Government and Politics
AFTER THIRTEEN YEARS of guerrilla warfare, Angola finally escaped from Portuguese colonial rule in 1975, but with few of the resources needed to govern an independent nation. When an effort to form a coalition government comprising three liberation movements failed, a civil war ensued. The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola -- MPLA) emerged from the civil war to proclaim a Marxist-Leninist one-party state. The strongest of the disenfranchised movements, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola -- UNITA), continued to battle for another thirteen years, shifting the focus of its opposition from the colonial power to the MPLA government. In late 1988, the social and economic disorder resulting from a quarter-century of violence had a pervasive effect on both individual lives and national politics.
Angola's 1975 Constitution, revised in 1976 and 1980, ratifies the socialist revolution but also guarantees some rights of private ownership. The ruling party, renamed the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola-Workers' Party (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola-Partido de Trabalho--MPLA-PT) in 1977, claimed the power of the state. Although formally subordinate to the party, the government consolidated substantial power in its executive branch. The president was head of the MPLA-PT, the government, the military, and most important bodies within the party and the government. In his first nine years in office (1979-88), President José Eduardo dos Santos further strengthened the presidency, broadening the influence of a small circle of advisers and resisting pressure to concentrate more power within the MPLA-PT. His primary goal was economic development rather than ideological rigor, but at the same time dos Santos considered the MPLA-PT the best vehicle for building a unified, prosperous nation.
Among the first actions taken by the MPLA-PT was its conversion into a vanguard party to lead in the transformation to socialism. Throughout the 1980s, the MPLA-PT faced the daunting task of mobilizing the nation's peasants, most of whom were concerned with basic survival, subsistence farming, and avoiding the destruction of the ongoing civil war. Only a small minority of Angolans were party members, but even this group was torn by internal disputes. Factional divisions were drawn primarily along racial and ideological lines, but under dos Santos influence within the MPLAPT gradually shifted from mestiço to black African leadership and from party ideologues to relative political moderates.
Mass organizations were affiliated with the party in accordance with Marxist-Leninist dogma. In the face of continued insurgent warfare and deteriorating living standards, however, many social leaders chafed at party discipline and bureaucratic controls. Dos Santos worked to build party loyalty and to respond to these tensions, primarily by attempting to improve the material rewards of Marxist-Leninist state building. His greatest obstacle, however, was the destabilizing effect of UNITA and its South African sponsors; Angola's role as a victim of South Africa's destructive regional policies was central to its international image during the 1980s.
In December 1988, Angola, South Africa, and Cuba reached a long-sought accord that promised to improve Luanda's relations with Pretoria. The primary goals of the United States-brokered talks were to end South Africa's illegal occupation of Namibia and remove Cuba's massive military presence from Angola. Vital economic assistance from the United States was a corollary benefit of the peace process, conditioned on Cuba's withdrawal and the MPLA-PT's rapprochement with UNITA. Despite doubts about the intentions of all three parties to the accord, international hopes for peace in southwestern Africa were high.
|Country Studies main page | Angola Country Studies main page|