by Robert Moss

Paying the price for Angola

Can the West learn from Angola’s tragedy, or are we condemned to relive the experience? What the Russians learned from Angola is that war by proxy pays off. They will be strongly tempted to use the same technique in other places - and almost certainly in the assault on Rhodesia and South-West Africa.

The Cubans are Moscow’s all-purpose mercenaries, but they are not the only proxy soldiers who are being deployed in the widening war for southern Africa.

The Nigerians are said to be heavily involved in Angola. Western intelligence sources report that Nigerian troops were present at battalion strength when the MPLA and the Cubans pushed south last year. According to UNITA sources in Paris, the Nigerian strength has since been reinforced.

UNITA sources have tapes of radio intercepts showing that at least 5,000 Nigerian troops have been deployed in Angola. They are operating as far south as Mocamedes, and are also based in Lobito, Luanda and the eastern diamond mining town of Henrique de Carvalho. UNITA claims to have intercepted radio communications in English (the common language between the Nigerians, the Cubans and the MPLA), in the Ibo, Hausa and Yoruba dialects, and in a form of pidgin Creole that could indicate the presence of forces from Sierra Leone as well.

An intriguing sidelight is that UNITA also claims that a British shipping line played a key role in ferrying Nigerian troops and military supplies to Angola. Nigeria, rich in oil and boasting an army of some 210,000 men, can clearly afford to be more than rhetorical in its backing for the guerrilla movements of southern Africa.

The Tanzanians have also moved into the region. President Nyerere has put 1,400 of his troops into northern Mozambique to help the FRELIMO Government to suppress the major revolt of the Makonde tribes led by Lazaro Kavandame. Mozambique’s army is largely recruited from the warlike Makonde.

Yet another African army is reported to have sent units south: Somali troops are said to be quietly moving into Mozambique. Rhodesian guerrillas in Maputo have bragged to Portuguese correspondents that Somali tanks will be used in future operations against Ian Smith’s forces. The story may not be as bizarre as it sounds. Somalia, like Cuba, is a Soviet satellite whose armed forces and intelligence services operate under the direct supervision of Russian officers. Although the Somali army is small (some 25,000 men), it is well-endowed with Soviet armour and has performed well in border skirmishes with the Ethiopians. The Somalis have 200 Soviet-made T-34 tanks and about 50 T-54s.

The black expeditionary forces' task may be to free the Cubans for a future offensive against Rhodesia, South-West Africa - or Zaire, which is also a prime target for the Russians. But the Cubans in Angola still have their hands full coping with the continuing guerrilla war, and the total number there has probably increased since the end of the South African campaign; some estimates range as high as 22,000.

There are more than 1,000 Cuban advisers and "technicians" in Mozambique, nominally assigned to the Senna sugar plantations or to the port of Beira. Many are believed to be military instructors for the ZIPA guerrillas from Rhodesia and the FRELIMO forces.

In Somalia, at least 600 Cuban instructors are attached to the Somali army and the pro-Somali guerrillas from Djibouti - the French-controlled port on the Red Sea that is expected to become independent later this year. The Cubans are also active in Equatorial Guinea, where President Macias has established one of the bloodiest dictatorships in black Africa. Some 200 Cuban instructors train his paramilitary forces and his personal bodyguard. There are another 300 Cuban advisers in Sekou Toure’s Guinea.

In Sierra Leone, Cubans are training an internal security unit, and Cuban "technicians" have also been sent to the strategically-placed former Portuguese possessions in West Africa: Guinea-Bissau, the Cape Verde Islands, and Sao Tome e Principe.

The Cubans are particularly well-entrenched in Congo-Brazzaville, the main staging-point in their invasion of Angola. They maintain at least 400 men at the Pointe Noire docks and the Maya Maya air base, and there are reports that reinforcements have recently been moved in from Angola in preparation for an attempt to put renewed pressure on Zaire’s President Mobutu, whose supply of routes to the Atlantic are now endangered. In Tanzania there are at least 150 advisers and "technicians," some of them attached to the Tanzanian People’s Defence Force.

