Angolan War of Independence

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Angolan War of Independence
Part of the Portuguese Colonial War, the Decolonization of Africa, and the Cold War
Portuguese troops on patrol in Angola
Date 4 February 1961 – 25 April 1974 (cease fire)
(13 years, 2 months and 3 weeks)
11 November 1975 (independence)
Location Angola
Portugal Portugal
 South Africa[1][2]
Commanders and leaders
Agostinho Neto
Lúcio Lara
Holden Roberto
Jonas Savimbi
Portugal Francisco da Costa Gomes
90,000 65,000
Casualties and losses
~30,000 Total[16] 2,991 killed (1,526 KIA & 1,465 non-combat related)[17]
4,684 with permanent deficiency (physical or psychological)
30,000–50,000 civilians killed [18]
Map of the present provinces of Angola, corresponding almost exactly to the Portuguese-era districts.

The Angolan War of Independence (1961–1974) began as an uprising against forced cotton cultivation, and became a multi-faction struggle for the control of Portugal's overseas province of Angola among three nationalist movements and a separatist movement.[19] The war ended when a leftist military coup in Lisbon in April 1974 overthrew Portugal's Estado Novo regime, and the new regime immediately stopped all military action in the African colonies, declaring its intention to grant them independence without delay.

The conflict is usually approached as a branch or a theater of the wider Portuguese Overseas War, which also included the independence wars of Guinea-Bissau and of Mozambique.

It was a guerrilla war in which the Portuguese armed and security forces waged a counter-insurgency campaign against armed groups mostly dispersed across sparsely populated areas of the vast Angolan countryside.[20] Many atrocities were committed by all forces involved in the conflict.

In Angola, after the Portuguese had stopped the war, an armed conflict broke out among the nationalist movements. This war formally came to an end in January 1975 when the Portuguese government, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), and the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA) signed the Alvor Agreement.

Background of the territory[edit]

In 1482, the Kingdom of Portugal's caravels, commanded by navigator Diogo Cão, arrived in the Kingdom of Kongo. Other expeditions followed, and close relations were soon established between the two kingdoms. The Portuguese brought firearms, many other technological advances, and a new religion, Christianity. In return, the King of the Congo offered slaves, ivory and minerals.

Paulo Dias de Novais founded Luanda in 1575 as São Paulo da Assunção de Loanda. Novais occupied a strip of land with a hundred families of colonists and four hundred soldiers, and established a fortified settlement. The Portuguese crown granted Luanda the status of city in 1605. Several other settlements, forts and ports were founded and maintained by the Portuguese. Benguela, a Portuguese fort from 1587, a town from 1617, was another important early settlement founded and ruled by Portugal.[21][22]

The early period of Portuguese incursion was punctuated by a series of wars, treaties and disputes with local African rulers, particularly Nzinga Mbandi, who resisted Portugal with great determination. The conquest of the territory of contemporary Angola started only in the 19th century and was not concluded before the 1920s.

In 1834, Angola and the rest of the Portuguese overseas dominions received the status of overseas provinces of Portugal. From then on, the official position of the Portuguese authorities was always that Angola was an integral part of Portugal in the same way as were the provinces of the Metropole (European Portugal). The status of province was briefly interrupted from 1926 to 1951, when Angola had the title of "colony" (itself administratively divided in several provinces), but it was recovered on 11 June 1951. The Portuguese constitutional revision of 1971, increased the autonomy of the province, which became the State of Angola.[21][22]

Angola has always had very low population density. Despite having a territory larger than France and Germany combined, in 1960, Angola had just a population of 5 million, of which around 180 000 were whites, 55 000 were mixed race and the remaining were blacks. In the 1970s, the population had increased to 5,65 million, of which 450 000 were whites, 65 000 were mixed race and the remaining were blacks.

At the time of the conflict, the government of the province of Angola was headed by the Governor-General of Angola, who had both legislative and executive powers, reporting directly to the Portuguese Minister of the Overseas. The Governor-General did not have however military responsibilities, which were vested in the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Angola, who reported to the Minister of National Defense and the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces. However, the Governor-General was responsible for the internal security forces. The Governor-General was assisted by a cabinet made up of a Secretary-General (that served as deputy Governor-General) and several provincial secretaries. There was a Legislative Council - including both appointed and elected members - with legislative responsibilities that were gradually increased in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1972, it was transformed in the Legislative Assembly. There was also a Council of Government, which included the senior public officials of the province and which was responsible to advice the Governor-General in his legislative and executive responsibilities.

The local administration of Angola included the following districts: Cabinda, Zaire, Uíge, Luanda, Cuanza Norte, Cuanza Sul, Malanje, Lunda, Benguela, Huambo, Bié (created in 1963), Moxico, Moçâmedes, Huíla, Cuando Cubango and Cunene (created in 1970). Each was headed by a district governor, assisted by a district board. Following the Portuguese model of local government, the districts were made of municipalities (concelhos) and these were subdivided in civil parishes (freguesias), each administered by local council (respectively câmara municipal and junta de freguesia). In the regions where the necessary social and economical development had not yet been achieved, the municipalities and civil parishes were transitorily replaced, respectively, by administrative circles (circuncrições) and posts (postos), each of these governed by an official appointed by the Government, who had wide administrative powers, performing local government, police, sanitary, economical, tributary and even judicial roles. The circle administrators and the chiefs of administrative posts directed the local native auxiliary police officers known as "sepoys" (cipaios). In these regions, the traditional authorities - including native kings, rulers and tribal chiefs - were kept and integrated in the administrative system, serving as intermediaries between the provincial authorities and the local native populations.


