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Civil War in Angola...


By Jonathan Zeitlin

ON NOVEMBER 11, 1975, Angola will become independent after 400 years of Portuguese rule. But unlike Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau, the other recently liberated Portuguese colonies which have made a smooth transition to independence, Angola is racked by civil war. There is no single movement like Frelimo in Mozambique capable of assuming power in Angola. Instead, three armed factions battle for the country: the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), and the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).

During the summer the socialist MPLA drove its nationalist rivals from the capital city of Luanda where its strength among the slumdwellers brought it victory in bloody streetfighting. Now, however, 5000 FNLA soldiers equipped with modern weaponry have descended from the movement's bases on the Zaire border north of the capital. Poised on the outskirts of the city, these legions are awaiting the imminent Portuguese departure as an opportunity to retake Luanda. All attempts to conciliate the three groups, even those of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), have failed. Once the Portuguese army leaves, nothing will prevent full-scale war. The internal situation in Portugal does permit the army to stay past November 11, nor to force a political settlement. As Portuguese High Commander Cardoso puts it:

To me it makes no difference which movement is here in Luanda on November 11 since I am not handing over power to the movement which is there. Either we give it to two or three together or we give it to nobody. In that case, I will just get on the plane and leave.

One key to understanding the contrast between Angolan chaos and Mozambican stability lies in the divergent pattern of Portuguese colonization in the two countries. In Mozambique Portuguese economic penetration was restricted to the coastal cites, leaving the agrarian interior relatively untouched. Frelimo was therefore able to mobilize the entire peasantry against Portuguese rule, creating alternative political institutions during the colonial war itself. So when independence came, Frelimo already controlled most of the population and was ready to take power immediately with a coherent plan for socialist development. Angola, on the other hand, is among the most industrialized countries in black Africa, so that Portuguese rule disrupted traditional social life, accentuating regional and tribal antagonisms. Thus no unified liberation movement could emerge there.

BUT MORE IMPORTANT in explaining Angola's political fragmentation has been the economic and political intervention of foreign powers. Angola is an extremely rich prize, and the Caetano regime encouraged foreign capital to invest millions of dollars in Angolan development. Britain, France and West Germany, but the U.S. and South Africa above all, are exploiting Angola's extensive natural resources, which include coffee, oil and diamonds.

To protect these investments Western powers have made every effort to create alternatives to the Soviet-supported MPLA, which they rightly feel would prevent foreign exploitation of Angolan resources if it came to power. President Mobutu of Zaire plays the largest interventionary role. Despite the commitment of all three Angolan factions and the OAU to the territorial integrity of Angola, Mobutu has continuously fomented secessionist tendencies in the oil rich enclave of Cabinda, a fiefdom of Gulf Oil separated from the rest of the country by a piece of Zaire.

Apart from Mobutu's hope that an independent Cabinda would be easy prey for Zaire, he has concentrated on aiding the FNLA, whose leader, Holden Roberto, is his brother-in-law. The FNLA is essentially a tribal organization of the Bakongo, some 500,000 of whom fled to Zaire after the abortive 1961 uprising, and operates largely from Zairean bases. Since the FNLA has no real program beyond anti-communism and tribalism, the movement has attracted a great deal of Western support which is funneled through Mobutu. The U.S., which is increasing military aid to Zaire from $3.8 million to $38.4 million this year, supplies money and arms to the movement through the CIA, as the recent revelations about the agency show, and as the Ford administration unabashedly confesses. China backs the FNLA as well on anti-Soviet grounds, and Chinese advisors train FNLA troops. Having recently acquired French Mirages capable of bombing Luanda, the FNLA is clearly the strongest of the three factions in purely military terms.

UNITA, BY CONTRAST, is a much less powerful organization based in the central highlands whose leader, Jonas Savimbi, hopes to mediate between FNLA and MPLA forces. The current situation dictates a tacit alliance with the FNLA to prevent the MPLA from acquiring national hegemony, meshing with the general strategy of foreign anti-MPLA forces whose support the opportunistic Savimbi is unlikely to reject.

Another crucial factor in the Angolan situation is South Africa's survival strategy. The demise of Portuguese colonialism severely threatens the bloc of white settlers states that South Africa has used as a buffer against Black Africa. The Frelimo government in Mozambique has already indicated that it plans to strangle Rhodesia by closing its access to the sea; soon the flow of Mozambican workers to South African mines will cease and Frelimo will allow black revolutionary groups which threaten South Africa directly to operate on its soil. If Angola develops a government of a similar ideological cast, it will further isolate South Africa and provide a home base for South West African revolutionaries. Furthermore, the South African government has invested heavily in the Cunene river electric project, located just across the Angolan border, which it requires to develop South-West Africa. Since late August, South African armies have roamed through southern Angola at will, penetrating up to 150 miles inside to clear the border region of hostile forces.

What South Africa really wants, for both political and economic reasons, is the partition of Angola. In the absence of a strong pro-Western regime, this arrangement is perfectly agreeable to Zaire and the U.S. If Angola is divided into spheres of influence it can be plundered at will and poses no threat to the regional status quo. This is in effect the situation now--each of the three movements runs its sector as if it were a separate country.

THE CHIEF OBSTACLE to partition is the MPLA. Of the three factions, only the MPLA constitutes a truly national movement with more than tribal support. The MPLA, led by the native intelligentsia, is strong among workers and the urban poor, but also has widespread support among the coffee growing peasants in the hinterlands. As a movement, the MPLA is committed to a program of direct democracy and radical social change, with an orientation similar to Frelimo's. It's military successes, which have far exceeded its apparent strength, rest on an extensive program of popular political mobilization. The MPLA has organized militias, workers' committees, and production cooperatives, providing for popular resistance and the equitable distribution of necessities. Through associations of workers, students, and women, the MPLA has initiated movement toward local autonomy, thus realizing its program of "powder popular" or power to the people. These popular institutions account for the extraordinary motivation and self-discipline which characterizes the MPLA forces.

Despite this advantage, however, the military situation remains bleak. The MPLA faces hostile forces on all sides which are generally better armed and better trained. In particular it is the approaching battle with the FNLA for Luanda which should determine Angola's fate. The question is whether popular forces relying on revolutionary social institutions can hold off the technically superior armies seeking to prevent the Angolan people from determining their own destiny. National liberation movements have been victorious elsewhere facing less favorable odds; there is no reason to think it could not happen in Angola.

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