Angola, which has been a Portuguese colony for nearly five hundred years, is to become independent next week, on November 11th.
Angola, which has been a Portuguese colony for nearly five hundred years, is to become independent next week, on November 11th. This is in accordance with the policy of the Portuguese government announced after the revolution in Portugal in 1974, of withdrawal from all its major overseas possessions. The transfer of power has already taken place, without difficulty, in Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique; but Angola is posing a special problem. For there is no one organisation ready to take over control.
During the struggle for independence, which has gone on for about fifteen years, three main groups of Angolan nationalists have emerged. The oldest, led by Dr. Holden Roberto, is the National front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA). He set up a nationalist government in exile in Zaire as long ago as 1962, has the support of President Mobutu of Zaire, and is said to have some backing, financial at least, from the United States and China.
Dr. Agostinho Neto leads the more revolutionary Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which is Marxist in outlook and has its closest links with the Soviet Union. The third group, UNITA (the National Union for the Total Independence of angola) is the newest, smallest and weakest. It enjoys no obvious foreign backing, but considerable support among the country people in the south of Angola. Its leader is Dr. Jonas Savimbi, and it is broadly socialist in policy.
Last January, the three parties got together and agreed with the Portuguese to set up a transitional government, containing representatives of all of them, to prepare for independence. But virtually nothing came of this attempt at co-operation. Fighting continued between the armed guerrilla forces of the three groups, and within a few months had accounted for about a thousand lives.
In June, President Kenyatta, who had been instrumental in getting the three leaders together in January, brought them to Kenya again. They signed a firm agreement to stop the fighting, disarm the civilian population and create a national army instead. And they parted with many expressions of optimism for the future.
But within a month, this mood of goodwill had broken down. Fighting between the rival forces was fiercer than ever. The MPLA had control of the capital, Luanda, but were being hard pressed by the FNLA, whose main stronghold is in the north.
Portuguese residents decided that the time had come for them to leave. Thousands poured out of the country -- some to South Africa, but most back to Lisbon -- on every available ship and aircraft, leaving their furniture and accumulated possessions of a life time crated up at the docks to follow at some time in the indefinite future. African refugees with nowhere else to go crowded on to Luanda beaches and the lawns of the Governor's palace, hoping to find safety there.
Business came to a standstill, public services ceased to function. Luanda looked deserted and dead. Portuguese troops, whose main function in the past few months has been to try to keep the rival forces apart, idled about, waiting for the time to go home. The Portuguese government had originally meant to keep troops in Angola till next February, to help the transition. Now it has decided to pull them all out before November 11th.
With just a week to go, the MPLA appear to be still in control of Luanda, and so best placed to take over from the Portuguese authorities. But with an armoured column of FNLA and UNITA forces reported to be moving up towards the capital from the south, the prospects for a peaceful transfer of power look slim.