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A letter from AntónioAlva Rosa Coutinho to Agostinho Neto 22nd December 1974
The Northern Angolan Conflict 1975/76 British involvement
The Southern Angolan Conflict 1986/89 South African involvement

1483 was the first reported Portuguese landing in Angola.

During the 15th century the Portuguese settlers began arriving along the coastline. Their first major contact with the locals was with the then King of the Kongo. At first it was a friendly contact as the  King was happy to trade his slaves for the arms that the Portuguese settlers brought with them, but this friendship was not to last.

The new settlers went on to develop trade with other African nations, particularly with Mbundu, whose ruler was called the Ngola (from which the name Angola comes from). For the Portuguese the slave trade was of paramount importance during the 17th century, when slaves were transported to the Portuguese plantations in Brazil. From the late 16th century through to the mid-19th century. It’s believed that Angola may have provided the New World with as many as two million slaves.

During 1575 a Portuguese settlement was established at Luanda, however no attempts were made to settle inland until the late 1900's.

Between 1580 and 1680 a million plus slaves were shipped to Brazil and their cotton, rubber and coffee plantations.

6th July 1590 The English admiral Francis Drake captured the Portuguese Forts at Taag in Angola.

26th August 1641 West India Company conquerors Sao Paulo de Loanda in Angola.

In 1834 Slavery was officially abolished by order of the Portuguese government (however it carried a 20-year grace period), although under Portuguese rule forced labour was common right up until the early 1950s.

6th November1871 Verney Cameroon reached the coast of Angola after trip through Africa.

2nd November 1875 Verney Cameroon reached Benguela Angola, from Africa's east coast.

1884 At a special Conference being held in Berlin, Portugal's claims to Angola were established. The participants supposedly defined Angola's boundaries, however, in reality the more powerful European states who controlled central Africa, determined Angola's boundaries between them. Portugal acquired the left bank of the Congo River and the Cabinda enclave.

1885-1930 Portugal consolidated its colonial control over Angola, although local resistance against them still persisted.

1889 Britain forced Portugal to leave Nyasaland (now known as Malawi) and Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe). British interests had been seemingly threatened by a Portuguese scientific expeditions lead by  Serpa Pinto into the Makolo country and the Shire regions.

August 1889 the acting British consul in Nyasaland began protesting against Portuguese activity in these areas.

By October 1889 This had escalated big time and the British Minister in Lisbon warned Portugal that Great Britain would oppose threats to its interests.

October 1889 The British granted the British South Africa Company governmental rights in the area seemingly threatened by the Portuguese expeditions (north of the Transvaal and west of Mozambique).

November 1889 The British Consul in Lisbon accused the Portuguese Minister of Foreign Affairs of preparing to conquer the Makololo. The Portuguese denied these claims and reiterated Serpa Pinto's assertion of the peaceful intent of the expedition and the fact that the accompanying soldiers were for protection only against the Makololo people, and not for offensive actions. However, the Portuguese also sent a Dispatch to the British government outlining their claims to the disputed territory.

December 1889 After conflict between Portuguese troops and the natives of Makololo, the British requested the Portuguese government refrain from attacking British settlements. The Portuguese still denied the military nature of the expedition, however, six days later Serpa Pinto cabled that the Makololo was under Portuguese authority. The British responded with naval shows-of-strength off Las Palmas during December and Gibraltar during January 1890. The British subsequently asked Portugal for assurance that the disputed territory would not be settled. The Portuguese responded by denying British claims to the area, yet reiterated the scientific nature of the expedition.

10th January 1890 The Britain demanded that Portugal withdraw from Makololo. After more demonstrations by British naval forces and rumoured threats to Lourenco Margues, Quelimane and S. Vicente, the Portuguese acceded unconditionally to British demands and withdrew their forces from the Shire and Mashonaland.

Between 1891 and 1927 Portugal and Belgium agreed a complex border generally following natural frontiers. However, Portugal had already staked out most of its claims in Angola by the end of the nineteenth century.

Just because Angola was recognised as a Portuguese possession it did not mean that it was under Portuguese control. The Portuguese conquest of Angola took the better part of twenty-five years, and in some remote areas even longer.

