Africa Today 48.4 (2001) 154-156
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Angola's long civil war has finally come to an end with the death in combat of veteran guerilla leader Jonas Savimbi on 22 February 2002. What started out in 1961 as a "war of national liberation" became an intractable and ferocious intrastate war in 1975 when Angola gained independence from Portugal. Several international attempts to bring an end to this war—including various United Nations peace-making/keeping initiatives—failed as Angola's postcolonial leaders demonstrated a peculiar ineptitude to create a framework conducive to power and wealth sharing among the political parties representing major ethnolinguistic groups within the new state. This reluctance to share power and wealth in the postindependence period had historical roots. It was a direct result of the major divisions among the nationalist groups that participated in the anticolonial war of liberation. These cleavages were the result of both deep animosities caused by ideological differences reflecting Cold War allegiances and much deeper ethnic differences predating colonialism.
When the first European explorers, adventurers, and missionaries arrived in Angola in 1483 they found complex processes of nation building and state formation underway. As in many other parts of Africa, such precolonial processes were carried out mainly along ethnic lines. The external presence in its various political, economic, and religious dimensions fundamentally altered them. By forcibly attempting to integrate and Christianize different ethnolinguistic groups with different histories and aspirations within artificially constructed political and economic spaces, the European presence set the stage for a very complicated process of postcolonial state building.
In the tragic case of Angola, the ethnic differences were sufficiently profound that the major liberation movements were unable to form a unified front to fight a common enemy; that is, Portuguese colonialism. Thus, FNLA, MPLA, and UNITA represented almost exclusively the Kikongo, Kimbundu, and Ovimbundu ethnic groups, respectively. Predictably, therefore, the end of colonialism marked the beginning of a protracted struggle for hegemonic supremacy where the main protagonists were the political/military groups representing distinct ethnolinguistic groups. Angola's civil society, including churches, were either co-opted by these dominant [End Page 154] political formations or pushed to the sidelines, often violently. Benedict Schubert's A Guerra e as Igrejas: Angola 1961-1991 attempts to capture the role of the Churches in Angola since the start of the anticolonial war of national liberation.
Schubert argues that Angolan churches have not played a decisive and positive role in promoting peace. Alas, reflecting the schisms in the political domain, the churches in Angola are also utterly divided. During colonial times, these divisions occurred at two levels: between Catholics and Protestants and among Protestants. The Catholic Church was officially allied with the colonial regime and regarded Protestant churches with both contempt and distrust. Protestants were also seriously divided between Baptists, Methodists, and Congregationalists. Postcolonial realities imposed additional divisions, especially among the Protestant churches. First, since the Baptist Church had a long presence among the Kikongo people of the northern provinces, the traditional power base of FNLA, it became associated with this political/military group. Second, the Methodist Church, historically implanted among the Mbundu people of the Luanda region, allied itself with the governing MPLA regime. Finally, the Congregational Church, dominant among the Ovimbundu of the central highlands, was captured by UNITA. The Catholic Church was marginalized by a militantly atheistic one-party state under the Marxist-Leninist MPLA.
These divisions were so profound that the churches were unable to play a decisive role in sustaining peace during the brief hiatus in the civil war between 1991 and 1992. A combination of important domestic, regional, and international changes forced both MPLA and UNITA to accept an internationally designed framework for peace. Ultimately, this peace process failed because neither MPLA nor UNITA was ready to abandon their respective zero-sum, winner-take-all approaches to conflict resolution. Equally lamentable, Angolan churches—as the major civic force in the country, representing about ninety percent of the population—were unable...