All in all, it is not a bad effort for a Caribbean sugar-cane republic of eight million people. Of course, someone else is picking up the tabs. The Russians have not only been subsidising the Cuban economy to the tune of more than $1 million a day; they invested over $500 million in the Angolan campaign, and are believed to have supplied weaponry and equipment to Angola worth more than $350 million since the South Africans pulled out.

But Cuba’s role as a Soviet proxy is even more striking if you take account of the Cuban presence in the Caribbean (where Castro’s men are training Jamaican police) and in the Middle East (where 150 Cuban instructors are training international terrorists in Iraqi camps), not to mention the Cubans’ efforts to take control of the non-aligned countries’ news pool and the role of the Cuban intelligence service, the DGI, in orchestrating the activities of Latin American exile groups and transnational terrorists in Western Europe. Is it possible to imagine an anti-Communist country of the same size acting on the same scale today?

The strategic effect of the loss of Angola is summed up by two statements that oddly coincide: one from the Soviet paper Izvestia, in a major article last August; the other from South Africa’s Prime Minister, Mr. Vorster, in his New Year’s message. Izvestia said that "revolutionary events have seized southern Africa - the last strong bulwark of colonialism and racism - and the speed of the spread of the flame attests to the huge supplies of ‘explosive material’ accumulating there." Mr. Vorster, in simple but chilling words, showed that the message had not been lost on him: "The storm has not struck yet. We are only experiencing the whirlwind that goes before it."

Were the effects of the Cuban victory foreseen by the men who sat down in the American Senate on December 17, 1975, to debate whether or not they should vote to cut off all United States support to the anti-Soviet movements in Angola? With a few honourable exceptions, it seemed that the Senators were talking about another war. Senator after Senator recalled the anguish of Vietnam, the peril of getting sucked into another quagmire, the hopelessness of trying to shape events in a far-off place of which Americans knew nothing.

Continuing fight against Marxists

Hubert Humphrey caught the prevailing mood: "The United States better start taking care of things it knows how to take care of. We know so little of Africa, the 800 and some tribes that make up Africa... I say it is like a different world."

Senator McGovern jumped up to argue that it made no difference which of the black movements won anyway. Senator Tunney thought the rival Angolan movements were only nominally pro-Soviet or pro-American. At heart, all of them were "basically pro-Angolan, Socialist and highly nationalistic." Most of the senators who spoke that day found it difficult to believe that the Russians would be able to establish a secure foothold in Angola, and some suggested that Angola could prove to be Russia’s Vietnam.

It was not a wholly absurd idea. To this day, three anti-Soviet guerrilla movements are continuing the struggle in Angola: UNITA in the south and centre of the country, the FNLA in the north, and the secessionists of FLEC in the Cabinda enclave. Unlike left-wing revolutionaries from other countries who fly off to university sinecures or their Swiss bank accounts after suffering defeat on their home ground, Jonas Savimbi is carrying on the battle deep inside Angola.

He has claimed that UNITA has 22,000 armed supporters, although Western intelligence sources believe that the figure is probably no more than 6,000. It is virtually impossible to get reliable information on the guerrillas’ military capacities, but one index of UNITA’s ability to harass the regime is the fact that no train has been able to cover the whole length of the Benguela railway - from the Zambian border to the coast - since the beginning of the war. UNITA’s political base is still largely intact, and the MPLA has had little success in building up support among the Ovimbundu peoples, traditional UNITA sympathisers.

This means that it might well be possible for UNITA and the other anti-Soviet groups to inflict a serious humiliation on the Cubans and the MPLA - if they could count on effective outside support. But no Western Power is disposed to play the part of armourer and adviser to UNITA in the way that the Russians and Chinese played it for the Vietcong.

