War and Identity in Angola Two Case-Studies*1



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Inge BRINKMAN, Lusotopie 2003 : 195-221

War and Identity in Angola

Two Case-Studies*1


T


he civil war in Angola, which ended in 2002 with the death of rebel National Union for Total Independence of Angola (Unita) leader Jonas Savimbi, may be counted as one of the world’s forgotten conflicts2. At most, it is cited as one of the many examples of the humanitarian crisis in Africa. But profound analysis of the situation has hardly been made in any of the mass media. In high politics and big business, Angola’s oil and diamonds drew more attention than the people living in the country. Scholarly studies often frame warfare and violence in Africa in abstract, structural terms. Also in the case of Angola, there is only limited attention for local perspectives on the war.

This article is partly based on interpretations given by Angolans on their history. This will not necessarily lead to a « truer » interpretation3, but it will, as we shall see, reveal the importance of identity construction both as cause and consequence of the war. In the state discourse on history, the theme of identity is deliberately absent. For the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), that claimed to be a universalist, secular, socialist party, it was not at all convenient to stress the importance of particular identities, such as ethnicity or race. Furthermore the role of religion, ranging from protective magic to the influence of the churches, has been largely ignored in the official MPLA discourse. Identity could at best play a role in relation to other aspects of the « superstructure », such as literature and culture. It ought not to interfere with serious matters – economics and politics. Influences in the ethnic, racial or religious sphere were labelled « tribalism », « racism », and « obscurantism », and strictly linked to the « enemy ». The labels were used to quell criticism on the regime and to harm political opponents. Identity and culture hence remained little discussed in the official versions of Angola’s political history4.

As such, identity – the process of distinguishing oneself from others – is not negative or positive. It can be used as a resource to generate cultural vitality, make people aware of the value of history and lead to a sense of worthiness. Using identity in this manner may help people to develop relations of mutual respect with others. Identity can, however, also be misused. It may then lead to indulging in excessive pride and a denigrating attitude toward others. In any war, the construction of « the enemy » is a process that entails a « politics of belonging », drawing the boundary between « us » and « them ». This process is never value-free. In wartime especially, the negative sides of identity construction are more likely to come to the fore. « The enemy » is presented as an invisible, grotesque Other, while « we » are visible, normal human beings5.

This remark already shows that identity cannot be conceived of as a static, unified and monolithic given ; identities are continuously being constructed and re-constructed. Identity is fragmentary, multi-layered and subject to change. People do not have one, single identity : we always combine various layers of identity. Sometimes people can chose freely what aspects of identity to emphasise, sometimes they are forced into one or the other category. The conceptualisation of identity as a multi-layered process of construction calls for a historical approach. In this article I will describe the process through which identities were constructed and subsequently « essentialised », i.e. presented as if they were unalterable and everlasting. I will do so on the basis of two case-studies : the making of Kongo nationalism in Northern Angola and the construction of the categories « town » and « bush » in south-eastern Angola. These case-studies are by no means unique within the Angolan context. There are other examples of the changing stature of ethnicity : a case in point has been the growing importance of being Ovimbundu6. In the past, religious and national identity could be interwoven : during the colonial era Congregationalists called themselves « American ». Such was seen as threatening the colonial ambitions of « Portugalisation »7. In some cases, these processes of identity construction have had positive effects. In others, the forms of mobilization have been misused to blacken, or even exert violence toward, others.

The first case-study is based on literature and interviews collected during a visit to Luanda in July and August 2002 and on archival material, assembled in Lisbon, Oxford and Amsterdam. Literacy is relatively wide-spread in Northern Angola and some research has been done on the area. Therefore there is a considerable body of written texts on the region, both by people born in the region and observers from the outside. This stands in contrast with the South-East of Angola. Hardly any research has been undertaken in this area and until very recently no elite-formation took place that entrenched writing to a strong degree. Therefore, the second case-study is largely based on fieldwork undertaken in Rundu, a growing town in the Kavango region of Northern Namibia. In 1996, 1997 and 1999, during a period of more than a year, about hundred immigrants from south-east Angola were interviewed.

