Angola Table of Contents
An elderly member of the People's vigilance Brigades
IN THE LATE 1980s, ANGOLA was a nation at war, still struggling to escape the legacy that one standard history has characterized as "five centuries of conflict." Since the 1960s, Angola had experienced, sometimes simultaneously, four types of war: a war of national liberation, a civil war, a regional war, and the global struggle between the superpowers. Angola had won its independence from Portugal in 1975 after a thirteen-year liberation struggle, during which the externally supported African nationalist movements splintered and subdivided. However, independence provided no respite, as the new nation was immediately engulfed in a civil war whose scope and effects were compounded by foreign military intervention. Although the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola -- MPLA) eventually won recognition as the legitimate government, it did so only with massive Soviet and Cuban military support, on which it remained heavily dependent in late 1988.
Despite the party's international acceptance and domestic hegemony, Angola in the late 1980s remained at war with itself and its most powerful neighbor, South Africa. The insurgency led by the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola -- UNITA), bolstered by growing foreign support, spread from the remote and sparsely populated southeast corner of the country throughout the entire nation. South African interventions on behalf of UNITA and against black South African and Namibian nationalist forces in southern Angola also escalated. Luanda's reliance on the Soviet Union, Cuba, and other communist states for internal security and defense increased as these threats intensified. Intermittent diplomatic efforts since the late 1970s had failed to end the protracted war; indeed, each new initiative had been followed by an escalation of violence.
Nonetheless, a turning point in this history of conflict may have been reached in 1988. After the warring parties clashed in the early part of that year at Cuito Cuanavale, in Africa's largest land battle since World War II, the exhausted parties succeeded in negotiating a regional peace agreement brokered by Chester A. Crocker, the United States assistant secretary of state for African affairs. On July 13, representatives of Angola, Cuba, and South Africa initialed an agreement on a "set of essential principles to establish the basis for peace in the southwestern region of Africa." They signed a cease-fire agreement on August 22, to be overseen by their Joint Military Monitoring Commission. Finally, their trilateral accord of December 22 provided for South African military withdrawal and cessation of assistance to UNITA; the phased removal of Cuban forces from Angola over a twenty-seven- month period ending on July 1, 1991; termination of Angolan assistance to African National Congress (ANC) exiles in the country; and South African withdrawal from Namibia coupled with independence for that territory under United Nations-supervised elections (see Appendix B). Although UNITA was not a party to this historic regional peace agreement, it was hoped that internal peace based on national reconciliation would also ensue. Whether the trilateral accord would be honored and whether Angolans would make peace among themselves were crucial issues in late 1988. History suggested that this would be but a brief respite from endemic conflict, but the promise of a future free of conflict may have provided the impetus to break with the burden of the past.
Data as of February 1989