In 1975, after a hurried exit by the Portuguese, Angola gained liberation and have become certainly one of various African international locations to erupt into battle within the wake of colonial independence. Like lots of its continental friends, Angola lacked a unified independence motion. As a end result the three most important independence events, along side various regional and worldwide companions, started the battle for Luanda and management of Angola. The warfare raged by various totally different political phases every altering the face of warfare, together with the Cold War, the tip of Apartheid and two failed peace makes an attempt, solely discovering a bitter conclusion in 2002 with the demise of UNITA chief Jonas Savimbi.

When wanting on the causes of battle perpetuation it’s important to not essentialise, civil wars are advanced and might hardly ever, if ever, be decreased to a single perpetuating issue. Across the African continent it’s straightforward to give attention to the concept of ‘conflict diamonds’, popularised by movies resembling Blood Diamonds, because the driving power behind battle. This stays a fascinating narrative, simplifying a battle to look good as a headline. However, this understanding trivialises and barbarises a battle, distilling warfare right down to nothing greater than an train in economics by violent means. All conflicts are topic to a component of greed, battle supplies a chance and a canopy for people to make huge sums of cash and the Angolan Civil War was no totally different. The greed/grievance argument is a well-worn path in worldwide relations, nonetheless, to scale back a battle to those phrases does it a disservice.

It can also be vital to know that conflicts as advanced because the Angolan Civil War have many various phases. This battle has at varied instances been seen as a postcolonial independence battle, an ideological battle, a Cold War proxy and a useful resource warfare. It subsequently turns into inconceivable to state the common significance of pure assets or any perpetuating think about sustaining violence throughout the historical past of the battle. However, some generalisations could be made to additional an understanding of why this battle continued for over 1 / 4 of a century. Here we are going to search to know the assorted significance of three elements in perpetuating the battle, starting first with the significance of pure assets within the battle. I’ll search to know how the financial advantages of those assets functioned in another way for the MPLA, who maintained a grip on energy, and UNITA, the perennial opposition, in addition to how entry to totally different assets altered every sides expression of violence. This essay will then look to different elements in battle perpetuation and the way they’re linked to pure assets. Firstly, the Cold War supplied the worldwide backdrop to lots of the political occasions of the late twentieth century, the Angolan Civil War didn’t escape this, turning into partially a proxy warfare as each UNITA and the MPLA obtained huge quantities of economic and navy help from the US and the Soviet Bloc respectively. Finally, we are going to examine the significance of Jonas Savimbi himself. It is usually argued that his single-minded conviction in his divine proper to rule Angola was a major driving power in sustaining the battle and was a significant factor within the breakdown of the peace accords in 1992 and 1994.

Natural Resources and Their Expressions

Angola’s useful resource endowment stands out amongst even probably the most useful resource wealthy international locations. While the main target is understandably on oil and diamonds, as it is going to be right here, Angola additionally has huge quantities of timber, valuable metals and minerals (Malaquias 2001). This abundance of riches funded a lot of the civil warfare on either side. Simplistically, Angola’s useful resource reserves could be geographically divided. Much of the oil is discovered offshore, benefiting the MPLA, who managed Luanda and the coastal area, whereas diamond reserves are situated largely within the hinterlands managed on the time by UNITA (Malaquias 2001). This useful resource wealth to some extent dictated the actions and expression of those two, defining their methodology of conducting warfare. For UNITA the diamond wealth afforded them the chance to maintain a rise up towards MPLA, usually choosing guerilla warfare. Whereas the coastal oil reserves allowed the MPLA to rule by a system of patrimonialism, constructed within the ruins of the colonial governance buildings (Stuvoy 2002). In the shadow of the colonial battle and the rampant deprivation skilled by a good portion of the inhabitants there have been definitely grievances sufficient to elucidate the arrival of rise up. However, the character of the colonial battle and the advanced political scenario encourages us to look past greed/grievance explanations for battle perpetuation.

It is troublesome to estimate simply how rich UNITA turned by the sale of diamonds, because of the clandestine nature of the market. However, Angola is estimated to have the most important diamond wealth in Africa and is liable for 5-8% of the worlds diamond provide at anybody time (Premoll 1992). The overwhelming majority of those diamond reserves got here to be beneath UNITA management – between 1981-86 the governments diamond income dropped from $221 million to $33 million (McCormick 1994). This decreased the federal government’s capability to achieve a navy foothold within the hinterlands. Between 1992-2000 UNITA produced diamonds estimated to be valued between $3-4 billion (Le Billon 2001), which turned important as allies in Zaire and South Africa fell away by their very own political upheaval.