Ethnicity and the nation in Northern Angola
The first case-study is the example of identity in Northern Angola. In the classic interpretations of Angolan nationalism, the role of ethnicity and religion is stressed. Thus René Pélissier as well as John Marcum classify the three Angolan nationalist movements in ethnic, religious terms. MPLA was linked to Mbundu and mestiços with a Roman Catholic or Methodist background ; the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) related to Baptist Bakongo ; Unita to Congregationalist Ovimbundu8. Of the three movements, FNLA was seen as most strongly tied to its ethnic roots : « Ethnicity is most pronounced in the stream of nationalism that developed within the community of some 700.000 Kikongo-speaking Bakongo of Northern Angola »9. The ethnic interpretation of Angolan nationalism has already been expanded10 and criticised11 for the Unita-Ovimbundu case. Here I would like to focus on the ways in which Northern Angolans related to ethnic and national identity.

The debates on ethnicity in Africa have been intense. While nationalism has been by and large evaluated as a positive force, ethnic identity was often seen as primitive and negative : « tribalism » would divide the nation. In this modernist discourse, the tribe was seen as internally homogenous and associated with « traditional » rural Africa. This view has been criticised by pointing out that nationalism and ethnicity are not as different as is implied in such modernist discourse. It is more fruitful to view ethnicity as a historical process, not as a relic from days gone by. Ethnicity can be studied, just as nationalism, as a debate on citizenship, as an imagined community12. Such a view challenges the notion of « tribe » as a unified whole ; as John Lonsdale writes about « the Kikuyu » : « They were now becoming one people, under the influence of social change and cultural nationalism, and therefore still more explicitly divided than before »13. This also implies that ethnicity is not necessarily more evil than nationalism : both can be used and abused14. As we shall see below, in the literature on Angola the modernist assumptions about ethnicity have hardly been challenged.


MPLA on FNLA
After the war in the North started on 15 March 1961, MPLA sought to co-operate with the Union of the Peoples of Angola (UPA). When this failed, when MPLA was increasingly harassed in Congo-Léopoldville and its columns were killed by UPA troops in Northern Angola, more negative reactions came forth. An increasingly bitter exchange of propaganda started to develop. The MPLA focused on three elements when denouncing UPA/FNLA : racism, tribalism, and foreignness.

Initially the racial argument received special attention. UPA/FNLA was said to have waged a propaganda campaign against all whites and mestiços. MPLA accused UPA of having ordered the indiscriminate killing of non-blacks during the revolt in March 1961. Afterwards mestiços belonging to MPLA columns had fell victim to UPA forces. UPA was also described as a tribal movement. This argument became especially important after MPLA had been ousted from Zaire in 1963. Before this time MPLA was actively seeking a following amongst Angolans speakers living in Lower Congo. In this region, many positions at the local government level were held by ABAKO members, most of whom preferred MPLA presence to any incursions of the rival UPA. MPLA thus gained some access in the Congolese region with the highest percentage of Kikongo-speaking Angolansth. After it left Congo, MPLA, in its propaganda, increasingly stated UPA/FNLA to be a tribal movement. Despite its name change, in MPLA’s view, UPA had remained an exclusively northern party and only appealed to the Bakongo. When UPA and the Democratic Party of Angola (PDA) joined to form FNLA in 1962, MPLA propaganda did not change : a « tribal » party plus another « tribal » party could only become more « tribal ». Such « tribalism » was invariably presented as backward and evil.

Finally MPLA emphasized that FNLA was a « foreign » party ; its leadership had no ties with Angola and the movement could only survive because of Mobutu’s support. It was a « tribal refugee movement in exile »15. Especially during the decolonisation process, between 1974 and 1976, FNLA was denounced as a foreign movement. That many in FNLA army spoke Lingala rather than Portuguese and that Zairian troops were involved did much to the increased use of this argument. Furthermore during the struggle for independence all Angolan nationalist movements relied on external support and had their bases in exile. After MPLA started operating from Luanda, « foreignness » became a more widespread argument in the campaign against FNLA.

In the colonial discourse, similar arguments were used : UPA was stamped as a racist, tribalist and foreign movement. The colonial propaganda, however, was far more contradictory : the revolt was at once denounced as a foreign, communist attack, as tribal, superstitious atavism, and as a Protestant conspiracy16. Still, FNLA eagerly employed this congruence to belittle MPLA’s critique17. MPLA’s critique on FNLA also coincided with the interpretation of many outside observers. References to ethnicity were interpreted in the light of « tribalism » and « separatism ». René Pélissier distinguishes « modernists » from « ethno-nationalists », thus implying that « ethno-nationalists » are not « modern »18.


