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The Flag of the World

-G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

This here blog is a glimpse or two or three at the condition of the 'fortress of our family' through the eyes Timothy Goddard, a Christian writer with an unhealthy interest in politics living in the Puget Sound area.

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Friday, November 14, 2003


Anglola: Much horror, sudden hope
If you're a country, Africa is a lousy place to be. Angola's history is evidence of that, what with the depopulation due to the slave trade, colonization and exploitation by a second-rate European power, and then internal tribal strife blown all out of proportion by being turned into an international-ideological battleground, tentative peace being shattered by one man's ego. No, things have not gone well in Angola at all--until very, very recently, when the death of a single individual suddenly dumped a whole bucket of hope on a country that could turn out ok after all.

An Angolan tribal peopleHISTORY: Angola, like most of Africa, has been inhabited since prehistoric times, specifically by Khoisan speaking groups now referred to as Bushmen. They were pushed out of the area by coming of the Bantu, the darker, more technologically advanced people from the north, in the first millenium AD. We don't know a good deal more than this, as the eventual colonizers of Angola, the Portuguese, like the Spanish, didn't put as much effort into historical research as did the other nations, such as the British.

the rough extent of the Kongo KingdomSo, our real knowledge of the area's history really picks up in about 1482, when the first Portuguese came to the area. They found there the Kingdom of Kongo, or the Bakongo, which had come to power in during the 14th century, and swapped emissaries with them. The cordial nature of their first encounter led to the establishment of trade between the two kingdoms, Portugal them, offering weapons, technology and especially knowledge of Christianity, in exchange for ivory, minerals, and--eventually and especially--slaves. Many Kongolese became Christians in the early years, and in 1506 when Alfonso I became A Kongan crucifixmanikongo, or Kongan ruler, he was a devout Catholic, as alluded to by his Christian name.

Alfonso's Christianity proved more genuine than most of the Portuguese missionaries, most of whom left by 1520, let alone than of the slave traders who stayed around. Portugal lost interest in the region, having been distracted by the shiny baubles of Asia and especially Brazil, and their African holdings became little more than a source of slaves for the latter. Were it not for the Dutch occupation of the area from 1641-48, the Portuguese might have entirely neglected to consolidate their colonial holdings.

Nonetheless, Kongo-Portugal relations remained amiable, and Portugal helped Alfonso's successor, Alvaro I, to beat back an insurgency in from 1571-73. However, after the death of Alvaro II, things went south and in 1622 Portugal attacked the Kongo, and a state of war existed on and off until the final defeat of the unified Kongo Kingdom in 1665.

Things had gone south much quicker for the kingdom just to the south of the Kongo, the Ndongo kingdom, though they held out much longer. The Ndongo had been essentially at War, on and off, with Portugal since Portuguese encroachments in the 1560's, and especially since the founding of Luanda, and the official start to what would become the colony of Angola in 1671. However, they were not finally defeated until 1671.

Even after defeating these two kingdoms, the entirety of Angola was not even remotely under Portuguese control, and wouldn't be for some time. The kingdoms of Kasanje and Mataba lay further inland, and past them was the Lunda kingdom (which attacked the former two unsuccessfully in the 1760's) and the Chokwe (which attacked and destroyed the Lunda in 1900). The Ovimbundu were a collection of peoples and Kingdoms that moved from the north and east of Angola to the southwest (the Benguela plateau) in the 16th and 17th centuries and became successful traders. The Portuguese were able to dominate them by the late 19th century. South of the Ovimbundu came the Kwanhama in the early 19th century, a well-armed and fierce kingdom that survived until the Portuguese invaded and destroyed it in 1915.

Things continued on like this for a while--slow Portuguese expansion driven by the slave trade--until 1836 when Portugal abolished slave trading. After that it became slightly quicker Portuguese expansion, completely seperate from the slave trade, which continued until Britain ended it by force in the middle of the 19th century.

That century marked a great deal of European expansion into Africa, and Portugual, despite technically being an old hand at the whole Africa business, found themselves lagging behing the rest of Europe, in large part because of how they had completely ignored Angola in favor of Brazil for so long. This set well behind the times, and by the end of the 19th century, when Africa had been pretty well entirely carved up by European powers, Portugal still had large swathes of "their" territory that were controlled by native kingdoms. This lag would have major consequences in the 20th century.

For example, the beginning of the 20th century heralded in Angola what most colonies had undergone a hundred years ago or so--namely, beginning to exploit it fairly heavily for its natural resources--namely, rubber, diamonds and a railroad to the Belgian Congo. Ok, so that last one isn't exactly natural, but it was the most important. This is indicative of the state that Portugal was in, colonization-wise--when your colony's largest employer is the railroad that hauls somebody else's goods, you know that things could probably be better. Combine that with rubber demand dropping off after WWI, and you've got a pretty weak economy going into 1926.