South Africans maintain contacts

Now that the MPLA regime has been admitted to the United Nations, backing UNITA has become diplomatically tricky - although some Western Governments are more strait-laced than others. The French were ahead of the stampede to recognise the MPLA back in February, 1976 (much to the annoyance of their EEC partners, who had expected to be consulted) but this did not inhibit them from remaining deeply involved with UNITA and the FNLA.

Zambia’s President Kaunda has come under intense pressure from his "frontline" colleagues to sever all links with UNITA, and finally had to ask Jorge Sangumba, UNITA’s chief foreign spokesman, to leave his customary haunt, the Intercontinental Hotel in Lusaka. Jorge now gives his patronage to the Intercontinental Hotel in Kinshasa.

The South Africans maintain contact with the anti-Soviet movements, and there is a large colony of white Angolan refugees. But they are inhibited by their desire not to provide a pretext for a Communist-backed invasion of South-West Africa.

Ironically, if any outside power is ready to adopt a "forward policy" in Angola, it could still prove to be China. The Chinese have backed both the FNLA and UNITA in the past. Many UNITA leaders, including Savimbi’s number two, Miguel Nzau Puna, have received training in China. Puna complained to me when I last saw him about the rigours of the Chinese training schedule (which continued into the night with political indoctrination sessions). The Chinese cut off support to UNITA at the end of 1975, when hard evidence of South Africa’s involvement seeped out.

But the Chinese are angry that they have lost nearly every point to the Russians in the contest for power in black Africa - despite the fact that they have spent considerably more in economic aid. So renewed contact with UNITA is a possibility, if a remote one.

With or without outside backing, UNITA’s proven survival capacity worries the Russians. The Soviet ambassador in Luanda, Boris Vorobyev, is said to have been instructed to press the MPLA to do a deal with UNITA. President Neto and the Cubans are reluctant, but the biggest stumbling-block is that neither Savimbi nor any other of the top-ranking UNITA leaders has been ready to accept the idea of a deal with the MPLA - which, in current circumstances would amount at best to a conditional surrender. KGB agents have therefore been trying to sound out UNITA representatives abroad to discover whether it is possible to create a rift between Savimbi and lower-level cadres, so far without notable success.

Angola today cannot be objectively described as an independent country. Control of its armed forces, its secret police, its economy, its civil administration and its educational system is in the hands of Russians, Cubans and East Europeans, and the MPLA itself is being remoulded into an orthodox Communist party. The Cuban garrisons are the basic guarantee that the regime will not only survive but toe the line.

The Cubans have divided Angola into six military regions, with garrisons in the major towns. Five major mopping-up operations have been launched against the anti-Communist forces since the South Africans withdrew, but despite the savagery with which the Cubans and the MPLA have dealt with the civil population large swathes of Angola are still contested zones.

The continued flight of refugees over the 1200-mile border of South-West Africa is an eloquent comment on the way the people of southern Angola regard their new masters. Some 10,000 have been absorbed into South-West Africa.

A conservative intelligence estimate has 3,700 Cuban troops currently in the central-western region, embracing Lobito, Huambo (formerly Nova Lisboa) and Bie (formerly Silva Porto); 2,000 in each of the northern, eastern and southern regions; and 3,000 in the Cabinda enclave, where some of the fiercest fighting is taking place. There are at least 1,500 Cuban troops in Luanda.

This gives a total of about 14,000, of whom 6,000 are infantry. The Cuban forces include an armoured regiment with 120 T-54 and T-34 tanks and 1,900 men, an armoured car regiment with 70 Soviet-made BRDM vehicles and 1,600 men, an anti-aircraft battalion and five regiments equipped with multi-barrelled rocket-launchers.

The Cubans are also the key element in the new Angolan air force. They pilot all of the MPLA’s Soviet-supplied planes, which include a dozen MiG-21s, 10 MiG-17s, helicopters and Antonov-2 light transport planes. They also pilot some of the scores of light aircraft that were bequeathed by the Portuguese forces. Cubans command the air bases throughout Angola, and are supervising the construction of new air bases at Huambo, Mocamedes and Cabo Lindo and the extension of existing airfields. This could be the prelude to a Soviet attempt to use Angola as the base for a major offensive against South-West Africa.