FNLA on MPLA
Gervase Clarence-Smith has pointed out that nationalism is not any more modern than ethnicity : both ethnicity as an imagined community and the concept « Angola » in its present form started to have political relevance by the end of the 19 centuryth. For at least a number of Angolans, the « nation » forms as much as a problem as ethnicity. Daniel Ntoni-Nzinga related national identity to colonial violence : « The peoples who formed the emerging Angolan nation did not choose to be Angolans but were forced to be Angolans at gunpoint »19. Of all colonial powers, Portugal took least interest in the communities living under its control. As « Portugalization » was stressed as the ideal, many local political structures were destroyed and language laws decreed against the use of local languages20. In this light it is not surprising that some Angolans did not at all see the tribe as backward and intrinsically bad. « Detribalization » was at times interpreted as a form of colonial oppression and so some assimilados sought to re-discover their African roots. In Protestant circles, the stress on Portuguese as the language of education was much resented and there were Protestants proudly asserting that Protestantism was a « tribal religion ». Some observers saw it as positive that UPA was having « tribal, linguistic, religious, social links » with « the masses » and opposed this to the « isolated » MPLA, consisting of « priviliged, urban » mestiços and assimilados, having only « external contacts »21. This discourse was also used by Unita in the 1990s, in the form of an opposition between Unita’s « africanness » versus MPLA’s « near-to-white » mestiço oppression22.

FNLA of course vehemently denied ethnicity to be a factor in its mobilization. Membership was open for all Angolans and many of the leadership were not Bakongo at all. In an interview Ngola Kabangu stressed the role of Ovimbundu membership in UPA/FNLA and held that he personally only had had to face some suspicion from the « base » in the beginning : also as a non-Kongo he was accepted rapidly23. FNLA had slogans that stressed Angolan unity : « Cokwe and Kimbundu, we are Angolans, Luenas and Kikongo, we are Angolans, Ovimbundus and Kimbundus, we are Angolans. We are Angolans united »24. Just as in later Unita propaganda, the Angolan peoples were presented in the plural, in contrast to MPLA’s stress on « From Kabinda to Kunene, one people, one nation »25. For the Union of The Peoples of Northern Angola (UPNA) in the late fifties, the aim to establish an independent Kongo was not a tribal affair : Kongo had been unjustly annexed to Angola in 1885. As the present boundaries were the consequence of colonial conquest, it was not separatist, in the eyes of many UPA members, to include this issue in the struggle against colonialism.

The racial argument was much more important in UPA/FNLA propaganda than the ethnic. It was argued that mestiços were given the same privileges as the white colonizers. The black people of Angola were oppressed not only by Portuguese colonialists, but also by their stooges26. This tied in with a wide-spread antipathy, in the North, toward those who sought to adopt Portuguese language and culture. Even in the 1990s, some Northerners saw Portuguese as an imported language and would prefer to have one or more African languages as the national language of Angola27. MPLA’s employment of Portuguese was viewed as un-african and foreign, its mestiço leadership as privileged and having ties with the oppressors : how else could Neto have escaped so easily from a Portuguese prison ?28 UPA/FNLA claimed to be the voice of the poor black Africans in contrast to the elitist MPLA.

The references to Africa did not relate to a traditional, rural life. John Marcum has stressed the rural, peasant character of Bakongo nationalism, opposing this to the « educated Luanda-Mbundu town dwellers »29. Yet, from the start Bakongo nationalism was organised by Angolans living in urban centres, such as Matadi and Léopoldville. The difference does not lie in an opposition between town and country, nor between modern and ethnic ; but rather in the direction that the nationalist movement took. Northern nationalism was from the start oriented toward Léopoldville and not Luanda. Although many UPA members came from coffee-holding families ousted by Portuguese immigrants in the early 1950s, many had experienced urban life and, by 1974, FNLA was a profoundly urban movement.


« Kongolanité »
History was a fundamental source of inspiration for Kongo nationalism. This was the case in the 1950s and continues to be true. Kongo kingdom especially is used to describe a glorious Kongo past. This « deep » history is used to counter the « arrogance » of those who say that they have left tribalism behind them, but are in fact people « without a past »30. Knowledge of Kongo history is also presented as central to an understanding of Christianity : Kongo are compared to Israelites, it is held that Jesus might have been a Mukongo and that Jerusalem was in fact nothing else than Mbanza Kongo. In pan-Kongo discourse, the cultural heritage of the Kongo people receives much attention. The importance of mastering the Kikongo language is stressed and people display their knowledge of proverbs31.

The king was the most important character in the narratives about Kongo past. Kingship has often been presented as a symbol of internal tribal unity. Thus Abshire and Samuels felt that Jan Vansina’s statement on the king of Kongo and politics in the Belgian Congo was also applicable to the Angolan context : « …twentieth-century Bakongo have given the old kingdom a luster it probably never had in reality, and the memory of the kingdom remains a very important unifying force »32. Yet, kingship did not only unify the Bakongo ; it divided them as well. The succession conflict after the death of Dom Pedro VII in 1955 was waged between various branches of Kongo aristocracy and their following. Many Baptist Bakongo from São Salvador region supported the educated candidate proposed by a group from Matadi, while others, mostly Catholics, rallied behind the candidate that was approved of by the Portuguese administration, the Roman Catholic clergy and elders of the Kivuzi clan. The former group organized itself under the name of UPNA, with as its most important aim the independence of the kingdom of Kongo. When it turned out that a program relating to Kongo independence would garner little international support, UPNA was transformed into UPA, aiming at Angola’s independence. Those who could not stomach this change, joined the group that supported the Kivuzi candidate and in 1960 they formed Ngwizako (Ngwizani a Kongo). Apart from these groups, there were other groups with a large Kikongo-speaking following, some concerned with the issue of the Kongo king, others not33. In other words, the thesis of tribal cohesion can hardly been maintained : political cleavages, tensions between the various sub-groups, religious issues, clan differences, status and class deeply divided the Bakongo. Just as with the Kikuyu case, « Kongolanité »34 rather formed an axis around which to argue, than unquestioning unity.

Not all Baptist Bakongo belonged to UPA and not all UPA were Bakongo or Baptist. Not all those fighting in March 1961 were doing so in the name of UPA and the revolt was not restricted to Kongo area : in Dembos many Kimbundu speakers were involved. In the 1950s and early 1960s, many people were open to any nationalist party. The links between region and movement only became more stringent in the course of the war. In 1961 few people had heard of UPA, of ABAKO, or MPLA. Some had heard about Neto, others of Kansavubu (Kasavubu), the elder Pinnock or Lumumba. But, who belonged to which party, and which party stood for what, was by no means clear. People from various backgrounds were involved in the uprising in Luanda in February 1961. For exemple, a letter could reffer to « our doctor Neto », and, at the same time ask for UPA membership cards and express the hope that Lumumba would soon come to power. In the first phase of the war, the leadership of the various groups did not yet eye each other with the hatred that later came to be35.
Integration into Congo/Zaire
After the war started in March 1961, thousands of Northerners fled over the border : by 1972 their number had reached over half a million36. There had always been much contact between Northern Angola and the Belgian Congo. With the influx after March 1961, the number of Angolan Bakongo became proportionally very high : for example, in one church with a local congregation of fifty members, four hundred refugees entered37. Also in terms of elite formation the exodus from Northern Angola had many consequences. There had always been a preponderance of Bakongo among the Angolan elite in Congolese towns, but before 1961 there had been a much greater diversity.

Contact between Northern Angola and Congo/Zaire had been intensive all along. Events such as the Buta affair of 1913-1914 and the land appropriation by Portuguese immigrants in the 1950s had led to large-scale emigration. During the entire colonial period, men sought to avoid forced labour and were attracted by the higher wages in Congo. While Southerners were brought in to work on the coffee plantations in Northern Angola, many Northerners worked in the sugar companies in Lower and Central-Congo. For the people of Northern Angola, Léopoldville, not Luanda, was the nearest urban centre. There were lively trade relations. People living close to the border often had relatives on the other side. Despite the Portuguese language laws, the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS) schools in Belgian Congo continued to attract Angolan pupils38. The ties across the border were such that in many ways the tags « foreign » and « national » did not apply.

