Nationalism in Angola
Traditionally true nationalism has been absent from Angola because of the ethnic and ideological divisions among its population. Politics in Angola is split among ethnic lines with the three largest political parties being the direct descendants of the militias that emerged to fight Portuguese rule. The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) was founded by Agostinho Neto in 1956 as a coalition of educated urbanites and rural Mbundu people. While many among the MPLA’s urban base harbored communist sympathies, the party did not not officially become Marxist-Leninist until 1977: two years before the Neto’s death. Following the signing of the Alvor accords which officially established the independent state of Angola in 1975, the MPLA moved quickly to consolidate their power and to establish a new government led by Agostinho Neto. The sudden absence of a common enemy would spark a bloody civil war between the MPLA and its rivals. The main rivals of the MPLA were the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), and the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC). While all of these groups had fought together against the Portuguese, the withdrawal of their former colonial masters following the Carnation Revolution of 1974 left behind a power vacuum and exposed ethnic tensions that had been temporarily masked during the fight for independence. All of these parties (with the exception of FLEC) had signed the Alvor agreement which created a fragile coalition government.
UNITA was founded by former MPLA and FNLA member Jonas Savimbi in 1966: five years after the start of the Angolan Independence war. UNITA’s base was and still is among the majority Ovimbundu people in the rural areas of Angola. While originally founded as a Maoist party with the support of the peasantry, Savindi decided that in order for UNITA to have a serious chance of taking control of the country, they would need the support of the United States. Following the independence of Angola Savindi positioned UNITA as a right-wing anti-communist force to attract the support of people such as Henry Kissinger and later Ronald Reagan. UNITA received millions of dollars in weapons and support from both the United States and Apartheid South Africa. During the Angola-South Africa war both UNITA and the FNLA assisted the invading South African forces against the MPLA led Angolan government. While government forces eventually defeated and killed Savindi in 2002 the devastation wrought by his war can still be felt in Angola.
Nationalist movements in Angola have historically centered around regional and ethnic divisions rather than an overall Angolan identity. Most apparent among these is FLEC which advocates through both non-violent and violent means for the independence of the oil rich Cabinda province. Cabinda is home to an ethnically and linguistically distinct branch of the Bakongo people who have long struggled for independence from Portugal and later Angola. The so-called Cabinda war is an ongoing guerrilla conflict between FLEC-FAC: a splinter group of FLEC that rejects the 2006 ceasefire, and the Angolan government controlled by the MPLA.
In his book The Rise of the Rest, Fareed Zakaria observes that “The nation-state is a relatively new phenomenon. Much older are the religious, ethnic, and linguistic groups that live within nation-states”. Indeed when the modern borders of Angola were drawn by the Portuguese at the 1884-85 Conference of Berlin, they failed to take into account the already existing ethnic divisions, thus creating the conditions necessary for the brutal civil war nearly a hundred years later.
Inequality in Angola
As noted in previous blog posts Angola is a highly unequal society with a GINI coefficient of 0.55. The main factor exacerbating inequality in Angola is its rampant corruption. In his book Ill Fares the Land Tony Judt notes that “Inequality is corrosive. It rots societies from within. The impact of material differences takes a while to show up: but in due course competition for status and goods increases; people feel a growing sense of superiority (or inferiority) based on their possessions; prejudice towards those on the lower ranks of the social ladder hardens; crime spikes and the pathologies of social disadvantage become ever more marked. The legacy of unregulated wealth creation is bitter indeed.” Angola is a clear example of what Judt is talking about, as the extreme inequality and blatant corruption has lead to civil unrest. Despite the fact that Angola has an annual budget of 40 Billion USD, which is larger than some European contrives, only 9% of the Luanda population has access to running water, and only half of the countrywide population has access to basic healthcare. Angola has twelfth highest infant mortality rate in the world with an average of 67.out of every 1000 infants dying.
The capital city of Luanda is also home to the only known case of urban polio. Most of the Angolan poor rely on international aid through organizations such as UNICEF for basic needs such as healthcare and clean water. The kleptocratic government remains committed as ever to ensuring that the general population stays poor while a small handful of the elite get richer and richer.