Angola Civil War

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Angola Civil War
date 1975 to 2002
place Angola
output MPLA victory
Parties to the conflict

Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (bandeira) .svg MPLA Cuba ANC SWAPO Supported by: Soviet Union German Democratic Republic of Belarus (1998–2000)
Flag of the African National Congress.svg
Flag of South West Africa People's Organization.svg

Soviet UnionSoviet Union 
Germany Democratic Republic 1949GDR 

Flag of UNITA.svg UNITA FNLA FLEC South Africa Supported by: Zaire United States People's Republic of China
Bandeira da FNLA.svg
Flag of Cabinda (FLEC propose) .svg
South Africa 1961South Africa 

United StatesUnited States 
China People's RepublicPeople's Republic of China 


Agostinho Neto
José Eduardo dos Santos

Jonas Savimbi
Holden Roberto

Map of Angola

The civil war in Angola lasted intermittently from 1975 to 2002 and followed the succession of the War of Independence (1961–1974) and the conflict of decolonization (1974/75). It began in 1975 immediately before Angola's independence from the colonial power Portugal and at times assumed the character of a proxy war between the Eastern Bloc (including Cuba ) and the Western powers (including the apartheid regime in South Africa). After the end of the Cold War , it lasted for another decade as an intra-Angolan conflict over political power and access to the country's economic resources.

To the prehistory

On April 25, 1974, the Carnation Revolution in Portugal ended the Salazar regime there . The new government decided to immediately grant independence to all colonies. Guinea-Bissau had declared its independence just the year before, although important parts of its territory were still occupied; there, after the fall of the Salazar regime , Portugal quickly withdrew. Mozambique was granted independence on June 25, 1975 with relative ease. In the case of the two island colonies, Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe , decolonization also proceeded without serious difficulties. Angola, on the other hand, became a bone of contention between the rival liberation movements

FNLA and MPLA emerged from different precursors during the 1950s and 1960s. All three movements were rooted in society in very different ways.

The MPLA, which emerged from the merger of various groups in Luanda in the 1950s, had its main base in the Ambundu ethnic group ( Kimbundu language ), whose settlement area includes the capital Luanda . In addition, the majority of the half-breeds belonged to their supporters, as well as some of the educated Angola Portuguese. During the 1960s, the movement also gained a foothold among smaller ethnic groups in eastern Angola. The MPLA was politically - albeit often more verbally than real - oriented towards socialism , and in the 1960s it established connections with what was then the Eastern Bloc. Like Patrice Lumumba and Amílcar Cabral before she received support from the Soviet Union , Cuba and other socialist countries, including the GDR . After an unsuccessful attempt at insurrection in Luanda in 1961, the MPLA concentrated its military operations against the colonial regime on Cabinda , a small area north of Luanda and a limited area in the east.

UNITA, founded by Jonas Savimbi as a spin-off from the FNLA, was primarily recruited from the Ovimbundu ethnic group, who lived in the central highlands and the coastal strip to the west of it, and was supported by a wide variety of countries over the course of its existence, not least the People's Republic of China ; in the course of the civil war she received help mainly from the USA and the apartheid regime in South Africa . Their anti-colonial guerrilla operations were limited to changing areas of eastern Angola and only rarely reached the eastern edge of the central highlands. On this, however, she carried out a politicization work underground that is still bearing fruit today.

Road bridge destroyed in the civil war

The FNLA came into being as an amalgamation of various resistance groups that had formed under the Bakongo of northwestern Angola . After a bloody but badly organized uprising in 1961, limited to its original area and immediately suppressed, it moved its headquarters and military base to the neighboring areas of Zaire . From there it operated in northern Angola, very limited from Katanga (today's Shaba) also in the east. She received support from the USA through Zaire's then President Mobutu Sese Seko .

Militarily, the operations of the three movements were not very successful. It was hardly an exaggeration when the Portuguese military claimed in the early 1970s that, unlike Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique, the war in Angola had practically been won. The situation changed completely as a result of the “left” military coup in Portugal , which ended the Salazar regime there on April 25, 1974 and, among other things, initiated the rapid decolonization of the possessions in Africa.

