000, dropping members the party perceived as lacking dedication to the socialist revolution. Most of those purged were farmers or educated mestiços, especially those whose attitudes were considered "petit bourgeois." Urban workers, in contrast to rural peasants, were admitted to the MPLA-PT in fairly large numbers.

By the end of the 1970s, the ruling party was smaller, more unified, and more powerful, but it had lost standing in rural areas, and its strongest support still came from those it was attempting to purge--educated mestiços and assimilados. Progress was hampered by losses in membership, trade, and resources resulting from emigration and nearly two decades of warfare. The MPLA-PT attempted to impose austerity measures to cope with these losses, but in the bitter atmosphere engendered by the purges of the late 1970s, these policies further damaged MPLA-PT legitimacy. Pursuing the socialist revolution was not particularly important in non-Mbundu rural areas, in part because of the persistent impression that mestiços dominated the governing elite. National politicians claimed economic privilege and allowed corruption to flourish in state institutions, adding to the challenges faced by dos Santos, who became MPLA-PT leader in 1979.


The Constitution

Adopted in November 1975, independent Angola's first and only Constitution dedicates the new republic to eliminating the vestiges of Portuguese colonialism. The Constitution provides numerous guarantees of individual freedom and prohibits discrimination based on color, race, ethnic identity, sex, place of birth, religion, level of education, and economic or social status. The Constitution also promises freedom of expression and assembly.

Constitutional revisions in 1976 and 1980 more clearly establish the national goal of a revolutionary socialist, one-party state. As revised, the Constitution vests sovereignty in the Angolan people, guaranteed through the representation of the party, and promises to implement "people's power." It also emphasizes the preeminence of the party as policy-making body and makes the government subordinate to it. Government officials are responsible for implementing party policy. Economic development is founded on socialist models of cooperative ownership.

Other constitutional guarantees include health care, access to education, and state assistance in childhood, motherhood, disability, and old age. In return for these sweeping guarantees, each individual is responsible for participating in the nation's defense, voting in official elections, serving in public office if appointed or elected, working (which is considered both a right and a duty), and generally aiding in the socialist transformation.

Despite its strong socialist tone, the Constitution guarantees the protection of private property and private business activity within limits set by the state. National economic goals are to develop agriculture and industry, establish just social relations in all sectors of production, foster the growth of the public sector and cooperatives, and implement a system of graduated direct taxation. Social goals include combating illiteracy, promoting the development of education and a national culture, and enforcing strict separation of church and state, with official respect for all religions.

The Constitution also outlines Angola's defense policy. It explicitly prohibits foreign military bases on Angolan soil or affiliation with any foreign military organization. It institutionalizes the People's Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (Forças Armadas Populares de Libertação de Angola -- FAPLA) as the nation's army and assigns it responsibility for defense and national reconstruction. Military conscription applies to both men and women over the age of eighteen.

Angola - Executive Branch

Executive Branch

The President

Executive authority is vested in the president, his appointed ministers, and the Defense and Security Council. The president is selected as head of the MPLA-PT by the Political Bureau. His authority derives first from his status as head of the MPLA-PT and then from his preeminence in government. President dos Santos, like his predecessor, had wide-ranging powers as the leading figure in politics and the military. He was commander in chief of the armed forces and chairman of the Council of Ministers. He was also empowered to appoint and dismiss a wide variety of national and provincial officials, including military officers and provincial commissioners. The president could also designate an acting president from among the members of the MPLA-PT Political Bureau, but if he died or were disabled, his successor would be chosen by the Central Committee.

Angola - Council of Ministers

In late 1988, the Council of Ministers comprised twenty-one ministers and ministers of state. The seventeen ministerial portfolios included agriculture, construction, defense, domestic and foreign trade, education, finance, fisheries, foreign relations, health, industry, interior, justice, labor and social security, petroleum and energy, planning, state security, and transport and communications. Ministers were empowered to prepare the national budget and to make laws by decree, under authority designated by the national legislature, the People's Assembly, but most of the ministers' time was spent administering policy set by the MPLA-PT.

In February 1986, dos Santos appointed four ministers of state (who came to be known as "superministers") and assigned them responsibility for coordinating the activities of the Council of Ministers. Their portfolios were for the productive sphere; economic and social spheres; inspection and control; and town planning, housing, and water. Twelve ministries were placed under superministry oversight; the ministers of defense, foreign relations, interior, justice, and state security continued to report directly to the president. This change was part of an effort to coordinate policy, reduce overlapping responsibilities, eliminate unnecessary bureaucratic procedures, and bolster the government's reputation for efficiency in general. Most ministers and three of the four ministers of state were also high officials in the MPLA-PT, and their policy-making influence was exercised through the party rather than through the government.

Defense and Security Council

In May 1986, the president appointed eight respected advisers to the Defense and Security Council, including the ministers of defense, interior, and state security; the ministers of state for the economic and social spheres, inspection and control, and the productive sphere; the FAPLA chief of the general staff; and the MPLA-PT Central Committee secretary for ideology, information, and culture. The president chaired the council and gave it a broad mandate, including oversight and administration in military, economic, and diplomatic affairs. He strengthened this authority during the council's first five years by treating the council as an inner circle of close advisers. By 1988 the Defense and Security Council and the Political Bureau, both chaired by the president, were the most powerful decision-making bodies within the government and party, respectively.


Angola - Legislative Branch

The principle of people's power was enshrined in the 223-member People's Assembly, which replaced the Council of the Revolution as the nation's legislature in 1980. The primary purpose of the People's Assembly was to implement some degree of participatory democracy within the revolutionary state and to do so outside party confines. People's Assembly delegates did not have to be party members, and many were not. The planned electoral process was the election of 203 delegates to three-year terms by an electoral college. The electoral college, in turn, would be elected by universal suffrage. The remaining twenty delegates were to be elected by the Central Committee of the MPLA-PT. During the 1980s, implementation of this plan was obstructed by security problems and bureaucratic snarls. In 1980 the Central Committee elected all People's Assembly members. In 1983 the government's lack of control over many rural areas, combined with a dearth of accurate census data, prompted dos Santos to postpone the elections. The 1986 elections, actually held in 1987, consisted of mass meetings at which the names of nominees were presented on a list prepared by the existing People's Assembly. A few names were challenged and removed, but these lengthy public discussions did not constitute the democratic process required by the Constitution.

The People's Assembly met every six months to approve the national budget and development plan, enact legislation, and delegate responsibilities to its subcommittees. It also elected the twenty-five-member Permanent Commission to perform assembly functions between sessions. The president headed the Permanent Commission, which was dominated by members of the MPLA-PT Political Bureau. The subordination of the People's Assembly to the MPLA-PT was ensured by including high-level party officials among the former's appointed members and by frequent reminders of the preeminence of the party. The government's intention was to create people's assemblies at all levels of local administration in order to establish a government presence in remote areas and promote party-government contacts. The planned assemblies were an important symbol of people's power, although they were also intended to be controlled by the party elite.

