Angola Table of Contents


Policy Making

Angola's foreign relations reflected the ambivalence of its formal commitment to Marxism-Leninism and its dependence on Western investment and trade. Overall policy goals were to resolve this dual dependence--to achieve regional and domestic peace, reduce the need for foreign military assistance, enhance economic selfsufficiency through diversified trade relations, and establish Angola as a strong socialist state. MPLA-PT politicians described Angola's goal as geopolitical nonalignment, but throughout most of the 1980s Angola's foreign policy had a pronounced pro-Soviet bias.

Two groups within the MPLA-PT and one council within the executive branch vied for influence over foreign policy, all under the direct authority of the president. Formal responsibility for foreign policy programs lay with the MPLA-PT Central Committee. Within this committee, the nine members of the Secretariat and the five others who were members of the Political Bureau wielded decisive influence. The Political Bureau, in its role as guardian of the revolution, usually succeeded in setting the Central Committee agenda.

During the 1980s, as head of both the party and the government, dos Santos strengthened the security role of the executive branch of government, thereby weakening the control of the Central Committee and Political Bureau. To accomplish this redistribution of power, in 1984 he created the Defense and Security Council as an executive advisory body, and he appointed to this council the six most influential ministers, the FAPLA chief of the general staff, and the Central Committee secretary for ideology, information, and culture. The mandate of this council was to review and coordinate the implementation of security-related policy efforts among ministries. The Ministry of Foreign Relations was more concerned with diplomatic and economic affairs than with security matters.

Southern Africa's regional conflict determined much of Angola's foreign policy direction during the 1980s. Negotiations to end South Africa's illegal occupation of Namibia succeeded in linking Namibian independence to the removal of Cuban troops from Angola. The Cuban presence and that of South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) and African National Congress (ANC) bases in Angola bolstered Pretoria's claims of a Soviet-sponsored onslaught against the apartheid state. On the grounds that an independent Namibia would enlarge the territory available to Pretoria's enemies and make South Africa's borders even more vulnerable, South Africa maintained possession of Namibia, which it had held since World War I. Pretoria launched incursions into Angola throughout most of the 1980s and supported Savimbi's UNITA forces as they extended their control throughout eastern Angola.

The MPLA-PT pursued its grass-roots campaign to mobilize peasant support, and UNITA sought to capitalize on the fear of communism to enhance its popularity outside rural Ovimbundu areas. Many Angolans accepted MPLA-PT condemnations of the West but balanced them against the fact that Western oil companies in Cabinda provided vital revenues and foreign exchange and the fact that the United States purchased much of Angola's oil. Moreover, in one of Africa's many ironies that arose from balancing the dual quest for political sovereignty and economic development, Cuban and Angolan troops guarded American and other Western companies against attack by South African commandos or UNITA forces (which were receiving United States assistance).

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress