First Published: The Worker, for Hawaii, Vol. 1, No. 3, December 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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On November 11, the Portuguese government lowered its flag for the last time in Angola. This signaled the end of Portugal’s 500 year old colonial empire in Africa, and a great victory in the long struggle of the Angolan people for freedom. But on the very day of this victory, Angola was in the middle of a deadly civil war between organizations that had fought to free the country from colonial control. Egging on the opposing forces in this civil war are the rulers of the United States and the Soviet Union, interfering in Angola to try and grab up what the Portuguese capitalists had to let go.
Angola is the most recent of the more than two dozen African countries to win independence from colonial control in the last 20 years. It is also one of the richest, having both agricultural and mineral resources with large gold and diamond mines, and extensive oil fields in the Cabinda district, separated from the rest of the country by Zaire.
Even though Angola was a colony of Portugal, it was American capitalists who benefited most–Gulf Oil for instance controlled the Cabinda oil fields. The US government gave constant military and economic aid to Portugal to maintain colonial rule there. Although Portugal is gone now, the American ruling class does not intend to give this prize up. After Portugal’s defeat, the US switched tactics and is now working to see a government friendly to US investment and influence take over.
But the US has competition. Throughout Africa, the new capitalist class that rules the USSR is trying to add to its growing economic empire, posing as a “Big Brother” to the African people. For the two superpowers, Angola is a prize for more than its wealth. Its location gives it key importance in influencing events in the southern tip of Africa, where the masses are fighting to overthrow white minority settler governments in Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia), Namibia and Azania (South Africa).
The Portuguese landed in Angola at the end of the 1400’s, but only won full control in the middle of the last century. From that time on, there were constant revolts against the grinding exploitation and terror of colonial rule.
The Portuguese banned education for the Angolan people, fearing it would strengthen the resistance. They promoted fighting among different tribes and built up tribal chiefs as the only leaders of the Angolans.
The struggle was not stopped by these vicious schemes. The Angolan people launched a long guerilla war to throw the Portuguese out. Three liberation organizations arose, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA) and the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), each in a different section of the country and each drawing its main support from a different one of Angola’s three main tribes.
Together with liberation movements in the other Portuguese colonies, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique, the Angolan people forced the Portuguese government to agree to unconditional independence.
With the common enemy defeated, the MPLA, the FNLA, and UNITA met in January at a conference of the Organization of African Unity, made up of the heads of independent African governments, and together set up a four-part transitional government with the Portuguese to prepare for independence November 11.
With the Portuguese on the way out, the US and USSR each stepped up their efforts to get a big piece of the action in Angola. Starting in the 1960’s seeing Portugal was on its way to defeat, the USSR gave small amounts of aid to try to influence the MPLA. The US armed Portugal, but hedged its bets by giving a little aid to the FNLA and UNITA. But once the fight against Portugal was won, they suddenly flooded Angola with military “aid”. The US tunneled millions of dollars to the FNLA. At the same time the USSR began, as one African diplomat put it, “supplying weapons like armored cars and SAM missiles to one of the liberation movements,” heavy weapons “which it had never supplied during the fifteen long years of the Angolan people’s struggle against Portuguese colonialism.”
Fighting broke out in April between the groups and continued through the summer. At first MPLA controlled most of the country’s large cities, but by the late fall, a united front of FNLA and UNITA was rolling up MPLA from north and south and driving them into a small area around the capital city of Luanda. All efforts by the Organization of African Unity to work out a truce have failed.
On November 11 the Portuguese left, and each side declared itself the Angolan government. The Soviet Union and several other countries recognized the MPLA as the “People’s Republic of Angola” and sent “advisors” to fight with them. Then Kissinger set up a $50,000,000 aid program to pump money to the FNLA-UNITA forces, who declared themselves the “People’s Democratic Republic of Angola.”
The two superpowers have replaced Portugal as the main cause of Angolan people’s problems. The centuries-old struggle of the Angolan people against colonial enslavement has been manipulated, at the point of victory, into a war to see whether the US or the USSR will replace Portugal as the main bandit robbing Angola. The superpowers must leave Angola alone. On their own, the Angolan people can resolve their present differences and struggle together to build a new life.