The disagreement and the refusal of the three movements to act jointly prevented a swift and smooth transfer of power by the Portuguese in Angola. After long mediation efforts, delegations from the three movements met for the first time in Portugal in January 1975 to negotiate the framework for independence. These negotiations were accompanied by a great deal of distrust among the delegations, as did the FNLA and UNITA towards the Portuguese. During the week-long talks, preparations were made for Angola's transition to independence, but the negotiated treaty did not create a solid basis for it. Above all, no agreement was reached on who should take over the presidency until the scheduled elections on November 11, 1975.

Each of the three movements wanted to secure the presidency by armed force even before these elections and each set up its own army: the FNLA, the ELNA (Exército de Libertação Nacional de Angola, Angola's National Liberation Army), the MPLA, the FAPLA (Forças Armadas Populares de Libertação de Angola, People's Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola) and UNITA the FALA (Forças Armadas de Libertação de Angola, Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola). Each group tried to seize the capital, because whoever controlled Luanda on Independence Day had the best chance of being recognized as a legitimate government by the rest of the world. As the fighting intensified, the superpowers fanned them by intervening on opposite sides. This made Angola the site of a violent confrontation between the two blocs.

The fighting in Angola only broke out shortly after the end of the Vietnam War . The USA therefore tried at all costs to prevent further setbacks in other regions. The success of a left-wing liberation army with the support of the Soviet Union and Cuba was seen by the United States as interference by the Eastern bloc in the internal affairs of an African country and viewed as a strategic threat. Therefore they supported the FNLA with money, weapons and trainers, with the neighboring country Zaire under Mobutu acting as an intermediary and also contributing its own units. There was growing concern that the Soviet Union might gain power over the country.

South Africa was also anxious to prevent the MPLA from establishing a socialist system in its neighborhood and to secure its investments in the neighboring country. It could assume that it was coming under increased pressure from its own liberation movements, whose association with the MPLA was known. The South African Army marched into Angola on October 23, 1975 with the approval of the USA, with the aim of protecting the facilities of the Cunene Project , supporting the FNLA and at the same time fighting the Namibian SWAPO , which operated from Angola. In southern Angola, however, the South Africans met UNITA, unknown to them, which had been driven out of Luanda by the MPLA and on which they concentrated their support.

From the north, the FNLA, reinforced by Zairean units and logistically supported by the USA, advanced to Luanda, from the south the UNITA troops supported by South Africa. Despite Soviet arms deliveries, the MPLA was facing a defeat. The majority of the military leadership was still in Congo-Brazzaville or in Zambia at the time, while there were relatively few guerrilla units on the territory of Angola, far from the capital. The MPLA hurriedly set up improvised “militias” in Luanda and cities such as Benguela and Lobito, which they armed with the help of accomplices from the Portuguese army and then partially declared them as FAPLA. It was important that some officers and NCOs from the Portuguese army defected to him and took over local military leadership functions.

Cuban intervention

Cuba, which had been present in the Congo-Brazzaville for years and had been connected to the MPLA there, was watching the development carefully. Neto had asked the Soviet Union for help, but the latter was unwilling to intervene before the elections. Cuba, on the other hand, was ready, which Fidel Castro justified in a speech as follows: “When the invasion of Angola by regular troops from South Africa began on October 23, we couldn't put our hands on our laps. And when the MPLA asked us for help, we offered the necessary help to prevent apartheid from spreading to Angola. ”Unlike the Cuban engagements in the 1960s, this was not a secret operation. Castro decided to openly engage in Angola and initially sent special troops and 35,000 infantry. With "Operation Carlota" Cuba became a major player in the Angola conflict.