UNITA was a relative latecomer compared to the MPLA and FNLA and consequently couldn’t engender a lot assist from the Cold War powers throughout the preliminary phases of the independence battle. The useful resource wealth gained by UNITA as they took management of the hinterlands allowed them to successfully ‘buy in’ to the battle and maintain a warfare effort, significantly early on (Leao 2007). With the assets that they had at their disposal UNITA had been afforded the chance to take part within the civil warfare, a chance Savimbi grasped with each palms (Collier & Hoeffler 2001). They had been in a position to buy arms and key navy gear important for guerilla warfare, whereas amassing a insurgent power estimated to be over 60,000 at one time (BBC News 1999). The funds from diamond gross sales additionally purchased political energy as UNITA established an autonomous area 1979 and carried out a quasi-state with training and medical providers (Conciliation Resources 2004). Natural assets represented the mechanism by which the perpetuation of warfare was realised, they conferred UNITA power and political legitimacy. This allowed UNITA to maintain a civil warfare from a steady political base. It is honest to say that with out diamonds UNITA wouldn’t have been in a position to maintain battle of any sort for such an prolonged time period. That is to not say they had been the one motive this occurred.

For the MPLA pure assets performed a special function. At the start of independence the MPLA managed Luanda and had been in a position to type a authorities (Leao 2007). Coastal assets, beforehand managed by the Portuguese, allowed the MPLA to implement and preserve a system of patrimonial governance. This blended the financial with the political and the political with the non-public, distorting the mode of wealth creation (Médard 1982). Authority in Luanda was primarily based on a system of reciprocity wherein every stage of presidency was in a position to personally profit from the oil wealth, thus securing loyalty. This ensured a sure ‘social order’ by creating stability primarily based on useful reciprocity (Stuvoy 2002). This allowed the MPLA the power to oppose UNITA and any overseas intervention, whereas sustaining a grip on Luanda and the levers of financial, and subsequently, political energy.

Coastal communities benefitted drastically from this oil wealth with these enclaves turning into wealthy and developed, offering the MPLA a steady area from which to control. However, this wealth, and by extension governing, didn’t lengthen throughout the entire nation, as wealth creation and governing had been inextricably linked. Without the management of the assets inland the MPLA couldn’t acquire a foothold because the patrimonial system of governance broke down. As the warfare continued, oil more and more turned used to fund the navy and the existence of these in energy, whereas public providers and tasks fell by the wayside (Le Billon 2001). This bolstered the division between coastal elites and inland communities that appeared throughout colonialism and deepened the mistrust of the MPLA within the hinterland (Le Billon 2001). Oil income helped maintain battle in Angola by stabilising and funding a authorities, however solely in small enclaves. The lack of wealth distribution impeded the MPLA’s makes an attempt to manage the entire nation and allowed UNITA the house to conduct their very own battle. While the steadiness of pure assets between the MPLA and UNITA was uneven, it allowed either side to maintain a battle, whereas the geography and administration of assets additionally hindered the federal government’s skill to achieve an amazing victory. However, this understanding of assets essentialises a battle as beholden to financial elements. This simplistic clarification of the Angolan battle doesn’t present a broad and nuanced understanding and errs in direction of a condescending clarification of violence in a poor, postcolonial nation.

The Cold War Context

Strategically and economically Angola has all the time engendered regional and worldwide curiosity. Foreign assist started earlier than independence because the battle to manage Luanda by the November independence date intensified. This part will give attention to overseas assist for UNITA, nonetheless, it is very important be aware that the MPLA obtained large quantities of assist from the Soviet Bloc (Shubin & Tokarev 2001). Without the monetary and navy assist from the USSR and the navy intervention of Cuba, it’s much less seemingly the MPLA would have been in a position to management Luanda and type a authorities (Dunér 1981).

The US has a protracted standing and complicated involvement in Angola, their preliminary assist within the post-independence nation got here alongside South Africa and Zaire for the FLNA, and in a lesser capability, UNITA, in an try and cease the MPLA gaining management of Angola (Leao 2007). The final failure of this operation and the involvement of the Cubans and Soviets undoubtedly performed a task in future involvement by the US and its regional companions. The US was unwilling to just accept a negotiated settlement to this battle and strongly inspired Savimbi to militarily oppose the MPLA, in an try and disrupt and impede the Soviets (Bender 1981). This early involvement by the US framed the battle for Luanda as a navy downside with a navy answer, discounting diplomacy and the potential for a unity authorities, involving all the foremost political events.