Angola - Judicial System

The Ministry of Justice oversaw the nation's court system, which comprised the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, people's revolutionary courts, and a system of people's courts. High-level judges were appointed by the minister of justice. The Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals heard cases involving national officials and appeals from lower courts. People's revolutionary courts heard accusations related to national security, mercenary activity, or war crimes. They presided over both military and civilian cases, with senior military officers serving in a judicial capacity in military cases. Appeals were heard by appellate courts in each provincial capital.

People's courts were established in the late 1970s by the National Court Administration of the Ministry of Justice as part of a nationwide reorganization along Marxist-Leninist lines. The people's court system comprised criminal, police, and labor tribunals in each provincial capital and in a few other towns. The MPLA-PT Political Bureau appointed three judges--one professional and two lay magistrates--to preside over each people's courtroom and assigned them equal power and legal standing. Although the professional judges had substantial legal training, lay judges were appointed on a rotating basis from among a group of citizens who had some formal education and several weeks' introductory legal training. Some were respected leaders of local ethnic groups. No juries were empaneled in either civil or criminal cases, but judges sometimes sought the opinion of local residents in weighing decisions.

Angola - Local Administration

As of late 1988, Angola was divided into eighteen provinces (províncias) and 161 districts (municípios). Districts were further subdivided into quarters or communes (comunas), villages (povoações), and neighborhoods (bairros). Administration at each level was the responsibility of a commissioner, who was appointed by the president at the provincial, district, and commune levels and elected at the village and neighborhood levels. The eighteen provincial commissioners were ex-officio members of the executive branch of the national government. The supreme organ of state power was the national People's Assembly. Provincial people's assemblies comprised between fifty-five and eighty-five delegates, charged with implementing MPLA-PT directives. People's assemblies were also envisioned, but not yet operational in late 1988, at each subnational level of administration.

In 1983 the president created a system of regional military councils to oversee a range of local concerns with security implications. High-ranking military officers, reporting directly to the president, headed these councils. Their authority superseded that of other provincial administrators and allowed them to impose a state of martial law within areas threatened by insurgency. The boundaries of military regions and the provinces did not coincide exactly. Until 1988 ten regional military councils were in operation. In early 1988, however, the Ministry of Defense, citing this structure as inadequate, announced the formation of four fronts.



During the 1960s, the MPLA established its headquarters at Kinshasa, Zaire, and then at Lusaka, Zambia, and Brazzaville, Congo. The MPLA's scattered bases and diverse constituent groups contributed to disunity and disorganization, problems that were exacerbated by personal and ideological differences among party leaders. The first serious split occurred in 1973, when Daniel Chipenda led a rebellion, sometimes termed the Eastern Revolt, in protest against the party's mestiço-dominated leadership and Soviet interference in Angolan affairs. Chipenda and his followers were expelled from the MPLA, and many joined the northern-based FNLA in 1975. Then in 1974, about seventy left-wing MPLA supporters based in Brazzaville broke with Agostinho Neto. This opposition movement became known as the Active Revolt. Shortly after independence, a third split occurred within the party, culminating in the 1977 coup attempt by Nito Alves. Later in 1977, the MPLA transformed itself into a Marxist-Leninist vanguard party and launched a lengthy rectification campaign to unify its membership, impose party discipline, and streamline decision-making processes.

In 1980 Angola was governed by a new head of state under a newly revised Constitution. The nation's first legislature, the People's Assembly, served as a symbol of people's power, but state organs were clearly subordinate to those of the party. Within the MPLA-PT, channels for political participation were being narrowed. Both government and party leaders established a hierarchy of organizations through which they hoped to mobilize rural populations and broaden political support. At the same time, MPLAPT leaders launched programs to impose party discipline on the party's cadres and indoctrinate all segments of society in their proper role in political development.

Overall goals were relatively easy to agree upon, but poverty and insecurity exacerbated disagreements over specific strategies for attaining these objectives. By the mid-1980s, the party had three major goals--incorporating the population into the political process, imposing party discipline on its cadres, and reconciling the diverse factions that arose to dispute these efforts. Some MPLA-PT officials sought to control political participation by regulating party membership and strengthening discipline, while others believed the MPLA-PT had wasted valuable resources in the self-perpetuating cycle of government repression and popular dissent. President dos Santos sought to resolve disputes that did not seem to threaten his office. However, much of the MPLA-PT's political agenda, already impeded by civil war and regional instability, was further obstructed by these intraparty disputes.


In many Third World states, the president was the paramount leader, and in this regard Angola was no exception. Its president, José Eduardo dos Santos, combined strong party loyalty with political pragmatism. This loyalty had political and personal bases. Dos Santos owed much of his success to the MPLA, which he had joined in 1962 at the age of nineteen. The party sponsored his study at Baku University in the Soviet Union from 1963 to 1970. In 1974 MPLA leader Neto appointed dos Santos to the Central Committee, which elected him to its elite Political Bureau; this group elected him to succeed Neto, who died in 1979. Dos Santos traveled to the Soviet Union a few weeks later to confirm his revolutionary agenda as president.

Dos Santos's loyalty to Marxism-Leninism was founded in his student years in the Soviet Union, where he also married a Soviet citizen (who later returned to her homeland). There, he developed his belief in the vanguard party as the best strategy for mobilizing Angola's largely rural population. At the same time, however, he professed belief in a mixed economy, some degree of decentralization, an expanded private sector, and Western investment. Like many African leaders, he did not equate political eclecticism with internal contradiction, nor did he view Angola's political posture as an invitation to Soviet domination.

Dos Santos did not embrace Marxism for its utopian appeal; his view of Angolan society after the envisioned socialist transformation did not lack internal conflict. Rather, he viewed Marxist-Leninist organizational tenets as the most practical basis for mobilizing a society in which the majority lacked economic and educational opportunities. A small vanguard leadership, with proper motivation and training, could guide the population through the early stages of national development, in his view, and this approach could improve the lives of more people than capitalist investment and profit making by a small minority. During the 1980s, because trade with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe failed to develop and because Western technical expertise appeared vital to Angola's development, dos Santos favored improved political relations with the West as a step toward peace and greater prosperity. Although he had scorned his predecessor's shift in the same direction in the late 1970s, dos Santos denied that his move signaled a weakening commitment to Marxism.

Despite his strong party loyalty, in the late 1980s dos Santos was known as a political pragmatist. He sometimes spoke out against the MPLA-PT's most extreme ideologues and took steps to limit their influence. He openly criticized the results of the rectification campaign of the late 1970s, which, in his view, had removed too many loyal members from the party's rolls. He also recognized that the campaign had alienated much of the nation's peasant majority, that they remained indifferent toward party programs in the late 1980s, and that they had not benefited from many MPLA-PT policies.