But Cuba’s involvement is not restricted to troops. The Cuban ambassador in Luanda is Oscar Oramas, one of the architects of Cuba’s invasion, a senior figure in the Cuban Communist party, an old Africa hand (who was formerly ambassador in Conakry) and, most important of all, a key operative of the Cuban intelligence service, or DGI, a satellite of the KGB directly supervised by a KGB general and his Soviet staff. The new Angolan intelligence service, the DISA, is directly controlled by the DGI.

Cubans training union leaders

Similarly, Cuban advisers have assumed key positions throughout the civil service, and notably in the Interior Ministry, the Education Ministry, and in the supervision of the MPLA’s programme of "political mobilisation," which is supposed to drum up support for a "mass Marxist-Leninist party." The Cubans are training Angolan trade union leaders, and the syllabus on offer at the Lazaro Pena trade union college in Marianao includes Marxist philosophy and Cuban history. The Cubans are strongly represented on President Neto's staff, and he is said to have entrusted his personal security to them. They share control of the Finance Ministry and the Bank of Angola with the Russians. The recent measures to establish a new Angolan currency, the kwanza, set an example to any other government that might wish to wipe out its middle class at a stroke. Angolan families are allowed (on a one-for-one basis) to exchange the old Portuguese escudos for kwanzas, but only up to the limit of 20,000 kwanzas. Anybody who has more than that stashed away has to accept that his savings have been turned into worthless paper.

Last July, Angola became the first African country to join the Soviet-controlled Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (CEMA). Since Neto's visit to Moscow in October, the trickle of East European technicians, agricultural scientists and managers has become a flood.

Between them, the Cubans and the Russians now decide who can enter and leave Angola, what civil liberties (if any) individuals and organisations will be allowed, what the country will export and import, and how much money will be printed. On the coffee plantations, Cuban supervisors are said to operate a system of forced labour: workers are shifted from one place to another, without notice or appeal.

These are examples of what "satellisation" means. But foreign troops and advisers can be shown the door.

The Russians remember what happened in Egypt in 1972, when Sadat turned against them, just as the Cubans remember the eviction of their mission from Brazzaville in 1968, before Marien Ngouabi seized power. So an effort is being made in Angola, as in Mozambique, to transform the ruling movement into an orthodox Communist party.

Soviet writers have described in detail how this effort should proceed. The classical text is a book entitled "Political Parties of Africa," published in Moscow in 1970. Its main editor is Vassily Solodovnikov, now Soviet Ambassador in Lusaka.

Solodovnikov accepts that it is unrealistic to expect to create a Communist society in Africa overnight It will be necessary to begin by working through "revolutionary democratic parties," like the movements that came to power in Guinea, Congo and Tanzania, and like the MPLA in Angola. These movements may start out as a mish-mash of nationalism, Marxism and tribalism, but they include activists "who are inspired by the ideas of scientific Socialism" - in plain words, Communists.

Solodovnikov's thesis is working out in Angola. During his visit to Moscow last October, Agostinho Neto signed a 20-year friendship treaty with Russia that provided for regular exchanges between the MPLA and the Soviet Communist party. Soon after his return, the MPLA announced that Angola was going to be described officially as a "Marxist-Leninist republic."

It is perhaps a toss-up whether the MPLA in Angola or FRELIMO in Mozambique has gone further towards achieving Sovietisation. The MPLA does not seem, as yet, to have matched FRELIMO’s regulations that dictate the maximum thickness of the soles (and the heels) of shoes, according to the age and sex of the wearer.

Both President Podgorny and Leonid Brezhnev are expected to visit Africa this year. Their main ports of call will be Maputo and (probably) Dar-es Salaam. The message could be that the West is on the retreat and that Russia is becoming the dominant power in Africa. Their strength is that they are acting according to a global strategy - while Western leaders are not.

