Angola, more than three times the size of California, extends for more than 1,000 mi (1,609 km) along the South Atlantic in southwest Africa. The Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of Congo are to the north and east, Zambia is to the east, and Namibia is to the south. A plateau averaging 6,000 ft (1,829 m) above sea level rises abruptly from the coastal lowlands. Nearly all the land is desert or savanna, with hardwood forests in the northeast.
Angola underwent a transition from a one-party socialist state to a nominally multiparty democracy in 1992.
The original inhabitants of Angola are thought to have been Khoisan speakers. After 1000, large numbers of Bantu speakers migrated to the region and became the dominant group. Angola derives its name from the Bantu kingdom of Ndongo, whose name for its king is ngola.
Explored by the Portuguese navigator Diego Cão in 1482, Angola became a link in trade with India and Southeast Asia. Later it was a major source of slaves for Portugal's New World colony of Brazil. Development of the interior began after the Berlin Conference in 1885 fixed the colony's borders, and British and Portuguese investment fostered mining, railways, and agriculture.
Peace Does Not Follow Independence
Following World War II, independence movements began but were sternly suppressed by Portuguese military forces. The major nationalist organizations were the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), a Marxist party; National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA); and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). After 14 years of war, Portugal finally granted independence to Angola in 1975. The MPLA, which had led the independence movement, has controlled the government ever since. But no period of peace followed Angola's long war for independence. UNITA disputed the MPLA's ascendancy, and civil war broke out almost immediately. With the Soviet Union and Cuba supporting the Marxist MPLA, and the United States and South Africa supporting the anti-Communist UNITA, the country became a cold war battleground.
With the waning of the cold war and the withdrawal of Cuban troops in 1989, the MPLA began to make the transition to a multiparty democracy. Despite shifting ideologies, the civil war continued, with UNITA's charismatic rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi, armed and sustained by his control of approximately 80% of the country's diamond trade. Free elections took place in 1992, with incumbent president José Eduardo dos Santos and the MPLA winning the UN-certified election over Savimbi and UNITA. Savimbi then withdrew, charging election fraud, and the civil war resumed.
Four years of relative peace passed between 1994 and 1998, when the UN, at a cost of $1.6 billion, oversaw the 1994 Lusaka peace accord. In 1997, it was agreed that a coalition government with UNITA would be implemented. But Savimbi violated the accord repeatedly by refusing to give up his strongholds, failing to demobilize his army, and retaking territory. As a result, the government suspended coalition rule in Sept. 1998, and the country again plunged into civil war. Angola’s citizens continued to suffer. The hostilities affected an estimated 4 million people, about a third of the total population, and there were almost 2 million refugees.P
Peace Is Achieved, but Domestic Suffering Continues
On Feb. 22, 2002, government troops killed Jonas Savimbi, and six weeks later, on April 4, rebel leaders signed a cease-fire deal with the government, signaling the end of 30 years of civil war. While peace finally seemed secure, more than a half-million Angolans were faced with starvation.
Angola is the second-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, yet its people are among the continent's poorest. The corruption under the Dos Santos government bears much of the blame. According to the International Monetary Fund, more than $4 billion in oil receipts have disappeared from Angola's treasury in the last six years.
In Aug. 2006, a peace deal was signed with separatist rebels from the Cabinda region. That clash had been called Angola's “forgotten war.” About 65% of Angola's oil comes from the region.
In Angola's first national elections in 16 years, held in Sep. 2008, the governing Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) won about 82% of the vote. The opposition, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita), took 10%. The landslide victory gave the MPLA a two-thirds majority in Parliament.
Prime Minister Position Abolished
In early 2012, the position of prime minister was abolished due to the ratification of the 2008 Constitution of Angola. The Constitution transfers the functions of the prime minister to the president. The president must have the approval of the parliamentary majority in the same way as the prime minister did before.