Many of the refugees of 1961 stayed in Congo/Zaire from 1961 to 1975. In this period contact between Congo/Zaire and Angola was difficult : the border became an obstacle and national categorisation much more relevant than before. Within these 14 years, many Angolan immigrants, and their children, integrated into Zairian society. As Kikongo was considered a rural language, most learnt to speak Lingala, the regional lingua franca. Lingala was also used in Kinkuzu, FNLA’s most important base in Zaire. Education was in French rather than Portuguese39. While MPLA regarded FNLA leadership as « uneducated » and « primitive » because they lacked any Portuguese-oriented education, in Zaire the values of language and cultural background were different. In the internal rivalry within FNLA, between Francophones and Lusophones, the latter were reportedly denounced as « morons »40.

In political sense, Zairianization also took place, undoubtedly. Many authors have stressed the integration of FNLA leadership into Zairian elite and some even classified UPA/FNLA as a Zairian rather than Angolan party41. From the onset, many of UPA’s leadership were, although of Angolan descent, familiar with Congolese context. Some of them had never personally experienced Portuguese colonial rule ; Holden Roberto of course being the clearest example : UPA/FNLA was firmly embedded in the Congolese political elite and Holden’s power depended largely on his relations with Congolese politicians. He became a personal friend of Lumumba, was a football playmate of Adoula and married into Mobutu family42. In his speeches, he spoke of Mobutu as « the father of the Angolan revolution »43. In the 1970s there were even plans to integrate Northern Angola into the Zairian territory44.


« Bazombo » in Congo/Zaire
The historical, cultural and linguistic links that exist between Northern Angola and Lower-Congo are often invoked to explain this degree of integration into Zairian society. The refugees did not enter an area in which they could easily be labelled as a separate group : linguistically and culturally, Northern Angola and Lower Congo are closely related. There is often an implied, rather than verified, assumption of solidarity between the Bakongo of Northern Angola and those of Congo/Zaire45. Yet, as we saw, John Lonsdale has shown that ethnicity and harmony are far from necessarily concurrent, and a recent article by Jan Bart Gewald argued that linguistic and ethnic ties do not preclude intense conflict amongst groups of refugees46. The refugees’ tendency to integrate into Zairian society may have been little due to ethnic, linguistic or cultural ties. Many Angolan immigrants wished for a rapid integration into Zairian society because being regarded as « Angolan » was disadvantageous to them.

There are indications that relations between immigrants and hosts were not always smooth. Thus, incoming refugees were greeted with derisive songs and said to have holes in their lips, through which the Portuguese had stuck a lock to seal their mouths. All Angolans, from whatever origin, were labelled « Bazombo ». Both this term and the word for « refugee » were used as an insult in Kinshasa47. According to BMS missionary Bertha Fulbrook, the forests and rivers were jealously guarded by the locals, and refugees were not allowed to hunt rats. The refugees were only allowed access to land according to the makonga system : part of the harvest had to be given to the owner of the land. In some cases, this amounted to as much as half of the harvest, which of course led to tense relations between the host population and the refugees48.

The Angolan Bakongo remained politically separate from Congolese Bakongo. The Angolan political parties were clearly distinct from the Congolese/Zairian parties. Despite its many ties within the Zairian elite, FNLA also formed a state within a state. Even the ABAKO, that had many Angolan supporters, in 1960 already created a separate Angolan branch, the Nto-BAKO49. Socially the Angolans tended to stay in contact with each other rather than with the people from Congo/Zaire. They remained a « close-knit » community, and after the war had started, special « seeker » groups were created, the so-called Avavi-Avivi, which purpose was to locate Angolan immigrants50.

Despite the importance of French and Lingala in the refugee community, many Northerners continued to speak Kikongo at home. FNLA recognised the importance of languages used in Angola and tried to organise courses in Portuguese, so as not to end up « at the margins of society » after independence51. During the entire period of exile, the hope to return to an independent Angola remained very strong among the refugees. Church services often focused on Angolan history, life in exile and hopes to return. The refugees found solace in the Biblical narratives of the people of Israel who had stayed in Egypt and travelled through the desert so long before reaching the Promised Land. In literary genres, such as songs, the return to Angola features strongly52. In this sense, the concept of « Angola », much more than that of « Kongo » was central to the community of exiles.


