Another Day of Life – Kapuściński’s Angola

Monday, 9 May 2016

Another Day of Life UK editionIn 1975, as the military dictatorship in Portugal crumbled and their colonies in Africa (Angola and Mozambique) and Southeast Asia (Portuguese Timor) were cut loose the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński turned up in Luanda and spent the next three months watching the country descend into the disastrous turmoil which would continue for the next quarter of a century.

Another Day of Life is the earliest of his books currently available in English and establishes that typically Kapuściński-esque view of the world.

I was lucky to make a very brief visit to Luanda in 2005, when Maureen and were travelling from Cape Town to Casablanca on a rather unusual aircraft trip.

Another Day of LifeIt was a brief interlude between the years of brutal civil war and the situation today where Angola is one of the most unequal countries on earth with enormous oil wealth for a tiny minority at the top and awful poverty for most of the population. A situation exacerbated by stunning prices and expenses and equally stunning corruption. That story (expenses and corruption) is very well covered by an article in The New Yorker last year.

Visiting Angola is not only dangerous and expensive it’s also extremely difficult to get a visa. I wasn’t surprised in 2013 when two friends intent on visiting every country on earth both reported that their final eight missing destinations included Angola.


My three paragraphs on Angola in Bad Lands, published in 2010 is still a pretty reasonably summary of the Angola story:

Poor Angola had the bad luck to be a Portuguese colony and become another of the world’s proxy battlefields when the Lisbon dictatorship collapsed in 1974. Marxism-Leninism would have won, but the US certainly didn’t want that domino falling and through the 1980s the CIA poured military aid into the country, often via the Apartheid government of South Africa. The greenbacks went to Jonas Savimbi and his UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) rebel group while on the other side the USSR financed Cuban mercenaries for the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola). Just like Israel in southern Lebanon, South Africa itself was ready to shift troops into southern Angola anytime the struggle seemed to be going the wrong way. The result was death, injury or refugee status for hundreds of thousands of unfortunate Angolans.

The collapse of the Soviet Union should have terminated the endless struggle and in 1992 the UN supervised an election which the MPLA won. Savimbi promptly reneged on the agreement and went back to war, funding his operations by control over Angola’s rich diamond deposits. Diamonds, it turned out, could also be a terrorist’s best friend, and for another ten years Angola stumbled from crisis to crisis, outrage to outrage. UN representatives pointed out that if dealers in the west refused to buy Angolan diamonds, which were funding Savimbi’s army, his power would have quickly melted away. UNITA’s response was to shoot down UN aircraft carrying humanitarian aid.

Government troops finally managed to kill Savimbi in February 2002, which decisively concluded his long reign of terror. Angola is a Bad Land that just might be emerging from 30 lost years although unhappily the MPLA is hardly corruption free. I made a brief visit to Angola in 2005 although I didn’t venture out of the capital, Luanda. In 2006 the Angolan football team qualified for the World Cup in Germany, an event which for the first time created a real feeling of national unity.