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Angola reflects the dangers of former liberation movements forgetting their roots


ANGOLA’s Western-aligned foreign policy has gradually come under huge pressure from the country’s workforce, particularly the civil servants, or government employees.

In March, and April, they took to the streets in protest over what they deem severe taxes and lower wages. The next nation-wide strike by the trade unions is scheduled to take place in the first week of June. The monotonous regularity with which workers are taking to the streets, often in spite of the “no-work no-pay rule”, reflects the extent to which the proletariat of the society has become displeased with the political elites.

Angola is Africa’s second biggest oil producer after Nigeria. Many years of foreign-funded civil war has set the SADC state back by decades in development. Since the country’s independence from Portugal in 1975, the US and other Western countries remained steadfast forces behind the rebel movements – particularly Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA – that sought to topple the popular MPLA government.

At the height of the Cold War Angola, like almost all the liberation movements in Southern Africa, was aligned with the Soviet Union. Several US administrations, including Henry Ford, Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush – unleashed a hostile foreign policy position on Luanda as the country was regarded as a dangerous outpost of communism.

When the “Winds of Change”, to borrow from Harold Macmillan, blew across Southern Africa at the tail-end of the 1980s, coinciding with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, significant geopolitical changes also swept through Angola. Namibia gained independence on March 21, 1990 under the stewardship of the iconic freedom fighter Sam Nujoma. The same year, Nelson Mandela was released from a 27-year incarceration and four years later, in April 1994, led the ANC to a resounding victory in South Africa’s first-ever democratic elections.

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At was around those regional geopolitical changes that saw Angola review the country’s foreign policy, and found it a strategic move to cement ties with the Cold War-era adversary, the US.

Angolan oil was also of great importance to the development of the US economy. It lay at the core trade cooperation between the two countries. Of greater significance, closer ties between Washington and Luanda brought about the necessary assurance of keeping the waning Soviet influence at bay, to this day.

In fact, as bilateral relations between the countries grew stronger over the years, so did Angola’s acceptance and embrace across Europe and the Western capitals become a norm.

Back home Angola’s increasing economic dependence on the US and West manifested itself through Washington-approved economic policies based on neo-liberalism.

Structural Adjustment policy of the IMF and World Bank – key Angolan state funding sources – also became inescapable financial yoke of enslavement.

But as democratization took hold, as per the dictates of Western hegemony at the centre of Angola’s economic development – so did organized labour’s exasperation with capitalist policies and practices of the state.

The recent sporadic nation-wide strikes by organized labour against the rising cost of living that is out of line with Angola’s inflation has rapidly increased the MPLA government’s unpopularity.

With the elections on the horizon and the opposition parties buoyed by the shift in endorsement from the liberation ruling party, it looks like it is now a matter of time before marked change in the state house itself.

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A slant by the government in recent history toward the East, particularly China, has not effected much change in the nation’s political outlook, or foreign policy. Economic cooperation with China is intrinsically premised on Beijing’s ubiquitous “shared future” or “win-win” foreign policy that deliberately refuses to get involved in internal political affairs of other countries.

Deteriorating economic conditions, coupled with closer geopolitical ties with the US and the West, has left Angola in a spot of bother.

Having cast aside traditional allies, particularly Russia and Cuba, to a certain extent, has become a major conundrum of discomfort for a country once filled with great promise, more so in the light of the oil riches that are part of Angola’s natural wealth from which only a few appear to be benefitting.

The ideological shift has come at a great cost to the lingering powerful image of the MPLA, a party that is credited with overcoming colonialism and ushering in a new era of freedom and democracy. But then again, ordinary Angolans in increasing numbers are opting to take to the streets to show their disapproval of their government, of their liberators. The freedom fighters of yesteryear have become the rejected bourgeoisie class that reflect everything that has gone utterly wrong with Angola’s once promising destiny. The story of Angola seems to be somewhat what George Orwell might have had in mind when he penned his 1945 classical novel, Animal Farm. It is a lesson to be learnt across the entire Southern Africa, and the rest of the developing world. Stay truthful to traditional allies, and values, as Nelson Mandela showed when he embraced Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Palestine’s Yasser Arafat much to the evident discomfort of the courting hordes of Western powers that not too long ago had regarded the ANC, MPLA, SWAPO, ZAPU, ZANU-PF and liberation movements as terrorist organizations.

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Abbey Makoe is Founder and Editor-in-Chief: Global South Media Network

By The African Mirror