It took the Portuguese military from 1884 to 1915 to subjugate the African inhabitants of the hinterland. Intensive military action was necessary in several areas. One campaign took place in the southern region in response to a request from the Boer settlement near Humbe that was threatened by the Kwanhama. Sporadic campaigning included several serious reverses for the Portuguese. The Portuguese were able to bring the Kwanhama under control only with the assistance of field artillery and the establishment of a series of fortified garrisons. One of the most difficult Portuguese military campaigns was waged against the Dembos, a Kimbundu-speaking people who lived less than 150 kilometres northeast of Luanda. The Portuguese attacked the Dembos repeatedly over a period of three years before the Dembos were finally subdued in 1910. Because of difficult conditions, including the tropical climate, the Portuguese did not complete their occupation of Dembos land until 1917.

1900 there were fewer than 10,000 whites in the colony.

15th May 1902 Portugal became bankrupt by revolt in Angola.

1902 In order to strengthen their control of the country, the Portuguese began building the Benguela railway.

31st January 1925 Premier Ahmed Zogu became president of Angola.

During the early 1930s António Salazar established the New State (Estado Novo) in Portugal, Angola was expected to survive on its own. Accordingly, Portugal neither maintained an adequate social and economic infrastructure nor invested directly in Angolas long term development.

Portugal maintained that increasing the density of white rural settlement in Angola was a means of "civilizing" the African. Generally, the Portuguese regarded Africans as inferior and gave them few opportunities to develop either in terms of their own cultures or in response to the market. The Portuguese also discriminated politically, socially, and economically against 'assimilados' those Africans who, by acquiring a certain level of education and a mode of life similar to that of Europeans, were entitled to become citizens of Portugal. Those few Portuguese officials and others who called attention to the mistreatment of Africans were largely ignored or silenced by the colonial governments.

1st July 1931 The Trans African Railway was used for the first time connecting Benguela, Angola-Jadotville and the Congo.

After World War 2 the white population of Angola had grown to around 80,000.

By the 1950s African led associations with explicit political goals began to spring up in Angola. The authoritarian António Salazar regime forced these movements and their leaders to operate in exile.

1951 Angola’s status changed from colony to an overseas province.

10th December 1956 Saw the early beginnings of the socialist guerrilla independence movement, the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), who were based in the Congo.

25th May 1959 The Russian president Khrushchev visits Angola.

1960 There were about 160,000 Europeans living in the country.

By the early 1960s Several political groups were sufficiently organised, although divided by ethnic loyalties and personal animosities, to begin their push for the country’s independence. Some segments of the African population had been so strongly affected by their loss of land, forced labour, and stresses produced by a declining economy that they were ready to rebel on their own. The result was a series of violent events in urban and rural areas that marked the beginning of a long and often ineffective armed struggle for independence.

The volatile situation forced the government to continue its stringent political and economic control over the colony, and forced them to use whatever military means was necessary.

The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) sympathisers organised all protests and joined with the Union of the Populations of Northern Angola (UPNA), this than became part of the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA).

Soon after the 1961 an uprising of all three groups took to guerrilla warfare as a result of the vicious military and political campaign created by the colonial authorities.

4th February 1961 organised armed resistance to Portuguese rule began when urban partisans of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) attacked the São Paulo fortress and police headquarters in Luanda. Within six weeks, the war had spread throughout the north by the rural guerrillas of another organisation, the Union of Angolan Peoples, which later became the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA).

During February and March 1961 serious confrontations were directed at Mestizo and the European plantation owners.

1961 Forced labour was abolished after revolts on coffee plantations left 50,000 dead. The countries fight for independence was bolstered.

30th January 1962 United Nations General Assembly censures Portugal because of the way it governed Angola.

3rd April 1962 The FNLA, headed by Holden Roberto, set up a revolutionary government in exile in Zaire.

1964 A group of disgruntled southerners broke away from the government in exile and formed a third movement, known as the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), being lead by Jonas Savimbi, who had been foreign minister in the exiled government.

By now all three movements the MPLA, FNLA and UNITA, which were all divided by ideology, ethnic considerations, and personal rivalries were all militarily active.

