Angola: Civil War and Diamonds
Angola: Civil War and Diamonds
A civil war has brutalized Angola, raging since the 1960s fight for independence from Portugal. Over the years, other countries, including Cuba and South Africa, have funded the rebels or fought in Angola. Currently, the government is fighting National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) rebels.
- The FNLA is predominately Kongo and anti-communist.
- The MPLA is predominately Mbunda and Creole, or Mestiço, and communist.
- UNITA is predominately Ovimbundu and was a major anti-colonial force.
- During colonization, Creoles were more likely to speak Portuguese and be educated; Africans of the interior—predominately the other ethnic groups—were more likely to be poor and uneducated.
- During colonization, ethnic divisions were made larger through increased economic differences. Creoles were developed by Portuguese rulers as an elite and were intermediaries in the slave trade. Kongo and Ovimbundu were more frequently agricultural laborers.
- Rebels, especially UNITA, have exploited diamond resources and support from abroad to fund their fighting.
- The United Nations has banned the sale of diamonds from Angola, because money from diamond sales funds the rebels.
The United Nations Security Council sanctions committee on Angola set off a storm of controversy in March 2000 with its report implicating African presidents in helping the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) rebels to buy weapons. The committee charged that rebels bought weapons from Eastern Europe, primarily Bulgaria, and had them shipped via other African countries in exchange for diamonds. The report charged that the rulers of Togo, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, Gabon, and Rwanda helped ship weapons, spare parts, and fuel to Angola's rebel movement. Belgium was accused of having such lax standards at its Antwerp diamond market that rogue dealers were able to trade UNITA gems virtually without obstacle. The governments of Bulgaria and the various African states denied the allegations. Belgium's U.N. ambassador criticized the committee's failure to mention recent improvements in procedures at Antwerp, one of the world's diamond trading centers. The controversy represented the latest round in the effort to put an end to one of Africa's longest lasting conflicts, for control of the desperately poor but potentially rich country of Angola.
Angola consists of two blocs of territory along the Atlantic coast of Africa. The larger of the two, Angola proper, lies south of the Congo River. Cabinda, a much smaller territory, lies north of the mouth of the Congo River and is separated from Angola proper by territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly called Zaire.
The country is largely agricultural, although its economy has been devastated by twenty-five years of civil war. Two main extractive industries provide most of Angola's revenues and provide the focus of the fighting in the civil war. The first is petroleum. There are major reserves along the coast of Cabinda and the northwestern corner of Angola, as well as along the forty kilometers, or twenty-five miles, of Congolese coastline that separates the two pieces of Angolan territory. The second major mineral deposit is diamonds, found in large quantities on the Lunda plateau of northeastern Angola.
Angola has a population of about ten million. There are dozens of ethnic groups speaking distinct languages, but just three groups account for about three-fourths of the population. These are the Ovimbundu of central Angola, thirty-seven percent of the population according to a recent estimate; the Mbundu of western Angola, from Luanda eastward, twenty-five percent of the population; and the Kongo of the northwestern corner, thirteen percent of the population. The population of Cabinda, about one hundred thousand people, also belongs to the Kongo cultural cluster but tends to think of itself as "Cabindan." Because of the deaths and disruptions caused by decades of warfare, these figures and percentages should be treated as rough estimates. There are hundreds of thousands of Angolan refugees in neighboring countries, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Reference books often cite statistics as to religions practiced in Angola. For example, the CIA World Factbook for 1999 lists that forty-seven percent of the population expresses indigenous beliefs, thirty-eight percent Roman Catholic, and fifteen percent Protestant. This fails to take into account the fact that many Angolans are practicing Christians-Catholic or Protestant—yet also retain some indigenous beliefs and practices. Christian evangelizing began among the Kongo people of the northwest. Later missionary efforts covered all areas of the country, but the north and the coast are still more heavily Christian than the interior and the south of the country.
All of these factors of physical and human geography—mineral resources, regions, ethnic groups, and religions—have their impact on politics. In the case of minerals, the connection is direct. The military activities of the government and its UNITA adversaries are financed largely by oil and diamonds, respectively.
Factors of human geography such as regional, ethnic, and religious identities matter a great deal as well. Each of the major parties has been identified with a particular region and ethnic group. Religion has also been important, although no party has been specifically Catholic or Protestant. To understand the impact of human geography on politics, it is important to look at Angola's history.
Forty Years of War
The current civil war in Angola, which the U.N. diamond ban is attempting to stop, is the continuation of fighting that has raged with few interruptions since 1960. The "peace" of the 1950s was, in fact, order imposed by oppressive colonial rule. Angola had been assigned to Portugal when the Europeans divided Africa in the 1880s. However, armed resistance to Portuguese rule continued until 1930. In 1959-60, when other African colonies were moving rapidly toward independence, there was no plan for the de-colonization of Angola or "Portuguese Africa."
Two uncoordinated uprisings, in Luanda and in the north, inaugurated a period of armed liberation struggle. In February 1961 members of the Popular Movement for Liberation of Angola (MPLA), led by Antonio Neto, attacked the São Paulo fortress and police headquarters in Luanda. At about the same time, in northern Angola, a series of attacks against Portuguese coffee planters led to a broad-based, anti-colonial revolt led by an organization known first as the Union of Populations of Northern Angola (UPNA). As the label suggests, the UPNA was a regional party, with an ethnic base among the Kongo people. Led by Holden Roberto, it underwent a series of mutations, first taking the non-regional name Union of Populations of Angola (UPA). Then it joined with a smaller party to form the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA).
Both the MPLA and the FNLA claimed to be struggling for the independence of the entire colony of Angola. Each movement remained marked, however, by its regional origins. African and mixed-race intellectuals in the capital founded the MPLA, while members of the Kongo ethnic group in the north founded the FNLA. The FNLA moved beyond its ethnic origins in 1961 by recruiting Jonas Savimbi from the Ovimbundu ethnic community of central Angola. Savimbi's defection in 1964—and his founding of UNITA in 1966—left the FNLA a largely Kongo party.
In 1963 a new organization arrived on the scene. A number of people from Cabinda met at Pointe Noire, Congo-Brazzaville, and formed the Cabinda Enclave Liberation Front (FLEC). FLEC has since splintered into two rival military wings, FLEC-FAC and Renewed FLEC, or FLECRenovada. The FNLA operated from bases in Congo-Kinshasa, which shares long borders with Angola proper and the Cabinda enclave. The MPLA, excluded from Congo-Kinshasa, was able to operate from Congo-Brazzaville, which borders on Cabinda, and later from Zambia, which borders on eastern Angola proper.
From the early 1960s until 1974, the three main Angolan movements—FNLA, MPLA, and UNITA—fought against the Portuguese and each other, with no clear results. However, the cumulative effect of the colonial wars in Angola, Guinea-Bissau, and Mozambique turned the army against Portugal's undemocratic government. In 1974 a coup d'état, or rebellion, against President Caetano brought General Spinola to power. By 1975 power had passed from Spinola, who was relatively conservative, to younger leftist officers. The coup d'état of 1974 opened the door to independence for Angola and other Portuguese colonies in Africa.
Despite fighting between MPLA and FNLA forces in late 1974, African heads of state succeeded in convincing the three Angolan movements to join in negotiations with Portugal on an orderly transfer of power. These negotiations led to the Alvor Agreement of January 15, 1975, in which November 11, 1975, was set as the date for Portugal to hand over power to an Angolan coalition government. None of the parties took this last attempt at avoiding civil war very seriously, and sporadic fighting continued. The Alvor Agreement also was undermined by outside forces, which increased their support for their respective Angolan allies. China and the United States aided the FNLA, and later UNITA, while Cuba and the Soviet Union aided the MPLA. All parties were interested in Angola's natural resources, and the country was thrown into turmoil during the height of the Cold War.
In March 1975 the FNLA attacked MPLA headquarters and later gunned down fifty-one unarmed MPLA recruits. These incidents led to a full-scale civil war, with UNITA aligning itself with FNLA against MPLA. The scheduled elections never took place.
By early summer 1975 the FNLA had mounted limited offensives against the MPLA in northern Angola and along the coast. As another African-brokered attempt at negotiations broke down, the MPLA counterattacked. By the middle of July MPLA forces were in control of Luanda and had begun attacking FNLA strongholds in the north. Cuba resumed aid to the MPLA in July. About the same time, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) provided almost $50 million to train, equip, and transport anti-MPLA troops. In August, South African forces crossed the border into southern Angola, while troops from Zaire joined FNLA forces fighting in the north. By mid-August 1975 Neto's forces were retreating.
The first Cuban combat troops arrived in Luanda in late September and early October and immediately took charge of much of the fighting. But the MPLA continued its retreat, pressured by Zairian and mercenary-led FNLA troops in the north and by UNITA forces and South Africans in the south. Savimbi could now use his substantial support among the Ovimbundu of central and eastern Angola. The MPLA controlled only its core areas of support in Mbundu country and in the cities, and continued to lose ground.
As Neto declared independence in Luanda on November 11, the MPLA was fighting for its existence only a few miles to the north. In the battle of Quifangondo Valley, Cuban artillery units armed with Soviet-supplied rocket launchers smashed the FNLA-Zaire forces and sent them fleeing toward the Zaire border. This in turn freed the MPLA and the Cubans to face the UNITA and South African forces approaching from the south. The first two weeks of independence saw the rapid advance toward Luanda of the UNITA army, led by about six thousand South African troops. By late November these forces controlled most major ports south of the capital as well as the Benguela railway. Savimbi began setting up his own civilian administration in Huambo, in cooperation with the FNLA.
The Soviet Union transported some twelve thousand Cuban troops to Angola and provided the MPLA and the Cubans with hundreds of tons of heavy arms, including tanks, anti-tank missiles, and fighter planes. By the end of November the Cubans had stopped the South African-led advance on Luanda. In two battles south of the Cuanza River in December the southern invaders suffered major setbacks. South Africa then decided to withdraw towards the Namibian border, partly because of its military problems and partly because the U.S. Senate voted on December 19 to block all funding for secret operations in Angola.
The Angolan war was over by March 1976. Huambo fell to MPLA forces on February 11. Roberto had already returned to exile in Zaire, and the FNLA had abandoned armed struggle. Savimbi returned to rural southeastern Angola with about two thousand troops and their U.S. and South African advisers. Savimbi's rebellion would rise again, in response both to conditions within Angola and to renewed external backing.
The Cuban expeditionary force, which eventually numbered at least forty-thousand soldiers, remained in Angola to pacify the country and to ward off South African attacks. In 1977 the MPLA crushed an attempted coup by one of its leaders, and after a thorough purge turned itself officially into a Marxist-Leninist party. MPLA attempts to collectivize agriculture along communist lines, combined with attacks by South Africa and UNITA, led to the collapse of commercial agriculture, though it is difficult to distinguish the negative effects of the collectivization of agriculture from the effects of the attacks by South Africa and UNITA. The government came to depend almost entirely on the petroleum industry. An ironic situation arose in which Western companies—notably Gulf Oil—operated under the protection of Cuban troops, who were protecting the companies' installations from attack by UNITA forces.
With the assistance of strong South African support, UNITA reorganized itself as an effective guerrilla force. South African aid to UNITA and military intervention in Angola were partly motivated by the MPLA's support for the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) fighting for independence of Namibia. American military aid to UNITA, via Zaire, resumed in 1985. Warfare engulfed the entire country. But in 1988, South African troops were defeated at Cuito Cuanavale in southern Angola. They were confronted with numerically superior Cuban and Angolan troops, and backed down rather than risking the loss of a large number of white troops. Following the defeat, South Africa promised to grant independence to Namibia and to stop supporting UNITA, while the Cubans agreed to withdraw their troops by mid-1991.
The MPLA's initial response to the South African withdrawal was to attack UNITA bases. The failure of this campaign, combined with increasingly effective UNITA attacks on oil installations and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, combined to lead the MPLA to adopt a more conciliatory posture. In mid-1990 the MPLA Central Committee decided to abandon Marxism-Leninism, communism, and the one-party state. Negotiations with UNITA proceeded rapidly and agreement was reached in May 1991 on a cease-fire and on a new constitution guaranteeing human and political rights. The two armies would be merged and multiparty elections would be held in 1992.
Elections were held under the supervision of the United Nations, which certified them as free and fair. The results gave the MPLA the most votes—but not enough to appease UNITA, which came in second. Savimbi rejected the results, and civil war resumed. Since 1993 the war has raged off and on, despite an international environment more favorable to the MPLA government than had been the case earlier. In 1993, the Clinton administration recognized the Angola government. That same year, the U.N. Security Council imposed an arms and fuel embargo on UNITA.
The Lusaka Protocol
In 1994 the United Nations brokered a peace agreement between the rebels and the government, called the Lusaka Protocol, and in February 1995 the Security Council decided to send seven thousand "blue helmets," or U.N. troops, to the country to verify the cease-fire. Fighting resumed the following month.
In July 1995 the Angolan parliament amended the constitution, creating two vice-presidencies—one of them reserved for Savimbi. However, UNITA allegedly refused to allow him to accept the post. In December 1995 fighting resumed in northern UNITA-controlled towns.
In 1997 the government reached an agreement with UNITA to form a government of national unity. UNITA deputies, elected in 1992, took their seats in the parliament, and a very large government was formed, including some UNITA ministers. As if to remind the authorities of their existence, forces of the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) clashed with the Angolan army. The portion of UNITA remaining loyal to Savimbi failed to disarm its troops, and in October, the U.N. Security Council approved sanctions against UNITA for non-respect of the peace agreement. The following year, the sanctions were expanded to include a ban on diamond exports by UNITA. The government recognized UNITA as a political party, but by July 1998 there were violent clashes between the army and UNITA troops in diamond-rich Lunda-Norte province. The war soon spread; by December, after the north and the east has succumbed, the center of the country was the scene of fighting.
In 1997-98, Angola's civil war became part of a network of wars throughout the region. Angola intervened, along with Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi to help Laurent-Désiré Kabila overthrow Mobutu Sese Seko in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as Zaire became known as once again. Later, Angola intervened in Congo-Brazzaville to help overthrow President Pascal Lissouba. Finally, in August 1998, Angolan troops supported Kabila against rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda. These interventions hindered UNITA's access to supplies.
In 1999 the Angolan government won a series of triumphs over UNITA and victory appeared near. By the end of the year, however, UNITA had retaken several areas lost earlier. It was in this context of renewed UNITA success, financed by diamond sales, that the U.N. sanctions committee on Angola released the report accusing the presidents of Burkina Faso and Togo of helping UNITA with arms and fuel shipments in exchange for diamonds.
The United States, the Cold War, and Angola
U.S. policy toward Angola was made in the context of the Cold War—when the United States countered what it saw as threats of communism around the world. The policy toward Angola reflected lessons supposedly learned in Angola's neighbor to the north, the former Belgian Congo. The Belgian Congo became independent in 1960. It often was referred to as Congo-Leopoldville, after its capital, to distinguish it from the former French Congo, known as Congo-Brazzaville. When Leopoldville was renamed Kinshasa, the country was called Congo-Kinshasa until President Mobutu Sese Seko changed it to Zaire. When Laurent Kabila overthrew Mobutu, the country's name was again changed, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Fearing that the Soviet Union would exploit the chaos that followed Congolese independence in 1960, the United States had supported United Nations intervention to maintain Congolese unity while at the same time intervening covertly in support of non-communist forces. American intervention led both to the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the first Congolese prime minister, and to the rise to power of one of Lumumba's former aides, later known as Mobutu Sese Seko.
At about the same time, the MPLA and the FNLA began armed struggle against Portuguese rule in Angola. One lesson that the United States had drawn from the Congo affair was that premature independence could lead to chaos, which the Soviet Union could exploit. A second lesson was that the United States should be prepared for independence. These lessons led to a contradictory policy. On the one hand, the United States cooperated with its NATO ally Portugal, which was attempting to hold onto its colonies. On the other hand, since Portugal would be unable to hold retain Angola indefinitely, the United States tried to ensure an acceptable successor regime. The MPLA was considered Marxist due to the beliefs of some of its leaders, and thus hostile to American interests. The Central Intelligence Agency therefore decided to support Roberto and around 1961 he began receiving small subsidies from the United States.
In fact, the MPLA, the FNLA, and UNITA each sought aid from whatever source would provide it. Neto, for example, went to Washington, D.C., in December 1962 to put his case before the U.S. government and its press and emphasize the misleading notion that the MPLA was a communist organization. During the following two years, Roberto appealed for aid to the Soviet Union, Cuba, China, Algeria, and Egypt. Later, Savimbi of UNITA approached the same countries, with the exception of the Soviet Union, as well as North Vietnam, and accepted military training for his men from North Korea and China.
The CIA chose to support Roberto, though the American diplomatic corps showed no such preference. A State Department cable to its African embassies in 1963 stated that U.S. policy was not to discourage an MPLA move toward the West "and not to choose between these two movements."
Even in 1975, when a congressional committee asked CIA Director William Colby what the differences were between the three contending groups, he responded that they were all independent organizations in support of independence and determined not to be exploited by industrialized, capitalist nations. When asked why the Chinese were backing the FNLA or UNITA, he stated that China backed these groups for the same reason the United States did—because the Soviet Union was backing the MPLA. This type of position taking was typical of the Cold War. The Soviet Union backed one group and the United States would usually back the other, each in an attempt to increase their influence in a region.
