World Vision New Zealand - Angola: The Colonial Legacy
By Jacob Akol, World Vision Africa Communications Director
The difficulty of finding a lasting peace in Angola is often blamed on the availability of oil and diamonds dollar with
which to buy arms. It is also blamed on antagonism between the Angolan President, Eduardo Dos Santos, and the Unita
rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi, as well as on alleged greed for power on the part of both men. While all these may be true,
Jacob Akol, who has been in and out of Angola for close to two decades, argues here that a colonial legacy, may indeed
be the main factor contributing to the persistent failure to find a lasting solution to the conflict. His view:
They do not talk about it at international peace conferences. Maybe they do not see it as relevant or significant.
Perhaps they feel ashamed to talk about it or they fear the consequences of confronting the pestering issue publicly and
at the highest national and international level.
But, then, it will not go away.
I myself have come across the issue since I first went to Angola in 1983. I heard about it in rural areas and in cities
like Luanda, Malanje, Woambo and Lubango; but rarely had I given it a mention in my reports. Maybe I fell into the same
The Portuguese colonial policy of ‘assimilation’ in their two African colonies of Mozambique and Angola was very well
known and there seemed to be little reason for harping on it. After all, Mozambique appears to have found a lasting
peace in spite of the colonial legacy. The policy seemed too dated to be seen as part of the Angolan problem, least of
all the problem.
Yet, when I was recently in Angola, I was reminded once more that the desire to be seen as Portuguese remains very much
the pinnacle of cultural and social success for quite a significant number of Angolans.
"How are you doing?" was the simple question I put to an Angolan woman in a village north of the town of Ndalatondo,
north-east of Luanda. The woman, I was informed, was recovering very well from tuberculosis, and the village had turn
out in force to meet the good doctor who was travelling with me.
But, as soon as she began to explain her condition in her local language, she was interrupted by laughter and sneering
from the villagers. I was forced to inquire why they were laughing at her.
"She does not know Portuguese. She is from the south," I was informed. "Not to know Portuguese here in the north,"
explained the translator, "is to open oneself to ridicule. You are considered backward and uncivilised. Speaking local
languages here in Ndalatondo, or anywhere in northern Angola, was never encouraged, is not encouraged and people are
ashamed to speak local languages."
Later, I explored this point further with a number of fairly well informed Angolans. They went over the old territory,
explaining how seriously African languages and cultures were suppressed by Portuguese educational system, "which was
designed to produce third class black Portuguese."
The attempt appears to have been more successful in northern Angola than in central and southern Angola, where African
languages and cultures are still respected. The difference, I was informed, was due to the origin of the Christian
Missionaries responsible for the education of the natives during the colonial era. The Portuguese Missionaries were
mostly in the north while North American missionaries were largely in the South.
A Nigerian medical doctor who worked recently in north-eastern Angola was shocked to discover that the title, ‘doctor’,
did not apply to a black person even if that person was a certified medical doctor. Subsequently his nurse, a white
woman, "was addressed as ‘doctor’ while they could not bring themselves to address him as such, though they accepted
treatment from him without any problem."
"The social hierarchy in Angola", I was told not for the first time, "is Whites first, followed by Mulattos (of mixed
race), ‘assimilados’ blacks and then the rest."
The Kimbundu-speaking people of northern Angola are said to be more assimilated than the Umbundu-speaking people of
central and southern Angola. The Umbundu "were the farm labourers and did menial jobs during the colonial era. They, on
the average, occupy the lowest ebb of the society here in the north and in Luanda."
Political and economic power in Luanda is said to have passed on from Portuguese to Angolan Whites (naturalised),
Mulattos and assimilated northern Kimbundus. Jonas Savimbi refused to join the new masters in Luanda and led his "Union
for Total Independence of Angola, UNITA" against the government, first led at independence by the late Dr. Agustino Nato
and later by Eduardo Dos Santos.
An Umbundu from the south, Savimbi boasts of his blackness, and claims himself to be the true representative of Angolan
people. He named Unita’s clandestine radio station "Black Cockerel" and used it effectively to mobilise much of rural
Angola behind him.
The government in Luanda, according to Savimbi, has always been an agent of unnamed foreigners "who are plundering
Angola’s minerals." Angola, from his point of view, is not yet totally independent. The war must continue.
Paradoxically though, Savimbi was for years supported by Apartheid South Africa and, by extension, the United States and
Western Europe, who saw Unita and Savimbi, along with South Africa, as a buffer against Soviet influence in southern
Africa. Luanda was stuck with the Soviet Union which purred in arms, purchased with hard cash from oil.
Paradoxically still, the Angolan oil was (still is) mined by Western oil companies whose interests, working off shore,
have never been threatened by the war.
Savimbi financed his arms purchase from sales of gold and diamonds, which readily found their way into the world’s
lucrative markets through then Apartheid South Africa.
Things changed. The Berlin Wall came down, along with the Soviet Empire. Apartheid was vanished. Luanda’s red Hammer & Sickle went pale brown and business between Luanda and former Unita backers took the central stage.
Savimbi was cornered. He accepted peace negotiations just to breath and take stock of the fast changing international
events. What looked like peace soon turned into a bitter battle in the capital, Luanda, following a UN-supervised
elections in 1992. The bush war continued.
A later Lusaka agreement, which offered Savimbi vice-presidency of the republic, also broke down after Unita failed to
fully disarm itself as agreed. Savimbi never went to Luanda to claim the vice-president’s post.
Most telling, however, was Savimbi’s reason for refusing to go to Luanda: "They (the government) do not want me to be a
Vice-President," he was quoted. "They want me to sweep the floors of the presidential palace. I will never accept such a
"Savimbi," one of my Angolan friends explained, "is an Umbundu from the south, you see. They are not expected to lead.
They are expected to do manual labour. Savimbi is genuinely afraid of his life because he believes that they will kill
him if he dares come to Luanda."
It seems to me that this social and cultural legacy, brought over from colonial days, is the catalyst for this lasting
hatred, mistrust and fear among Angolans. It should no longer be ignored nor swept under the carpet. It will not stay
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