Angola’s natural resources should make it one of the richest countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It is the second largest producer of both oil and diamonds but it has some of the lowest life expectancy and infant mortality rates on the Continent. Such statistics can largely be blamed on a violent post-colonial political history – a legacy, in part, of Portuguese decolonisation.
Angola has a long history of European intervention. Portuguese settlers set up towns and trading posts along the country’s West coast in the fifteenth century and from the sixteenth century these became key gateways in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Most Portuguese-owned slaves were sent to plantations in South America, especially Brazil. The boarders of Angola as a colony were cemented – like many European colonies - at the Berlin Conference of 1885.
After the Second World War, an economic boom, helped by the continued use of forced labour, attracted vast swathes of Portuguese immigrants. Angola’s white population increased from 44,083 in 1940 to 400,000 in 1974. There was also a well established mixed-race population of over 100,000, descended from early European immigration and integration, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
While the rest of Africa was experiencing decolonisation, white political and economic dominance in Angola increased during the 1950s and 60s. This spawned three major independence movements, who took up arms in guerrilla wars against the Portuguese settlers. These were The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), a movement formed by the Ovimbundu, Angola’s largest ethnic group, The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), a movement that stemmed from the Kimbudu and Angola’s mixed-race intelligentsia and finally The National Front for the Liberation for Angola (FNLA) which emerged from the Bakongo region, under the leadership of Holden Roberto.
In 1974 Portugal sacrificed its African colonies, after the coup d’état that overthrew Marcelo Caetano in Lisbon. Power was swiftly handed over to a coalition of the UNITA, the MPLA and the FNLA. The coalition was inherently fractious and ideological differences between the parties ignited a brutal civil war which claimed over 1.5million lives and displaced a further 4 million. A ceasefire with UNITA, who laid down their arms to become official opposition to the MPLA, brought an end to the conflict in 2002 but thirty years of civil war has left 40.5% of Angolans living below the poverty line, only 47.8% of the population able to read and write and has put Angola at position 143, out of 158 nation states, on the Human Development Index.