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Empire in Africa

Angola and Its Neighbors

David Birmingham

Publication Year: 2006

The dark years of European fascism left their indelible mark on Africa. As late as the 1970s, Angola was still ruled by white autocrats, whose dictatorship was eventually overthrown by black nationalists who had never experienced either the rule of law or participatory democracy. Empire in Africa takes the long view of history and asks whether the colonizing ventures of the Portuguese can bear comparison with those of the Mediterranean Ottomans or those experienced by Angola’s neighbors in the Belgian Congo, French Equatorial Africa, or the Dutch colonies at the Cape of Good Hope and in the Transvaal. David Birmingham takes the reader through Angola’s troubled past, which included endemic warfare for the first twenty-five years of independence, and examines the fact that in the absence of a viable neocolonial referee such as Britain or France, the warring parties turned to Cold War superpowers for a supply of guns. For a decade Angola replaced Vietnam as a field in which an international war by proxy was conducted. Empire in Africa explains how this African nation went from colony to independence, how in the 1990s the Cold War legacy turned to civil war, and how peace finally dawned in 2002.

Published by: Ohio University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-x

Angola’s imperial age spanned five centuries, from 1500 to 2000. In some respects the experience resembled Hispanic colonization in America, with battalions of conquistadores and cohorts of mission friars and pastors bringing European customs and beliefs to Angola’s peoples. In other respects, as outlined in the eleven essays presented here, Angola’s experience was closer to that of its ...

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1. The Idea of Empire

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pp. 1-12

The concept of empire and the associated spread of cultural and economic influence is a very old one. In Africa imperial ideas have flowed and ebbed for more than two thousand years, linking African peoples with their fellows all the way from China in the far east to Brazil in the far west. In some cases the flow has been accompanied ...

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2. Wine, Women, and War

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pp. 13-27

In the early 1880s a small band of Dutch-speaking farmers, the Boers, made their way across the Kalahari Desert to settle in the southern highlands of Angola. Over the next fifty years they provided one of the links, and also comparisons, between Portuguese West Africa and British South Africa. The trekkers also created a ...

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3. Merchants and Missionaries

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pp. 28-40

The assumption is often made that Protestants in the Portuguese world were subversive of the imperial agenda. This assumption is not invariably correct; some foreign missionaries supported the imperial agenda. Conflict and mutual suspicion did sometimes erupt in the early days of formal colonialism, as when the Baptist ...

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4. A Swiss Community in Highland Angola

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pp. 41-61

The concept of establishing self-sufficient Christian communities in Angola did not die out immediately when Bishop Taylor’s Malange mission, which Héli Chatelain had helped to create, was converted into an officially sponsored Methodist field of proselytizing. Ten years after he had visited Benguela as a convalescent, ...

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5. The Case of Belgium and Portugal

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pp. 62-79

In the year 1908 the colonial empires in Central Africa underwent a severe crisis brought on by the growth of a humanitarian movement which challenged the way in which some European powers had disregarded the human rights of their colonial subjects. The forces behind the humanitarian protest included the ...

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6. Race and Class in a “Fascist” Colony

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pp. 80-95

Angola has its own very specific amalgam of social forces derived from Portugal’s Atlantic empire as well as from Central Africa’s deep past. Several centuries of cultural, religious, and genetic blending created a social nucleus around the twin cities of Luanda and Benguela. In the Angolan interior, distinctive creolized ...

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7. The Death Throes of Empire

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pp. 96-109

The normal explanation for Angola’s fractured nationalist movement and subsequent civil wars is that they arise from ethnic divisions rooted in a thousand years of incompatible linguistic, cultural, and political evolution. This “tribal” explanation, much favored by the media at the time, can be called into question. Did not the ...

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8. Destabilizing the Neighborhood

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pp. 110-122

Nation building would have presented quite enough difficulties in Angola and its sister colony of Mozambique if the new generation of black leaders had been left to attend to their task unhindered by outside influence. Instead, outside powers became increasingly involved in forcing their choices and undermining their actions. ...

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9. Carnival at Luanda

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pp. 123-138

On Friday, March 27, 1987, Luanda celebrated its carnival on the magnificent palm-fringed boulevard that sweeps along the bay past the pink Grecian dome of the Bank of Angola. The date was a political one, unrelated to the Lenten calendar, but the festival was deeply imbued with rich symbols of Angola’s history. For ...

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10. The Struggle for Power

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pp. 139-158

When Angola emerged from the cold war in 1991, it was a different country from the one that had emerged from the colonial war in 1974. In 1974 the major export had been coffee, efficiently carried by truck on asphalted highways built for strategic purposes. In 1991 one of the exports that exceeded coffee was scrap metal, ...

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11. A Journey through Angola

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pp. 159-174

The most unexpected aspect of postwar Angola in May 2003 is the vibrancy of the free press. Every Saturday the streets of the cidade asfaltada (asphalt city) are alive with runners selling no less than five titles. The competition is fierce as editors struggle to devise ever more eye-catching stories offinancial malfeasance ...


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pp. 175-178

Further Reading

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pp. 179-184


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pp. 185-190

E-ISBN-13: 9780896804524
Print-ISBN-13: 9780896802483

Publication Year: 2006