Internal differences
Most observers tend to think in terms of a « two-party insurgency », and after Unita had been founded a « three-party insurgency »53. Yet, for many Angolans, matters were not so clear-cut. In 1967 a total of 58 political movements and 26 socio-economic associations had been founded by Angolans. Many of these were active in Léopoldville/Kinshasa and many were started by Angolans from the North. Of course, MPLA and FNLA, and later Unita, were the largest organisations, that managed to garner much international support and UPA/FNLA did attempt to achieve a political monopoly amongst Angolans in the Zairian capital. There were always people, however, who joined other political groups or remained unattached. The political landscape amongst Angolan exiles in Congo/Zaire was far more diverse than an equation UPA/Bakongo allows for. Some authors were at a loss with this political diversity : René Pélissier on the one hand stressed the tribal nature of UPA, but on the other hand lamented the internal fragmentation of Angolan political landscape in Léopoldville54.

Ethnic differences certainly played a role in these cleavages. During the events of March 1961, many Southerners, working on the European farms in the North, did not join the rebels and rather a number of these « Bailundo », stamped « loyal » by the Portuguese, were killed. In February 1962, João Batista Traves Pereira, a Southerner who was a UPA General in the Bembe region, died. Soon after, the chief of staff of the Army for National Liberation of Angola (ELNA), Marcos Kassanga issued a press conference, in which he alleged that Batista had been killed « only because he did not agree with the extermination of Angolans, because he did not speak « Kikongo », because he did not originate from São Salvador, and because he was not Protestant »55. These accusations included ethnicity in a wider range of differences. Also when Jonas Savimbi split from FNLA in 1964, he did not only refer to tribalism in FNLA, but also accused Holden Roberto of embezzling funds and refusing to allow the struggle for Angolan liberation expand in other regions than his home area. Such break-aways further narrowed rather than diversified FNLA’s base56.

FNLA was composed of two strands of northern nationalism. UPNA had started after the succession conflict over the throne of Kongo in the mid-1950s. PDA had very different roots. In 1956 a group of Zombo Tokoists in Léopoldville decided to organise themselves in a self-help movement with the main aim of providing financial and educational facilities for its members. By 1962 this self-help movement had been transformed into a political party and in the same year a front was formed with UPA, FNLA57. Internal relations, however, never became smooth. PDA leaders, such as Emmanuel Kunzika, regularly acted against Holden Roberto’s orders. There were frequent complaints of Bazombo FNLA members that FNLA was dominated by Holden Roberto’s Basansala entourage. After the Kinkuzu mutiny of 1972, Holden Roberto dismissed the most important PDA leaders. After he dissolved PDA in 1973, he only acknowledged the existence of FNLA58.

Apart from these regional and ethnic differences, there were also differences in religion among the refugees. Baptists were accepted most easily into the state of the Revolutionary Government of Angola in Exile (GRAE), within the Congo/ Zairian state. Projects by other Protestant groups were only allowed if approved of and supervised by the GRAE. Angolan Catholics had an exceedingly difficult position. It was even rumoured that FNLA had two statutes : one that called for equality and another that discriminated against Roman Catholics and Kimbanguists59.

Intersecting with these divisions, political allegiance played a role in the refugee community. FNLA attempted to dominate the Angolan nationalist scene in Congo and did not allow any party to rival with it. Thus MPLA troops in Northern Angola were annihilated, and it was under influence of FNLA that the Congolese government decided in 1963 to forbid MPLA to develop any further activity on its territory60. The attempts to achieve an FNLA monopoly also had consequences for the average Angolan immigrant. The Baptist refugee aid services were closely related to UPA structures. Thus refugees without a GRAE pass, did not receive any assistance. Consequently those refugees who did not wish to become an UPA member could not ask for food, money or clothing ; often badly needed as many of the refugees arrived in Congo devastated and underfed. At times, non-UPA refugees were threatened and intimidated by UPA militias61.

Nor the shared experience of flight, neither the shared linguistic and cultural background of the refugees created a strong sense of unity. Internally the refugee community remained deeply divided. The fact that FNLA tried to exert full control over the refugee community, does not diminish these divisions. Despite these internal cleavages, Angolans were classified as a group by the host population. As this categorisation often worked to the detriment of the Angolan immigrants, many actively sought integration into Zairian society. At the same time, however, they continued to remain separate in political and social terms. They kept the memory of Angola alive. The refugee community thus continued to oscillate between integration and nostalgia : they felt they were Angolan, but also knew they had become « Congolan »62.