Political pragmatism was not to be confused with a liberal style of governing. In response to security crises and public criticism, dos Santos ordered arrests, detentions without trial, and occasional executions. He concentrated power in his office and narrowed his circle of close advisers. He enlarged the executive branch of government by appointing new ministers of state to coordinate executive branch activity and convinced the MPLA-PT Central Committee to entrust him with emergency powers. Dos Santos also persuaded party leaders to empower him to appoint regional military councils that had sweeping authority over civilian and military affairs in unstable regions of the country and that were answerable only to the president.

Dos Santos further consolidated his hold on executive authority in April 1984 by establishing the Defense and Security Council. In 1985 he enlarged the party Central Committee from sixty to ninety members and alternates, thus diluting the strength of its staunch ideological faction.

Undermining potential opponents was not dos Santos's only motivation for consolidating power within the executive branch of government. He was also impatient with bureaucratic "red tape," even when justified in the name of party discipline. Accordingly, the primary qualification for his trusted advisers was a balance of competence, efficiency, and loyalty. Rhetorical skills, which he generally lacked, were not given particular priority; ideological purity was even less important. His advice for economic recovery was summed up as "produce, repair, and rehabilitate." The direct, relatively nonideological governing style exemplified by this approach earned dos Santos substantial respect and a few strong critics.

Economic and security crises worsened during the first nine years of dos Santos's presidency, draining resources that might have been used to improve living standards and education. The president rejected advice from party ideologues, whose primary aim was to develop a sophisticated Marxist-Leninist party apparatus. Rather than emphasize centralized control and party discipline, dos Santos embraced a plan to decentralize economic decision making in 1988. He then appointed Minister of Planning Lopo do Nascimento to serve as commissioner of Huíla Province in order to implement this plan in a crucial region of the country.

The 1985 Second Party Congress assented to the president's growing power by approving several of his choices for top government office as party officials. Among these was Roberto de Almeida, a member of the Defense and Security Council in his capacity as the MPLA-PT secretary for ideology, information, and culture and one of dos Santos' close advisers. Party leaders elected Almeida, a mestiço, to both the MPLA-PT Central Committee and the Political Bureau.

Demoted from the top ranks of the party were the leading ideologue, Lúcio Lára, and veteran mestiço leaders Paulo Jorge and Henrique Carreira (nom de guerre Iko). The split between ideologues and political moderates did not render the party immobile, in part because of dos Santos's skill at using Angola's internal and external threats to unite MPLA-PT factions. The everpresent UNITA insurgency provided a constant reminder of the frailty of the nation's security.


Mass Organizations

Three mass organizations were affiliated with the MPLA-PT in 1988--the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola-Youth Movement (Juventude do Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola -- JMPLA), the Organization of Angolan Women (Organização da Mulher Angolana--OMA), and the UNTA. Each was founded as an anticolonial social movement during the 1960s and transformed into a party affiliate when the MPLA-PT became a vanguard party in 1977. Although these groups were formally subordinate to the party in accordance with Marxist-Leninist doctrine, they continued to operate with relative autonomy. Strict party ideologues objected to this independence and sometimes treated organization leaders with contempt. The resulting tensions added to public resentment of party discipline and became a political issue when Neto accused leaders of the JMPLA, the OMA, and the UNTA of supporting the Nitista coup attempt of 1977. Alves, the coup leader, had criticized MPLA-PT leaders for bourgeois attitudes and racism, and many people in these organizations supported Alves's allegations.

In the late 1970s, mass organizations became an important target of the rectification campaign. Their role in society was redefined to emphasize the dissemination of information about party policy and the encouragement of participation in programs. Throughout most of the next decade, MPLA-PT officials continued to criticize the lack of coordination of organizational agenda with party needs. The mass organizations became centers of public resentment of MPLA-PT controls, but these groups were not yet effective at organizing or mobilizing against MPLA-PT rule.

Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola-Youth Movement

The JMPLA was founded in 1962 and converted into a training ground for MPLA-PT activists in 1977. It claimed a membership of 72,000, mostly teenagers and students, in 1988. The JMPLA conducted military exercises and political study groups, measuring success within the group primarily by an individual's commitment to the socialist revolution. The Second Congress of the JMPLA was held on April 14, 1987, a date that was also celebrated as National Youth Day.

Despite the symbolic and practical importance of the political role of the nation's youth, MPLA-PT officials generally had a derisive attitude toward JMPLA leaders during the 1980s. At the MPLA-PT congresses of 1980 and 1985, party officials criticized youth leaders for their failure to encourage political activism. They also remonstrated against youth group officials for the bourgeois attitudes, materialism, and political apathy they detected among children and teenagers. One measure of these problems was the continued urban influx among young people, which impeded MPLA-PT efforts at rural mobilization.

MPLA-PT leaders assigned the JMPLA the task of guiding the national children's organization, the Agostinho Neto Organization of Pioneers (Organização dos Pioneiros Agostinho Neto--OPA). The goal of the OPA was to educate all children in patriotic values, socialism, and the importance of study, work, and scientific knowledge. Founded as the Pioneers in 1975, the group took the name of the nation's first president at its second conference in November 1979, following Neto's death. JMPLA leaders generally viewed the OPA as a recruiting ground for potential political activists.

National Union of Angolan Workers

The UNTA was organized in 1960 in the Belgian Congo (presentday Zaire) to assist refugees and exiled MPLA members in their efforts to maintain social contacts and find jobs. Managing the UNTA became more difficult after independence. The UNTA headquarters was transferred to Luanda, where the shortage of skilled workers and personnel for management and training programs became immediately evident. UNTA leaders worked to transform the group from an adjunct to a national liberation army to a state labor union, but encouraged by the "people's power" movement, many workers thought the MPLA victory entitled them to assume control of their workplace. UNTA leaders found that workers' rights were sometimes given a lower priority than workers' obligations, and at times industrial workers found themselves at odds with both the government and their own union leadership. These tensions were exacerbated by the demands of militant workers who favored more sweeping nationalization programs than those undertaken by the government; some workers opposed any compensation of foreign owners.

During the early 1980s, Cuban advisers were assigned to bring industrial workers into the MPLA-PT. With their Angolan counterparts in the UNTA, Cuban shop stewards and union officials undertook educational programs in technical and management training, labor discipline and productivity, and socialist economics. Their overall goal was to impart a sense of worker participation in the management of the state economy--a difficult task in an environment characterized by warfare and economic crisis. By late 1988, the Cubans had achieved mixed success. Some of the UNTA's 600,000 members looked forward to the prosperity they hoped to achieve through MPLA-PT policies; many others felt their links to the government did little to improve their standard of living, and they were relatively uncommitted to the construction of a socialist state. UNTA officers did not aggressively represent worker interests when they conflicted with those of the party, and the fear of labor unrest became part of Angola's political context.