Portuguese forces[edit]

Portuguese paratroopers in the rainforest of northern Angola

The Portuguese forces engaged in the conflict included mainly the Armed Forces, but also the security and paramilitary forces.

The Portuguese Armed Forces in Angola included land, naval and air forces, which came under the joint command of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Angola. Until 17 June 1961, there was not an appointed Commander-in-Chief, with the joint command in the early stages of the conflict being exercised by the commanders of the land forces, generals Monteiro Libório (until June 1961) and Silva Freire (from June to September, 1961). From then on, the role of Commander-in-Chief was performed successively by the generals Venâncio Deslandes (1961-1962, also serving as Governor-General), Holbeche Fino (1962-1963), Andrade e Silva (1963-1965), Soares Pereira (1965-1970), Costa Gomes (1970-1972), Luz Cunha (1972-1974) and Franco Pinheiro (1974), all of them from the Army, except the first one who was from the Air Force. The Commander-in-Chief served as the theatre commander and coordinated the forces of the three branches stationed in the province, with the respective branch commanders serving as assistant commanders-in-chief. With the course of the conflict, the operational role of the Commander-in-Chief and of his staff was increasingly reinforced at the expense of the branch commanders. From 1966, in the areas most affected by the insurgency, regional unified commands (initially designated "intervention zones" and latter "military zones") subordinate to the Command-in-Chief were also raised, through the transformation of the regional Army territorial commands. By the 1970s, the military zones were the Northern, Central, Southern and Eastern. When the conflict erupted, the Portuguese Armed Forces in Angola only included 6500 men, of which 1500 were Metropolitans (Europeans) and the remaining were locals. By the end of the conflict, the number had increased to more than 65 000, of which 57.6% were Metropolitans and the remaining were locals.

The land forces in forces in Angola constituted the Military Region of Angola (RMA) of the Portuguese Army (named "3rd Military Region" until 1962). The Military Region was foreseen to included five subordinate regional territorial commands, but these had not yet been activated. The disposition of the Army units in the province at the beginning of the conflict had been established in 1953, at that a time when no internal conflicts were expected to happen in Angola, with the Portuguese major military concerns being a foreseen conventional war in Europe against the Warsaw Pact. So, the previous organization of the former Colonial Military Forces based in company-sized units scattered across Angola, performing also internal security duties, had shift to one along conventional lines, based in three infantry regiments and several battalion-sized units of several arms concentrated in the major urban centers, aimed at being able to raise an expeditionary field division to be deployed from Angola to reinforce the Portuguese Army in Europe if a conventional war occurred. These regiments and other units were however mostly in cadre strength, serving as training centers for the conscripts drafted in the province. During the conflict, they were responsible to raise the locally recruited field units. Besides the locally raised units, the Army forces in Angola included reinforcement units raised and sent from European Portugal. These were transitory units, mostly made of conscripts (including most of their junior officers and non-commissioned officers), which existed only during usual two-year period of tour of duty of their members. The great majority of these units were light infantry battalions and independent companies designated caçadores. These battalions and companies were designed to operate autonomously and isolated, without much support from the higher echelons, so having a strong service support component. They were deployed in a grid system (quadrícula) along the theatre of operations, with each one being responsible for a given area of responsibility. Usually, a regiment-sized agrupamento (battlegroup) commanded a sector, with this being divided in several sub-sectors, each constituting the area of responsibility of a caçadores battalion. Each battalion, in turn, had its field companies dispersed by the sub-sector, each with part of it as its area of responsibility. Due to the low scale guerrilla nature of the conflict, the caçadores company became the main tactical unit, with the standard organization in three rifle and one support platoons, being replaced by one based in four identical sub-units known as "combat groups". The Army forces also included regular units of artillery, armored reconnaissance, engineering, communications, signal intelligence, military police and logistics. Besides the regular units, the Army also fielded units of special forces. Initially, these consisted of companies of special caçadores, trained for guerrilla and counter-insurgency warfare. The Army tried to extend the training of the special caçadores to all the light infantry units, so disbanding those companies in 1962. These proved however impracticable and soon other special forces were raised again in the form of the Commandos. The Commandos and a few specially selected caçadores units were not deployed in grid, but served instead as mobile intervention units under the direct control of the higher echelons of command. An unconventional force also fielded by Army was the Dragoons of Angola, a special counterinsurgency horse unit raised in the middle 1960s.

The Portuguese Navy forces were under the command of the Naval Command of Angola. These forces included the Zaire Flotilla (with patrol boats and landing craft operating the river Zaire), naval assets (including frigates and corvettes deployed to Angola in rotation), Marine companies and Special Marine detachments. While the Marine companies served as regular naval infantry with the role of protecting the Navy's installations and vessels, the Special Marines were special forces, serving as mobile intervention units, specialized in amphibious assaults. The initial focus of the Navy was mainly the river Zaire, with the mission of interdicting the infiltration of guerrillas in Northern Angola from the bordering Republic of Zaire. Latter, the Navy also operated in the rivers of Eastern Angola, despite it being a remote interior region at around 1000 km distance from the Ocean.