The dispatch of these troops was not discussed with the USSR, as has often been shown so far, but was completely unprepared. The USSR was forced to accept this approach because it did not want to endanger its most important outpost in the immediate vicinity of the USA. The US assumed that the Soviets were behind Cuban interference. Only years later did they realize that this was not the case and that the Cubans wanted to bring the Soviet Union into play with this move. However, contrary to what it claims, the US knew that the intervention was a direct response to South Africa's invasion of Angola. Because of the intimate hostility between the United States and Cuba, Americans viewed such a Cuban demeanor as a defeat that could not be tolerated. Castro saw US behavior as follows:

“Why were you irritated? Why did you plan everything to take Angola before November 11th? Angola is a country rich in natural resources. There is a lot of oil in Cabinda . Some imperialists wonder why we are helping the Angolans, what interests we have. They are used to thinking that one country can only help another if it uses its oil, copper, diamonds or similar. Wants mineral resources. No, we have no material interests, and it is logical that the imperialists do not understand that. Because they only know chauvinistic, nationalistic and selfish criteria. We are fulfilling a fundamental duty of internationalism in helping the people of Angola. "

The troop deployment in Angola resulted in a major battle in Kifangondo, a place 30 km northeast of Luanda, where UNITA and FNLA wanted to pinch the MPLA. It was imperative to prevent the MPLA from unilaterally proclaiming Angola's independence in the capital on November 11th, and the conquest of Kifangondo was crucial to the capture of Luanda.

The Cubans did not arrive in the Luanda area until the eve of the battle, increasingly by Soviet transport planes. Their superior equipment included u. a. Cannons, mortars and the notorious katyushas (rocket launcher with 40 launch rails). They also had better military training and the support of younger Portuguese officers from Angola who had joined the MPLA and who, through their knowledge of the world, were able to provide crucial guidance. The MPLA thus won its first great trial of strength in the Battle of Kifangondo. On the night of November 11, 1975, Portuguese rule ended. Neto was proclaimed Angola's first president. The OAS recognized his government.

At the same time, however, in Huambo, FNLA and UNITA jointly proclaimed independence and formed a counter-government. The fight for Angola was by no means over, but continued a few days later as a civil war - in terms of international law.

After independence

The MPLA and Cuba took advantage of the military superiority they possessed at the time of independence for offensives mainly (from Luanda) to the south, but also to the east and north. In the north they pushed the FNLA over the border to Zaire. In Central Angola they stopped the South African column and forced them to retreat, along with the UNITA associations and dispersed units of the FNLA. The counter-government made up of UNITA and FNLA dissolved because their members withdrew from Huambo and, depending on Zaire, South Africa or other destinations, fled or (in the case of most UNITA members) withdrew to southern Angola.

In this situation the USA decided to intervene more strongly. They were more determined than ever to overthrow the MPLA government, which is seen as “pro-Soviet”. President Gerald Ford refused to recognize it and instead gave UNITA support. The US Congress , however, feared another “Vietnam” and forbade open American engagement (Clark Amendment). As a result, the FNLA sank into military insignificance; their units in southern Angola dispersed or were combined into special forces by the South African army. South Africa withdrew its armed forces from Angola, but continued to support UNITA from neighboring Namibia . UNITA also received a certain amount of “cover aid” from the USA, for example through Israel. All of this enabled her to build a base for future guerrilla operations in the remote southeast of Angola.

In the subsequent period up to the end of the 1970s, Angola largely moved out of the focus of international interest, although the fighting in the country continued. On May 27, 1977 there was an attempted coup by the Angolan interior minister, Nito Alves, who was suppressed with the help of the Cubans. Alves turned against the non-aligned , independent Neto line and wanted Angola to be firmly connected to the Soviet Union.

The FNLA had sunk into insignificance after the Battle of Kifangondo. In the south of the country UNITA continued to offer tough resistance and held large areas under its control. So President Neto asked the Cubans to keep units in Angola.

After Neto's death on September 10, 1979, José Eduardo dos Santos succeeded him in the presidency. On January 20, 1981, Ronald Reagan became President of the USA, who took a tougher stance against Angola: the Cubans should definitely be expelled from the country.