Increasingly by the Reagan administration, the correct wing, anti-Cuban foyer turned progressively extra vocal of their assist of Savimbi. With the Clark Amendment being repealed in 1985, Reagan may brazenly assist UNITA (Minter 1991). Extensive involvement from the US by the Eighties inspired South Africa to assist rebuild UNITA’s navy capability, permitting them to proceed waging an more and more damaging warfare (Minter 1991). Economic in addition to navy assist from the US was backed up by technical and tactical assist from the Apartheid authorities in South Africa. The assist of those international and regional powerhouses emboldened UNITA on the world stage and supplied this newly shaped organisation the platform to wage warfare. This help wasn’t economically motivated, the truth is the sturdy anti-Cuban foyer suggests this was a deeply ideological assist primarily based not in the most effective pursuits of Angola however within the embarrassment and issue brought on to the US by having Cuba on its doorstep and the more and more radical anti-communist rabble in Washington. This allowed UNITA to maintain a warfare effort in any other case far past their means.

The US involvement in Angola was nuanced and complex, altering over the course of their involvement. However, we are able to see, after the primary tried intervention to halt the communist MPLA that they didn’t pull out fully, nor did they search to have interaction completely with the MPLA to extract oil, as would have been the economically prudent factor to do. The US continued to assist UNITA and encourage the South Africans to do the identical. Their assist each financially and politically undoubtedly sustained the battle, as with out it Savimbi wouldn’t have been in a position to proceed for so long as he did. This assist was clearly not merely motivated by pure assets. If this had been so, the US would have sided with the MPLA. The conservative proper buoyed by an anti Cuban and anti communist agenda supported UNITA for ideological and energy causes. For the US, this was a chance to oppose and disrupt the communist affect in Africa at a time of heightened tensions between the world’s two superpowers, a peaceable transition of energy in a liberated Angola was not as vital. While assets performed a task within the second scramble for Africa and will surely have motivated coverage makers on either side, the involvement of Cold War powers was as a lot about energy, safety and beliefs because it was assets. So whereas pure assets had been undoubtedly vital in sustaining battle and gaining worldwide engagement, so too was ideology and the political requirements of the Cold War.

Jonas Savimbi’s War

One can not clarify why the Angola Civil War endured because it did with out looking for to know the significance of Jonas Savimbi. Few insurgent leaders to emerge from the colonial battle throughout Africa had such unwavering power of character, perseverance and resolute self-belief. His personal messianic sense of divine destiny powered UNITA by over 25 years of battle and two separate peace agreements. Savimbi was a fancy determine supported by the US and South Africa, ostensibly a nationalist however a pal of Che Guevara and a pupil of Mao (Bridgland 1986). He was a person strolling a tightrope between ideologies and political powers, consumed by private ambition. He emerged by the ranks of the FLNA, having been a one time member of the MPLA Youth wing, however disillusionment with the ways and ambition of his FLNA friends noticed him launch UNITA to realize his political objectives and propel him into the main function (Brittain 2002). While different stakeholders had been key too, Savimbi was undoubtedly the only most vital actor all through the battle.

It was this character and pervasive charisma that made him an extremely marketable and palatable potential chief for western audiences (Brittain 2002). He was a determine who may encapsulate the democratic spirit of the Cold War West and oppose the creeping Soviet affect throughout the continent, performing as ballast towards western fears of communism. This picture was strictly cultivated in Washington by the well-connected PR agency Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, who lobbied on Savimbi’s behalf (Minter 1991). This bolstered his political and monetary leverage within the West, gaining him growing assist within the US Congress, which rapidly translated into extra than simply political energy. Western assist allowed him to keep up a grip over the Angolan hinterlands, and grew his capability to proceed the damaging civil warfare with more and more superior navy provides and technical assist.

Savimbi’s charisma and intelligence was matched by a willpower and self-belief, bordering on insanity, that the presidency was rightfully his. It was this self-control that pressured the resumption of battle after he failed to achieve the presidency by a quasi-legitimate 1992 election, mandated by the Bicesse settlement (Brittain 2002). This peace accord got here at an opportune time for Savimbi because the MPLA had been militarily weakened and he had been given assurances by overseas powers that the election was his (Fortna 2003). After the failure of 1992 it turned clear {that a} navy victory could be the one path to energy and Savimbi took to this with a renewed ferocity (Messiant 2004). The warfare waged after the Bicesse Accord was much more vicious than what had come earlier than. The demise toll and destruction brought on was immeasurably greater with a lot of the inhabitants ravenous as provide planes had been shot down and infrastructure razed to the bottom (Brittain 2002). This was all performed in an try to achieve the presidency, with no regard for the individuals he would probably be governing. This second section of the battle virtually felt like an try and punish the inhabitants for not confirming Savimbi as their chief. This single mindedness sustained battle by sheer power of will.