The Air forces in Angola were under the command of the 2nd Air Region of the Portuguese Air Force. They included a central air base (the Air Base 9 at Luanda) and two sector air bases (the Base-Aerodrome 3 at Negage and the Base-Aerodrome 4 at Henrique de Carvalho). A fourth air base was being built (Base-Aerodrome 10 at Serpa Pinto), but it was not completed before the end of the conflict. These bases controlled a number of satellite air fields, including maneuver and alternate aerodromes. Besides these, the Air Force also could count with a number of additional airfields, including those of some of the Army garrisons, in some of which air detachments were permanently deployed. The Air Force also maintained in Angola, the Paratrooper Battalion 21, which served as a mobile intervention unit, with its forces initially being deployed by parachute, but latter being mainly used in air assaults by helicopter. The Air Force was supported by the voluntary air formations, composed of civil pilots, mainly from local flying clubs, who operated light aircraft mainly in air logistics support missions. In the beginning of the conflict, the Air Force had only a few aircraft stationed in Angola, including 25 F-84G jet fighter-bombers, six PV-2 Harpoon bombers, six Nord Noratlas transport aircraft, six Alouette II helicopters, eight T-6 light attack aircraft and eight Auster light observation aircraft. By the early 1970s, it had available four F-84G, six PV-2 Harpoon, 13 Nord Noratlas, C-47 and C-57 transport aircraft, 30 Alouette III and Puma helicopters, 18 T-6 and 26 Dornier Do 27 observation aircraft. Despite the increase, the number of aircraft was always too few to cover the enormous Angolan territory, besides many being old aircraft difficult to maintain in flying conditions. From the late 1960s, the Portuguese forces in southern Angola were able to count with the support of helicopters and some other air assets of the South African Air Force, with two Portuguese-South African joint air support centers being established.

The security forces in Angola were under the control of the civil authorities, headed by the Governor-General of the province. The three main of these forces engaged in the war was the Public Security Police (PSP), the PIDE (renamed DGS in 1969) and the OPVDCA. By the middle of the 1960s, these forces included 10,000 PSP constables, 1,100 PIDE agents and 20,000 OPVDCA volunteers.[citation needed]

The PSP was the uniformed preventive police of Angola. It was modeled after the European Portuguese PSP, but it covered the whole province, including its rural areas and not only the major urban areas as in the European Portugal. The PSP of Angola included a general-command in Luanda and district commands in each of the several district capitals, with a network of police stations and posts scattered along the territory. The Angolan PSP was reinforced with mobile police companies deployed by the European Portuguese PSP. The PSP included the Rural Guard, which was responsible for the protection of farms and other agricultural companies. Besides this, the PSP was responsible to frame the district militias, which were employed mainly in the self-defense of villages and other settlements.

The PIDE (International and State Defense Police) was the Portuguese secret and border police. The PIDE Delegation of Angola, included a number of sub-delegations, border posts and surveillance posts. In the war, it operated as an intelligence service. The PIDE raised and controlled the Flechas, a paramilitary special forces unit specialized in tracking, reconnaissance and pseudo-terrorist operations.

The OPVDCA (Provincial Organization of Volunteers and Civil Defense of Angola) was a militia-type corps responsible for internal security and civil defense roles, with similar characteristics to those of the Portuguese Legion existing in European Portugal. Its origins was the Corps of Volunteers organized in the beginning of the conflict, which became the Provincial Organization of Volunteers in 1962, assuming also the role of civil defense in 1964, when it became the OPVDCA. It was made up of volunteers that served in part-time, most of these being initially whites, but latter becoming increasingly multi-racial. In the conflict, the OPVDCA was mainly employed in the defense of people, lines of communications and sensitive installations. It included a provincial command and 16 district commands.

The irregular paramilitary forces, included a number of different types of units, with different characteristics, which were under military control. The Special Groups (GE) were platoon-sized units of special forces made up of local volunteers, that operated in Eastern Angola, usually attached to Army units. The Special Troops (TE) was a force raised with defectors from FNLA, at its peak being made up of four battalions, operating in Cabinda and Northern Angola. The Fieis was a force made up mostly of exiled Katangese gendarmes from the Front for Congolese National Liberation, that opposed Mobutu regime, being organized in three battalions. Finally, the Leais was a force made up of political exiles from Zambia.

Race and ethnicity in the Portuguese Armed Forces[edit]

From 1900 to the early 1950s the Portuguese maintained a separate colonial army in their African possessions, consisting mainly of a limited number of companhias indígenas (native companies). Officers and senior NCOs were seconded from the metropolitan army, while junior NCOs were mainly drawn from Portuguese settlers resident in the overseas territories. The rank and file were a mixture of black African volunteers and white conscripts from the settler community doing their obligatory military service. Black assimilados were in theory also liable to conscription but in practice only a limited number were called on to serve.[23] With the change in official status of the African territories from colonies to overseas provinces in 1951, the colonial army lost its separate status and was integrated into the regular forces of Portugal itself. The basis of recruitment for the overseas units remained essentially unchanged.

According to the Mozambican historian João Paulo Borges Coelho,[24] the Portuguese colonial army was segregated along lines of race and ethnicity. Until 1960, there were three classes of soldiers: commissioned soldiers (European and African whites), overseas soldiers (black African assimilados or civilizados), and native soldiers (Africans who were part of the indigenato regime). These categories were renamed to 1st, 2nd and 3rd class in 1960 – which effectively corresponded to the same classification. Later, although skin colour ceased to be an official discrimination, in practice the system changed little – although from the late 1960s onward blacks were admitted as ensigns (alferes), the lowest rank in the hierarchy of commissioned officers.[25]

Numerically, black soldiers never amounted to more than 41% of the Colonial army, rising from just 18% at the outbreak of the war. Coelho noted that perceptions of African soldiers varied a good deal among senior Portuguese commanders during the conflict in Angola, Guinea and Mozambique. General Costa Gomes, perhaps the most successful counterinsurgency commander, sought good relations with local civilians and employed African units within the framework of an organized counter-insurgency plan. General Spínola, by contrast, appealed for a more political and psycho-social use of African soldiers. General Kaúlza, the most conservative of the three, feared African forces outside his strict control and seems not to have progressed beyond his initial racist perception of the Africans as inferior beings.[25]

Native African troops, although widely deployed, were initially employed in subordinate roles as enlisted troops or noncommissioned officers. As the war went on, an increasing number of native Angolans rose to positions of command, though of junior rank. After 500 years of colonial rule, Portugal had failed to produce any native black governors, headmasters, police inspectors, or professors; it had also failed to produce a single commander of senior commissioned rank in the overseas Army.

Here Portuguese colonial administrators fell victim to the legacy of their own discriminatory and limited policies in education, which largely barred indigenous Angolans from an equal and adequate education until well after the outbreak of the insurgency. By the early 1970s, the Portuguese authorities had fully perceived these flaws as wrong and contrary to their overseas ambitions in Portuguese Africa, and willingly accepted a true color blindness policy with more spending in education and training opportunities, which started to produce a larger number of black high ranked professionals, including military personnel.[citation needed]

Nationalist and separatist forces[edit]


UPA was created at 7 July 1954, as the Union of the Peoples of Northern Angola, by Holden Roberto, a descendant of the old Kongo Royal House, who was born in Northern Angola but who lived since his early childhood in the Belgian Congo, where he came to work for the local colonial authorities. In 1958, the movement adopts a more embracing designation, becoming the Union of the Peoples of Angola (UPA). In 1960, Holden Roberto signed an agreement with the MPLA for the two movements to fight together against the Portuguese forces, but he ended fighting alone. In 1962, UPA merges with the Democratic Party of Angola, becoming the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA), assuming itself as a pro-American and anti-Soviet organization. In the same year, it creates the Revolutionary Government of Angola in Exile (GRAE). UPA and later FNLA was mainly supported by the Bakongo ethnic group which occupied the regions of the old Kingdom of Kongo, including the Northwestern and Northern Angola, as well as parts of the French and Belgian Congos. It had always strong connections with the former Belgian Congo (named "Zaire" from 1971), including due to Holden Roberto being friend and brother in law of Mobutu Sese Seko.

The armed branch of FNLA was the National Liberation Army of Angola (ELNA). It was mainly supported by Congo/Zaire - where its troops were based and trained - and by Algeria. They were financed by the USA and - despite considering themselves anti-communists - received weapons from the Eastern European countries.


The People's Movement of Liberation of Angola (MPLA) was founded in 1956, by the merging of the Party of the United Struggle for Africans in Angola (PLUA) and the Angolan Communist Party (PCA). The MPLA was an organization of the left-wing politics, which included mixed race and white members of the Angolan intelligentsia and urban elites, supported by the Ambundu and other ethnic groups of the Luanda, Bengo, Cuanza Norte, Cuanza Sul and Mallange districts. It was headed by Agostinho Neto (president) and Viriato da Cruz (secretary-general), both Portuguese-educated urban intellectuals. It was mainly externally supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba, with its tentative to receive support from the United States failing, as these were already supporting UPA/FNLA.

The armed wing of the MPLA was the People's Army of Liberation of Angola (EPLA). In its peak, the EPLA included around 4500 fighters, being organized in military regions. It was mainly equipped with Soviet weapons, mostly received through Zambia, which included Tokarev pistol, PPS submachine guns, Simonov automatic rifles, Kalashnikov assault rifles, machine-guns, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank mines and anti-personnel mines


The Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) was created in 1966 by Jonas Savimbi, a dissident of FNLA. Jonas Savimbi was the Foreign Minister of the GRAE but entered in course of clash with Holden Roberto, accusing him of having a complicity with the USA and of following an imperialist policy. Savimbi was member of the Ovimbundu tribe of Central and Southern Angola, son of a Evangelic pastor, who studied went to study medicine in European Portugal, although not graduating.

The Armed Forces of Liberation of Angola (FALA) constituted the armed branch of UNITA. They had a small number of fighters and were not well equipped. Its high difficulties led Savimbi to make agreements with the Portuguese authorities, focusing more in fighting MPLA.


The Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) was founded in 1963, by the merging of the Movement for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (MLEC), the Action Committee of the Cabinda National Union (CAUNC) and the Mayombe National Alliance (ALLIAMA). On the contrary of the remaining three movements, FLEC did not fought for the independente of the whole Angola, but only for the independence of Cabinda, which it considered a separate country. Although its activities started still before the withdrawal of Portugal from Angola, the military actions of FLEC occurred mainly after, being aimed against the Angolan armed and security forces. FLEC is the only of the nationalist and separatist movements that still maintains a guerrilla warfare until today.


The Eastern Revolt (RDL, Revolta do Leste) was a wing of the MPLA, created in 1973, under the leadership of Daniel Chipenda. in oppositon to the line of Agostinho Neto. A second wing was the "Revolta Activa" (Active Revolt), crerated at the same time.

Pre-war events[edit]

International politics[edit]

The international politics in the late 1940s and 1950s was marked by the Cold War and the wind of change in the European colonies in Asia and Africa.

In October, 1954, the Algerian War starts with a series of explosions in Argel. This conflict would led to the presence of more than 400 000 French military in Algeria until its end in 1962. Foreseeing a similar conflict in its African territories, the Portuguese military would pay a deep attention to this war, sending observers and personnel to be trained in the counter-insurgence warfare tactics employed by the French.

In 1955, the Bandung Conference it is held in Indonesia, with the participation of 29 Asian and African countries, most of which were newly independent. The conference promoted the Afro-Asian economic and cultural cooperation and opposed to colonialism or neocolonialism. It was an important step toward the Non-Aligned Movement.

Following the admission of Portugal to the United Nations in December 1955, the Secretary-General officially asked the Portuguese Government if the country had non-self-governing territories under its administration. The Portuguese response was that Portugal did not had any territories that could be qualified as non-self-governing and so it did not had any obligation of providing any information requested under the Article 73 of the United Nations Charter.

In 1957, Ghana (former British Gold Cost) becomes the first European African colony to achieve independence, under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah organizes in 1958, the Conference of African Independent States aimed to be the African Bandung.

The former Belgian Congo becomes independent in 1960, as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Immediately after the independence, a number of violent disturbances occur, leading to the forced exile of more than 80 000 Belgians that lived in the country.

Internal politics and rise of Angolan nationalism[edit]

Angola highlighted on a map of modern-day Africa

The Portuguese Colonial Act - passed on 13 June 1933 - defined the relationship between the Portuguese Overseas and the Metropole, until being repulsed in 1951. The Colonial Act reflected an imperialistic view of the overseas territories typical among the European colonial powers of the late 1920s and 1930s. During the period in which it was in force, the Portuguese overseas territories lost the status of "provinces" that they have had since 1834, becoming designated "colonies", with the whole Portuguese Overseas becoming officially designated "Portuguese Colonial Empire". The Colonial Act subtly recognized the supremacy of the Portuguese over native people, and even if the natives could pursue all studies including university, the de facto situation was of clear disadvantage due to deep cultural and social differences between most of the traditional indigenous communities or tribes and the ethnic Portuguese who used to live in the littoral of Angola.

Due to its imperialist orientation, the Colonial Act started to be called into question. In 1944, José Ferreira Bossa, former Minister of the Colonies, proposed the revision of the Act, including the end up of the designation "colonies" and the resume of the traditional designation "overseas provinces". On 11 June 1951, a new law passed in the Portuguese National Assembly reviewed the Constitution, finally repulsing the Colonial Act. As part of these, the provincial status was returned to all Portuguese overseas territories. By this law, the Portuguese territory of Angola ceased to be called Colónia de Angola (Colony of Angola) and started again to be officially called Província de Angola (Province of Angola).[21][22]

In 1948, Viriato da Cruz and others formed the Movement of Young Intellectuals, an organization that promoted Angolan culture. Nationalists sent a letter to the United Nations calling for Angola to be given protectorate status under UN supervision.

In the 1950s, a new wave of Portuguese settlement in all of Portuguese Africa, including the overseas province of Angola, was encouraged by the ruling government of António de Oliveira Salazar.[26]

In 1953, Angolan separatists founded the Party of the United Struggle for Africans in Angola (PLUA), the first political party to advocate Angolan independence from Portugal. In 1954, ethnic Bakongo nationalists in the Belgian Congo and Angola formed the Union of Peoples of Northern Angola (UPA), which advocated the independence of the historical Kingdom of Kongo, which included other territories outside the Portuguese overseas province of Angola.[27]

During 1955, Mário Pinto de Andrade and his brother Joaquim formed the Angolan Communist Party (PCA). In December 1956 PLUA merged with the PCA to form the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). The MPLA, led by da Cruz, Mário Andrade, Ilidio Machado, and Lúcio Lara, derived support from the Ambundu and in Luanda.[28][29][30][31]

Course of the conflict[edit]


Portuguese colonial troops on parade in Luanda

On 3 January 1961 Angolan peasants in the region of Baixa de Cassanje, Malanje, boycotted the Cotonang's cotton fields where they worked, demanding better working conditions and higher wages. Cotonang was a company owned by Portuguese, British and German investors. Challenging the authorities, the peasants burned their identification cards and attacked Portuguese traders. This was known as the Baixa de Cassanje revolt. By 4 January the Portuguese military responded to the rebellion by bombing villages in the area, allegedly using napalm, killing between 400 and 7,000 indigenous Angolans.[32][33]

UPA badge

On 4 February, 50 independentist militants in Luanda stormed a police station and São Paulo prison, killing seven policemen. Forty of the MPLA attackers were killed, and none of the prisoners were freed. The government held a funeral for the deceased police officers on 5 February, during which the Portuguese citizens committed random acts of violence against the ethnic black majority living in Luanda's slums (musseques).[34] Separatist militants attacked a second prison on 10 February and the Portuguese reaction was equally brutal.