From 1975, South Africa waged war against Angola from occupied South West Africa / Namibia. It also came into conflict with the South West African People's Organization (SWAPO) with its military branch PLAN , the largest Namibian liberation movement, which from 1976 onwards from Angola with its support fought against the South African occupiers in Namibia. So UNITA received generous support to fight both the Angolan government and SWAPO. At the international level, South Africa made efforts to improve the reputation of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi , particularly in the USA, to portray him as the protector of Christianity and the liberator of Angola. (General Magnus Malan , Minister of Defense, South Africa 1980–1991). With the support of the USA from 1986 onwards, UNITA became one of the best-equipped resistance movements. It even received FIM-92 Stinger missiles, a weapon system that the US provided only to its closest allies. Savimbi was not hoping for a victory, but was hoping to force the Angolan government to the negotiating table.

While the CIA continued to build UNITA, the US State Department's goal was a peace plan that provided for Cuba's withdrawal from Angola and South Africa's withdrawal from Namibia in return. Cuba was basically in agreement with such a solution if it helped Namibia achieve independence. However, it remained open who should withdraw first. Negotiations yielded no result until the end of Reagan's second term. As they dragged on, each party wanted to improve their starting position. The Angolan government asked the USSR for support to finally knock UNITA out of the field. But the aid was half-hearted and, above all, unskilled, and UNITA managed to inflict defeat after defeat on government troops and Soviet supporters. They were put to flight near the Lomba River , leaving the Soviets behind in large quantities of destroyed equipment. 2000 Angolans died in this battle, and part of the Angolan army was also trapped by UNITA.

The Cuban troops still stationed in the country felt compelled to intervene in the fighting and to help the allied Angolans and Soviets. On November 15, 1987, Fidel Castro decided to undertake a massive intervention to finally drive the South Africans out of Angola. The troops stationed in the country were increased to over 40,000 men. Cuba also sent air defenses, tanks and artillery. As in 1975, there was no agreement with the Soviet Union this time. Relations between the two countries have never been easy in the past, but they were extremely tense because of President Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of détente.

Battle of Cuito Cuanavale

At Cuito Cuanavale in the southeastern Angolan province of Cuando Cubango , the battle of Cuito Cuanavale took place between the Cuban , Angolan and South African forces from January 13 to March 23, 1988 , the largest battle that took place on the African continent since the Second World War. Units of UNITA were also involved in the battle on the South African side, while fighters from SWAPO and ANC , the liberation movements of Namibia and South Africa, who were training in South Angola on the other side . The losses were very high on all sides.

Cuito Cuanavale was significant because of its strategic location. The capture of the city would have allowed UNITA and South Africa to advance to Moxico and the Benguela Railway. No decision was reached and the USA tried again to negotiate a settlement, this time only between the governments, which ruled out UNITA participation ( United Nations verification mission in Angola I , 1988). However, the US had no plans to include Cuba in the talks. Castro let the US know that negotiations involving Cuba would be far more promising. Thereupon US Secretary of State George P. Shultz authorized the US delegation to hold direct talks with the Cubans, but under the strict condition that they only talk about Angola and Namibia and not about the US embargo on Cuba.

The Cuban government began negotiations on January 28, 1988. This was the first time that Cuba took part directly in the negotiations on the future of Angola and Namibia. The South African government, whose position had been weakened by the failure at Cuito Cuanavale, joined the negotiations on May 3. The first talks took place in the presidential palace in Luanda, while fighting continued at Cuito Cuanavale. Negotiations then resumed in Cairo and in June and August in New York and Geneva. An armistice was finally reached on August 8th.

This result made the battle one of the decisive turning points in the civil war. Although the war continued for several years, it was practically determined that the outcome would be a clear victory for the MPLA and its allies.

Use of land mines

All sides involved in the conflict laid large-scale anti-tank and personal mines , some systematically by machine, some by hand. Large-scale mining took place, for example, in the province of Cunene around Xangongo in the south of the country. Around Xangango, 3 rows of mines were laid in a circle at a distance of 10 meters and with mines each 3 meters apart. In hard-to-reach areas, the mines were laid by hand without a pattern. This type of laying is particularly insidious and makes clearing the mines difficult.

Three Power Agreement

After lengthy talks, Cuba and South Africa agreed that Cuba would withdraw from Angola and that South Africa would give Namibia independence. On December 22, 1988, one month before the end of Reagan's term of office, the three-power treaty between Angola, Cuba and South Africa was signed in New York, which granted Namibia independence and provided for the withdrawal of Cuban troops within 30 months. The United Nations Security Council issued on the same day the Resolution 626 to create the peacekeeping mission of the United Nations Angola Verification Mission I (UNAVEM I). The first units of these troops arrived in Angola from January 1989.

The staggered withdrawal of Cubans ended 13 years of military presence of 430,000 Cuban soldiers and civilians over the entire period. The withdrawal of specialists, teachers and doctors was completed one month ahead of schedule on May 25, 1991.

Further development after the Cold War

After the end of the Cold War, the MPLA turned into a social democratic party in 1990 and allowed the introduction of a multi-party system . But this did not mean the end of the war, which was now a civil war between the MPLA government and the UNITA rebels. There were several peace talks and ceasefire agreements, which, however, remained largely inconclusive. Two further attempts by the UN, UNAVEM II (1991–1994) and UNAVEM III (1995–1997), failed to bring lasting peace.

The war was financed by the government through the exploitation of the oil deposits off the coast and by UNITA through the exploitation of the diamond deposits in the northeast of the country, for which the civilian population was sometimes used for forced labor in diamond mining. In order to remove the economic basis of the war, the United Nations banned the trade in such "blood" or " conflict diamonds " ( see also : Kimberley Process ), but could not stop it entirely.

The conflict suddenly took a turn when government soldiers killed rebel leader Jonas Savimbi on February 22, 2002. As a result, UNITA, which was already troubled by the military, was forced to hold peace talks, and on April 4 a ceasefire was signed, which has been observed since then. UNITA dissolved its military arm and turned into an unarmed political party.


Traces of the Civil War: House with bullet holes in Huambo 2008

An estimated 500,000 people were killed in Angola's civil war and 2.5 million were displaced. The civil war resulted in the extensive destruction of the infrastructure, the reconstruction of which is currently in full swing.

Agriculture was severely affected, resulting in hunger for the population in the war zones. During the civil war, entire areas were zona inacesivel (inaccessible zone), into which neither external aid nor reporters could get. The farmers were driven out, villages were devastated, anti - personnel mines were used on a large scale and food supplies were confiscated by the warring parties. Many parts of the country are still mined. It was not until 2002 that the extent of the famine in these areas became apparent, but it received little international attention. To this day, tilling the fields in some parts of the country is a danger because of the landmines in the ground.

Around 100,000 people have to live with amputations as a result of detonations from anti-personnel mines.

See also


  • David Birmingham: Angola , In: Patrick Chabal et al .: A History of Post-Colonial Africa . Hurst, London 2002, pp. 137-184.
  • Victoria Brittain: Death of Dignity: Angola's Civil War . Pluto Press, London 1998.
  • Piero Gleijeses: Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington and Africa, 1959-1976 . University of Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 2002
  • Franz-Wilhelm Heimer : The decolonization conflict in Angola . Weltforum Verlag, Munich 1979.
  • Arthur Klinghoffer: The Angolan War: A Study in Soviet Policy in the Third World . Boulder, Col .: Westview Press, 1980
  • Norrie MacQueen: An Ill Wind? Rethinking the Angolan Crisis and the Portuguese Revolution, 1974-1976 . In: Itinerario: European Journal of Overseas History , 16/2, 2000, pp. 22-44
  • Assis Malaquias: Rebels and Robbers: Violence in Post-Colonial Angola . Nordiska Afrikainstitutet , Uppsala 2007
  • Assis Malaquias: How to lose a Guerilla War . In: Morten Boas & Kevin Dunn (Eds.): African Guerrillas - Raging Against the Machine . Bouder / Col .: Lynne Rienner, 2007, pp. 199–220
  • William Minter: Apartheid's Cons: An Inquiry into the Roots of War in Angola and Mozambique , Witwatersrand Press, Johannesburg 1994
  • Justin Pearce: Political identity and conflict in Central Angola: 1975 - 2002 . Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge 2015 ISBN 978-1-107-43893-4
  • Justin Pearce: A guerra civil em Angola 1975 - 2002 . Edições Tinta da China, Lisbon 2017
  • John Stockwell: In Search of Enemies: A CIA Story . Norton, New York 1978
  • W. Martin James III: A Political History of the Civil War in Angola: 1974-1990 . Transaction Publishers, Piscataway 2011 ISBN 978-1412815062
  • Michael Wolfers, Jane Bergerol: Angola in the Front Line , Zed Books, London 1983
  • George Wright: The Destruction of a Nation: United States Policy Towards Angola Since 1945 , Pluto Press, London 1997.

Web links

Commons : Angola Civil War  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Завоюет ли Беларусь позиции на глобальных рынках оружия? (10 сентября 2011)
  2. See Franz-Wilhelm Heimer : The decolonization conflict in Angola . World Forum, Munich 1980.
  3. The undisputed standard work on this is still John Marcum, The Angolan Revolution , Volume I, The Anatomy of an Explosion (1950–1962) , Cambridge / Mass. & London: MIT Press, 1969.
  4. Christine Messiant, L'Angola colonial, histoire et société: Les prémisses du mouvement nationaliste , Basel: Schlettwein, 2006
  5. This also included the - numerically insignificant - cell of the Portuguese Communist Party in Luanda, which consisted almost entirely of whites.
  6. John Marcum: The Angolan Revolution , Volume 2: Exile Politics and Guerrilla Warfare (1962-1976). MIT Press, Cambridge / Mass. & London 1978.
  7. ^ Basil Davidson, In the Eye of the Storm: Angola's People , Garden City / NY: Doubleday, 1971. Note: Davidson may have exaggerated the importance of the operations in eastern Angola.
  8. ^ Daniel S. Papp: Angola, National Liberation and the Soviet Union . In: Parameters, Journal of the US Army War College , Vol. 8 (1978), No. 1, pp. 26-39, online at, PDF document p. 8
  9. To this phase: Colin Legum & Tony Hodges: War for Angola . Cologne, Verlag Internationale Solidarität, 1978. Franz-Wilhelm Heimer , Der Entkolonisierungskonflikt in Angola, draws a somewhat broader framework . Munich, Weltforum Verlag, 1980
  10. Piero Gleijeses: Havana's policy in Africa, 1959-76: New Evidence from Cuban Archives. (PDF) In: Cold War International History Project Bulletin No. 8/9. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1996, pp. 12-13 , accessed June 22, 2020 : “In Angola as well, Havana was not acting on behalf of the Soviet Union, even though President Ford and Secretary Kissinger liked to speak of "The Soviet Union and their Cuban mercenaries." Rather, as former Soviet ambassador to the United States Anatoly Dobrynin writes, the Cubans sent their troops to Angola "on their own initiative and without consulting us." His testimony is supported by other Soviet officials. "
  11. ^ Statements by Frank Wisner Jr., Ambassador, US State Department
  12. ^ Statements by Hermann Cohen, National Security Council, USA
  13. It should not be forgotten that at that time neither the military leadership nor the guerrilla units of the MPLA had already arrived in the capital.
  14. Annual report 2010 of the MgM Foundation (German)
  15. Inge Tvedten: Angola: Struggle for Peace and Reconstruction 1997, pp. 38-40. , Boulder / Col .: Westview Press
  16. Karel C. Wellens: Resolutions and Statements of the United Nations Security Council (1946-1989): A Thematic Guide 1990, pp. 235-236.
  17. Christine Hatzky : Cubans in Angola. South-South cooperation and educational transfer, 1976–1991. Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich 2012 (also habilitation thesis at the University of Duisburg-Essen 2009), ISBN 9783486712865 , p. 77.
  18. Where only hunger wins (article in Stern No. 27/2002)
  19. Médecins Sans Frontières: MSF in the 'gray zones' of Angola ( Memento of February 15, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) (Engl.)