Antonio Salazar, Portuguese dictator and mucker-up of AngolaConveniently, 1926 marked a military coup that installed a one-party military dictatorship in Portugal, eventually headed by Antonio Salazar. His iron-fisted policies ruled both Portugal and Angola, where his combination of racist policies and bringing in white colonatos fueled the discontent heavily, until 1962.

Flag of the MPLAIn the 50's, nationalist and independence movements predictably began to form. The MPLA drew mainly from urban areas and from the Mbundu people, was nominally Marxist-Leninist, and based out of Guinea, and later out of the Congo. The FNLA was nominally pro-Western, drew from the rural Bakango, and was based out of the Flag of the FNLABelgian Congo, now Zaire, formed from two different Bakango militant groups in 1962. In 1961, all of these groups had staged an ineffective but still bloody revolt that led to fierce reprisals from Portugal. Both groups maintained resistance against the government through the decade, but the MPLA was able to achieve supremacy by garnering the support of the USSR and Cuba.

Flag of UNITAIn 1966, another party appeared on the scene, UNITA, a vaguely Maoist splinter group from the FNLA that garnered the support of the very populous Ovimbundo peoples. What it lacked in arms and education, it made up for in following and unity of leadership--under Jonas Savimbi. With these advantages, UNITA quickly passed up the fading FNLA to challenge the MPLA for supremacy.
Jonas Savimbi, leader of UNITA
The guerilla war continued for several years, until in 1974 the government in Portugal was deposed by a coup and the new government began working quickly towards giving Angola independence. Very quickly--on January 25, 1975 a transitional government composed of elements of all three rebel groups was sworn in. Days later, the fighting continued.

Agostinho Neto, leader of MPLA and eventual president of AngolaAnd continued, and continued, and continued, even though the MPLA, under António Agostinho Neto, quickly gained control of what had been the transitional government, but no one was in full control of the country. Despite this, Portugal ceded independence to "the Angolan people" on November 11, 1975. In the war that followed, The MPLA continued receiving aid from the USSR and Cuba, while the FNLA received some aid from the US and UNITA from various African governments.

The MPLA quickly achieved dominance, forcing the fading FNLA into an alliance with UNITA until it was finished off in early 1976. The government of South Africa, an international pariah, also began supporting UNITA, as the MPLA was supporting Namibian leftist rebels fighting the South African occupation of that country. This lost UNITA a great deal of support elsewhere--including from the US, which later gave support again in the 1980's.

The Neto regime started off as Marxist, but that didn't survive long. Neto was too interested in getting foreign investment and actually running a country to go fully Communist, and his middle ground attracted critics from both sides. The less extreme wing won out, and in the late 1970's purged a good many of the leftward elements after an attempted coup. It was still Marxist-Leninist in name and a more than a few policies, but it was more of a China-style despotism with communist trappings.

José Eduardo dos Santos, current president of AngolaThe civil war with UNITA continued, evolving into a full-fledged, but undeclared border war with South Africa by the time Neto died in late 1979. The torch was passed to José Eduardo dos Santos who continued and intensified the move towards the moderate. This continued and intensified through the 80's, but so did the war with UNITA and South Africa, which refused to allow the issue to rest for fear that a leftist government would come to power right next door.

However, by the beginning of the 90's, the fall of Communism (and the MPLA's renunciation of its already half-hearted Marxism-Leninism) and apartheid (and the subsequent independence of Numibia) removed the two major outside factors encouraging continuing war. Peace talks began in 1991, and a treaty was signed in 1992, along with a new constitution and a vast array of reforms designed to make Angola a democracy. In September 1992, dos Santos and Savimbi faced off against each other in Angola's first multi-party election.

Dos Santos won a plurality of the vote, but not quite enough to prevent a runoff between the two top candidates. The MPLA also won the majority of the parliament seats. Savimbi did not like this outcome, and declared the elections to be riddled with fraud and "stolen," though the UN disagreed. Nevertheless, UNITA returned to war, though with none of its previous international support.

The war raged all through the 90's, despite a peace agreement in 1994, a UN intervention, and multiple "grounds for optimism," peace seemed very far away.

Then, in February 2002, Savimbi was killed in battle. Abruptly, UNITA had no reason to fight.

TODAY: The sudden shift in Angola can be tracked by the UN Mission observer: first, this one from February 2002 and the next one from April. On April 4, a peace treaty was signed between the government and UNITA. By November, the government declared "all outstanding issues resolved," and UN sanctions on UNITA were lifted. Just like that. Well, not just like that. The problems aren't all solved. Elections won't be until 2005--after what happened in the last elections, dos Santos, who says he is not likely to run, is likely wary of such things, and not without cause. AIDS, kept out of the country for so long by the war, is now returning with the refugees, and will need to be countered. There appears to be a fair bit of tension between those who want to forget the civil war and everything related to it (which happens to be the entirety of the nation's history) and those who don't. There are still the standard African problems: poverty, disease, famine, corruption, missing 727's and so on.

