Angola: Fifty Years Of Continued Uprisings – Analysis


By Horace Campbell

Angola is reputed to be the third fastest growing country in the world. This is a prime example of a society where growth does not have a positive impact on the quality of the lives of the 99 per cent of Angolans. From the Human Development Indices of the United Nations, the people of Angola are near the bottom of the pile, ranked 148 out of 187. Exploitation and social inequality are apparent in all areas of life of the society, witness the gated communities, high-rise buildings and the latest luxury vehicles in a space where there is little delivery of basic services such as water, electricity, sewage systems and malaria prevention. For international capital, this is success.

All of the major business papers and magazines wax lyrical with news of the possibilities for investment in Angola. It is difficult to get a seat on a flight to Angola because ‘entrepreneurs’ of varying levels are on the path to El Dorado in Angola. Luanda, the capital of Angola is one of the cities of the world where the skyline is rapidly changing with a major construction boom. Plans for the building of a million new houses across Angola have ensnared Chinese, Brazilian, Spanish and Portuguese corporations with companies from every part of the capitalist world from Korea to Germany and from India to the United States jockeying to join the gravy train.


Massive and opulent shopping centres that seek to defy the laws of nature and high-rise residential complexes without water and electricity expose a political leadership who have completely lost any understanding of the society they live in. In the Bay of Luanda, a historic point of embarkation for millions of enslaved Africans, there is a US$2.3 billion dollar project to build offices, houses, and buildings for commerce, hotels, tourism and leisure. This project is dubbed the creation of a New Dubai. Although the project is marketed as a component of the reconstruction of the society involving the ministries of public works, and urbanisation and environment and the provincial government of Luanda, this multibillion project represents infrastructure projects where a few Angolans get rich in alliance with foreign construction companies.

Additionally, this massive construction project is one more effort for the very rich to enter the top league of those making illegitimate or excessively large windfall gains and enter the top league of financial entrepreneurs who are aligned to the ‘financialisation of energy markets.’ Sonangol (Sociedade Nacional de Petróleos de Angola – National Society of Petroleum of Angola), the state oil company, has entered the major league of top energy traders; one component of this trade is to build the financial infrastructure to move resources independent of government oversight. Sonangol shares some of the same characteristics as the massive operations that had been undertaken in Libya by the state-controlled Libyan Investment Authority.

Libya had entered into the opaque world of financing energy markets through the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) before their allies in Wall Street considered the unpredictability of Gaddafi of Libya too threatening. Libya is, like Angola, a top producer of petroleum products and after December 2010, the Central Bank of Libya took the controlling position in the Arab Banking Corporation based in Bahrain. The Arab Banking Corporation was owned by Kuwait Investment Authority, Central Bank of Libya, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and other shareholders with minor shares. At present very few reports have linked the Libyan dominance in the Arab Banking Corporation to the seismic events in Libya since February 2011.

After December 2010, Muhammad Layas of Libya had taken over in this major financial institution. Any move for making independent decisions in the Arab Banking Corporation threatened the web of speculators in the derivatives industry that depended on the recycling of petrodollars from the oil rich nations of Kuwait, Libya and the Emirates. After February 17 when the Libyans started to move to divest their funds from their over-exposure with British and US financial institutions, there was the freezing of the assets of Libya prior to the façade of protecting Libyans by Britain, France and NATO.

Angola is in a delicate situation where the intended players in the world of corporate finance do not fully grasp the interconnections between ‘energy markets,’ new financial institutions and military interventions. Sonangol has entered the global competition with the top western oil companies. Nearly every day the business papers announce new deals of oil and gas exploration and new production sites. From the surfeit of riches in Angola, Sonangol had branched out to the Middle East, successfully bidding for two major oil fields in Iraq.

The Angolan political leaders in the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) have sought to enter into a political/military and financial league where it does not have the support of O Povo (the poor people). The challenges of political consolidation of peace in Angola must be engaged as one component of the opposition to the consolidation of a new oligarchy in Angola.

In my discussion this week, I want to reflect on how peace activists must oppose plunder and exploitation to be able to understand that corruption is only one manifestation of use of state resources to enrich a small group of well-connected families. The leaders of the MPLA have forgotten the roots of the struggles of Angolans and now seek a base with the same plunderers who had exploited and enslaved Angolans.

There had been a massive uprising in Angola in February 1961. This uprising intensified the multiple struggles against colonialism in Angola. I want to celebrate with the people of Angolans as they continue to reflect on 50 years of the launch of the struggles against forced labour. This struggle that erupted in Angola on 4 February 1961 reflected the struggles against forced labour. So central was the organisation of the working people that the dominant political party in Angola, the MPLA had called themselves MPLA-PT or party of labour, with the Angolan Trade Union Association (UNTA) as one of the three main bases of support often MPLA. The other two were Angola Women’s Organization (OMA)and the Angolan Youth Organization (JMPLA).

After 55 years of the existence of this party and 50 years of the fight for the rights of workers, Angolans are now at a new stage of fight for dignity. This fight is against the form of economic organisation that is capitalism. Corruption and capitalism go hand in glove; the mindboggling stories of corruption cannot be separated from liberalisation and the ideas of the leadership that for Angola to develop, a class of millionaires must be created. This is trickle-down economics so when one reads reports of malpractice, fraud and/or corrupt use of state power, it must be understood that these practices are consistent with what I will call in this article, the ‘primitive accumulation of capital.’

The current boom in Angola is a manifestation of a global alliance between the well-connected in Angola and get-rich forces in China, Brazil and Portugal. International business tycoons of every stripe jockey behind these top players. This alliance is itself a threat to the former colonial forces in Europe and the speculators in Wall Street.


Organised mass and armed resistance to Portuguese rule began on 4 February 1961, when urban supporters of the MPLA attacked the São Paulo fortress and police headquarters in Luanda. Within six weeks, the national war of liberation had spread throughout the north. This uprising in Angola on 4 February caught fire in the society less than three weeks after the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The anger of Africans all across the continent energised liberation forces and gave some spark to another organisation, the Union of Angolan Peoples, which later became the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA). Anti-communism was drilled into the society to divide the people, so the historical rendition of Angola society has represented the differences between MPLA, UNITA and as ethnic differences. However, the reality was that Angola shared the distinction with the DRC as one of the sites of the most repressive forms of colonial genocide, forced labour and rape.

As a backward and poor country in Europe, Portugal could not fully develop the rich natural resources in Angola and so Portugal was virtually a semi-colony of Britain. Angola went through 400 years of warfare and nearly 100 years of pacification campaigns:

‘… to pacify meant to conquer militarily and force the African populations to submit to European sovereignty, as required for effective pacification. The campaigns were extremely bloody and involved the wholesale slaughter of entire villages. Success depended both on Portuguese technical superiority in firepower and on African auxiliaries, soldiers from rival tribes who were encouraged in the slaughter by the promise of booty, which was their early form of payment.’

Adam Hochschild has written on the death of over 10 million Congolese under the Belgians. His book ‘King Leopold’s Ghost’ is well-known and has been translated into many languages. In the little-known book by Américo Boavida, ‘Angola: Five Centuries of Portuguese Exploitation’, it was estimated that 30 million Angolans perished under the genocidal rule of the Portuguese. Today as the ideas of capitalist growth and development dominate the intellectual spaces in Angola, there is a definite effort to erase the real evidence of ‘Five Centuries of Portuguese Exploitation’. Young persons are taught the virtues of free enterprise and liberalisation of the economy so that the history of Angola does not inform the present efforts to move Angola and Africa beyond the institutions, and organisations that comprised the Portuguese colonial state. This was a state that was built to enforce domination. After years of warfare, the present state in Angola fought against the Portuguese, but did not dismantle the state structures that were put in place. Portuguese is still the language of instruction although there are real opportunities for developing a multilingual structure for a new educational infrastructure in Angola.

Forceful seizure of land, forced labour, segregation, rape and a policy of assimilation formed the core of the heritage bequeathed by Portugal. In 1961, Angola was supposed to be enjoying a coffee boom just as today Angola is enjoying the petroleum boom. But this boom was entrenched within the brutality of coerced labour. The bondage and servitude of chattel slavery had paved the way for the depopulation of the Angolan countryside. Africans did not work on coffee plantations or on European farms willingly because these enterprises did not pay a living wage. Such was the poverty of Portugal that it depended on forced labour in all enterprises up to the middle of the 1960s when such practices were outlawed elsewhere. While capitalism in the Western European states was able to find forms of exploitation compatible with free labour relations (that is free in the double sense, free from subsistence costs and free to sell labour in the market place), these free labour relations did not emerge until after independence. In Portugal itself, the concept of a free market was constrained by fascist governments until 1974. As a semi-feudal state, fascism in Portugal constrained collective bargaining or the other forms of industrial relations that had developed in the social democratic states of Europe.

It is striking that there are so many similarities today with 50 years ago. Then, the forced labour that alienated land from the poor in African countryside provided the conditions for white settlement after 1945. Between 1940 and 1975 the Portuguese population in Angola increased from 40,000 to 340,000. Today, forced removal of the poor from the urban areas of Angola is providing the spaces for the current building boom. There is now a big queue at the Angolan consulate in Lisbon as hundreds of Portuguese seek to escape the depression in Europe by finding employment in Angola. These would-be immigrants do not know the real history of Portugal in Angola. The Portuguese or Portuguese-descended population in Angola increased to 91,900 in 2010 from 21,000 in 2003.


José Eduardo dos Santos (born 1942) is the current leader of the MPLA and president of the Republic of Angola. Dos Santos became president after Agostinho Neto’s death in 1979. Dos Santos is an example of a leader who was a militant in his youths but who now supports local and international forces of oppression. At 19, dos Santos had been involved with the February uprisings but one would not know this from the activities of the present government of Angola he now presides over.

Report after report follows with tragicomedy succession exposing the depths of primitive accumulation, where the Angolan Presidency is described as the epicentre of corruption. These reports are not even digested before new information surfaces. It was more than two years ago when there was the well-documented information on The Angolan Presidency: the epicentre of corruption circulated in cyberspace.

It is not only in cyberspace where these allegations circulate. Veteran militants of the MPLA such as Agostinho André Mendes de Carvalho and Lucio Lara have been opposing primitive accumulation from within the ranks of the MPLA. Both of these veteran freedom fighters are now over 80 years old and they represent the continuity of the struggle for a new society in Angola. In his book, ‘O Ministro’, Mendes de Carvalho presented fictional accounts of the levels of influence peddling in Angola.

Lucio Lara is one of the founding members of the MPLA. His story is one that should be studied by a new generation because with Mendes De Carvalho, Lara and a score of outstanding Africans were part of one of the most dynamic liberation fronts in Africa. Agostinho Neto had emerged as the leader of the MPLA but this organisation brought together freedom fighters such as America Boavida, Deodlina Rodriquez, Mario Pinto de Andrade, Lucio Lara and hundreds of the toughest revolutionaries in Africa. Amilcar Cabral had been associated with these freedom fighters and his major study on agriculture in Angola still stands as a reference point for transforming the conditions of the peasantry in Angola

When the MPLA is painted with the brush of corruption, it is most important to distinguish between the more than three million ordinary workers and poor peasants of this historic party and the current top technocrats. It is not by chance that the current president, Eduardo Dos Santos found intellectual and political solace with the very same forces that fought the people of Angola in alignment with the forces of apartheid and Portugal. Even while ailing, Lucio Lara has left for African history a testament of commitment to transformation. It was not by chance that when Raul Castro, the president of Cuba visited Angola in 2009 he visited the home of Lucio Lara.

