The little-known history of Angola’s independence war that ended after coup in Portugal

April 25, 2019 at 07:00 am | History

Bridget Boakye

Bridget Boakye | Contributor

April 25, 2019 at 07:00 am | History

The Angolan War of Independence between various Angolan factions and the Portuguese which began on 4 February 1961 ended on this day, April 25th, in 1974.

The Portuguese, who arrived in present-day Angola in 1483, made the country a major slave trading area in the 17th and 18th century. Once the Portuguese government abolished slavery in 1836, the Portuguese made Angola a colony. From 1885 to 1930, Portugal suppressed local resistance and consolidated its colonial control over the country. In 1951, the country changed Angola’s official status from a colony to Portuguese overseas province.

In resistance, groups of urban and educated Angolans began organizing and forming socialist groups and engaged in anti-state agitation throughout the 1960s. They were met with state repression and were arbitrarily thrown into prison or suffered physical abuse.

The Portuguese army and Angolan factions finally came to a head in 1960. On January 3, 1960, Angolan workers boycotted the Cotonang’s cotton plantations. The Angolan workers wanted an end to forced labor and inhumane conditions. The Portuguese refused to comply and escalated violence in the country instead.

Scholars estimate that at least 5,000 persons died in a massacre on 3 – 4 January 1961 carried out by Portuguese soldiers. The Portuguese military bombing of the regions of Icolo e Bengo and the Baia de Cassange also destroyed 17 villages and killed nearly 20,000 civilians. Portuguese soldiers who were alleged to have moved overland, reportedly killed thousands of civilians as well. Various sources place the total number of deaths during the first eight months of 1961 at 8,000, 25, 000 and 50,000.

The subsequent breakout of the Angolan independence war in March 1960 caused further rift in the county’s politics. The Angolan factions fighting against the Portuguese for the country’s independence were divided.

They included the Marxist People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA); the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), which was formed in 1958 and received financial and military support from the CIA, China and the Congolese government; and the United Peoples of Angola (UPA) who launched their military actions from Zaire and merged with the FNLA in 1962. The Ovimundu-dominated UNITA movement emerged in 1966.

These pro-independence movements were driven by competition: for access to supplies, territory and popular support. The Portuguese, knowing this, aggravated their divisions to further sow discord and forward their own goals. On April 25, 1974, the Portuguese called a ceasefire, with the colonial power promising independence immediately.

But this was not because the MPLA, the UNITA, and the FNLA succeeded in their rebellion and were successful in battle. Rather, there was a coup in Portugal. The Movimento das Forças Armadas was an organisation of lower-ranked officers in the Portuguese Armed Forces who were against the authoritarian political regime and the country’s ongoing African colonial wars. They masterminded and executed the Carnation Revolution of 25 April 1974 effectively ending the Portuguese Colonial War and independence for Portuguese overseas territories.

The official transfer of power to Angolans and the country’s independence on November 11, 1975, however, did not end the war in the country. The quick handover of power to the nationalist African movements opened the door for a bitter armed conflict among the independent forces and their respective allies.

The Angolan Civil War between the various nationalist factions lasted 26 years and resulted in half a million deaths and over a million displaced. The war devastated Angola’s infrastructure, severely damaging the country’s public administration, businesses, and religious institutions. 

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