But there's peace, and a very real chance that peace will last. And that's as good a start as any.

ANALYSIS: What I have a hard time getting over is the "one bullet" aspect of this story. As in "all that fighting, all the killing, all those UN peace missions, all the lives lost and shattered on both sides, and it only took one bullet to end it all." Well, it may have been more than one bullet--and it may not have been a bullet at all. But you get the idea. One bullet! Lives lost, and lost, and lost, and when one of those lives happens to be the ego that drives it all, it ends all the sudden? It's amazing, when you think about it. And part of the reason I support assassination in some cases. Not that it will always be the silver bullet (erm... interesting figure of speech there), but sometimes, apparently, it can.

I've also learned that the Cold War took localized tribal and or rural vs. urban conflicts and blew them all out of proportion, propping them up for decades, some of them outlasting the Cold War itself. Some will tell you that this is America's fault, some the USSR's, and others will refuse to assign blame.

Orrin Judd would no doubt say that it's more proof that the Cold War was a mistake, and that we should have taken down the USSR when we had the chance, before they got nukes. And while I question the feasibility of such a plan, and hindsight is obviously 20/20, how can we justify transporting our war into other parts of the world completely uninvolved with it, such as Angola and Vietnam? I don't think that, given the situation, we had much of a choice at that point. But it would have been better to never have gotten to that point.

I heard someone today speak well of containment, and criticize George Bush for not seeking it. But can you tell the hundreds of thousands of dead Angolans killed in a local conflict that became a proxy war between the Cold War powers and wannabe Cold War powers that they were the price we paid to "contain" Communism? I am glad we are taking the war to the enemy this time. It's better than letting it come to us, or meeting it somewhere in the middle again.

And, lastly, I'm reminded of the evil that really was slavery. Aside from depopulating Angola, providing it with the very worst of Europe as an example, and generally being evil, it also set it back generations compared to the rest of the world's colonies. In 1885, when India saw the beginnings of Indian nationalism that eventually led to independence, Angola was barely a coherent collection of areas. And by the time the hurried nationalist movements did begin to form, in the 1950's, India was a sovereign nation--and then Angola was dumped into that situation a scant 20 or so years later. It was like India being declared independent in 1905--it's no surprise that thing went south so fast. I don't know how it could have been avoided, but the root of it really was slavery.

Ironically, with the sudden peace, Angola may have catapulted ahead of much of that war-torn continent, which seems only fair, after lagging behind for so long. And I imagine that it might be genuinely exciting to be an Angolan today. The future, for the first time in years, actually looks like it could be something described as bright. There is the possibility of a better life ahead, and it's a real one. The elections in 2005 will be a major hurdle, but if they can manage it, Angola could well have a very bright future. But they'll have to work at it, hard. And there's no getting around that.

FLAG: I think this may be the only flag in the world that has a machete on it. But I digress. The red stripe represents the blood shed during its long violent history, the black stripe represents Africa, and the yellow represents the nation's wealth. The seal is a take-off on the hammer and sickle--a machete and a cog wheel, the former signifying the peasants and the latter the industrial workers. The star symbolizes "international solidarity and progress"

Angola's proposed new flagHowever, they may well get a new flag, as one has been recently proposed. The blue stripes represent solidarity, harmony and justice, the white stripes represent peace, harmony and unity, the red represents sacrifice, tenacity and heroism, while the sun, based on the ancestral Tchitundo-Hulu rocks paintings of the southwestern Namibe province, represents the cultural identity, heritage and wealth of Angola. There is, however, a great deal of resistance against this new flag, and opponents accuse it of ignoring and discounting history.

FOOD: If you like fish, and can find "2 glasses palm oil," this sounds incredibly tasty. Nuts. Now I'm hungry. I think I should actually eat one of these before I post it, eventually.

LINKS: Each time I do this, I find more handy resources--such as World Statesman, an incredibly handy source for facts on every nation, including Angola. The usual suspects, including the Library of Congress and Infoplease have good histories, as does Angola's US embassy and the United Methodist Church, The LOC history ends at 1988, Infoplease and the UMC in 2002 and the Embassy in 1995. The Embassy has a good site in general, as does the UK embassy. The BBC country profile gives a good rundown, and Africa Online, ReliefNet and AllAfrica all have good lists of news stories. MBendi is a site with business information on Africa, which looks to be a helpful place, and the Energy Information Administration has a similar page. The University of Pennsylvania, Stanford and Columbia all have good Angola resources from an Academic standpoint, The Africa Guide has them from a tourism standpoint.

Aside from the attention Instapundit paid to the 727 incident, Angola has not garnered much attention from the blogosphere--this is probably a sign that things are going generally well. But if you read Portuguese, this appears to be a blog from Angola, which would be really interesting if I read Portuguese.

Well, there's Angola--definitely a country that bears watching. Coming next month (or so), Anguilla!
Agree, disagree, have more information on the topic? Please, feel free to leave a comment. No profanity!

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