On 15 March, the Union of Peoples of Angola (UPA), under the leadership of Holden Roberto, launched an incursion into Angola from its base in Zaïre, leading 4000 to 5000 militants. His forces took farms, government outposts, and trading centers, killing officials and civilians, most of them Ovimbundu "contract workers" from the Central Highlands.[36] The UPA entered northern Angola and proceeded to massacre the civilian population killing 1,000 whites and 6,000 blacks (women and children included of both white European and black African descent)[37] through cross-border attacks – it was the start of the Portuguese Colonial War.[31][38][39][40]

The Portuguese regrouped and took control of Pedra Verde, the UPA's last base in northern Angola, on 20 September. In the first year of the war 20,000 to 30,000 Angolan civilians[18][41] were killed by Portuguese forces and between 400,000 and 500,000 refugees went to Zaïre. UPA militants joined pro-independence refugees and continued to launch attacks from across the border in Zaïre, creating more refugees and terror among local communities.[31][39] A UPA patrol took 21 MPLA militants prisoner and then executed them on 9 October 1961 in the Ferreira incident, sparking further violence between the two groups.[39] The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 163, calling on Portugal to desist from repressive measures against the Angolan people.[42]

Roberto merged the UPA with the Democratic Party of Angola to form the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA) in March 1962. A few weeks later he established the Revolutionary Government of Angola in Exile (GRAE) on 27 March, appointing Jonas Savimbi to the position of Foreign Minister. Roberto established a political alliance with Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko by divorcing his wife and marrying a woman from Mobutu's wife's village.[43][44] Roberto visited Israel and received aid from the Israeli government from 1963 to 1969.[45][46]

The MPLA held a party congress in Leopoldville in 1962, during which, Viriato da Cruz — found to be slow, negligent, and adverse to planning — and was replaced by Agostinho Neto. In addition to the change in leadership, the MPLA adopted and reaffirmed its policies for an independent Angola:[28]

  • Democracy
  • Multiracialism
  • Non-alignment
  • Nationalization
  • National liberation of the entire colony.
  • No foreign military bases in Angola.

Savimbi left the FNLA in 1964 and founded UNITA in response to Roberto's unwillingness to spread the war outside the traditional Kingdom of Kongo.[47] Neto met Marxist leader Che Guevara in 1965 and soon received funding from the governments of Cuba, German Democratic Republic, and the Soviet Union.[48] In May 1966 Daniel Chipenda, then a member of MPLA, established the Eastern Front, significantly expanding the MPLA's reach in Angola. When the EF collapsed, Chipenda and Neto each blamed the other's factions.[39]

UNITA carried out its first attack on 25 December 1966, preventing trains from passing through the Benguela railway at Teixeira de Sousa on the border with Zambia. UNITA derailed the railway twice in 1967, angering the Zambian government, which exported copper through the railway. President Kenneth Kaunda responded by kicking UNITA's 500 fighters out of Zambia. Savimbi moved to Cairo, Egypt, where he lived for a year. He secretly entered Angola through Zambia and worked with the Portuguese military against the MPLA.[28][48]

UNITA had its main base in distant south-eastern Angolan provinces, where the Portuguese and FNLA influence were for all practical purposes very low, and where there was no guerrilla war at all. UNITA was from the beginning far better organized and disciplined than either the MPLA or the FNLA.[citation needed] Its fighters also showed a much better understanding of guerrilla operations.[citation needed] They were especially active along the Benguela railway, repeatedly causing damage to the Portuguese, and to the Republic of Congo and Zambia, both of which used the railway for transportation of their exports to Angolan ports.

During the late 1960s the FNLA and MPLA fought each other as much as they did the Portuguese, with MPLA forces assisting the Portuguese in finding FNLA hideouts.[48]


The MPLA began forming squadrons of 100 to 145 militants in 1971. These squadrons, armed with 60 mm and 81 mm mortars, attacked Portuguese outposts. The Portuguese conducted counter-insurgency sweeps against MPLA forces in 1972, destroying some MPLA camps. Additionally, the South African Defence Force engaged the MPLA forces in Moxico in February 1972, destroying the Communist presence. The Portuguese Armed Forces organized a successful campaign to control and pacify the entire Eastern Front (the Frente Leste). Neto, defeated, retreated with 800 militants to the Republic of the Congo. Differing factions in the MPLA then jockeyed for power, until the Soviet Union allied with the Chipenda faction. On 17 March 1,000 FNLA fighters mutinied in Kinkuzu, but the Zairian army put down the rebellion on behalf of Roberto.[49]


Training of F.N.L.A. soldiers in a camp in Zaire in 1973

In 1973 Chipenda left the MPLA, founding the Eastern Revolt with 1,500 former MPLA followers. Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere convinced the People's Republic of China, which had begun funding the MPLA in 1970, to ally with the FNLA against the MPLA in 1973. Roberto visited the PRC in December and secured Chinese support. The Soviet Union cut off aid to the MPLA completely in 1974 when Revolta Activa split off from the mainstream MPLA. In November the Soviet Union resumed aid to the MPLA after Neto reasserted his leadership.[39][48]