MPLA - Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola - (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola) lead by Agostinho Neto.

FNLA - National Front for the Liberation of Angola - (Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola). Lead by Holden Roberto.

UNITA - National Union for the Total Independence of Angola - (União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola) lead by Jonas Savimbi.

By 25th April 1974 Portugal was badly weakened from the colonial wars taking place in their occupied territories of Mozambique, Angola and Guinea Bissau. While the Portuguese army tired of wars they were not going to win unless drastic changes were made to assist them. This finally lead to a successful Communist inspired military coup in Portugal.

During December 1974 the new Communist regime back in Portugal were finally forced to concede that they would abandoned Angola and leave it to its own fate, amongst the inter fighting three major anti colonial movements. Ideological differences and rivalry among their leaderships divided these movements and were the reasons for them to carry on fighting each other.

15th January 1975 After negotiations between the FNLA, MPLA, and UNITA leaders, the Portuguese government agreed to grant complete independence to Angola on 11th November 1975. The agreement also established a coalition government headed by a three-man presidential council including MPLA leader António Agostinho Neto, FNLA's Holder Roberto, and UNITA's Jonas Savimbi. However, the coalition government fell apart as mediation attempts by other African countries failed.

11th November 1975 Angola became independent, and each of three rival organisations had its own army and sphere of influence. Based in Zaire, the FNLA, which primarily represented the Congo people, received financial support mainly from China and the USA. UNITA and the FNLA together established the Popular Democratic Republic of Angola (with its capital at Huambo), supported by USA funds, South African troops, and some white mercenaries (mostly former commandos in the Portuguese armed forces). UNITA had the support of the Ovimbundu, the largest ethnic group in Angola. However, they were unable to gain more than nominal support from China, and turned to South Africa for help. The MPLA, a Marxist oriented party drew its supporters from mestiços in Luanda and other urban areas and the Mbundu people. It also received military as well as financial assistance from the USSR who provided logistical support, while Cuba sent 15,000 Cuban soldiers to the area.

The MPLA and Cuban forces soon seized the initiative, when the FNLA and UNITA strongholds fell. Viewing the prospect of a Soviet sponsored MPLA government with alarm, South Africa invaded Angola from the south.

23rd October 1975 A Battle between Cuba & South Africa troops took place in southern Angola.

November 1975 on the eve of Angola's independence, Cuba launched a large-scale military intervention to defend the leftist liberation movement MPLA from United States backed invasions by South Africa and Zaire in support of two other liberation movements competing for power in the country, the FNLA and UNITA. Following the retreat of Zaire and South Africa, Cuban forces remained in Angola to support the MPLA-government against the UNITA-insurgency in the continuing Angolan Civil War.

By the end of 1975 it’s estimated that at least 300,000 people had left Angola many of them Portuguese citizens. However, before independence was granted it’s also estimated that hundreds of Portuguese were murdered along with 20,000 Angolans.

During January 1976 three separate groups of British mercenaries flew in Zaire and cross over the border into northern Angola to support Holdern Roberto's FNLA. All were placed under the direct command of self promoted Colonel Callan (Greek, Costas Georgiou ex British Army). At first the recruiting in Britain had been under taken by Callans friend Nick Hall, but later the job was handed over to John Banks also ex british Army.

Early February 1976 Holdern Roberto's FNLA's force in the north was pushed back and beaten by the advancing Cuba regular soldiers. By then the British mercenaries, had either been taken prisoner, killed or had made their own way back across the border into Zaire.

11th February 1976 The OAU formally recognised the MPLA government in Luanda as the legitimate government of Angola. South African troops subsequently withdrew, but the Cuban forces remained to consolidate the MPLA's control over the country and provide technical assistance.

12th March 1976 South African troops leave Angola.

1st April 1976 the MPLA controlled Angola News Agency announced that 10 British and three American mercenaries captured in northern Angola for the FNLA were to be put on trial in Luanda, charged with alleged war crimes. The British were identified as Costas Georgiou (Col. Callan), Andy McKenzie, John Derek ‘Brummie’ Barker, , Malcolm McIntyre, Cecil ‘Satch’ Fortuin, Kevin Marchant, Michael Wiseman, John Lawlor, Colin Evans, and John Nammock. The three Americans were named as Daniel Gearhart, Gustavo Grillo and Gary Acker.