Choosing on this basis, the United States opted badly. Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute writes:
When a new revolutionary government in Lisbon sought to jettison Angola and other remnants of Portugal's once extensive empire, three competing left-of-center Angolan factions maneuvered for political and military dominance. The U.S. government, with customary acumen, backed the weakest organization—the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA)—led by Holden Roberto, who was a relative by marriage to Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, a longtime American client.
Roberto's status as a Mobutu in-law symbolized his dependency vis-à-vis one of Africa's most notorious dictators, himself considered a dependent of the United States. The FNLA was the weakest Angolan organization largely because of Roberto's weakness as a leader.
It is typical of the Cold War that U.S. decision-makers concentrated on Soviet activities in Africa and paid little attention to Cuban interests in the region, which would prove more important in 1975 and thereafter. Cuba was active in Algeria until 1964, then focused on the two Congos in 1965-66. Most importantly, Cuba participated in the long struggle of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) to overthrow Portuguese rule in Guinea-Bissau. Its ties to the MPLA dated from 1965, when Argentinean revolutionary leader Che Guevara met MPLA leaders in Brazzaville.
Before the Portuguese coup of April 1974 the aid given to the Angolan resistance movements by their various foreign patrons was sporadic and insignificant, essentially a matter of the patrons keeping their hands in the game. For example, beginning in 1969, Roberto was on a $10,000-a-year CIA retainer. The Alvor Agreement of January 1975 led the United States to up the ante. The National Security Council in Washington, D.C., authorized the CIA to pass $300,000 to Roberto and the FNLA. The funds were tagged for "various political action activities, restricted to nonmilitary objectives," but the support could make additional money available for military uses.
In March 1975 the first large shipment of Soviet arms reportedly arrived for the MPLA. According to a congressional investigation, "Later events have suggested that this infusion of U.S. aid [the $300,000], unprecedented and massive in the underdeveloped colony, may have panicked the Soviets into arming their MPLA clients." Blum suggests in Killing Hope that the Soviets may have been influenced also by the fact that China had sent the FNLA a "huge arms package" and over one hundred military advisers.
The CIA made its first major weapons shipment to the FNLA in July 1975. Thus, like the Russians and the Chinese, the United States was aiding one side in the Angolan civil war on a level far greater than it had ever provided during the struggle against Portuguese colonialism. When the initial FNLA/Zairian advance into northern Angola was stopped by the MPLA, the United States faced a difficult choice. Unwilling to allow the MPLA and the Soviets an easy victory, President Gerald Ford gave the CIA almost $50 million to train, equip, and transport anti-MPLA troops.
In November 1975, as independence arrived, the MPLA was caught between Zairians and FNLA troops, led by white mercenaries, in the north and by UNITA forces, supported by South Africans, in the south. Yet timely Cuban and Soviet aid enabled the MPLA to defeat its enemies. A further U.S. response was blocked by a vote of the U.S. Senate, the Clark Amendment. Coming only a few months after the fall of U.S.-supported Saigon to communists in the East Asian country of Vietnam, the Angolan war presented the danger of another open-ended commitment in the eyes of many in the U.S. Congress.
The United States had concluded, from its success in defeating the Lumumbist rebellion in Congo in 1964-65 that African troops, reinforced by mercenaries, offered a useful alternative to direct intervention. In fact, the invasion of Angola by troops from South Africa, coupled with the participation of white mercenaries in the FNLA-Zaire forces attacking from the north, aroused the indignation of leaders and the public in many African states. In this context, heavier backing by the Cubans and even the Soviets became acceptable.
The United States and South Africa in the 1980s
U.S. President Jimmy Carter (1977-81) announced that human rights would constitute the number one priority of U.S. foreign policy and consequently dissociated the United States from South Africa's apartheid government. Only a few years later, however, under U.S. President Ronald Reagan (1981-89) the fight against terrorism replaced human rights as the top priority of American foreign policy. Ending Carter's policy of hostility to South Africa, the United States adopted a policy called "constructive engagement." That is, the United States would seek "to encourage peaceful evolutionary change" in order to forestall "mass revolutionary violence" within South Africa. Beyond South Africa's borders, the United States would seek "to counter Soviet influence in the region" and "to foster regional security." To pursue these objectives, the U.S. president approved specific lines of action, including assisting South Africa in resisting the international efforts to isolate it, especially at the United Nations; helping "end the guerrilla warfare that has continued in northern Namibia and southern Angola for 15 years;" seeking the removal of Cuban troops from Angola; and seeking a "peaceful solution" of the Namibian question.
South Africa began an undeclared war on the "Front Line States," neighboring states, in 1981. Its minimal objective was to put an end to attacks on South Africa and its dependency South West Africa, later Namibia, from those Front Line States. The maximum objective was to replace the socialist regimes of the Front Line States—including Angola—with regimes more to South Africa's liking.
By the summer of 1981 the United States and South Africa were working together to apply increasing military, economic, political, diplomatic, and other pressures against the Front Line States. But the United States and South Africa were demanding more than the Front Line States were prepared to give, even under pressure. What began as coercive diplomacy, therefore, became a full-scale secret war. Throughout 1981 South Africa carried out military action against Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and, especially, Angola. In August of that year South Africa mounted a major invasion of southern Angola, established a permanent military presence there, substantially increased its support for UNITA, and began to extend its own raids further and further to the north of that country.
The Reagan administration blocked the implementation of the United Nations plan for the de-colonization of Namibia by linking it for the first time to a withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola. After South Africa had occupied a large area in southern Angola the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning its actions.
In August 1982, during a major military effort by South Africa to extend its control of southern Angola, Reagan sent a "secret" letter to President Nyerere of Tanzania, Chairman of the Front Line States, urging him to accept the "linkage" of a Namibian settlement to the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola. Reagan suggested that if linkage were not accepted soon, the United States would cease to press for implementation of the United Nations plan for Namibia.
In mid-l983 South Africa sent its troops nearly two hundred miles into Angola. This third invasion was a harsh blow to a country already suffering from drought and disorganization of the rural economy. South Africa's UNITA "surrogates"—scholar Sean Gervasi's term suggesting that UNITA was fighting for South African interests and not its own—were extending their military actions into the center of the country.
As the war escalated in late 1983 U.S. diplomats pressed hard for a series of "non-aggression" agreements between South Africa on the one hand, and Angola and the other Front Line States on the other. Behind their diplomatic overtures there was the threat of increasingly harsh South African power. Charles Lichenstein, Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations at the time, told the Johannesburg Financial Mail that "destabilization will remain in force until Angola and Mozambique do not permit their territory to be used by terrorists to attack South Africa." Angola continued to insist that it would not accept "linkage."
In mid-1985 the U.S. Congress repealed the Clark Amendment. Savimbi visited Washington, D.C., and was hailed as a "freedom fighter." U.S. aid to UNITA was resumed, putting the Angolan government under greater pressure. There are some allegations that U.S. aid to UNITA continued before 1985, and that the aid was simply once again acknowledged in 1985.
Eventually, a deal was struck respecting the logic of linkage, refused earlier by Angola and the other Front Line States. In 1988 Angola, Cuba, and South Africa signed the treaty that granted independence to Namibia. The treaty called for a one-year transition period, beginning on April 1, 1989, that included U.N.-supervised elections of an assembly later in the year to draft a constitution. As part of the agreement Cuba was required to withdraw its fifty thousand troops from Angola by early 1991. The transition was temporarily disrupted when UNITA rebels from Angola crossed the border into Namibia and battled with U.N. peacekeeping forces.
Namibian voters went to the polls during U.N.-supervised elections in November 1989, and gave the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) a majority in the constituent assembly. The new Republic of Namibia gained its independence on March 21, 1990, with SWAPO's Sam Nujoma as president. Angola held its own U.N.-supervised elections in 1992. As in Namibia, the left-wing nationalists won, but unlike the case in Namibia, the South African-backed right-wing party refused to accept the results.
Clearly, a Cold War perspective governed American decision-making regarding Angola, with the marginal exception of the Carter administration (1976-1980). While there are many critics of the U.S. Cold War policy toward Angola, particularly the policies under Reagan, South Africa made a successful transition from apartheid to majority rule and Angola abandoned the Soviet-Cuban model of single-party rule and command economy. Yet Angola paid a heavy a price for the policy, which took little account of its own needs and wants.
Cold War: The Soviet Role
Recently declassified documents demonstrate that the Soviet Union wanted both to install a Soviet-style regime in Angola and also to score a victory over the United States in the Cold War competition. The U.S. defeat in Vietnam made Moscow's increased involvement in Africa and Asia more politically threatening. Improved naval, air, and communications capabilities made possible an activist foreign policy that had been impossible earlier, such as during the Congo crisis of 1960.
The Soviet Union initially paid little attention to Angola. It provided some aid to the FNLA in the early 1960s, but switched to the MPLA in 1964, arguing that Roberto had helped Moïse Tshombe in the Congo and curtailed his own guerrilla operations in Angola under pressure from the United States. The amount of the aid, first to the FNLA and then to the MPLA, was very small.
In 1970, however, Soviet leaders endorsed a new African strategy developed by the KGB, the Soviet intelligence service. Due to the feeling on the part of southern African nationalists that their efforts to gain American aid had failed, the KGB saw an opportunity for Soviet gains. It also saw a danger that China, which was targeting countries and movements that already received Soviet aid, might come to control large parts of Africa in a loose alliance with the United States.
The new Soviet policy was immediately put into practice regarding Angola, where early contacts had shown the Soviets that the MPLA was a "possible adherent to Soviet ideas of state and society." Although the MPLA had been founded with help from the Portuguese Communist Party, it was a loose coalition of trade unionists, "progressive" intellectuals, Christian groups, and large segments of the middle class. In Soviet eyes, it badly needed restructuring. The MPLA, whose appeals for increased aid had been rejected only months before, was offered substantial military hardware, logistical support, and political training.
The Soviets found the MPLA poorly organized and divided into many factions. In early 1974 Soviet diplomats spent much time trying to reunify the MPLA and create some kind of alliance between it and Roberto's FNLA. However, the Soviet ambassador in Brazzaville reported that the MPLA had practically ceased to function and the only bright spot was a few pro-Moscow "progressively oriented activists."
Following the April 1974 coup Moscow decided to strengthen the MPLA under Neto and make it the dominant partner in a post-colonial coalition government. Soviet embassies in Brazzaville, Lusaka, and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, were instructed to "repair" the damaged liberation movement, but Neto and his supporters refused to cooperate. When the FNLA and UNITA grew stronger, the Soviets responded by increasing their support for Neto, despite their misgivings. Late in 1974 the MPLA was able to establish a presence in Luanda and other cities, and to take control of most of the Cabinda enclave, which suggested to Moscow that it had made the right move.
Aware of increased CIA support for the FNLA, starting in January 1975 the Soviets concluded that Roberto would soon make an all-out bid for power. There was little they could do to help the MPLA resist the initial FNLA attacks, but they hoped that an alliance with UNITA might rescue their Angolan allies. By July 1975 when the MPLA was successfully counterattacking, Moscow still expected that the rival movements, or at least UNITA, would join an MPLA-led coalition government. Moscow did not believe that the United States or South Africa would intervene on a large scale but was worried about increased Chinese aid to the FNLA.
In August the tide turned again, thanks to large-scale U.S. aid to anti-MPLA forces and the intervention of South African and Zairian troops in Angola. When Congo-Brazzaville refused to allow increased Soviet aid to the MPLA to pass through its territory, Moscow asked Cuban leader Fidel Castro to intercede with the Congolese. Castro, however, used the Soviet request as the occasion to promote his own plan to send Cuban forces to Angola, with the aid of Soviet transport and Soviet staff officers, both in Havana and Luanda, to help direct military operations. Yet, Moscow—worried that such aid before independence would damage its already strained relations with the United States and upset more African countries—refused to transport the Cuban troops or to send Soviet officers to serve in Angola. Despite the refusal, Castro sent troops on his own.
Soviet policy and the MPLA were saved by South Africa's intervention, which was unacceptable to other African countries. Seeing the new anti-MPLA operations as a joint U.S.-South African effort, Moscow decided to assist the Cuban operation in Angola immediately after Independence Day on November 11. The aim was to put enough Cuban troops and Soviet advisers into Angola by mid-December to defeat the South Africans and assist the MPLA leaders in building a socialist state. Preparations for the airlift of Cuban troops to Angola intensified in early November and Soviet ships were sent to areas off the Angolan coast.
Just enough of just the right kind of aid arrived by Independence Day. Cubans used Soviet-supplied rocket launchers to defeat FNLA-Zairian attackers a few miles from Luanda. During the previous week large groups of Cuban soldiers started arriving in Luanda on Soviet aircraft. Moscow insisted that the primary objective of these forces was to contain the South Africans along the southern border and that the troops should not be used for general purposes in the civil war.
Soviet general staff officers started arriving in Luanda on November 12. At the same time—immediately after independence—the Soviet general staff took direct control of transporting additional Cuban troops to Africa, as well as providing advanced military equipment. By the end of November the Cubans had stopped the South African-led advance on Luanda. Defeats in southern Angola, together with the Clark Amendment, led South Africa to then withdraw.
Just as it had opened the gates for African acceptance of Soviet-Cuban aid to the MPLA, the by now defunct South African intervention also paved the way for African diplomatic recognition of the MPLA regime. Soviet diplomatic efforts contributed significantly to this development, for instance in the case of Zambia, where President Kenneth Kaunda switched to the MPLA side after substantial Soviet pressure.
To the Soviet leaders Angola proved that they could advance socialism in the Third World during a period of détente with the United States. The United States could be defeated in local conflicts under certain circumstances. First, the Soviet armed forces had to be ready to provide, at short notice, the logistics for the operation needed. Second, the Soviet Union had to be able to organize and control the "anti-imperialist" forces involved, in this case its local allies. Soviet personnel in Angola were very satisfied with the way both Angolans and Cubans had respected Moscow's political dominance during the war. Neto realized that he depended on Soviet assistance and that Moscow, not Havana, made the final decisions regarding assistance.
The Soviets had also learned from their Angolan experience that the Soviet Union could and must rebuild and reform local anti-capitalist groups in crisis areas. They believed that the MPLA had been saved from its own follies by advice and assistance from Moscow, which not only helped the organization win the war, but also laid the foundation for the building of a Soviet-style "vanguard party." A vanguard party leads the country in the formation of a communist system. Due to Soviet guidance, the "internationalists" were in ascendance. These new leaders understood that the MPLA was part of a Moscow-led international revolutionary movement and that they, therefore, depended on Soviet support. Taking the lead in reorganizing the MPLA, they would become the future leaders of the Marxist-Leninist Party in Angola.
In fact, Neto's independence of mind and his claim to be a Marxist theorist made it increasingly difficult for the Soviets to control and transform the MPLA. Differences between Soviet and Cuban perceptions of the political situation in the MPLA complicated Moscow's task. Castro considered Neto a great African leader as well as a personal friend. Neto asked for Cuba's assistance in building a Marxist-Leninist Party and Castro spoke of Angola, Cuba, and Vietnam as "the main anti-imperialist core" of the world. The nature of the Moscow-Havana-Luanda relationship may have been illustrated in May 1977, when Soviet favorite Nito Alves found his bid to oust Neto in Angola blocked by Cuban tanks.
Soviet leaders consistently overestimated their ability to impose their view on foreign leftists. In reality, the Angolans and Cubans were able to shape Moscow's actions. As early as 1975 Fidel Castro initiated armed support for the MPLA without Moscow's knowledge, calculating correctly that he could force Moscow's hand. The belief of many Soviet leaders that they could control domestic political developments in Third World countries was a misperception with fateful consequences for Soviet foreign policy and contributed significantly to the Angolan intervention. The supposed victory in Angola encouraged further Soviet "limited interventions" in Africa and Asia, culminating in a devastating war in Afghanistan.
The Weight of History: Ethnic and Other Divisions
The Cold War perspective pays too little attention to internal aspects of Angola's forty-year war. Some scholars, however, overemphasize one or another internal aspect. Typically, the war is explained by rivalry between the three main "tribes" or ethnic groups. It is true that three groups—the Kongo, Mbundu, and Ovimbundu—make up about three-quarters of Angola's population and that the three main political parties since 1960 correspond to these three ethnic groups. The FNLA was predominantly Kongo, the MPLA predominantly Mbundu and Creole or Mestiço, and UNITA predominantly Ovimbundu. The pre-colonial and colonial history of Angola, as well as more recent events, have made the ethnic divisions deep.
There is considerable continuity between the colonial period (1880s-1975) and the previous period, which began with the arrival of the Portuguese. Since the sixteenth century, Angola had been linked with Brazil through the slave trade. There developed in Luanda a commercial and administrative Creole or Mestiço elite—Portuguese-speaking, mixed race, Catholic, and cosmopolitan—involved in the Atlantic trade. This Creole society lived in Africa but its connections with the interior of the continent were limited to trade—mainly the slave trade.
