Angola Is Not Portugal's Happiest Colony

Copyright 1972. The Harvard Crimson All rights reserved

This is the first of a two-part series of first hand accounts of the situation within Angola today Part one deals with Angola its relationship with Portugal, and the progress of the guerrilla war there. The conclusion, which will appear September 26, will discuss the position of the Gulf Oil Corporation in Angola, its contribution to Portugal's war effort, and the options available to the company!

LUANDA. Angola--There is no atmosphere of war in this African city, the capital of Portugal's largest and richest colony. There is none of the tension that a visitor would expect to find in a country which has now seen continual guerrilla warfare for nearly 12 years. No soldiers march through the streets by day or haunt the city's bars by night.

Instead, there is a feeling of confidence. The Portuguese feel increasingly sure that they have stopped the advance of the independence fighters. They are convinced that they can indefinitely continue ruling Angola as they have for the past 500 years. And they believe that the black African population is on their side.

This tranquil atmosphere of confidence extends far beyond the capital Only a few troop carriers are seen today on the streets of Carmona, the center of the thriving North Angolan coffee industry and a prime locus of guerrilla activity since 1961 when the rebellion broke out only a few miles away.

In the tiny enclave of Cabinda, the site of Angola's newly-discovered oil reserves and the rebel groups' second front, no one speaks of the war, except perhaps twice a year, when the explosion of a land mine is reported, an often as not killing civilians rather than military personnel.


Whites and wealthy blacks travel freely, moving throughout any part of the cities day and night, and driving around the countryside unarmed.

The message a visitor to Angola is given by all is the same: There is no war going on here.

Yet there is a war going on. It is an unfamiliar kind of anticolonial war, bearing little resemblance at this point to Vietnam, Algeria of the 1960s, or China of the 1940s. It is a war of few casualties, a war fought in the countryside in a contest to win the allegiance of the people rather than the control of tracts of land.

On one side are the guerrillas fighting for independence, wracked by internal dissension which often erupts into fratricidal war. On the other side are the Portuguese--a strange, stubborn foreign force which firmly believes itself not to be what international opinion nearly everywhere has deemed it: the last European colonial power in Africa.

The Portuguese say they have no colonies, Instead, they say that their three African territories--Angola, Mozambique and Portuguese Guinea--are integral parts of Portugal, forming one unitary, multiracial state.

Starting in 1951, the Portuguese began playing an international wordgame, changing the names of everything associated with their African possessions. The lands that were formerly called Colonies became Overseas Provinces. The Ministry of Colonies was renamed the Overseas Ministry. The Colonial Governor became the Provincial Governor General. Just his summer, the name Overseas Province was discontinued, yielding now to the term State.

DESPITE THESE CHANGES of name, the power structures have remained virtually the same. Any important decision's made within the totalitarian government in Lisbon. Representatives from Angola do sit in Portugal's National Assembly, but these representatives are either white Portuguese settlers or blacks approved by the Portuguese authorities. For a man to run for office in any part of Portugal or its possessions, he must have the backing of the nation's one political party, the party of Portuguese dictator Marcello Caetano.

But the Portuguese argue that the situation is the same in mainland Portugal. The argument essentially is that no self-government in the colonies is all right, because there are no free elections at home.

Talking to a national television audience earlier this summer. Premier Caetano presented the position that has now become ingrained in Portuguese traditions. "Angola, Mozambique and Guinea are provinces of Portugal," he sternly intoned. "Their inhabitants, white or black, are Portuguese. The disturbances of internal order, the acts of violence that have taken place there. The aggressions of guerrillas coming from foreign countries, must be put down and fought back by the Portuguese. It is at once our duty and responsibility."

A corollary of the belief that Angola is part of a unitary Portuguese state is the profound sentiment that the people of Angola feel themselves to be Portuguese. Therefore, in the Portuguese mind, the fighting that has gone on for the past decade must come form the outside. Independent black African nations and the forces of international communism are blamed for the fighting. And the critics of Portugal's colonial policies in the West are thought of the ignorant dupes or communist agents.