Savimbi’s character performed an important function in sustaining the battle. Without his intelligence and allure he wouldn’t have grow to be such a pivotal determine within the wider politics of the Cold War and wouldn’t have obtained the help he wanted to perpetuate the battle throughout this era. It was additionally by his particular character and ferocious willpower that he pressured the resumption of warfare when issues didn’t go his manner. It is troublesome to make any definitive predictions, however it’s honest to say with out Savimbi main the rise up, the Angolan Civil War would in all probability not have gone on for so long as it did and it’s telling how rapidly the battle was delivered to an finish following his demise in 2002. UNITA will surely not have been the ability that it was for 25 years. However, it is very important level out that with out the monetary energy of the diamond mines UNITA managed, Savimbi would have been unable to rent such an costly PR agency, and his affect, significantly throughout the Reagan administration, might not have been so nice. However, this is able to additionally not have been attainable with out the context of the Cold War. He wouldn’t have had such a outstanding function within the West’s overseas coverage if he had not been seen as a bastion of democracy preventing communism, which was, on the time, on the forefront of western political thought.


It is obvious there isn’t a panacea to elucidate why the Angolan Civil War went on for thus lengthy. It should be understood as a collection of interconnected elements that ebbed and flowed because the nationwide and worldwide context modified. However, what can also be clear is that pure assets performed a really important function within the perpetuation of the Angolan Civil War, permitting each events to fund a damaging warfare effort and purchase favour with the world’s main powers. Through every ‘stage’ of the battle they remained extremely important. Abundant pure assets initially allowed UNITA to grow to be a significant participant within the put up independence warfare and even after the Cold War engagement had waned, they allowed each events to perpetuate the battle. Diamonds supplied a constant funding stream for UNITA, permitting it to manage a lot of the Angolan inside, whereas coastal oil reserves meant the MPLA may preserve management over the centres of energy. The steadiness these assets supplied additionally ensured neither aspect may rating a definitive navy victory. It is nonetheless vital to know how this suits in with different elements. Savimbi’s character drove UNITA ahead by various hardships and led to UNITA resuming the battle after the 1992 election loss. His charisma purchased him many pals within the West and ensured political and monetary clout by a lot of the battle. His sense of divine proper undoubtedly perpetuated the battle and brought on untold destruction. However, charisma and willpower can solely carry somebody up to now, and it is very important perceive the way it connects to different exterior elements. UNITA would have initially been too weak to contest a civil warfare, which might almost certainly have led to the US and its companions dismissing them as a viable candidate. It is even much less seemingly the worldwide group would have grow to be as concerned had it not been for the strategic alternative Angola represented inside the political context of the Cold War. Ideologically, no less than on the floor, worldwide help was supplied alongside Cold War traces, guaranteeing the battle escalated and was sustained arguably artificially. While this supplied each the USSR and the US the chance to bloody the others nostril and disrupt their international unfold. This Cold War context additionally supplied a platform for Savimbi’s character to shine and grow to be the keeper of western values in Southern Africa.

Natural assets stay such a major explanatory issue due to their constant significance all through each stage of the battle. Without Angola’s pure riches the battle wouldn’t have continued because it did. They funded a lot of the hostilities but in addition made connections between, and supplied the platform for, different elements, which permit for a extra nuanced clarification of battle perpetuation.

There are after all various elements in battle perpetuation that would not be explored right here. As with most conflicts there was an ethnic dynamic at play in Angola, however to what extent this was vital as compared, or along side ideological divisions, could be fascinating to discover. Equally this essay solely explored the ideology of this battle by the worldwide, inside the context of the Cold War. It should even be understood at a neighborhood and nationwide stage. How vital was this divide to strange Angolans? What function did ideology play in people taking on arms and persevering with to combat by troublesome circumstances? Was poverty and a chance to achieve a constant wage a extra vital issue when contemplating enlisting charges? We have additionally not explored the significance of colonial context. Answering these questions represents the following stage in exploring the persistence of this and different conflicts.


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Written at: King’s College London
Written for: Mats Berdal
Date Written: June 2020

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