Gulf in Angola

There is in this turbulent land a storehouse of pain and trouble confused mother of fear, Hell in Life.

Land of Oppressed peoples, rubbish heap of Portugal where she purges her evil and her scum.

Where the lie and falsehood theft and malevolence, selfishness, represent vain glory.

Where justice perishes, for want of men to understand it, where God must be sought to achieve salvation....

-Written in Angola in the Seventeenth century by an anonymous Portugese.

ANGOLA, a land as full of sorrow as any on earth, has been at war with the Portugese colonialists for nearly 500 years. In the last month the struggle of the Angolese people for their independence has been linked to Harvard's investment in Gulf Oil Company. This summary of the history of Portugal's colonialism and Gulf's neocolonialism is an attempt to clarify some of the background to the investment decision. My account is wholly derived from the research of others, and has been compiled from four principal sources: Race to Power: The Struggle for Southern Africa, written by members of the Africa Research Group: Gulf Oil: Portugese Ally in Angola, published this month by the Corporate Information Center of the National Council of Churches: Angola, written by Douglas L. Wheeler and Rene Pelissier and published as part of the Praegar Library of African Affairs; and documents of the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), published in its journal Angola in Arms. All statistical references and factual statements are properly footnoted in the works from which I have drawn.

In 1482, the Portugese navigator Diego Cao discovered the mouth of the Congo River, went ashore, and made envoys to the largest kingdom of West Central Africa: the Kongo. Relations with the Kongolese were friendly at first, and the African lords permitted the Portugese to gain a foothold for their slave trading with colonies across the Atlantic. But soon the Kongolese came to have misgivings about the Portugese designs, and open warfare broke out. In 1665 the Portugese Army crushed the Kongolese army in a decisive battle at Mbwila.

While the Portugese had still been at peace with the Kongo, they had sent troops south to the Kingdom of N'Gola, or Angola, to extend their slave-trade resources. Portugal waged war for human capital, either capturing the Africans or buying them cheaply from black client chieftans. One explanation of their march on Angola and forcible seizure of its natives is that the cotton cloth and other goods which the Portugese had up till then used in barter for slaves were of such inferior quality that the Africans refused to do business. Indeed, through the history of her subjugation of Angola, Portugal-known as the "little Turkey of the Occident"-has used force where the loftier French and English imperialists used subtler means.

The number of black Angolans shipped away from their homeland in Portugese vessels is estimated at four million. Many came to America to work the Southern plantations. Although black clients were established in Angola to deliver up their brothers, almost ceaseless struggle against the slave trade was waged by the native peoples.

In 1836, the Portugese government, after much pressure from its maritime ally Britain, issued a royal decree abolishing further exportation of slaves in Portugese vessels. Gradually, the international trading ended, leaving Angola scarred and underpopulated, and still in the hands of the Portugese.

ALTHOUGH the International trading of Angolans had ended, the Portugese continued to run their colony on the principle of enforced slave labor. The new trade in Ivory, rubber and minerals was built on the backs of the Angolese who had remained in their homeland. Needed agricultural goods were produced on slave plantations for the home market. Although Portugal's empire was tawdry by comparison with those of mightier European nations, the Portugese could not bear to give it up. As one trader-colonist wrote in 1882, "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed are king. As poor as I am now, if I returned to Portugal today, I would amount to zero. On the other hand, I am who I am here as long as I possess one piece of trade cloth."

By the 19th Century Portugal itself was so poor and hopeless that the very existence of colonies aboard was a consolation to the ruling elite, if none to the impoverished mass of Portugese peasants. "In this cursed country," wrote a Portugese to the Spanish philosopher Unamuno, "all that is noble commits suicide; all that is vulgar triumphs. Our illness is a type of moral illness, of moral fatigue...In Portugal, the only belief worthy of respect is the belief worthy of respect is the belief in the freedom of death...."

Colonialism was a heritage of a more glorious age in which the Portugese nation was not so moribund. Moreover, the exploitation of the colony, if not so efficient as British or French methods, eased the financial burdens at home.

By this century it was clear to outsiders that efficient exploitation of Angola's resources required capital and management skill that did not exist in Portugal. A small mulatto middle class might have been schooled into the sort of administrative elite that the British created in India. Instead, all non-whites were scorned, and the middle classes coalesced toward a series of national liberation movements from the beginning of the century.

Still the Portugese, now under the iron hand of the dictator Salazar, persisted in their non-maximizing forced labor schemes and their refusal to permit foreign investment. Angola struggled along with a moderately profitable coffee-producing economy. Yet no quality of forced labor could overcome the capital deficit. And the Portugese had no capital, only force.