Organization of Angolan Women

The OMA was established in 1963 to mobilize support for the fledgling MPLA. After independence, it became the primary route by which women were incorporated in the political process. Its membership rose to 1.8 million in 1985 but dropped to less than 1.3 million in 1987. The group attributed this decline to the regional destabilization and warfare that displaced and destroyed families in rural areas, where more than two-thirds of OMA members lived. In 1983 Ruth Neto, the former president's sister, was elected secretary general of the OMA and head of its fifty-three-member national committee. Neto was reelected secretary general by the 596 delegates who attended the OMA's second nationwide conference on March 2, 1988.

During the 1980s, the OMA established literacy programs and worked to expand educational opportunities for women, and the government passed new legislation outlawing gender discrimination in wages and working conditions. MPLA-PT rhetoric emphasized equality between the sexes as a prerequisite to a prosperous socialist state. At both the First Party Congress and the Second Party Congress, the MPLA-PT Central Committee extolled contributions made by women, but in 1988 only 10 percent of MPLA-PT members were women, and the goal of equality remained distant. Through the OMA, some women were employed in health and social service organizations, serving refugees and rural families. More women were finding jobs in teaching and professions from which they had been excluded in the past, and a very small number occupied important places in government and the MPLA-PT. However, most Angolan women were poor and unemployed.

In addition to leading the OMA, Ruth Neto also served on the MPLA-PT Central Committee and as secretary general of the PanAfrican Women's Organization (PAWO), which had its headquarters in Luanda. The PAWO helped sponsor Angola's annual celebration of Women's Day (August 9), which was also attended by representatives from neighboring states and liberation movements in South Africa and Namibia.

Angola - Interest Groups

Peasant Farmers

In the early 1970s, rural volunteers were the backbone of the MPLA fighting forces, but after independence few peasant fighters were given leadership positions in the party. In fact, most farmers were purged from the party during the rectification campaign of the late 1970s for their lack of political commitment or revolutionary zeal. Criteria for party membership were stricter for farmers than for urban workers, and a decade later MPLA-PT leaders generally conceded that the worker-peasant alliance, on which the socialist transformation depended, had been weakened by the rectification campaign. When debating the reasons for this failure, some MPLA-PT members argued that their urban-based leadership had ignored rural demands and implemented policies favoring urban residents. Others claimed that the party had allowed farmers to place their own interests above those of society and that they were beginning to emerge as the rural bourgeoisie denounced by Marxist-Leninist leaders in many countries.

Policies aimed at rural development in the early 1980s had called for the establishment of state farms to improve productivity of basic foodstuffs in the face of shortages in equipment and technical experts. Cuban and Bulgarian farm managers were put in charge of most of these farms. These advisers' objectives were to introduce the use of mechanization and chemical fertilizers and to inculcate political awareness. By the mid-1980s, however, the salaries of foreign technical experts and the cost of new equipment far outweighed revenues generated by these state enterprises, and the program was abandoned.

Many farmers reverted to subsistence agriculture in the face of the spreading UNITA insurgency and what they often perceived as government neglect. Convincing them to produce surplus crops for markets presented formidable problems for party leaders. UNITA forces sometimes claimed crops even before they were harvested, and urban traders seldom ventured into insecure rural areas. Even if a farmer were able to sell surplus crops, the official price was often unrealistically low, and few consumer goods were available in rural markets even for those with cash.

In response to the apparent intransigence of some rural Angolans, the MPLA-PT attempted another strategy for mobilizing political support by creating farmers' cooperatives and organizing them into unions to provide channels of communication between farmers and party leaders. In late 1988, these unions represented only a small percentage of the rural population, but some party leaders still expected them to succeed. Rural resentment of the urban-based MPLA-PT leadership was still fairly widespread, however, and this resentment contributed to the success of UNITA in Angola's southern and eastern provinces.

Traditional Elites

In the late 1980s, President dos Santos was working to strengthen his support among the nation's traditional leaders. Every few weeks, he would invite delegations of provincial and local-level representatives to meet with him, and Angop would headline these meetings with "the chiefs." Their discussions focused on regional economic and social concerns and served the important political purpose of demonstrating the government's desire to avoid confrontation and to secure support in rural areas.

The MPLA had a neutral relationship with traditional elites before independence, in part because the urban-based party had little contact with ethnic group leaders, whose following was strongest in rural areas. After independence, in its determination to improve the national economy and infrastructure, the MPLA called on people to rise above ethnic and regional loyalties, labeling them impediments to progress in the class struggle. Early MPLA rhetoric also condemned many religious practices, including local African religions. Such policies provoked the contempt of some traditional leaders.

Crises were dampened somewhat by the party's often confrontational relationship with the civil service during the early 1970s. Civil servants, as representatives of the colonial regime, had often clashed with traditional leaders or had otherwise subverted their authority. The MPLA, in contrast, condemned the elitist attitudes of bureaucrats who were employed by the colonial regime, thus gaining support from traditional rulers. At the same time, however, the party drew much of its support from the petite bourgeoisie it condemned so loudly, and much of the civil service remained intact after independence.

By 1980 MPLA-PT efforts to consolidate support in outlying regions were evident. Party officials appointed ethnic group leaders to participate in or lead local party committees in many areas. Merging traditional and modern leadership roles helped strengthen support among rural peasants who would have otherwise remained on the periphery of national politics. Although success was limited to a few areas, this program allowed dos Santos to maintain a balance between national and regional interests. Even some party ideologues, initially inclined toward strict interpretations of Marxist-Leninist dogma, voiced the belief that populist elements might be appropriate for a Marxist regime in an African context.

Religious Communities

The MPLA-PT maintained a cautious attitude toward religion in the late 1980s, in contrast to its determination in the late 1970s to purge churchgoers from the party. A 1980 Ministry of Justice decree required all religious institutions to register with the government. As of 1987, eleven Protestant institutions were legally recognized: the Assembly of God, the Baptist Convention of Angola, the Baptist Evangelical Church of Angola, the Congregational Evangelical Church of Angola, the Evangelical Church of Angola, the Evangelical Church of South-West Angola, the Our Lord Jesus Christ Church in the World (Kimbanquist), the Reformed Evangelical Church of Angola, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, the Union of Evangelical Churches of Angola, and the United Methodist Church. Roberto de Almeida, the MPLA-PT Central Committee secretary for ideology, information, and culture, admonished church leaders not to perpetuate oppressive or elitist attitudes, and he specifically warned that the churches would not be allowed to take a neutral stance in the battle against opponents of the MPLA-PT regime.

The official attitude toward religion reflected the ideological split in the party leadership. Staunch party ideologues, who had purged almost all churchgoers during the rectification campaign of the late 1970s, opposed leniency toward anyone claiming or recognizing moral authority outside the regime. But as they had done in regard to traditional leaders, the president and his close associates weighed the balance between ideological purity and political necessity and soon moderated their antireligious stance. Political opposition had not coalesced around religious leaders, and, in general, the fear of religious opposition was weakening in the late 1980s.