When the full history is being written for the young, Lara will stand in his rightful place. I remember when I visited the home of Lucio Lara in 1996 to discuss Cuito Cuanavale and the war for independence; he retold the story of the mobilisation of the poor in the Maianga neighborhood to defeat the Savimbi putsch in October 1992. He also recounted the same self-organisation and self-defence of the people of Luanda in 1974 and 1975.

These experiences of popular support for the MPLA assisted the MPLA to survive when it was wracked with divisions. One of the most serious of these splits had been the Eastern revolt led by Daniel Chipenda in 1973.

I am recalling these splits and divisions to highlight my argument that Dos Santos does not represent the entire MPLA. Lucio Lara had been passed over for leadership in 1979 because of the dynamics of racial divisions within Angola and the MPLA. Nito Alves, one of the leaders of the MPLA sought to exploit the tensions over the racial divisions with disastrous consequences. Up to today there is no full reckoning of this putsch by Alves in 1977.

Jonas Savimbi had directed his venom against Lucio Lara on the grounds that Lara was a white or Mestico and that he dominated the MPLA. Savimbi who himself was in league with the most rabid racists in apartheid South Africa was not against Lara because he was white, but because Lara believed in the socialist transformation of Angola and Africa. It is this same opposition to real social and economic transformation that binds the epicentre of corruption in Angola with dying and moribund elements from Portugal. The small coterie surrounding the head of Sonangol and the President who have grown rich do not really understand how to engage a real process of transforming the economic relations in Angola.


Most recently, there was news that this group in Angola was contemplating a bailout of the Portuguese banking system This investment in European assets that are worthless is consistent with the level of knowledge of the group that currently hold strategic control over the Angolan government. The International Herald Tribune of 21 November 2011 described the visit of the Portuguese Prime Minister to Angola with this by-line, ‘For help, Portugal looks to ex-colony; Visit by prime minister to Angola is another reversal in euro crisis’:

‘The world-turned-upside-down of the European debt crisis reached a new extreme last week when Europe came pleading for money where it once only seized it: Africa.

The hands-out visit Thursday of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho of Portugal to its former colony Angola – once a prime source of slaves, then a dumping ground for the mother country’s human rejects and now swimming in oil wealth – was a milestone of sorts.’

This same article went on to note that:

‘The Angolan state oil company already owns 12.4 percent of Portugal’s biggest private bank, Millennium BCP, and the president’s daughter Isabel, said by scholars to be not coincidentally the country’s leading businesswoman, bought 10 percent of a dominant Portuguese media company, Zon, in 2009.’


The current Prime Minister of Portugal Pedro Passos Coelho lived as a child in Angola and grew up in the conditions of forced labour and racism in Angola. Far from apologising for the historical wrongs done by Portugal, Pedro Passos Coelho is now the front person for struggling Portuguese enterprises. The dos Santos circle has welcomed these Portuguese ‘forces in order to tip the political balance inside of Angola. Portuguese construction companies are doing brisk business in Angola which is now graced with major projects from the building of the Espirito Santo Tower to the commercial complex that is to be located at the sensitive and historic area called Kinaxixi. This complex is being built with underground car and garage services at a site where the water table changes from time to time. The Kinaxixi Complex is only one of the mega projects that reflects the social and class aspirations of the one per cent rulers in Angola. While two thirds of the 18 million Angolans live on less than US$2 per day, the cost of the apartments in many of these buildings range from US$60,000 to US$200,000.

Housing the poor had been one of the major reconstruction promises of the dos Santos administration with the pledge to build one million residential spaces. Kilamba Kiaxi on the outskirts of Luanda is now one of the most impressive housing projects in Africa but when one thinks of the social class that will be able to live in these spaces, it becomes clear that the project of building a class of capitalists is the number one goal of the Luanda leadership.

A sample list of these projects, a new international airport, new luxury retail and office development along with the major infrastructure projects is changing the face of Angola. Angolans can now travel by road across the country and this has been one of the most positive aspects of the reconstruction programme.