The combined forces of the MPLA, the UNITA, and the FNLA succeeded in their rebellion not because of their success in battle, but because of the Movimento das Forças Armadas' coup in Portugal.[50] The MFA was an organisation of lower-ranked officers in the Portuguese Armed Forces which was responsible for the Carnation Revolution of 25 April 1974, which ended the Portuguese Colonial War and led to the independence of the Portuguese overseas territories.[20][51]

The MFA overthrew the Lisbon government in protest against the authoritarian political regime and the ongoing African colonial wars, specially the particularly demanding conflict in Portuguese Guinea.[52] The revolutionary Portuguese government removed the remaining elements of its colonial forces and agreed to a quick handover of power to the nationalist African movements. This put an immediate end to the independence war against Portugal, but opened the door for a bitter armed conflict among the independentist forces and their respectives allies. Holden Roberto, Agostinho Neto, and Jonas Savimbi met in Bukavu, Zaire in July and agreed to negotiate with the Portuguese as one political entity, but afterwards the fight broke out again.


The three party leaders met again in Mombasa, Kenya on 5 January 1975 and agreed to stop fighting each other, further outlining constitutional negotiations with the Portuguese. They met for a third time, with Portuguese government officials, in Alvor, Portugal from 10 till 15 January. They signed on 15 January what became known as the Alvor Agreement, granting Angola independence on 11 November and establishing a transitional government.[53]

The agreement ended the war for independence while marking the transition to civil war. The Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) and Eastern Revolt never signed the agreement as they were excluded from negotiations. The coalition government established by the Alvor Agreement soon fell as nationalist factions, doubting one another's commitment to the peace process, tried to take control of the colony by force.[31][53]

The parties agreed to hold the first assembly elections in October 1975. From 31 January until independence a transitional government consisting of the Portuguese High Commissioner Rosa Coutinho and a Prime Ministerial Council would rule. The PMC consisted of three representatives, one from each Angolan party, and a rotating premiership among the representatives. Every decision required two-thirds majority support. The twelve ministries were divided equally among the Angolan parties and the Portuguese government: three ministries for each party. Author Witney Wright Schneidman criticized this provision in Engaging Africa: Washington and the Fall of Portugal's Colonial Empire for ensuring a "virtual paralysis in executive authority". The Bureau of Intelligence and Research cautioned that an excessive desire to preserve the balance of power in the agreement hurt the transitional Angolan government's ability to function.[31][53][54]

The Portuguese government's main goal in negotiations was preventing the mass emigration of white Angolans. Paradoxically, the agreement only allowed the MPLA, FNLA, and UNITA to nominate candidates to the first assembly elections, deliberately disenfranchising Bakongo, Cabindans, and whites. The Portuguese reasoned that white Angolans would have to join the separatist movements and the separatists would have to moderate their platforms to expand their political bases.[54]

The agreement called for the integration of the militant wings of the Angolan parties into a new military, the Angolan Defense Forces. The ADF would have 48,000 active personnel, made up of 24,000 Portuguese and 8,000 MPLA, FNLA, and UNITA fighters respectively. Each party maintained separate barracks and outposts. Every military decision required the unanimous consent of each party's headquarters and the joint military command. The Portuguese forces lacked equipment and commitment to the cause, while Angolan nationalists were antagonistic of each other and lacked training.[53][54] The treaty, to which the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) never agreed, described Cabinda as an "integral and inalienable part of Angola". Separatists viewed the agreement as a violation of Cabindan right to self-determination.[55]

All three parties soon had forces greater in number than the Portuguese, endangering the colonial power's ability to keep the peace. Factional fighting renewed, reaching new heights as foreign supplies of arms increased. In February the Cuban government warned the Eastern Bloc that the Alvor Agreement would not succeed. By spring the African National Congress and the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) were echoing Cuba's warning.[56] Leaders of the Organization of African Unity organized a peace conference moderated by Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta with the three leaders in Nakuru, Kenya in June. The Angolan leaders issued the Nakuru Declaration on 21 June,[57] agreeing to abide by the provisions of the Alvor Agreement while acknowledging a mutual lack of trust which led to violence.

In July fighting again broke out and the MPLA managed to force the FNLA out of Luanda; UNITA voluntarily withdrew from the capital to its stronghold in the south from where it also engaged in the struggle for the country. By August the MPLA had control of 11 of the 15 provincial capitals, including Cabina and Luanda.[58] South African forces invaded Angola on 23 October 1975,[59] covertly sending 1,500 to 2,000 troops from Namibia into southern Angola. FNLA-UNITA-South African forces took five provincial capitals, including Novo Redondo and Benguela in three weeks. On 10 November the Portuguese left Angola. Cuban-MPLA forces defeated South African-FNLA forces, maintaining control over Luanda. On 11 November Neto declared the independence of the People's Republic of Angola.[53] The FNLA and UNITA responded by proclaiming their own government based in Huambo.[15] The South African Army retreated and, with the help of Cuban forces, the MPLA retook most of the south in the beginning of 1976.