11th June 1976 After a two month publicity and propaganda build up, the trial of the 13 mercenaries captured in nothern Angola began in a room of Luanda’s Palace of Commerce specially adapted for the occasion. The indictment against the mercenaries read out on the first day of the trial covered 139 points and took almost an hour to read. Ominously five days before the start of their trial, the prisoners had been pronounced guilty by an Angolan government spokesman, the MPLA’s Director General of Information, Dr Luis de Almeida. ’There is no doubt that the men in the dock are guilty’ he told reporters. ‘It’s just a question of how much we will punish them’. all 13 mercenaries were found guilty of the crimes of which they had been accused.

Monday 28th June 1976 After an adjournment of just over a week, judge Ernesto Texeira Da Silva announced the sentence.

Gary Acker, John Nammock, and Malcolm McIntyre each received prison sentences of 16 years.

John Lawlor, Colin Evans, and Cecil ‘Satch’ Fortuin were each sentenced to 24 years imprisonment.

Kevin Marchant, Michael Wiseman and Gus Grillo were sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.

Costas Georgiou (Col. Callan), Andy McKenzie, John Derek ‘Brummie’ Barker and Daniel Gearhart were sentenced to death by firing squad.

10th July 1976 One American and three British mercenaries are executed in Angola following the Luanda Trial.

Towards the end of 1976 the MPLA, under the leadership of Agostinho Neto, was in full control of the Angolan government. Members of UNITA retreated to the bush to wage a guerrilla war against the MPLA government, while the FNLA became increasingly ineffective in the north during the late 1970s.

1st December 1976 Angola is admitted to the United Nations.

May 1977 A coup attempt by an MPLA faction opposed to the Cuban involvement was suppressed and followed by a massive purge of the party. Activist groups were reined in, and the organisation became more centralised. While UNITA which had never been rooted out of southern Angola, began to regroup. Despite the Cuban troops and Soviet military assistance, the MPLA government remained vulnerable to the UNITA insurgency, operating from the southern Angolan countryside and from Namibia. Implicated in this conflict was the government of South Africa, whose continual incursions into southern Angola in the late 1970s and early 1980s were aimed chiefly at the forces of the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), who were using Angola as a base in their bid to force South Africa to give up Namibia.

6th May 1978 The South Africa military crosses into Angola.

1979 MPLA leader Agostinho Neto died and Jose Eduardo dos Santos took over as president.

By 1982 there were 18,000 Cuban troops still in Angola, however the number rose to 25,000 during the first half of 1983 and to 30,000 by late 1986.

By 1983 South African soldiers were said to be permanently stationed in southern Angola.

December South Africa launched a major offensive in the region. In addition to harassing SWAPO, South Africa continued to provide supplies to UNITA. The Angolan government resisted efforts by the United States to secure the withdrawal of Cuban troops in return for Namibian independence and a South African pullback.

1985 Under an agreement brokered by the United States, South African troops withdrew from southern Angola, but continued to raid SWAPO bases there and to supply military aid to UNITA, including air support.

28th January 1986 Angolan Unity Leader Jonas Savimbi visits Washington DC.

1986 The United States sent about $15 million in military aid to UNITA, reportedly through Zaire.

1987 South African forces enter southern Angola to support UNITA.

1987 – 1988 Fighting escalated in the country as negotiations for a settlement progressed. An Angolan settlement became entangled with the resolution of civil war in and the independence of Namibia. A controversial battle at Cuito Cuanavale in 1988, at which South African and Angolan/Cuban forces were stalemated, led to a South African willingness to agree to end its involvement in Angola and eventually to withdraw from Namibia. Included in the settlement was the Cuban commitment to a phased withdrawal of its military forces from Angola by mid 1991.

08th August1988 Angola, Cuba & South Africa sign cease fire treaty, and South Africa declares cease-fire in Angola.

22nd December 1988 An agreement, signed in New York by Angola, South Africa, and Cuba also included a pledge that the signatories would not permit their territories to be used "by any state, organization, or person in connection with any acts of war, aggression, or violence against the territorial integrity of any state of south western Africa." This meant that South Africa would be prohibited from aiding UNITA and Angola would remove the ANC's training bases.

