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National Union for the Total Independence of Angola

União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola
Leader Isaías Samakuva
Founder Jonas Savimbi
Founded13 March 1966
Headquarters Luanda
Youth wing Revolutionary United Youth of Angola
Women's wing Angolan Women's League
Armed wing FALA (Until 1993)
Ideology Conservatism [1]
Angolan nationalism
Christian democracy
Maoism (former) [2]
Political position Right-wing
Far-left (former)
International affiliation Centrist Democrat International
Seats in the National Assembly
51 / 220
Party flag
Flag of UNITA.svg
Emblem of Angola.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of

The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA, Portuguese : União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola) is the second-largest political party in Angola. Founded in 1966, UNITA fought alongside the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in the Angolan War for Independence (1961–1975) and then against the MPLA in the ensuing civil war (1975–2002). The war was one of the most prominent Cold War proxy wars, with UNITA receiving military aid from the United States and South Africa while the MPLA received support from the Soviet Union and its allies. [3]

Angola country in Africa

Angola, officially the Republic of Angola, is a west-coast country of south-central Africa. It is the seventh-largest country in Africa, bordered by Namibia to the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Zambia to the east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Angola has an exclave province, the province of Cabinda that borders the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The capital and largest city of Angola is Luanda.

Portuguese language Romance language that originated in Portugal

Portuguese is a Western Romance language originating in the Iberian Peninsula. It is the sole official language of Portugal, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Angola and São Tomé and Príncipe. It also has co-official language status in East Timor, Equatorial Guinea and Macau in China. As the result of expansion during colonial times, a cultural presence of Portuguese and Portuguese creole speakers are also found in Goa, Daman and Diu in India; in Batticaloa on the east coast of Sri Lanka; in the Indonesian island of Flores; in the Malacca state of Malaysia; and the ABC islands in the Caribbean where Papiamento is spoken, while Cape Verdean Creole is the most widely spoken Portuguese-based Creole. A Portuguese-speaking person or nation is referred to as "Lusophone" (Lusófono).

MPLA political party

The People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola, for some years called the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola – Labour Party, is a political party that has ruled Angola since the country's independence from Portugal in 1975. The MPLA fought against the Portuguese army in the Angolan War of Independence of 1961–74, and defeated the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA), two other anti-colonial movements, in the Angolan Civil War of 1975–2002.


UNITA was led by Jonas Savimbi from its foundation until his death in 2002. His successor as president of UNITA is Isaías Samakuva. Following Savimbi's death, UNITA abandoned armed struggle and participated in electoral politics. The party won 51 out of 220 seats in the 2017 parliamentary election.

Jonas Savimbi Angolan political and military leader

Jonas Malheiro Savimbi was an anti-communist and anti-colonialist Angolan political and military leader who founded and led the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).

Isaías Samakuva Leader of União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola,

Isaías Henrique Ngola Samakuva is an Angolan politician who has been the President of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) since June 2003.


Jonas Savimbi and Antonio da Costa Fernandes founded UNITA on 13 March 1966 in Muangai in Moxico province in Portuguese Angola (during the Estado Novo regime). 200 other delegates were present in the event. [3] UNITA launched its first attack on Portuguese colonial authorities on 25 December 1966. [4]

Portuguese Angola 1575-1975 Portuguese possession in West Africa

Portuguese Angola refers to Angola during the historic period when it was a territory under Portuguese rule in southwestern Africa. In the same context, it was known until 1951 as Portuguese West Africa.

<i>Estado Novo</i> (Portugal) 1933-1974 authoritarian regime in Portugal

The Estado Novo, or the Second Republic, was the corporatist far-right regime installed in Portugal in 1933, which was considered clerical fascist. It evolved from the Ditadura Nacional formed after the coup d'état of 28 May 1926 against the democratic and unstable First Republic. Together, the Ditadura Nacional and the Estado Novo are recognised as the Second Portuguese Republic. The Estado Novo, greatly inspired by conservative and autocratic ideologies, was developed by António de Oliveira Salazar, President of the Council of Ministers of Portugal from 1932 to 1968, when illness forced him out of office. After 1945, his corporatist economic model was less and less useful and it retarded economic modernization.

Savimbi was originally affiliated with Holden Roberto's National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA). UNITA later moved to Jamba in Angola's southeastern province of Cuando Cubango. UNITA's leadership was drawn heavily from Angola's majority Ovimbundu ethnic group and its policies were originally Maoist, perhaps influenced by Savimbi's early training in China. They aimed at rural rights and recognized ethnic divisions. In later years, however, UNITA became more aligned with the United States, espousing support for capitalism in Angola. [5]

Holden Roberto Angolan politician

Holden Álvaro Roberto founded and led the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA) from 1962 to 1999. His memoirs are unfinished.

National Liberation Front of Angola political party

The National Front for the Liberation of Angola is a political party and former militant organisation that fought for Angolan independence from Portugal in the war of independence, under the leadership of Holden Roberto.

Jamba, Cuando Cubango City in the province of Cuando Cubango in Angola

Jamba is a town in Angola, located in the southeastern province of Cuando Cubango, just north of the Namibian border along the Caprivi Strip.

Independence and civil war

After the Portuguese withdrawal from Angola in 1974–75 and the end of their colonial rule, the MPLA and UNITA splintered, and civil war began as the movements clashed militarily and ideologically. MPLA leader Agostinho Neto became the first president of post-colonial Angola. Backed by Soviet and Cuban money, weapons and troops, the MPLA defeated the FNLA militarily and forced them largely into exile. [6] UNITA also was nearly destroyed in November 1975, but it managed to survive and set up a second government, the Democratic People's Republic of Angola, in the provincial capital of Huambo. UNITA was hard-pressed but recovered with South African aid and then was strengthened considerably by U.S. support during the 1980s. [7] The MPLA's military presence was strongest in Angolan cities, the coastal region and the strategic oil fields. But UNITA controlled much of the highland's interior, notably the Bié Plateau, and other strategic regions of the country. Up to 300,000 Angolans died in the civil war. [7]

Portugal Republic in Southwestern Europe

Portugal, officially the Portuguese Republic, is a country located mostly on the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe. It is the westernmost sovereign state of mainland Europe, being bordered to the west and south by the Atlantic Ocean and to the north and east by Spain. Its territory also includes the Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira, both autonomous regions with their own regional governments.

Agostinho Neto First President of Angola

António Agostinho Neto served as the 1st President of Angola (1975–1979), having led the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in the war for independence (1961–1974). Until his death, he led the MPLA in the civil war (1975–2002). Known also for his literary activities, he is considered Angola's preeminent poet. His birthday is celebrated as National Heroes' Day, a public holiday in Angola.

The Democratic People's Republic of Angola was a rival government to that of the People's Republic of Angola.

Guerrilla movement

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Savimbi sought out vastly expanded relations with the U.S. He received considerable guidance from The Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative research institute in Washington, D.C. that maintained strong relations with both the Reagan administration and the U.S. Congress. Michael Johns, the Heritage Foundation's leading expert on Africa and Third World Affairs issues, visited Savimbi in his clandestine southern Angolan base camps, offering the UNITA leader both tactical military and political advice. [8]

The Heritage Foundation is an American conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C., primarily geared towards public policy. The foundation took a leading role in the conservative movement during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, whose policies were taken from Heritage's policy study Mandate for Leadership. Since then, The Heritage Foundation has continued to have a significant influence in U.S. public policy making, and is considered to be one of the most influential conservative research organizations in the United States.

Washington, D.C. Capital of the United States

Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington or D.C., is the capital of the United States. Founded after the American Revolution as the seat of government of the newly independent country, Washington was named after George Washington, the first president of the United States and a Founding Father. As the seat of the United States federal government and several international organizations, Washington is an important world political capital. The city, located on the Potomac River bordering Maryland and Virginia, is one of the most visited cities in the world, with more than 20 million tourists annually.

Michael Johns (policy analyst) American businessman

Michael Johns is an American conservative commentator, policy analyst and writer, a former speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush, and a leader and spokesman in the Tea Party movement. He is also a health care executive.

