Angola is the largest of Portugal's former African colonies, first settled in the late fifteenth century by Portuguese navigators who were seeking trade routes to India. In 1951, the colony was designated an Overseas Province of Portugal, making it an integral part of the Portuguese state. Guerrilla opposition to colonial rule began in 1961 and continued for 13 years, even in the face of substantial Portuguese military presence. By 1974, there were three major independence movements, each operating in a different area of Angola. The National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) controlled a great deal of the north and had established a government in exile in the Congo as early as 1963. The central region, plus Cabinda, was controlled by the Soviet backed Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). Eastern and southern Angola were in the hands of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).
Independence for Angola became a real possibility in 1974, when a coup d'état overthrew the Portuguese government. On 15 January 1975, the leaders of the three independence movements, Holden Roberto (FNLA), Jonas Savimbi (UNITA), and Agustinho Neto (MPLA), met with Portuguese representatives. The parties agreed that Angola would obtain its independence effective 11 November 1975, the 400th anniversary of the founding of Luanda. In the interim, Angola was to be ruled by a Portuguese high commissioner and a three-person Presidential Collegiate composed of representatives of each of the independence movements.
Under the terms of the 1975 Constitution, the head of government is the president. The cabinet is composed of the president, 3 ministers of state, and 21 ministers; the president can hold ministerial positions. In 1991, a series of amendments provided for the establishment of a multiparty democracy. Legislative power was vested in the National Assembly, with 220 members elected for four years on the basis of proportional representation.
At midnight on 11 November 1975, after the departure of the high commissioner, Neto announced the establishment of the People's Republic of Angola, under MPLA auspices. Concurrently, FNLA and UNITA, which had formed an alliance in the preceding months, announced the establishment of the rival Democratic People's Republic of Angola. A long and crippling civil war ensued, fueled by East-West Cold War imperatives. The MPLA received support from the Soviet bloc, and UNITA and FNLA received aid from the West. By 1979, the FNLA's forces were virtually eliminated, and in 1984 the remaining FNLA guerrillas surrendered, leaving the field to UNITA.
In 1992, relatively free and fair elections were held for the presidency and the legislature. Of the 11 presidential candidates, Jose Eduardo dos Santos won 49.6% of the vote to Jonas Savimbi's 40.1%. Savimbi repudiated the results as fraudulent and refused to participate in a runoff. In the legislative elections, the MPLA scored 53.7% of the vote to UNITA's 34.1%, giving the ruling party a 129 to 70 seat advantage over UNITA. Holden Roberto's FNLA received only 2.1% (5 seats), and the others took the remaining 16 seats.
In 1994, dos Santos and Savimbi signed the Lusaka Protocol, which gave new hope for a peace settlement. In 1995, international sanctions were imposed on UNITA, though sanctions were violated repeatedly. In 1997, a government of national unity was supposed to provide for powersharing between the MPLA and UNITA, but resumption of the war in violation of the Lusaka agreement rendered this arrangement null. While the National Assembly functioned nominally, the war severed rural areas from government services. An estimated 2.6 million persons were thought to be internally displaced in 1999, and up to 1.5 million lives may have been lost in fighting over the past quarter century.
Prospects for peace improved when the army announced in February 2002 that it had killed Savimbi in an attack in southeastern Angola, thus bringing to an end Savimbi's fight for power, which had lasted more than 30 years. The death from illness of Savimbi's second-in-command, General Antonio, further weakened UNITA's military capacity. In 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 Protocol. Barring a situation in which warlords come to power, it was likely that UNITA rebels would be demobilized or incorporated into the FAA.