The Sonangol Group is a multibillion-dollar group of companies that has its origins ion the nationalised oil sector in Angola. Since independence in 1975, this transnational corporation has diversified into banking, investments, telecommunications, maritime petroleum product transport, trucking and shipping, with subsidiary operations as far flung as Congo Brazzaville, Houston, Hong Kong, London, Lisbon, Singapore and Iraq. This extensive international operational base of the state-owned oil company followed the boom that Angola has undergone in the past 20 years.

Angola is rich in cash, thanks to its huge oil reserves and its equally significant underinvestment in its own 18 million people. By the end of 2010 it was Africa’s biggest oil exporter, and by the end of June it had US$24 billion in international reserves.

During the war of independence when South African was attempting to sabotage the operations of the Angolan oil production, these facilities were guarded by Cuban military forces. It was in the teeth of war when the Angolan leadership developed the intellectual and technical expertise to run a major international corporation such as Sonangol. After the defeat of the South Africans in 1988, the Angolan government liberalised the economy in 1989 and changed course from centring on the needs of workers to catering to the needs of local and foreign capitalists.

Since 1989, the MPLA government had been aligned to international capital but even more explicitly so after 2002. The brochures sent out to banking and investment firms speak volumes of the ideas of ‘growth’ in Angola:

‘Between 1989 and 2008, a period of 19 years hence, the Angolan economy had an average trend growth of 9 percent per year. In the five years from 2004 to 2008, the average growth rate was approximately 17.4 percent, which means a cumulative increase of 102.2 percent in real terms. In other words, in just 5 years the GDP has more than doubled. In 2006, the growth rate of non-oil sector was 25.9 percent against 13.1 percent of the oil sector, while in 2007 this growth was 25.7 percent for non-oil sector against 20.4 percent for oil sector.

‘In 2008, the rates were 15 percent for the non-oil sector against 12.3 percent for the oil sector. The inflation rate has been decreasing year to year, showing the last three years’ rates close to 10 percent, including 11.79 percent in 2007 and 13.2 percent in 2008.’

During the era of political independence, there was clarity that growth does not equal development. With this growth, Angolan society has not been able to move up the value chin, meaning- generating real transformation.


The alliance between the epicentre of corruption and foreign capitalists all over the world has basically stifled all of the expectations to transform Angola. When one walks along Avenida Ho Chi Minh in Luanda, one sees the enthusiasm of thousands of young Angolans who are eager to see the society move from a commodity exporting society to one that can provide jobs. Angola has expended millions of dollars on education, but this educational system is itself in need of transformation. The same society that is providing jobs for Portuguese and Chinese workers cannot find new sources of wealth creation for the youth. These youths crave a society that moves beyond the export of diamonds, oil and timber to create a self-generating economy. This is however, not the vision of the leaders of Sonangol and Isabel dos Santos who are now building a billion-dollar project reclaiming part of the sea in the Bay of Luanda to create a new Dubai.

Dubai and the Emirates are now well known as hubs of the financialisation of energy, international money laundering and private military and security companies. In interviews on his book, ‘Our Kind of Traitor’ about money laundering and the movement of trillions of dollars John Le Carré noted that the building of mega projects such as casinos, hotels and other construction schemes are often built specifically to be loss-making enterprises because these enterprises can act as fronts for the movement of large sums of money while avoiding governmental control.

The emergence of numerous banking operations in Angola is consistent with both the building boom and the laundering operations of the top financial gurus who need to move illicit money generated by graft, tax evasion and other under the counter activities. The building of the New Dubai in Luanda carries with it the support of a class of former military Generals who are now integrated into the international money making machine. Many of these ‘entrepreneurs’ have fronts that are called ‘private security ‘firms.

When the MPLA was based in the Angolan Trade Union Association and the Organization of Angolan Women, the party was called MPLA-PT, now the generals and the family around the President have bought into the neoliberal idea that the creation of millionaires is the best way for the society to be transformed. Those international organisations such as the Soros Foundation that seek to oppose ‘corruption’ in Angola do not oppose the creation of new capitalists.

