The painful legacy of the Angolan civil war

Twenty years ago, one of the longest, most brutal and deadliest wars of the last century ended in Angola. In 27 years, this conflict has left nearly 1 million dead and 4 million displaced. It also left the country in ruins: in 2002, 60% of Angolans had no access to drinking water and 30% of children died before the age of five. Has the West African country recovered from these dark years? We discover it in this report by Clément Bonnerot, Dombaxi Sebastiao, Evan Claver and Juliette Dubois.

Angola’s civil war began when its colonial master, Portugal, departed in 1975, leaving rival independence movements to fight. In the midst of the Cold War, this West African country has become the battleground of a proxy conflict between the communist bloc and that of the United States and its allies. On one side, the MPLA of Agostinho Neto, supported by the USSR and Cuba, and on the other, the UNITA of Jonas Savimbi, supported by South Africa, the United States and the United Kingdom .

The early stages of the war saw victories for the MPLA, which took control of the capital and established a de facto government. But fighting intensified in the mid to late 1980s, culminating in the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988 in which nearly 10,000 soldiers died, with both sides claiming victory.

Thereafter, a ceasefire was observed until 1992, when UN-supervised elections were held. The MPLA won, but Savimbi declared fraud and denied the results, and fighting resumed. It only ended 10 years later when Savimbi was killed by government troops in 2002.

Valuable oil resourcesSince then, the country (still ruled by the MPLA) has struggled to fully recover. Although most of the war-damaged infrastructure has been rebuilt, the scars of the conflict are still present, especially in Luena and Huambo, where former combatants and victims feel left out.

Luanda, the capital, benefited from the economic boom of the 2000s and the rise in oil prices, from which the country derives 70% of its income. A member of OPEC for fifteen years, Angola was ranked 16th among the leading oil-producing countries in 2019. With its skyscrapers and renovated seafront, the capital projects the image of an Angola prosperous and modern. Yet this stands in stark contrast to the reality for the majority of the country’s inhabitants, half of whom live on less than two dollars a day.

Angola also remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world, despite President João Lourenço’s promises to fight corruption. In Transparency International’s 2021 ranking, Angola is ranked 136th (despite moving up 29 places since the previous report).

A new generation, embodied in particular by political activist Hitler Samussuku, is rising to fight for democracy and social justice. For them, peace does not simply mean laying down arms, it remains to be built.

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