All the major parties had been brought to the conclusion that a settlement was better than a prolongation of the fighting. The Soviet Union also wanted to disentangle itself from Angola. The administration of US president Ronald Reagan wanted to take the lead in a successful resolution, and his Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Chester A. Crocker took the lead in the negotiations.

1988 South Africa agrees to Namibian independence in exchange for removal of Cuban troops from Angola.

However, as the settlement in Namibia was moving forward, it proved much harder to bring the Angolan government and UNITA to agree terms. At a summit at Gbadolite involving 19 African leaders, MPLA Leader José Edvardo dos Santos and Jonas Savimbi shook hands publicly and endorsed the "Gbadolite Declaration" (cease-fire and reconciliation plan) on 22 June 1989. But from the start, the terms were disputed and swiftly unraveled. The parties wasted no time and returned to the battlefield.

However, the world powers began to scale back their support. The relaxation of cold war tensions provided the basis for contacts between the warring parties.

April 1991 Jonas Savimbi and José Edvardo dos Santos initialed an agreement that led to the establishment of a United Nations supervised cease-fire and a process of national reconciliation.

April 1991 The MPLA dropped their idea of a Marxism-Leninism state in favour of a Social Democracy.

1st May 1991 Angola's civil war ended, José Edvardo dos Santos and Jonas Savimbi signed a peace deal in Lisbon which results in a new multiparty constitution.

23rd May 1991 The last Cubans troops left Angola.

31st may 1991 Sides in Angola sign a treaty ending 16 year civil war.

September 1992 Presidential and parliamentary elections were certified by United Nations monitors as generally free and fair. José Edvardo Dos Santo gained more votes than Jonas Savimbi, who rejected the results and resumed his guerrilla war.

4th December 1993 A truce is concluded between the government of Angola and the UNITA rebels.

1993 The United Nations imposed sanctions against UNITA. While the US acknowledged the MPLA.

October 1994 Fighting broke out in the capital Luanda after tension increased when UNITA took de facto control of several provinces, and its generals were withdrawn from the officially "merged" national army. UNITA went on to gain control of 75% of the country.

20th November 1994 The Angolan government and UNITA rebels signed the Lusaka Protocol in Zambia, ending 19 years of civil war, however localised fighting resumed the following year.

1st June 1993 With UNITA’s refusal to accept a United Nations brokered cease fire terms agreed to by the government back in May led to a Security Council resolution condemning unanimously UNITA for endangering the peace process and to US recognition of the Angolan government back on 19th May.

October 1994 It was estimated that 1,000 people were dying every day during the fighting.

On 20 November 1994 The Lusaka Protocol was signed, promising a new if tenuous, era of peace in Angola. This was the third peace effort between the opposing groups, however it was the first to guarantee a share of power to UNITA and the first to be supported by over 6,000 armed United Nations peacekeepers. Demobilisations of all fighters was suspended and renewed as new offensives broke out and were halted.

1995 José Edvardo Dos Santos and Jonas Savimbi met, and confirmed a commitment for peace.

1995 the international community imposed sanctions against UNITA, although several governments violated them, including African countries serving as arms trans-shipment points.

September 1995 and the United States pledged $190 million to support Angolan reconstruction and development at the Brussels Roundtable.

1996 José Edvardo Dos Santos and Jonas Savimbi agreed to form a unity government and join their respective forces into a fully integrated national army.

April 1997 A unified government was inaugurated, however Jonas Savimbi declined a post in the unity government and failed to attend the inauguration ceremony.

May 1997 Tension mounted between several UNITA troops after having been integrated into national army.

In June 1997 the government and UNITA found themselves involved on opposite sides of the Zaire civil war, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DROC). UNITA supported its ally President Mobutu Sese Seko, while the government backed Laurent Kabila. Following Kabila's victory in May 1997 and subsequent to the 1998 invasion of DROC by Rwanda and Uganda, José Edvardo dos Santos joined other SADC leaders in providing military support to the Kabila government. By July 1999, all sides at war had signed the Lusaka Accords leading to an eventual withdrawal of most foreign troops by 2003.

1998 Full scale fighting resumed. Thousands were killed during the next four years of fighting.

In February 1999 the United Nations Security Council voted to end its peacekeeping operations after Secretary General Kofi Annan declared there was no longer any hope of carrying out the 1994 Lusaka peace agreement.

August 1999 The Office for Coordination of Human Affairs estimated 2.6 million people were internally displaced in Angola. The following month, Human Rights Watch released a 200 page report detailing how the United Nations deliberately overlooked evidence showing rearmament and retraining of soldiers by both sides in breach of the 1994 accords.

1999 The United Nations ended its peacekeeping mission in Angola.

In October 1999 UNITA's main headquarters at Bailundo and Andulo had fallen.

February 2000 The Fowler report was issued on strengthening United Nations sanctions against UNITA.

22nd February 2002 Prospects for peace changed dramatically when the army announced that it had killed Jonas Savimbi in an ambush in south eastern Angola. It also announced the death from illness of Savimbi's second in command General Antonio, which further weakened UNITA's military capacity. Later UNITA pledged to sign a cease fire as soon as possible.

March 2002 UNITA commanders issued a joint communiqué with the Angolan army (FAA) confirming a cessation of hostilities and reiterating unequivocal support for a political settlement based on the 1994 Lusaka Peace Accord.

4th April 2002 A peace accord between the government and UNITA was signed.

May 2002 One of UNITA’s military commanders announced that 85% of his troops had gathered at demobilisation camps. There were concerns that food shortages in the camps could threaten the peace process.

June 2002 The United Nations appeals for aid for thousands of refugees heading home after the cease fire.

Medical charity ‘Medecins sans Frontieres’ announced that half a million Angolans were facing starvation, a legacy left over from the civil war.

As disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of the armed forces, and the repatriation of refugees, and the arduous task of rebuilding the country got underway, José Edvardo dos Santos revealed that  he would not seek re-election during the next elections that were scheduled for late 2003 early 2004. However, his departure depended on a successor who could be trusted not to prosecute him for human rights abuses and large scale diversion of state funds. He wanted to choose a hardliner to succeed him, who would permit José Edvardo dos Santos to run a shadow government.

August 2002 UNITA scraped its armed wing. While the Angolan Defense Minister announced that "The war has ended".

February 2003 The United Nations mission overseeing the peace process wound up and prepared to leave the country.

June 2003 UNITA who by now were a political party, elected Isaias Samakuva as its new leader.

April 2004 Tens of thousands of illegal foreign diamond miners are expelled in a crackdown on illegal mining and trafficking. In December the government reported that 300,000 foreign diamond dealers have been expelled.

September 2004 Oil production in the country reached one million barrels per day.

June 2005 Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited the country and promised to extend more than $2 billion in new credit, in addition to a $3 billion credit line Beijing had already given Luanda.

August 2006 The government signed a peace deal with a separatist group in the northern enclave of Cabinda.

October 2006 The United Nations refugee agency began its final repatriation of Angolans who had fled the civil war to the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

February 2007 President José Edvardo dos Santos announced parliamentary elections to be held in 2008 and presidential polls in 2009.

September 2008 First parliamentary elections for 16 years took place.

October 2009 Angola expelled illegal Congolese diamond miners. The Democratic Republic of Congo responded by expelling 20,000 Angolans.

December 2009 President José Edvardo dos Santos suggested presidential elections would have to wait another three years. While the State oil firm Sonangol signed a deal to produce oil in Iraq.

January 2010 Angola hosted the African Nations Soccer Cup, the continent's most popular sporting event. A bus carrying the Togo football team was attacked by Cabinda separatists.

The Angolan Parliament approved a new constitution strengthening the presidency and abolishing direct elections for the post.




'Fire Power' by Dave Tomkins and Chris Dempster

'A New History of Portugal' by H. V. Livermore, (1966). Cambridge University Press England.

William Myers also mentioned in volume 12.1 (Spring 2001, I believe) of the Frank Cass journal 'Small Wars and Counterinsurgencies', there are a couple of articles by John P. Cann on the Great War in Angola and Mozambique.