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January 13, 2010

Angola hosts Africa Cup of Nations

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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Most likely, the Western media will not cover the event or its host country, but Angola - its history, struggle for independence, and exploitation by European and American imperial powers - is worth studying.

AngolaMost likely, the Western media will not cover the event or its host country, but Angola - its history, struggle for independence, and exploitation by European and American imperial powers - is worth studying.

Sixteen qualifying African countries are competing Jan. 10-31 in Angola for the 27th Africa Cup of Nations. It is the third-biggest world soccer event, after the World Cup and European Cup.

The teams are divided into four groups of four:

(A) Angola, Mali, Malawi and Algeria
(B) Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Togo
(C) Egypt, Nigeria, Benin and Mozambique
(D) Cameroon, Gabon, Zambia and Tunisia.

Togo just withdrew from the competition following the death of its team members who were shot entering Angola by land.

Angola lies on the south-central African coast and has a population just under 20 million. The country is as big as France, Germany, Italy and Spain combined, or 14 times the size of Portugal. It is rich in oil, natural gas, diamonds and minerals, including uranium, and has vast agricultural potential. Today, it is among the main suppliers of oil to the U.S.

Angola’s painful history began when the Portuguese arrived in the 1400s. They enslaved the people and sold millions as slaves, first to sugar plantations on the island of São Tome, and later to Brazil (another Portuguese colony). Slavery led to the depopulation of Angola, and the people have still not fully recovered from the effects of the slave trade.

The Portuguese brought with them Roman Catholicism and a system of education that native leaders said created a melting pot designed to rob Angolans of their culture.

Before the Portuguese came, Angola was part of three African kingdoms that did a flourishing trade with Arabs and Africans via land and sea. One of the kingdoms was Kimbundu, its king’s title was ngola from which the name Angola was later derived. The king was always elected and there was no succession by inheritance.

Until the 1950s, Angola had little economic development. Portugal had high unemployment and its fascist regime encouraged mass emigration to Angola. In the 1950s the white population trebled from 59,000 to 200,000, but the majority were poor and uneducated.

During the early 1960s the Portuguese got support from NATO to crush the independence movement; Germany and France delivered land war killing machines, Britain supplied ships and light aircraft while the U.S. provided training. The Portuguese were able to undertake ruthless massacres of Angolans. Some 50,000 were killed in one northern campaign.

The Portuguese enacted a law whereby native Angolans were to be used as forced labour. In the 1950s, forced labourers accounted for half of the 800,000 employed Angolan. Although forced labor was officially prohibited in 1961, it continued in more discrete forms.

When Angola won its independence in 1975, the Portuguese left behind a good seed for a civil war between the Marxist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (known by its Portuguese acronym MPLA) supported by Cuba and the former Soviet Union, and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola backed by apartheid South Africa and the U.S.

South Africa invaded in 1976 using mercenaries supplied by the CIA including black American Vietnam veterans. Black mercenaries were also recruited in Britain under the impression that they would be instructors. When 14 of them refused to take part in the military actions, they were simply shot.

Angola has suffered greatly, first during the war of independence and later during the devasting civil war against South African intervention, which lasted 27 full years, and forced a million Angolans to their homes.

Basil Davidson’s Angola, In the Eye of the Storm (Penguin, 1975) offers an account of Portuguese colonization and the liberation struggle, while Jan March gives an account of the aggression of Apartheid South Africa from 1975 to 1981 in Stop the War Against Angola and Mozambique (SWAM, London, 1981).

Today, most people in Angola have not benefited from the trickledown effect of the oil boom. In the capital Luanda, there is a noticeable construction boom but the gap between rich and poor is growing fast.

“The multitude of Angolans who live below the threshold of absolute poverty must not be forgotten. Do not disappoint their expectations,” Pope Benedict pleaded during his 2009 visit to the country.

A commitment to social justice in Angola deserves the world’s attention.

Dr Mohamed Elmasry is Professor Emeritus of Computer Engineering, University of Waterloo. He can be reached at  

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