It is possible to go from country to country in Africa identifying corruption but the local sphere of corruption is integrated into a larger international corrupt system with its headquarters in Wall Street and the top one per cent in the United States of America. This corruption is more than simply material goods, it is the attempt to corrupt the spirit of the youth that the only way forward is to be individualistic and get rich regardless of the consequences for other humans or the environment.


There have been demonstrations in Luanda against the length of rule of Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Cyber activists have been able to bring real time attention to the outrageous schemes of getting rich by the epicentre of corruption. It is from cyberspace that these activists have been calling for mass demonstrations against the dos Santos rule. These demonstrators will now have to reflect on the experiences of the Libyan Investment Authority and NATO manipulation of the demonstrations in Benghazi to remove Libya from the decisive control over the Arab Banking Corporation. Gaddafi may have been erratic and was in power for 42 years but the people of Libya had seen some of the fruits of the oil wealth go to schools, hospitals and the provision of water and electricity.

The Luanda bourgeois are hostile to the working people and are oriented towards Brazil, Portugal and Europe instead of towards the working people of Angola. These working people are opposed to the obscene wealth of the new millionaires in Angola but they are very conscious of the legacies of 27 years of warfare after 400 years of attempted pacification by the Portuguese.

From South Africa to Angola and Mozambique, former freedom fighters have turned their backs on exploitation but gone on to join the ranks of the exploiters. It is in societies such as those of Bolivia and Venezuela where the struggles continue to intensify. Hugo Chavez has mobilised resources from the state-owned oil company build new linkages with a foreign policy based on the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America. This is one of the challenges to the one per cent in Wall Street and for this Hugo Chavez is demonised

Dos Santos and his family are using the resources of Angola to bail out bankrupt Europeans who presided over genocide. One of the features of this Angolan manoeuvring is the alliance with Chinese capitalists. While the Chinese state has become the number one partner of the Angolan bourgeoisie, the operations of private Chinese entities such as China International Fund (CIF) seek to build a new opposition to Goldman Sachs with Shanghai replacing Wall Street in the future. On the skyline of Luanda is one of the grand buildings that were referred to earlier and these building houses the operations of the China International Fund. This is one of the fronts for Chinese capitalists that are integrated into both the Chinese state in Beijing and private capitalists in Hong Kong. These capitalists build schools and hospitals without the kind of care to prevent collapse. In China itself we have been witness to this same kind of collapse of new buildings because infrastructure projects are one of the top fields of primitive accumulation in China.

The massive construction projects in Luanda and the upsurge of banking activities represent an effort by the super rich in Angola to enter the top league of oil traders and be real players among those involved in the ‘financialisation of energy markets.’ What the allied capitalists from Angola, Hong Kong and mainland China and do not grasp is the fact that Goldman Sachs and Anglo-American petroleum interests do not countenance the rise of independent energy markets outside of their orbit, The alliance between the China International Found and the forces in Luanda is a threat to the one per cent in New York. It is this danger which should be upper most in the minds of the traditional and progressive members of the MPLA as this party struggle over who will be a new leader and meet to remember the 50 years of struggle.

The struggles for democracy and democratisation in Angola involve far more than removing Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Angolan poor people want to move up on the global value chain from their current position at the bottom of the Human Development Index to a higher position (one that allows them to capture a greater share of the wealth created or increases their power over other entities) in a global value chain. Angolans poor people want the basic requirements of peace, a good quality of life, a safe environment and health. Colonial capitalism and forced labour robbed them of these rights and they will stand up against the new oligarchs. Cybercativists will have to speak and write in languages that these people understand and ensure that they are not manipulated by external forces.

Horace Campbell is professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. See

Pambazuka News

‘Pambazuka’ in Kiswahili means the dawn or to arise as a verb. Pambazuka News is produced by a pan-African community of some 2,600 citizens and organisations - academics, policy makers, social activists, women's organisations, civil society organisations, writers, artists, poets, bloggers, and commentators who together produce insightful, sharp and thoughtful analyses and make it one of the largest and most innovative and influential web forums for social justice in Africa.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *