A large central south-west African country with a long, often dark history, from slavery and a long-drawn-out anti-colonial struggle to a modern-day protracted civil war. The two sites in Angola that feature here, however, are of rather different natures:
However, especially when travelling in the south, where the Angolan Civil War also spilled over into neighbouring Namibia
, you can come across vestiges of that protracted conflict in the form of rusty burned-out or abandoned tanks by the roadsides. And the capital city Luanda also has a slavery museum as well as a military museum, the latter housed in the oldest building here, a former Portuguese fort.
Colonialism started early in Angola, with the arrival of the first Portuguese
from the late 15th century. Within the next 100–150 years permanent trading posts were established. In the mid-17th century, the Dutch
also had a short stint at colonialism in Angola but were quickly repelled. For Portugal these lands were primarily valuable because of the Atlantic Slave Trade
. Angolan slaves were mostly sent to Portugal
’s biggest colony across the Atlantic, namely Brazil, where slavery even continued after the country’s independence from the Portuguese Empire in 1820. In Angola, the slave trade was abolished in 1836, and all slaves were freed within less than twenty years after that.
The borders of present-day Angola were basically set at the 1884/85 Berlin Conference that sought to bring “order” to the so-called “Scramble for Africa” by competing colonial powers – who proceeded to divide up almost all of the African continent between themselves, with little to no regard for local ethnicities, histories or cultures. Angola, currently the seventh largest country in Africa, was Portugal’s biggest chunk (others included Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands
) and is actually very multi-ethnic. Europeans also settled in Angola in increasing numbers. Influences from Portuguese culture are still very visible today.
Like in the other African colonies of Portugal
an anti-colonial independence movement began to form after WWII
. In this the Marxist-Leninist “Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola” (MPLA) became a dominant force from the 1950s. There were other factions too, such as UNITA (“União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola”), which sometimes collaborated, sometimes competed against each other in the Angolan War of Independence.
Independence eventually came not so much as a result of the anti-colonial struggles within the country, but more so because of the collapse of the right-wing regime in Portugal itself and the so-called “Carnation Revolution” of 1974 after which the country steered towards democracy. In the wake of this, all of Portugal
’s remaining colonies were released into independence (cf. also East Timor
). The leader of the MPLA, Agostinho Neto, became the first president of independent Angola in 1975. But it was not a happy independence. Civil war broke out almost immediately and the former anti-colonial factions became bitter enemies. The MPLA enjoyed support from the Soviet Union
, who even sent their own military to fight in this civil war on the side of their fellow communists. And so the MPLA has remained in power ever since independence.
After 1990 (and the demise of the communist Eastern Bloc
at the end of the Cold-War
era), the MPLA shifted from staunch Marxism-Leninism to a more social-democratic outlook. The former nationalization and central planning of large parts of the economy gradually shifted towards a market economy.
The civil war that had dragged on for almost three decades came to an end after UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi was killed in action in 2002. Subsequently, the MLPA reached a ceasefire with UNITA, which gave up its military wing and morphed into a major political opposition party. In 2008 and 2012 elections that were largely democratically sound were held and a new constitution was drafted in 2010. The country has hence stabilized and become generally much more secure … except with regard to the northern exclave of Cabinda, which is separated from the rest of the country by a coastal stretch of land that is part of the DR Congo
, and where there is a movement calling for independence from Angola.
With stability and economic growth, Angola opened up to tourism to a degree too. Being Portuguese-speaking (in addition to the various local languages) it’s of course especially attractive to travellers from other Lusophone countries, but you can also find options for English-speaking tourists. The specialist outfit “Soviet Tours”, for instance, offers a special Angola package that not only takes in the sites featured on this website (see above) but also plenty of examples of socialist-era architecture, especially in the country’s vast capital city Luanda, and the mausoleum and monument for first president Agostinho Neto (contributed by North Korea
– see also under Dakar
!). In addition some of the spectacular scenery of Angola is taken in as well.
Independent travel, in particular for non-Portuguese speakers is, in comparison, rather trickier to organize, and it’s not especially safe either. Moreover, the complicated (and expensive) visa regime constitutes another obstacle for citizens of most countries other than those in southern Africa.