Employing Marxist-Leninist diatribes against the oppression of the working class, only the most strident ideologues in the MPLA-PT maintained their opposition to religion. The Roman Catholic Church was still strongly identified with the colonial oppressor, and Protestant missionaries were sometimes condemned for having supported colonial practices. More serious in the government's view in the late 1980s was the use by its foremost opponent, Jonas Savimbi, of the issue of religion to recruit members and support for his UNITA insurgency. Savimbi's Church of Christ in the Bush had become an effective religious affiliate of UNITA, maintaining schools, clinics, and training programs.

Small religious sects were annoying to MPLA-PT officials. The ruling party suspected such groups of having foreign sponsors or of being used by opponents of the regime. To the government, the sects' relative independence from world religions was a gauge of their potential for political independence as well. Watch Tower and Seventh-Day Adventist sects were suspect, but they were not perceived as serious political threats. However, the Jehovah's Witnesses were banned entirely in 1978 because of their proscription on military service.

During the late 1980s, security officials considered the small Our Lord Jesus Christ Church in the World to be a threat to the regime, despite the fact that the Mtokoists, as they were known, were not particularly interested in national politics. Their founder, Simon Mtoko (also known as Simão Toco), had been expelled from Angola by the Portuguese in 1950 for preaching adherence to African cultural values. He returned to Angola in 1974 but soon clashed with MPLA leaders over the regime's authority over individual beliefs. He opposed the party's Marxist rhetoric on cultural grounds until his death in 1984. After his death, officials feared the group would splinter into dissident factions. The church was legally recognized in 1988 even though Mtokoists clashed with police in 1987 and 1988, resulting in arrests and some casualties.


After thirteen years of national independence, Angola's armed forces, FAPLA, remained pitted against UNITA in a civil war that had erupted out of the preindependence rivalry among liberation armies. The FNLA and the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (Frente para a Libertação do Enclave de Cabinda--FLEC) lost popular support during the first decade of independence, and, as a result, in 1988 UNITA remained the only serious internal threat to the dos Santos regime. Few Angolans expected either UNITA or government forces to achieve a military victory, but the political impact of the UNITA insurgency was substantial nonetheless.

Jonas Savimbi established UNITA in 1966. Leading a group of dissident members from the northern coalition that included the FNLA, he established a rival liberation movement that sought to avoid domination by Holden Roberto and his Bakongo followers. UNITA recruits from Savimbi's Ovimbundu homeland and from among the Chokwe (also spelled Cokwe), Lunda, Nganguela (also spelled Ganguela), and other southern Angolan societies sought to preserve elements of their own cultures. Some southerners also maintained centuries-old legacies of distrust toward northern ethnic groups, including the Bakongo and the Mbundu.

Savimbi's legitimacy as a dissident leader was acquired in part through the reputation of his grandfather, who had led the Ovimbundu state of Ndulu in protest against Portuguese rule in the early twentieth century. From his father, Savimbi acquired membership and belief in the United Church of Christ, which organized Ovimbundu villages into networks to assist in mission operations under colonial rule. One of these networks formed the Council of Evangelical Churches, a pan-Ovimbundu umbrella organization that united more than 100,000 people in south-central Angola. They were served by mission schools, training centers, and clinics, with near-autonomy from colonial controls. Local leaders, who staffed some of these establishments, voiced their demands for greater political freedom, and colonial authorities moved to suppress the Council of Evangelical Churches as pressures for independence mounted in the 1960s.

The territory in southeastern Angola controlled by UNITA in the late 1980s included part of the area that had been administered by the Council of Evangelical Churches before independence. Here, many people supported Savimbi's struggle against the MPLA-PT as an extension of the long struggle for Ovimbundu, not Angolan, nationhood. UNITA-run schools and clinics operated with the same autonomy from Luandan bureaucratic control as their mission-sponsored counterparts had before independence.

Ethnic loyalties remained strong in the southeast and other UNITA-controlled areas of rural Angola. Class solidarity, in comparison, was an almost meaningless abstraction. Savimbi was able to portray the class-conscious MPLA-PT in Luanda in terms that contrasted sharply with models of leadership among the Ovimbundu and other central and southern Angolan peoples. He described party leaders as a racially stratified elite, dominated by Soviet and Cuban advisers who also provided arms to suppress the population. The MPLA-PT's early assaults on organized religion reinforced this image. Many rural Angolans were also keenly aware that the party elite in Luanda lived at a much higher standard than did Savimbi's commanders in the bush. And they carefully noted that people in rural areas under MPLA-PT control still lived in poverty and that the government bureaucracy was notoriously inefficient and corrupt.

UNITA's regimented leadership, in turn, presented itself as the protector of rural African interests against outsiders. Through Savimbi's skilled public relations efforts, his organization became known as a local peasant uprising, fighting for political and religious freedom. Savimbi had no headquarters in other countries and took pride in the humble life-style of his command in Jamba, well within UNITA-held territory. On this basis, he won some support in the south and east, gained volunteers for UNITA forces, and slowed government efforts to extend MPLA-PT control into the countryside. In the late 1980s, however, international human rights organizations accused UNITA of human rights abuses, charging that UNITA was intimidating civilians to force them to support UNITA or to withhold support for the MPLA-PT.

For the government, the ever-present threat of the UNITA insurgency served a number of useful purposes. It helped rally support for party unity in the capital and surrounding areas. The government was able to capitalize on the reputation for brutality that grew up around some UNITA commanders and the destruction of rural resources by UNITA forces. Young amputees in Luanda and other towns provided a constant reminder of the several thousand land mines left in rural farmland by Savimbi's troops. UNITA activity also provided an immediate example of the party ideologues' stereotype of destabilization sponsored by international capitalist forces. These forces were, in turn, embodied in the regional enemy, South Africa. The UNITA insurgency also enabled the MPLA-PT government to justify the continued presence of Cuban troops in Angola, and it helped maintain international interest in Angola's political difficulties.

The regional accord reached in December 1988 by Angolan, South African, and Cuban negotiators did not address Angola's internal violence, but in informal discussions among the participants, alternatives were suggested for ending the conflict. Western negotiators pressured the MPLA-PT to bring UNITA officials into the government, and even within the party, many people hoped that UNITA representatives--excluding Savimbi--would be reconciled with the dos Santos government. Savimbi, in turn, offered to recognize dos Santos's leadership on the condition that free elections, as promised by the 1975 Alvor Agreement, would take place after the withdrawal of Cuban troops.


