1) History & Context
This conflict analysis will look into Angola’s violent civil war between the summers of 1998 and 2001.
There is no distinct explanation for the conflict that has engulfed Angola; a county that has had little experience of peace in twenty-six years of independence from Portugal. The violent conflict has evolved immensely over time, originally being driven by revolution (against colonialism) and then ideology (Socialism versus Capitalism) and in the latest phase ‘a brutal competition between rival elites for a wealth of natural resources.1’
Despite the conflict in Angola being a civil war predominantly between the governing MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) and the rebel group UNITA (Union for the Total Independence of Angola), it cannot be called intrastate. During the Cold War, the Socialist MPLA was backed heavily by Russia and Cuba, the latter of which supplied 15,000 troops which secured the capital Luanda, and stabilised much of the countryside. UNITA was backed by the USA and South Africa, allowing it at certain times to control southern and eastern areas of the country. The end of the Cold War had a profound effect on the Angolan conflict, but it still remained very much interstate. Today the war not only affects and is affected by Angola’s neighbour states, but international commerce (notably the oil and diamond industries) and international organisations, especially the UN, also influence it.
The character of the war changed in the 1990’s. At the very start of the decade there was increased dialogue between UNITA’s leader, Jonas Savimbi, and the MPLA Preside...
nt Dos Santos. The early 90’s also saw the one party MPLA government move away from Marxism/Leninism towards making Angola a democratic state, by allowing free elections (Bicesse Accords May ’91). The Cuban troops left, and there was great hope for peace.
The elections, which the UN and foreign observers concluded to be ‘generally free and fair’2, gave Dos Santos 49.6% and Savimbi 40.7% in the presidential elections. Under Angolan law, the winner of the presidential election required at least 50% of the vote, and thus an election runoff was required. However this never came to pass. UNITA rejected the results, remobilised its forces and plunged the county back into civil war.
Despite UNITA at one stage controlling 70% of the country in late 1993, it was brought back to the negotiating table at Lusaka in November 1994 when the government had re-established control over 60% of the country. The Lusaka protocol aimed to produce a cease-fire, demobilisation under UN supervision and the incorporation of UNITA’s troops into the national police3. Later in June 1995 Savimbi was offered the vice-presidency. Lusaka aimed to bring the two parties together into civil government. The Peace Process hung on a thread for several years. Throughout this time there were blatant violations of the process on both sides, especially in the realm of arms purchases to which the UN turned a blind eye4. As the two sides became better armed, so their attitude towards the peace process became weakened. Savimbi officially rejected the vice-presidency in August 96, and remained intransigent about letting government forces establish control in UNITA areas, despite
the gradual introduction of UNITA ministers into government positions.
Angola is a large physically diverse country with copious natural resources, notably in oil and diamonds. There is also very good agricultural land, which made Angola a major coffee producer during the late colonial period5. Though potentially the wealthiest country in Africa, the discrepancy of fortunes between Angolans and the ruling elites of the MPLA and UNITA is huge. The governing MPLA has enriched itself through oil deals and is very opaque about its financial transactions; corruption is rife. UNITA has owned many diamond mines, allowing it to make hundreds of millions of dollars on a yearly basis. With this money both sides can fund the deadly war, and thus many analysts view Angola’s fabulous wealth in resources as a curse.
Ethnically Angola is mixed. The population of 13 million is divided into the Ovimbundu (two fifths of the country) and the Mbundu (one quarter). However there is also a geographical divide between the coastal people consisting of both the mixed race peoples and the Mbundu, and the Africans of the interior who are predominantly Ovimbundu. This divide has been exploited by UNITA, which has assumed the position of representative of the Ovimbundu, pitting itself against the Mbundu and urban based people on the coast that are associated with the MPLA. There are historical tensions between the two groups, although it would be a grave mistake to view the conflict as having ethnic origins6. Years of civil war have created a huge population of internally displaced people, over four million in 2001, many of whom depend on international aid7.
2) Parties & Time Period
The two primary parties are the MPLA and UNITA. They are not democratic, rather they are both ruled in a rather dictatorial manner by their leaders Eduardo dos Santos and Jonas Savimbi. The MPLA was recognised as the governing party of Angola by the UN in 1976, and during the 1990’s was recognised and increasingly supported by USA following the end of the cold war. For their survival, MPLA relies heavily on oil exports, while UNITA depends on the illicit trading of diamonds.
This fact draws the oil and diamond industries into the fold as secondary parties. In fact some analysts have identified that the intensity of fighting in Angola can be directly linked to the prices of oil and diamonds8. Via these avenues both sides have equipped themselves with very heavy weaponry, e.g. state of the art tanks and even fighter jets9.
Another secondary party is the UN, which has attempted to resolve the fighting between UNITA and MPLA without lasting success. Other secondary parties are all of the states that border Angola. Since 1998 MPLA has been involved with and aided by the Kabila regime in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). UNITA has used the DRC (formerly Zaire) to shelter its troops, smuggle out diamonds and bring in arms. Zambia has tolerated UNITA activity, to the frustration of the MPLA10. Namibia has been pro-MPLA, and has cracked down on UNITA activity within its borders. Congo has co-operated with UNITA, allowing UNITA weapons to be cached during the Lusaka peace process.
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