In 1986, U.S. conservatives convinced President Ronald Reagan to meet with Savimbi at the White House. While the meeting itself was confidential, Reagan emerged from it with support and enthusiasm for Savimbi's efforts, stating that he could envision a UNITA "victory that electrifies the world," suggesting that Reagan saw the outcome of the Angolan conflict as critical to his entire Reagan Doctrine foreign policy, consisting of support for anti-communist resistance movements in Central America, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere. [9]

Under Savimbi's leadership, UNITA proved especially effective militarily before and after independence, becoming one of the world's most effective armed resistance movements of the late 20th century. According to the U.S. State Department, UNITA came to control "vast swaths of the interior (of Angola)". [10] Savimbi's very survival in Angola in and of itself was viewed as an incredible accomplishment, and he came to be known as "Africa's most enduring bush fighter" [11] given assassination attempts, aided by extensive Soviet, Cuban, and East German military troops, advisors and support, that he survived. [12]

As Savimbi gained ground despite the forces aligned against him, American conservatives pointed to his success, and that of Afghan mujahideen and the Nicaraguan contras, all of which, with U.S. support, were successfully opposing Soviet-sponsored governments, as evidence that the U.S. was beginning to gain an upper hand in the Cold War conflict and that the Reagan Doctrine was working. Critics, on the other hand, responded that the support given to UNITA, the contras, and the Afghan mujahideen was inflaming regional conflicts at great expense to these nations. Furthermore, UNITA, like the Angolan government it fought, was criticized for human rights abuses. [13]


UNITA gained some international notoriety in 1983 after abducting 66 Czechoslovak civilians and detaining a third of them for about 15 months. [14] Belgium eventually negotiated the release of the civilians. Fighting in Angola continued until 1989, when, with UNITA advancing militarily, Cuba withdrew its support, removing several thousand troops that it had dispatched to Angola to fight Savimbi's UNITA. [15] With many commentators and foreign policy specialists seeing that the Cold War might be drawing to an end, Savimbi's U.S. support, which had been strong, began to be questioned, with some in Congress urging the end of U.S. support for UNITA. [16] Matters were further complicated by repeated reports that Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev had raised U.S. support for UNITA in several formal and informal summit meetings with President George H. W. Bush, placing further pressure on the U.S. to end its support for UNITA. [17]

A UNITA sticker, issued for its 20th anniversary celebrations in 1986. The sticker carries the UNITA symbol and the slogan 'Socialism - Negritude - Democracy - Non-Alignment' Unitaprop.jpg
A UNITA sticker, issued for its 20th anniversary celebrations in 1986. The sticker carries the UNITA symbol and the slogan 'Socialism – Negritude – Democracy – Non-Alignment'

As the war began to include both military and diplomatic components, Johns and leading U.S. conservatives urged Savimbi to make a ceasefire contingent on the MPLA's agreement to "free and fair elections." [18] When the UNITA demand was originally rebuffed by the MPLA, Savimbi vastly intensified his military pressure, while alleging that the MPLA was resisting free and fair elections because they feared a UNITA electoral victory. Meanwhile, an agreement was reached that provided for the removal of foreign troops from Angola in exchange for the independence of Namibia from South Africa. In Angola, however, Savimbi told Johns and conservative leader Howard Phillips that he had not felt adequately consulted on the negotiations or agreement and was in opposition to it. "There are a lot of loopholes in that agreement. The agreement is not good at all," Johns reported Savimbi telling both of them during a March 1989 visit with Savimbi in Angola." [19]

A ceasefire ultimately was negotiated and MPLA leader José Eduardo dos Santos and the MPLA's Central Committee rejected its Marxist past and agreed to Savimbi's demand for free and fair elections, though UNITA and its supporters viewed the promises skeptically, especially because the MPLA's relations with the Soviet Union remained strong. [20]


Unita leader Jonas Savimbi. Jonas Savimbi.jpg
Unita leader Jonas Savimbi.

Following the 1991 Bicesse Accords, signed in Lisbon, United Nations-brokered elections were held, with both Savimbi and dos Santos running for President in 1992. Failing to win an overall majority in the first round of balloting, and then questioning the election's legitimacy, Savimbi and UNITA returned to armed conflict. Fighting resumed in October 1992 in Huambo, quickly spreading to Angola's capital, Luanda. It was here that Jeremias Chitunda, UNITA's long-time vice-president and other UNITA officials were killed while fleeing the city culminating in the Halloween Massacre. Following Chitunda's death, UNITA defensively moved their base from Jamba to Huambo. Savimbi's 1992 decision to return to combat ultimately proved a costly one, with many of Savimbi's U.S. conservative allies urging Savimbi to contest dos Santos electorally in the run-off election. Savimbi's decision to forego the run-off also greatly strained UNITA's relations with U.S. President George H. W. Bush. [21]