The government nationalized all print and broadcast media in 1976, and as of late 1988 the government and party still controlled almost all the news media. Angola's official news agency, Angop, distributed about 8,000 issues of the government newsletter, Diário de República, and 40,000 copies of Jornal de Angola daily in Luanda and other urban areas under FAPLA control. Both publications were in Portuguese. International press operations in Luanda included Agence France-Presse, Cuba's Prensa Latina, Xinhua (New China) News Agency, and several Soviet and East European agency offices.

Under the scrutiny of the MPLA-PT, the media were limited to disseminating official policy without critical comment or opposing viewpoints. The Angolan Journalists' Union, which proclaimed the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Constitution, nonetheless worked closely with the MPLA-PT and pressured writers to adhere to government guidelines. Views differing slightly from official perceptions were published in the UNTA monthly newsletter, O Voz do Trabalhador, despite active censorship.

Rádio Nacional de Angola was the largest of eighteen mediumwave and short-wave stations operating throughout the country. Radio broadcasts were in Portuguese and vernacular languages, and there were an estimated 435,000 receivers in 1988. In the late 1980s, people in central and southern Angola also received opposition radio broadcasts from the Voice of Resistance of the Black Cockerel, operated by UNITA in Portuguese, English, and local vernaculars. Limited television service in Portuguese became available in Luanda and surrounding areas in 1976, but by 1988 there were only about 40,500 television sets in the country.

Angop maintained a cooperative relationship with the Soviet news agency, TASS, and Angola was active in international efforts to improve coordination among nonaligned nations in the field of communications. Information ministers and news agency representatives from several Third World nations were scheduled to hold their fifth conference in Luanda in June 1989--their first meeting since 1985, when they met in Havana. The Angop delegation was to serve as host of the 1989 conference, and Angolan information officials in the government and party were to chair the organization from 1989 to 1992.

Angola was also a leader among Portuguese-speaking nations of Africa. Students from these nations attended the Interstate Journalism School in Luanda, which opened May 23, 1987, with support from the Yugoslav news agency, Tanyug. In September 1987, journalists from these five Lusophone nations held their third conference in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau. A major goal of this group was to coordinate cultural development based on their common language, but an important secondary goal was to demonstrate support for Angola in its confrontation with South Africa. By 1990 they hoped to celebrate the Pan-African News Agency's opening of a Portuguese desk in Luanda.



Angola's foreign relations reflected the ambivalence of its formal commitment to Marxism-Leninism and its dependence on Western investment and trade. Overall policy goals were to resolve this dual dependence--to achieve regional and domestic peace, reduce the need for foreign military assistance, enhance economic selfsufficiency through diversified trade relations, and establish Angola as a strong socialist state. MPLA-PT politicians described Angola's goal as geopolitical nonalignment, but throughout most of the 1980s Angola's foreign policy had a pronounced pro-Soviet bias.

Two groups within the MPLA-PT and one council within the executive branch vied for influence over foreign policy, all under the direct authority of the president. Formal responsibility for foreign policy programs lay with the MPLA-PT Central Committee. Within this committee, the nine members of the Secretariat and the five others who were members of the Political Bureau wielded decisive influence. The Political Bureau, in its role as guardian of the revolution, usually succeeded in setting the Central Committee agenda.

During the 1980s, as head of both the party and the government, dos Santos strengthened the security role of the executive branch of government, thereby weakening the control of the Central Committee and Political Bureau. To accomplish this redistribution of power, in 1984 he created the Defense and Security Council as an executive advisory body, and he appointed to this council the six most influential ministers, the FAPLA chief of the general staff, and the Central Committee secretary for ideology, information, and culture. The mandate of this council was to review and coordinate the implementation of security-related policy efforts among ministries. The Ministry of Foreign Relations was more concerned with diplomatic and economic affairs than with security matters.

Southern Africa's regional conflict determined much of Angola's foreign policy direction during the 1980s. Negotiations to end South Africa's illegal occupation of Namibia succeeded in linking Namibian independence to the removal of Cuban troops from Angola. The Cuban presence and that of South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) and African National Congress (ANC) bases in Angola bolstered Pretoria's claims of a Soviet-sponsored onslaught against the apartheid state. On the grounds that an independent Namibia would enlarge the territory available to Pretoria's enemies and make South Africa's borders even more vulnerable, South Africa maintained possession of Namibia, which it had held since World War I. Pretoria launched incursions into Angola throughout most of the 1980s and supported Savimbi's UNITA forces as they extended their control throughout eastern Angola.

The MPLA-PT pursued its grass-roots campaign to mobilize peasant support, and UNITA sought to capitalize on the fear of communism to enhance its popularity outside rural Ovimbundu areas. Many Angolans accepted MPLA-PT condemnations of the West but balanced them against the fact that Western oil companies in Cabinda provided vital revenues and foreign exchange and the fact that the United States purchased much of Angola's oil. Moreover, in one of Africa's many ironies that arose from balancing the dual quest for political sovereignty and economic development, Cuban and Angolan troops guarded American and other Western companies against attack by South African commandos or UNITA forces (which were receiving United States assistance).

Angola - Regional Politics

Most African governments maintained generally cautious support of the Luanda regime during most of its first thirteen years in power. African leaders recognized Luanda's right to reject Western alignments and opt for a Marxist state, following Angola's long struggle to end colonial domination. This recognition of sovereignty, however, was accompanied by uncertainty about the MPLA-PT regime itself, shifting from a concern in the 1970s that spreading Soviet influence would destabilize African regimes across the continent to a fear in the 1980s that the MPLA-PT might be incapable of governing in the face of strong UNITA resistance. The large Cuban military presence came to symbolize both Angola's political autonomy from the West and the MPLA-PT's reliance on a Soviet client state to remain in power. By 1988 the party's role in the struggle against South Africa had become its best guarantee of broad support across sub-Saharan Africa.

Pretoria's goals in Angola were to eliminate SWAPO and ANC bases from Angolan territory, weaken MPLA-PT support for Pretoria's foes through a combination of direct assault and aid to UNITA, and reinforce regional dependence on South Africa's own extensive transportation system by closing down the Benguela Railway. At the same time, however, South Africa's right-wing extremists relied on Marxist rhetoric from Angola and Mozambique as evidence of the predicted communist onslaught against Pretoria. The political ties of Angola and Mozambique to the Soviet Union also bolstered South Africa's determination to strengthen its security apparatus at home and provided a rationale for continued occupation of Namibia. Knowing this important prop for Pretoria's regional policies would diminish with the Cuban withdrawal from Angola, South Africa actually prolonged Angola's dependence on Soviet and Cuban military might by derailing negotiations for Namibian independence.

In 1984 South Africa and Angola agreed to end support for each other's rebels and work toward regional peace. This agreement, the Lusaka Accord, was not implemented, however, as Pretoria continued incursions into Angola, partly in response to new arrivals of Cuban forces.