The ring of naval and air facilities that the Russians have acquired around the African coast, and the deep-water harbours where they now have the opportunity to create new naval bases, including Luanda and four excellent ports in Mozambique: Maputo, Beira, Nacala and Porto Amelia. Somalia, Congo and all of what used to be Portuguese Africa now have Governments that can be called Marxist, and Soviet-bloc military advisers, troops and intelligence officers are present throughout most of the continent..

But the most important thing to grasp about the Soviet design for southern Africa is that it is essentially negative; it has been accurately described, in an admirable paper from the Institute for the Study of Conflict* as "a strategy of denial" - denial, that is, of raw materials and communications.

Threat to Cape route

A leading Soviet Africanist, E. Tarabrin, predicts that the West’s dependence on African raw materials will increase rapidly over the rest of the decade, and that imports of chromites (from Rhodesia and South Africa) will double. Soviet experts also stress that much of Africa’s mineral wealth lies in the southern half. The gold, diamonds, platinum, copper and other industrial metals are rich stakes to play for.

Geography is just as important as natural resources. If the Cape route - which carries about 70 per cent of the strategic materials required by NATO countries - could be denied to the West, the world could be cut in half vertically by the closing of the Suez Canal as well. There is no alternative to the Cape route, not just because the Suez Canal can be closed overnight and Western Europe is so dependent on Middle Eastern oil, but because technology has bypassed the Canal: the supertankers cannot get through it.

The Communist invasion of Angola was a step towards the fulfilment of Russia’s grand design: the domination of the whole of southern Africa.

By giving up in Angola, the Western Powers threw away a unique opportunity to hold the line against Soviet expansion in southern Africa. Why unique? Because in Angola, the reality of the Soviet threat was not obscured by racial sentiment - at any rate, not until Marxist propagandists set about trying to turn the South Africans into the villain of the piece.

The war in Angola was not a war of black men versus white men. It was a war between rival black guerrilla movements and their foreign helpers. It presented a clear-cut choice between a pro-Soviet group that promised to turn Angola into a Marxist-Leninist republic and its pro- Western opponents who promised democratic elections and guarantees for private investment.

Learning from Angola, the Russians are determined to ensure that if they can engineer the removal of white Government in Salisbury, there will not be a subsequent battle for the spoils between pro-Soviet and anti-Soviet blacks, which might again divide black Africa. How can they ensure that? The spade-work has already been done. The bulk of the black guerrilla forces have been united by the Nkomo-Mugabe alliance, under the umbrella of the Patriotic Front.

The five neighbouring African Governments - which were at loggerheads during the Angolan war - have been persuaded to give their support to Nkomo and Mugabe. Britain and America say they will refuse to accept any settlement that is rejected by these two, even though they patently cannot claim to speak for the majority of black Rhodesians and the only hope of a civilised solution lies in an agreement between Ian Smith and more representative black leaders such as Bishop Muzorewa.

The Soviet calculation - which seems to be paying off so far - is that the assault on southern Africa will be tolerated, if not aided and abetted, by the West, so long as it is carried out in the name of "majority rule." The fact that, for most of black Africa, "majority rule" means one-party dictatorship or primitive despotism is conveniently ignored.

The West’s lost chance

But what is still less excusable is the neglect by Western politicians of one of the abiding lessons of Angola: that if "majority rule" means government with the consent of the people, then it can only survive in Africa if it is defended against Communist aggression.

Now Britain and America say that they will not accept a settlement worked out between blacks and whites inside Rhodesia - or, for that matter, South-West Africa. The Marxist guerrilla leaders must be included; it seems that it does not matter overmuch to either Western government if the whites have any say.

If Angola is any guide - and I am convinced that it is - this is a prescription for another Marxist dictatorship, imposed by force of arms, which would provide the base for black guerrillas and Soviet proxy troops to attack the ultimate target: South Africa.

The End

(Sunday Telegraph, 20 February, 1977 )
* Soviet Strategic Penetration of Africa, by David Rees.

Return to Main Page