As Savimbi resumed fighting, the U.N. responded by implementing an embargo against UNITA through United Nations Security Council Resolution 1173. The UN-commissioned Fowler Report detailed how UNITA continued to finance its war effort through the sales of diamonds (later to be known as blood diamonds) [22] and resulted in further sanctions in the form of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1295 and action to end to the trade in blood diamonds through the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. The U.S. government, which had never recognized the legitimacy of the MPLA, finally recognized the Angolan government, further alienating Savimbi. After failed talks in 1993 to end the conflict, another agreement, the Lusaka Protocol, was implemented in 1994 to form a government of national unity. In 1995, U.N. peacekeepers arrived. But UNITA broke away from the Lusaka agreement in 1998, citing violations of it by the MPLA. In late 1998, a militant group calling itself UNITA Renovada broke away from mainstream UNITA, when several UNITA commanders dissatisfied with the leadership of Jonas Savimbi ended their allegiance to his organization. Thousands more deserted UNITA in 1999 and 2000. [23]

In 1999, a MPLA military offensive damaged UNITA considerably, essentially destroying UNITA as a conventional military force and forcing UNITA to return to more traditional guerilla tactics. [24] [25]


The Angolan civil war ended only after the death of Savimbi, who was killed in an ambush on 22 February 2002. His death was shocking to many Angolans, many of whom had grown up during the Angolan civil war and witnessed Savimbi's ability to successfully evade efforts by Soviet, Cuban and Angolan troops to kill him. [26]

Six weeks following Savimbi's death, in April 2002, UNITA agreed to a ceasefire with the government. Under an amnesty agreement, UNITA soldiers and their families, comprising roughly 350,000 people, were gathered in 33 demobilisation camps under the "Program For Social and Productive Reintegration of Demobilized and War Displaced People". In August 2002, UNITA officially gave up its armed wing, and UNITA placed all of its efforts on the development of its political party. Despite the ceasefire, deep political conflict between UNITA and the MPLA remains. [27]

Savimbi was immediately succeeded by António Dembo, who died shortly after Savimbi. Following Dembo, in elections contested by General Paulo Lukamba, Dinho Chingunji and Isaías Samakuva, Samakuva won the UNITA election and emerged as UNITA's current president.

Foreign support

UNITA received support from several governments in Africa and around the world, including Bulgaria, [28] Egypt, France, Israel, Morocco, the People's Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Zaire, [29] and Zambia. [30] [31]

United States

During the Reagan administration high ranking security officials met with UNITA leaders. Central Intelligence Agency Director William J. Casey, National Security Advisor Richard Allen, and Secretary of State Alexander Haig, on 6 March met with Unita leaders in Washington, D.C. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walker met with Savimbi in March in Rabat, Morocco. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, his assistant for International Security Matters Francis West, Deputy Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, Deputy Director of the CIA Bobby Inman, and Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency James Williams met with Savimbi between November 1981 and January 1982. Although the Clark Amendment forbid U.S. involvement in the civil war, Secretary Haig told Savimbi in December 1981 that the U.S. would continue to provide assistance to UNITA. [32]

The U.S. government "explicitly encouraged" the governments of Israel, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Zaire to aid UNITA. In 1983 the U.S. and South African governments agreed to ship weapons from the Honduras, Belgium and Switzerland to South Africa and then to UNITA in Angola. The U.S. also traded weapons with South Africa for intelligence on the civil war. [32]

Savimbi benefited from the support of influential American conservatives, including The Heritage Foundation's Michael Johns and other U.S. conservative leaders, who helped elevate Savimbi's stature in Washington and promoted the transfer of American weapons to his war. [33]

Johns and other American conservatives met regularly with Savimbi in remote Jamba, culminating in the "Democratic International" in 1985. Savimbi later drew the praise of U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who hailed him as a freedom fighter and spoke of Savimbi winning a victory that "electrifies the world" while others hinted at a much darker regime, dismissing Savimbi as a power-hungry propagandist. [34]

Electoral history

1992 1,347,63634.10%
70 / 220
2008 670,36310.39%
16 / 220
Decrease2.svg 54Steady2.svg 2ndOpposition
2012 1,074,56518.66%
32 / 220
Increase2.svg 16Steady2.svg 2ndOpposition
2017 1,790,32026.70%
51 / 220
Increase2.svg 19Steady2.svg 2ndOpposition

See also

Related Research Articles

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Further reading