Angola - Regional Accord

On December 22, 1988, after eight years of negotiations, Angola, Cuba, and South Africa concluded a regional accord that provided for the removal of Cuban troops from Angola. In a series of talks mediated by the United States, the three parties agreed to link Namibian independence from South African rule to a staged withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola. Both processes were to begin in 1989. Cuban troops were to move north of the fifteenth parallel, away from the Namibian border, by August 1, 1989. All Cuban troops were to be withdrawn from Angolan territory by July 1, 1991.

The December 1988 regional accords did not attempt to resolve the ongoing conflict between Angolan forces and UNITA. Rather, it addressed the 1978 UN Security Council Resolution 435, which called for South African withdrawal and free elections in Namibia and prohibited further South African incursions into Angola. The United States promised continued support for UNITA until a negotiated truce and power-sharing arrangement were accomplished.

The December 1988 regional accords created a joint commission of representatives from Angola, Cuba, South Africa, the United States, and the Soviet Union to resolve conflicts that threatened to disrupt its implementation. However, immediate responsibility for the accord lay primarily with the UN, which still required an enabling resolution by the Security Council, a funding resolution by the General Assembly, and a concrete logistical plan for member states to establish and maintain a Namibian peacekeeping force as part of the UN Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) called for by Resolution 435.

Angola's participation in the regional accords was pragmatic. The accords promised overall gains, but not without costs. They entailed the eventual loss of Cuban military support for the MPLAPT but countered this with the possible benefits of improved relations with South Africa--primarily an end to South Africansupported insurgency. The accords also suggested possible benefits from improved regional trade, membership in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and loans for development purposes. President dos Santos intended to reduce Angola's share of the cost of the Cuban presence, to reduce social tensions in areas where Cuban military units were stationed, and to weaken UNITA's argument that the MPLA-PT had allowed an occupation force to install itself in Angola. The MPLA-PT also hoped to gain a friendly SWAPO government in neighboring Namibia and an end to sanctuary for UNITA forces in Namibian territory. (This goal was complicated by the fact that Ovambo populations in southern Angola and Namibia provided the core of SWAPO, and, at the same time, many Ovambo people supported UNITA.)

As the first Cuban troops planned to withdraw from Angola, most parties to the accords still feared that it might fail. Angolan leaders worried that the UNITA insurgency would intensify in the face of the Cuban withdrawal; that UNITA leaders might find new sources of external assistance, possibly channeled through Zaire; and that South African incursions into Angola might recur on the grounds that ANC or SWAPO bases remained active in southern Angola. South African negotiators expressed the fear that the Cuban troop withdrawal, which could not be accurately verified, might not be complete; that Cuban troops might move into Zambia or other neighboring states, only to return to Angola in response to UNITA activity; or that SWAPO activity in Namibia might prompt new South African assaults on Namibian and Angolan territory. SWAPO negotiators, in turn, feared that South Africa or some of Namibia's 70,000 whites might block the elections guaranteed by UN Resolution 435, possibly bringing South African forces back into Namibia and scuttling the entire accords. These and other apprehensions were evident in late 1988, but substantial hope remained that all regional leaders supported the peace process and would work toward its implementation.

Angola - Relations with Other African States

Angola was wary of attempts at African solidarity during its first years of independence, an attitude that gave way to a more activist role in southern Africa during the 1980s. President Neto rejected an offer of an OAU peacekeeping force in 1975, suspecting that OAU leaders would urge a negotiated settlement with UNITA. Neto also declined other efforts to find African solutions to Angola's instability and reduce the Soviet and Cuban role in the region. A decade later, Angola had become a leader among front-line states (the others were Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) seeking Western pressure to end regional destablization by Pretoria. Luanda also coordinated efforts by the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) to reduce the front-line states' economic dependence on South Africa.

Angola's relations were generally good with other African states that accepted its Marxist policies and strained with states that harbored or supported rebel forces opposed to the MPLA-PT. The most consistent rhetorical support for the MPLA-PT came from other former Portuguese states in Africa (Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Guinea-Bissau, and Mozambique).

Nigeria, which led the OAU in recognizing the MPLA-PT regime in 1975, went on to seek a leadership role in the campaign against South Africa's domination of the region, but Nigeria never forged very close ties with Angola. Nigeria's own economic difficulties of the 1970s and 1980s, its close relations with the West, and other cultural and political differences prevented Luanda and Lagos from forming a strong alliance.

Zaire's relations with Angola were unstable during the 1970s and 1980s. Zairian regular army units supported the FNLA in the years before and just after Angolan independence, and Angola harbored anti-Zairian rebels, who twice invaded Zaire's Shaba Province (formerly Katanga Province). But Zaire's President Mobutu Sese Seko and President Neto reached a rapprochement before Neto's death in 1979, and Zaire curtailed direct opposition to the MPLAPT . Nonetheless, throughout most of the 1980s UNITA operated freely across Zaire's southwestern border, and Western support for UNITA was channeled through Zaire. Complicating relations between these two nations were the numerous ethnic groups whose homelands had been divided by the boundary between Zaire and Angola a century earlier. The Bakongo, Lunda, Chokwe, and many smaller groups maintained long-standing cultural, economic, and religious ties with relatives in neighboring states. These ties often extended to support for antigovernment rebels.

Zambia, which had officially ousted UNITA bands from its western region in 1976, voiced strong support for the MPLA-PT at the same time that it turned a blind eye to financial and logistical support for UNITA by Zambian citizens. Without official approval, but also without interference, UNITA forces continued to train in Zambia's western region. Lusaka's ambivalence toward Angola during the 1980s took into account the possibility of an eventual UNITA role in the government in Luanda. Both Zambia and Zaire had an interest in seeing an end to Angola's civil war because the flow of refugees from Angola had reached several hundred thousand by the mid-1980s. Peace would also enable Zambia and Zaire to upgrade the Benguela Railway as an alternative to South African transport systems.

Elsewhere in the region, relations with Angola varied. Strained relations arose at times with Congo, where both FNLA and Cabindan rebels had close cultural ties and some semi-official encouragement. Senegal, Togo, Malawi, and Somalia were among the relatively conservative African states that provided material support to UNITA during the 1980s. Throughout most of the decade, UNITA also received financial assistance from several North African states, including Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt, and these governments (along with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) pressured their African trading partners and client states to limit their support of the MPLA-PT.

Angola - Communist Nations

The Soviet Union supported the MPLA-PT as a liberation movement before independence and formalized its relationship with the MPLAPT government through the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation and a series of military agreements beginning in 1975. Once it became clear that the MPLA-PT could, with Cuban support, remain in power, the Soviet Union provided economic and technical assistance and granted Angola most-favored-nation status.

The support of the Soviet Union and its allies included diplomatic representations at the UN and in other international forums, military hardware and advisers, and more direct military support in the face of South African incursions into Angola. Civilian technical assistance extended to hydroelectric projects, bridge building and road building, agriculture, fisheries, public health, and a variety of educational projects. Technical assistance was often channeled through joint projects with a third country-- for example, the Capanda hydroelectric project entailed cooperation between the Soviet Union and Brazil.

