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date: 02 December 2022

Nationalism, Liberation, and Decolonization in Angolalocked

Nationalism, Liberation, and Decolonization in Angolalocked

  • Didier PéclardDidier PéclardDepartment of Political Science, University of Geneva


Angolan independence was achieved on November 11, 1975, after a 14-year-long war. The war was the result of three overlapping dynamics. The first was Portugal’s refusal to consider the possibility of a negotiated settlement for the independence of its colonies in Africa. Under the dictatorial regime of António Salazar, Portugal had become extremely dependent on its colonies, both economically and politically, and was therefore, by the late 1950s, bent on maintaining its colonial empire. The second was the development of nationalist feelings among Angolan elites, which eventually materialized in the late 1950s to early 1960s in two—and, as of 1966, three—competing nationalist movements. The third constituted a series of popular grievances within sectors of the Angolan population, especially landless farmers and plantation workers in the north, against their growing marginalization and impoverishment due to exploitative colonial policies. This eventually led to three uncoordinated revolts in January, February, and March 1961 that marked the beginning of the war of independence.

The division of Angolan nationalism into three competing movements—the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA)—was shaped by Angola’s long history of violent integration into Portugal’s colonial empire. The 20th-century Portuguese colonial state in Angola relied on the exploitation of the so-called native workforce through a vast system of forced labor and on taxation. It was also exclusionary and discriminatory, leaving very few avenues for upward social mobility for Angolan “natives.” It was therefore mostly at the margins of the colonial world that such mobility was possible, especially within Christian missions. The integration of these Angolan elite groups into the colonial world, or their exclusion, followed different paths according to local contexts and histories. As a result, the different lived experiences of the social groups that formed the backbone of the nationalist movement made it exceedingly difficult for them to agree on a common vision for independent Angola. This, together with the uncompromising thirst for power of the leadership of the three movements and Cold War logics, contributed to the civil war that engulfed the country at independence and lasted until 2002.


  • Colonial Conquest and Rule
  • Political History

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