The effects of the slave trade on inland African communities varied enormously, between those that raided and traded slaves and those that were raided. Africans sold the slaves to traders acting as intermediaries for Luanda's Creole merchants. Scholar Patrick Chabal writes that it "can be assumed that a number of Africans would, long before the colonial period, have viewed these city based creoles as quite 'alien.' " Formal Portuguese colonization led to the enforced decline of the Luanda Creole community. The Creole elites became mere adjuncts to the new Portuguese colonial masters, while colonial rule created other elites—both Mestiço and African—who challenged the supremacy of the older Creole society.
Under colonial rule Africans were legally compelled to work if they wanted to avoid forced labor. They could become farmers in the colonial economy or hire themselves out as laborers in Portuguese agricultural or commercial concerns, of which the most successful were the coffee plantations in the Kongo area. The Ovimbundu, of the central highlands, had to seek employment on the coffee plantations, since their agricultural economy was not strong enough to sustain their relatively large population. Those Kongo who did not work as agricultural laborers were chiefly associated with the business and trade that had developed in the Belgian Congo to the north. Some of them became substantial businessmen, a few owning plantations in northern Angola.
Angola was a settler colony but—except for the coffee plantation owners—most whites remained relatively poor and unskilled. Their presence was a barrier to the progression of Africans into the sort of jobs that they might have had in other colonies and was conducive to an atmosphere of racism and petty discrimination that affected the ordinary Africans and the Creoles of the cities. In addition, colonial rule reinforced the separation between Creoles of Luanda and Africans of the interior. The Mbundu living east of Luanda interacted more often with the Creoles.
Such divisions were sharpened by social, cultural, and religious factors. As the Portuguese-speaking Catholic Creoles lost ground to the newly established colonial elites, they sought to maintain their superior status by stressing the characteristics that set them apart from other Angolans. Though less prominent than they had been in the nineteenth century they remained at the heart of the colonial order. Their world remained Portuguese—in culture, language, and outlook. Inland things were different. Influences from foreign Protestant and Catholic missionaries and from other colonies, either Belgian or British, where many worked, were more important than those coming from Luanda.
By the 1950s there were two deeply frustrated social groups: the Creole elites, and the Africans of the interior, who were poor, uneducated, and neglected at the bottom of a highly stratified social order. It is no coincidence that each of the first generation of nationalist leaders—Neto, Roberto, and Savimbi—came from Protestant mission schools. Nor is it a coincidence that each was profoundly suspicious of the other. The Angolan nationalist movement was divided from the start. But a number of internal and external factors explain the perpetuation of this division, from the 1960s to the present.
Apart from the Cold War, in which the MPLA and FNLA were backed by the two opposing superpowers, there are three other external factors that are identifiable: the key neighboring country—Congo/Zaire—supported the FNLA and opposed the MPLA; both the MPLA and FNLA had networks of support among other African countries; the FNLA was able to get early endorsement by the newly created Organization of African Unity (OAU). In fact, in Patrick Chabal's analysis, laid out in Angola and Mozambique: the Weight of History, internal factors were even more significant. The FNLA and MPLA represented two long-separate sets of interests: the Kongo "African" elites of the north versus the Luanda Creole community and its regional Mbundu supporters.
A second internal factor was a sense of racial difference. The FNLA considered the MPLA Creole leadership as a "non-African" group disconnected from the "real" Africa, even though several of the MPLA leaders were Black Africans.
Third, ideology separated the groups. The MPLA asserted itself as a Marxist organization rooted in communism. Though the FNLA and UNITA also had leftist leanings, they did not claim Marxism as part of their platform. Ideologically, the groups were more difficult to distinguish from one another, but they clearly did not share a similar vision to bind them together in their efforts in Angola.
Another important factor in the conflict is leadership. The MPLA and FNLA were in the hands of leaders with little taste for compromise. After the failure of an attempted merger in 1962, there was little chance that either Neto or Roberto would ever work with the other. Savimbi's decision to leave the FNLA and his rejection by the MPLA led directly to his decision to create UNITA, thus adding to the mix a third leader with traits similar to the others.
Angola's rival nationalists not only had to contend with competition from one another, but also from within their organizations. This contributed to disorganized strategies and and led to difficulty capitalizing on successes. Thus, though the MPLA controlled Angola's capital on the country's day of independence, the group was never granted the legitimacy it claimed, and it did not have the power to gain full control of the country. As governing party, the MPLA remained split both personally and ideologically. Its declaration of itself as a Marxist-Leninist party was not merely taken to please external donors and to launch a "socialist" development program. It was an attempt to make a clear distinction between the MPLA and its competitors.
In its struggle to retain power the MPLA took an increasingly hard line stance. Three factors contributed to this change—Angola's economy, its position in regional and international relations, and the nature of the armed opposition. The Angolan government exploited the country's rich resources in oil and diamonds to fund the civil war and to keep the economy afloat. When UNITA took control of the diamond mines the government was still able to maintain military expenditures through its hold on the oil industry. UNITA quickly began financing its own efforts through the mining and sale of diamonds. Angola's vast resources, which should have been used to help enrich all of its people, were instead being turned against it.
The character of UNITA had the greatest influence on the evolution of the civil conflict. Born a genuine anti-colonial political organization, it became a military machine under the strong grip of power exercised by Savimbi. UNITA's access to foreign support and its control of Angola's diamond resources were used toward one end—to make Savimbi the undisputed ruler of Angola. Efforts toward this end are similar to MPLA conduct in that they reflect the inability of Angola's elites to form a broad anti-colonial coalition.