Many analysts have blamed the transitional government in Portugal for the violence that followed the Alvor Agreement, criticizing the lack of concern about internal Angolan security, and the favoritism towards the MPLA. High Commissioner Coutinho, one of the seven leaders of the National Salvation Junta, openly gave Portuguese military equipment to MPLA forces.[15][53][54] Edward Mulcahy, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the United States State Department, told Tom Killoran, the U.S. Consul General in Angola, to congratulate the PMC rather than the FNLA and UNITA on their own and Coutinho for Portugal's "untiring and protracted efforts" at a peace agreement.[54][60] Secretary of State Henry Kissinger considered any government involving the pro-Soviet, communist MPLA, to be unacceptable and President Gerald Ford oversaw heightened aid to the FNLA.[28]

Foreign influence[edit]

United States of America[edit]

The situation of the Portuguese in their overseas province of Angola soon became a matter of concern for a number of foreign powers particularly her military allies in NATO. The Soviet Union, for example, was concerned with the possibility of a Marxist regime being established in Luanda. That is why it started supplying weapons and ammunition to the UPA, which meanwhile grew considerably and merged with the Democratic Party of Angola to form the FNLA.[61]

The leaders of the FNLA were, however, not satisfied with the US support. Savimbi consequently established good connections with the People's Republic of China, from where even larger shipments started arriving. The USA granted the company Aero Associates, from Tucson, Arizona, the permission to sell seven Douglas B-26 Invader bombers to Portugal in early 1965, despite Portugal's concerns about their support for the Marxists from Cuba and the USSR.

The aircraft were flown to Africa by John Richard Hawke – reportedly a former Royal Air Force-pilot – who on the start of one of the flights to Angola flew so low over the White House, that the United States Air Force forced him to land and he was arrested. In May 1965 Hawke was indicted for illegally selling arms and supporting the Portuguese, but was imprisoned for less than a year. The B-26s were not to see deployment in Angola until several years later.[62]

Rhodesia and South Africa[edit]

Aside from the USA, two other nations became involved in this war as well. These were Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa, both of which were ruled by the white minority. Their regimes were both concerned about their own future in the case of a Portuguese defeat. Rhodesia and South Africa initially limited their participation to shipments of arms and supplies. However, by 1968 the South Africans began providing Alouette III helicopters with crews to the Portuguese Air Force (FAP), and finally several companies of South African Defence Forces (SADF) infantry who were deployed in southern and central Angola.[63] However, contemporary reports about them guarding the iron mines of Cassinga were never confirmed.

Finally, there were reports that a number of Rhodesian pilots were recruited to fly FAP helicopters. However, when the first Portuguese unit was equipped with Aerospatiale Puma helicopters, in 1969, its crews were almost exclusively South Africans. Rhodesian pilots were considered too valuable by the Royal Rhodesian Air Force (RRAF) to be deployed in support of the Portuguese. The SADF had pilots and helicopters operating out of the Centro Conjunto de Apoio Aéreo (CCAA – Joint Air Support Centre), setting up in Cuito Cuanavale during 1968.


During the late 1960s the USSR also became involved in the war in Angola, albeit almost exclusively via the MPLA. While the FNLA received only very limited arms shipments from the USA, and the UNITA was getting hardly any support from outside the country, the Marxist MPLA developed very close relations with Moscow and was soon to start receiving significant shipments of arms via Tanzania and Zambia.[64][65]

In 1969 the MPLA agreed with the USSR that in exchange for arms and supplies delivered to it the Soviets would – upon independence – be granted rights for establishing military bases in the country. Consequently, by the early 1970s, the MPLA developed into the strongest Angolan anti-colonial movement and the most powerful political party.


As soon as the agreement between the MPLA and Portugal for the transfer of power became known to the public, a mass exodus began. Over 300,000 people left Angola by November, most of them evacuated aboard TAP Boeing 707 aircraft. The British Royal Air Force also lent a hand, sending Vickers VC10 airliners to evacuate about 6,000 additional refugees. At this stage, the Angolan Civil War had started and spread out across the newly independent country. The devastating civil war lasted several decades and claimed a million lives and refugees in independent Angola.[66]

In the wake of the conflict, Angola faced deterioration in central planning, economic development and growth, security, education and health system issues. Like the other newly independent African territories involved in the Portuguese Colonial War, Angola's rank in the human development and GDP per capita world tables fell. After independence, economic and social recession, corruption, poverty, inequality and failed central planning eroded the initial post independence expectations.[67][68] A level of economic development comparable to what had existed under Portuguese rule became a major goal for the governments of the independent territory. The sharp recession and the chaos in many areas of Angolan life eroded the initial impetus of nationalistic fervor. There were also eruptions of black racism in the former overseas province against white and mulatto Angolans.[69]

See also[edit]


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  66. ^ The Decolonization of Portuguese Africa: Metropolitan Revolution and the Dissolution of Empire by Norrie MacQueen – Mozambique since Independence: Confronting Leviathan by Margaret Hall, Tom Young – Author of Review: Stuart A. Notholt African Affairs, Vol. 97, No. 387 (Apr., 1998), pp. 276–278, JSTOR
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  69. ^ "Things are going well in Angola. They achieved good progress in their first year of independence. There's been a lot of building and they are developing health facilities. In 1976 they produced 80,000 tons of coffee. Transportation means are also being developed. Currently between 200,000 and 400,000 tons of coffee are still in warehouses. In our talks with [Angolan President Agostinho] Neto we stressed the absolute necessity of achieving a level of economic development comparable to what had existed under [Portuguese] colonialism."; "There is also evidence of black racism in Angola. Some are using the hatred against the colonial masters for negative purposes. There are many mulattos and whites in Angola. Unfortunately, racist feelings are spreading very quickly." [1] Castro's 1977 southern Africa tour: A report to Honecker, CNN.

External links[edit]