Soviet-Angolan relations were strained at times during the 1980s, however, in part because Angola sought to upgrade diplomatic ties with the United States. Soviet leadership factions were divided over their nation's future role in Africa, and some Soviet negotiators objected to dos Santos's concessions to the United States on the issue of "linkage." The region's intractable political problems, and the cost of maintaining Cuban troop support and equipping the MPLA-PT, weakened the Soviet commitment to the building of a Marxist-Leninist state in Angola.

Angolan leaders, in turn, complained about Soviet neglect--low levels of assistance, poor-quality personnel and matériel, and inadequate responses to complaints. Angola shared the cost of the Cuban military presence and sought to reduce these expenses, in part because many Angolan citizens felt the immediate drain on economic resources and rising tensions in areas occupied by Cuban troops. Moreover, dos Santos complained that the Soviet Union dealt with Angola opportunistically--purchasing Angolan coffee at low prices and reexporting it at a substantial profit, overfishing in Angolan waters, and driving up local food prices.

For the first decade after independence, trade with communist states was not significant, but in the late 1980s dos Santos sought expanded economic ties with the Soviet Union, China, and Czechoslovakia and other nations of Eastern Europe as the MPLA-PT attempted to diversify its economic relations and reduce its dependence on the West. In October 1986, Angola signed a cooperative agreement with the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon or CMEA), a consortium dedicated to economic cooperation among the Soviet Union and its allies.

As part of the Comecon agreement, Soviet support for Angolan educational and training programs was increased. In 1987 approximately 1,800 Angolan students attended institutions of higher education in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union also provided about 100 lecturers to Agostinho Neto University in Luanda, and a variety of Soviet-sponsored training programs operated in Angola, most with Cuban instructors. Approximately 4,000 Angolans studied at the international school on Cuba's renowned Isle of Youth. More Angolan students were scheduled to attend the Union of Young Communists' School in Havana in 1989. Czechoslovakia granted scholarships to forty-four Angolan students in 1987, and during that year Czechoslovakia and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) also provided training for about 150 Angolan industrial workers.

Cuba's presence in Angola was more complex than it appeared to outsiders who viewed the Soviet Union's Third World clients as little more than surrogates for their powerful patron. The initiative in placing Cuban troops in Angola in the mid-1970s was taken by President Fidel Castro as part of his avowed mission of "Cuban internationalism." Facing widespread unemployment at home, young Cuban men were urged to serve in the military overseas as their patriotic duty, and veterans enjoyed great prestige on their return. Castro also raised the possibility of a Cuban resettlement scheme in southern Angola, and several hundred Cubans received Angolan citizenship during the 1980s. Cuban immigration increased sharply in 1988. In addition to military support, Cuba provided Angola with several thousand teachers, physicians, and civilian laborers for construction, agriculture, and industry. Angolan dependence on Cuban medical personnel was so complete that during the 1980s Spanish became known as the language of medicine.

China's relations with Angola were complicated by Beijing's opposition to both Soviet and United States policies toward Africa. China supported the FNLA and UNITA after the MPLA seized power in Angola, and China provided military support to Zaire when Zairian troops clashed with Angolan forces along their common border in the late 1970s. China nonetheless took the initiative in improving relations with the MPLA-PT during the 1980s. The two states established diplomatic ties in 1983.

Angola - United States and Western Europe

Angola's relations with the United States were ambivalent. The United States aided the FNLA and UNITA before independence. During most of 1976, the United States blocked Angola's admission to the UN, and in late 1988 the two nations still lacked diplomatic ties. United States representatives pressured Luanda to reduce its military reliance on Cuba and the Soviet Union, made necessary in part by United States and South African opposition to the MPLA-PT and support for UNITA. In 1988 Angola's government news agency quoted Minister of Foreign Relations Afonso Van Dúnem (nom de guerre Mbinda) as saying the United States had a "Cuban psychosis" that prevented it from engaging in talks about Namibia and Angola. Nevertheless, after the December 1988 regional accords to end the Cuban military presence in Angola, United States officials offered to normalize relations with Angola on the condition that an internal settlement of the civil war with UNITA be reached.

Political and diplomatic differences between the United States and Angola were generally mitigated by close economic ties. American oil companies operating in Cabinda provided a substantial portion of Angola's export earnings and foreign exchange, and this relationship continued despite political pressures on these companies to reduce their holdings in Cabinda in the mid-1980s. The divergence of private economic interests from United States diplomatic policy was complicated by differences of opinion among American policymakers. By means of the Clark Amendment, from 1975 to 1985 the United States Congress prohibited aid to UNITA and slowed covert attempts to circumvent this legislation. After the repeal of the Clark Amendment in 1985, however, trade between Angola and the United States continued to increase, and Cuban and Angolan troops attempted to prevent sabotage against United States interests by UNITA and South African commandos.

Western Europe, like the United States, feared the implications of a strong Soviet client state in southern Africa, but in general European relations with the MPLA-PT were based on economic interests rather than ideology. France and Portugal maintained good relations with the MPLA-PT at the same time that they provided financial assistance for UNITA and allowed UNITA representatives to operate freely in their capitals. Portugal was Angola's leading trading partner throughout most of the 1980s, and Brazil, another Lusophone state, strengthened economic ties with Angola during this period.


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John A. Marcum's two-volume series, The Angolan Revolution, analyzes historical trends in Angolan politics and society from the early colonial struggle through the early years of independence. Marcum also views the postwar environment and its political implications in "Angola: Twenty-five Years of War," and he analyzes obstacles to the socialist transformation in "The People's Republic of Angola." Keith Somerville's Angola: Politics, Economics, and Society provides an extensive discussion of Angola's variant of Marxism-Leninism and raises the question of its implications for the rural majority of Angolan people. Kenneth W. Grundy's "The Angolan Puzzle" assesses Angolan prospects for peace in 1987 in the context of the regional struggle.

Gerald J. Bender analyzes Angola's contemporary predicament from a historical perspective in "American Policy Toward Angola" and "The Continuing Crisis in Angola." Catherine V. Scott, in "Socialism and the `Soft State' in Africa," compares 1980s political developments in these two Marxist states in southern Africa. Tony Hodges's Angola to the 1990s, essentially an economic analysis, also contains insight into political trends. Fred Bridgland's "The Future of Angola" and Jonas Savimbi provide critical views of MPLA-PT rule, while Fola Soremekun's chapter on Angola in The Political Economy of African Foreign Policy, edited by Timothy M. Shaw and Olajide Aluko, and Angola's Political Economy by M.R. Bhagavan view Angola's 1980s leadership from a more favorable perspective.

CITATION: Federal Research Division of the
Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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