Recent History and the Future
The years since the inconclusive elections of 1992 have seen a continuing civil war, punctuated by agreements to stop fighting. The fortunes of the MPLA-dominated government and the UNITA rebels have risen and fallen. In 1999, for example, government forces claimed a number of regions from UNITA. The rebels seemed to be on the run. Later that same year UNITA struck back, and it became clear that the government hopes of an early victory were unfounded. Government forces have been stretched very thin by the need to defend the Cabinda enclave against separatists, as well as defending Angola proper against UNITA. The government intervened in the civil wars in Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa) in large measure to deprive the rebel groups of safe havens in these countries. In so doing, particularly in siding with Laurent Kabila in Congo-Kinshasa, it linked its own fate to that of the host regime. Angola was allied with Rwanda for Kabila and against Mobutu; when Rwanda turned against Kabila, Savimbi and UNITA needed little encouragement to channel part of its diamond trade through Rwanda.
Early in 2000 South Africa suggested that Angola negotiate with Savimbi. Angola's reply, that it had tried negotiation time and again without success, was not without warrant. After years of fighting, the opposing sides are entrenched firmly against one another. The United Nations attempt to force UNITA to compromise by cutting off the flow of diamonds, and thus of funding, is unlikely to succeed, as there are many markets abroad willing to deal in the "blood" diamonds mined by the rebels. The most likely outcome is more warfare.
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1956 The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) is founded.
1961 The MPLA and the Union of Populations of Northern Angola (UPNA) begins a series of uncoordinated attacks against the colonial Portuguese government.
1963 The Caninda Enclave Liberation Front (FLEC) is formed.
1964 Members of the Kongo ethnic group form the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA).
1966 Savimbi defects from the FNLA to found the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).
1974 President Caetano is overthrown in a coup d'état. General Spinola assumes power.
1975 Angola achieves independence from Portugal with the Alvor Agreement. The FNLA attacks the MPLA headquarters, leading to civil war. Cuban troops arrive in Angola in support of the MPLA. The first large shipment of arms from the Soviet Union arrives in Angola.
1976 The Angolan war ends. Cuban troops remain to enforce peace.
1981 South African forces carry out military actions against Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Angola.
1985 The U.S. Congress repeals the Clark Amendment and resumes aid to UNITA.
1988 An agreement is reached regarding Namibian independence, a major issue for Angolan peace.
1991 Cuba withdraws troops from Angola. UNITA and the MPLA decide to merge and hold elections. Savimbi, UNITA's leader, is dissatisfied with the election results. Civil war resumes.
1994 The Lusaka Protocol establishes a cease-fire. The U.N. Security Council sends in U.N. peacekeeping troops.
1997-98 Angola intervenes in conflicts in Congo-Kinshasa and Congo-Brazzaville. Civil war re-erupts within Angola.
2000 United Nations' reports implicate various African presidents of helping rebel groups, such as UNITA, to buy weapons, thereby prolonging the war.
Jonas Malheiro Savimbi
1934- Dr. Jonas Savimbi was born in 1934. After attending school in Angola, Savimbi continued his education in Europe. He studied medicine at the University of Lisbon (Portugal), and obtained a second doctorate in political science at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland), before he returned to Angola. In 1961 he joined the Popular Union of Angola (UPA), which later merged with a smaller party to form the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA), one of several factions fighting for liberation from Portugal.
In 1966 Savimbi left the FNLA to form the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). UNITA had grown into an army of thousands by the time Angola became independent in 1974. Savimbi was included in the hastily assembled interim government, but resigned and returned to guerrilla war when a Marxist government was established.
Throughout the 1980s the United States, China, and South Africa supported Savimbi and UNITA in the civil war against the Soviet-and Cuban-supported Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which controlled the central government. In 1992 Savimbi signed a United Nations-brokered peace agreement with the MPLA, which led to a cease-fire and multi-party national elections, in which Savimbi was a presidential candidate. After rejecting the results of the elections Savimbi re-armed UNITA and resumed the civil war.
Historians' Challenges to Understanding Conflict
The greatest challenge to historians in dealing with Angola—as with many other conflicts—is to understand the participants as real human beings, making choices, not just moved by outside forces, including, in the case of Angola, colonial Portugal and the Atlantic slave trade. For the period since the late 1950s the outside forces certainly include the international political system, especially the Cold War, and the international economy, including the markets for minerals and the multinational corporations that sell and process those minerals.
It is undeniable that Angola's struggle for independence and civil war took place in the shadow of the Cold War. Some accounts of the struggle, however, fail to examine the internal dynamics of the conflict. Once a scholar has said that the MPLA was aided by the Soviet Union and Cuba, and that UNITA received support from the United States and South Africa, has one exhausted the topic? Were these organizations only pawns on the chessboard? In fact, each of them and their various leaders and factions correspond to social strata, regions, ethnic groups, and interests within Angola, which must be taken into account if one is to gain a real understanding of Angolan politics.
Terms like "allies," "patrons," "dependents," and "surrogates" imply greater or lesser equality between outside backers and inside groups and greater or lesser degrees of control of the latter by the former. A closer look—for example, as taken by Odd Arne Westad in his study of Soviet archival documents, "Moscow and the Angolan Crisis, 1974-1976: A New Pattern of Intervention"—reveals more complicated relationships. Furthermore, there is a difference of opinion as to the importance of ideology in the Angolan movements. William Blum, author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, minimizes the differences whereas scholar Patrick Chabal sees the MPLA as committed to a communist revolution in Angola. Further research may shed additional light on this problem, which cannot be resolved at this point.
Angola indeed seemed to have been a square on the chessboard for most decision-makers in Washington, D.C., and in Moscow. By the early twenty-first century the Soviet Union had ceased to exist and South Africa has made a rather successful transition to majority rule. The West "won" the Cold War—both in general and in southern Africa in particular. But looking at Angola, one is led to ask, to what extent did that "victory" cause the present tragedy? UNITA, previously aided by the United States and South Africa, now fights on with the proceeds from smuggled diamonds. The Angolan government fights UNITA by spreading thousands of landmines, financing its efforts from oil money that could be put to better use. To the extent that Angolans were, in facts, pawns in game of chess, millions of Angolans continue to pay a heavy price for the Cold War.