« Zairenses » and « Kalus »
After the cease-fire of 1974, the dream of many Angolan refugees came true : they could return to their motherland. A large number of refugees returned to the North, only to find that Angola had changed beyond recognition. Many regressados (returnees) stayed in refugee camps under FNLA control. Yet, 10.000s returned to the place where they lived before the war. They found their houses and fields destroyed or occupied by people brought in from elsewhere by the Portuguese63.

Many returnees expected FNLA to rule after independence. In Zaire, FNLA had wielded power and influence : « ‘Whether you like it or not, it is FNLA here », a popular saying went64. FNLA entered Luanda with great pomp. FNLA leadership, however, had no contacts within the Luandan political community and soon their display of wealth and luxury became a source of suspicion and resentment65. FNLA was the strongest Angolan movement in military terms, « God rules in heaven, Holden rules on earth », pamphlets dropped over Luanda stated66. A series of military losses, however, turned the tide. As the war spread into northern regions, many people who had just returned, once more went into exile in Zaire. The shame of having lost the war, the frustration of only having stayed in the Lost Paradise for such a short time, the chilly reception by most Zairians were a source of indignation among the exiles67.

In 1978 the Angolan government and Zaire closed accords and a pardon was offered to FNLA-members68. For some this was too much : they felt that after having fought for independence for fourteen years, they had no need to ask for a pardon from anyone69. Yet, many exiles did make use of the offer and returned once more to Angola. Most of these returnees went straight to Luanda, as the situation in Northern Angola was insecure. The returnees quickly resumed using the skills they had learnt while in Zaire. As access to land had been difficult, many had become petty traders and artisans in Kinshasa.

While the returnees thought of themselves as Angolans, they had become Zairese in the eyes of other Angolans. They were considered foreigners and soon the tag « Zairenses » (Zairese) was used to denounce them. In a rash equation, all returnees were classified as Bakongo, Zairese and FNLA. These labels were used in a negative sense and related to criminality. The returnees’ involvement in black market trade made them suspicious in the eyes of many Luandans. The old Portuguese association between Congo and disorder still held some currency in Luanda : Congo stood for noise, delinquency and disturbance. Furthermore, people from Northern Angola and Congo/Zaire had a longstanding reputation of cannibalism and witchcraft70. In any case, Luandans tended to look down upon people who fled to the capital because of the war : the word « Bantu » with which they were designed was used in a derogatory manner71.

Government propaganda also did much to reinforce such stereotypes. After the MPLA came into power in 1975, it had more means than the other parties to disseminate its views. The Angolan government stressed national identity and presented all « enemies » as « foreigners ». FNLA was especially stamped as an external force. As we saw, the demonisation of other movements, included in FNLA case references to tribalism, racism, and foreignness. Accusations of cannibalist atrocities by FNLA troops further harmed the image of the returnees72.

The derogatory « Zairenses », attributed to the returnees and any person from North Angola, was often placed in opposition to the positive self-designation of « Kalus » (Luandans). The latter category was equated with Angola. For many Luandans it was difficult to imagine life outside the capital. This was already the case in the 1960s. Carlos Belli Belo grew up in Luanda and left for Matadi in 1960, where he met with the northern leadership. It was only then that he « discovered that Angola was not Luanda. I thought that Angola was Luanda, that everything revolved around Luanda… »73. After the civil war had started, this tendency to equate Luanda and Angola became even stronger. So many areas outside Luanda became inaccessible. So many people from the countryside fled to the capital, that it indeed seemed as if Angola consisted of Luanda only.

The official version of history in many ways stressed the importance of Luanda. Luanda was presented as the cradle of Angolan nationalism. The events of the 4 February in Luanda were launched as the beginnings of MPLA’s struggle for independence. MPLA’s policies were also focused on Luanda : the countryside was completely neglected. The government’s focus on Luanda has made many people extremely suspicious of « the nation ». If Angola only means Luanda, then is it not more fruitful to create or renew ethnic networks ? As Jean-Michel Mabeko-Tali has pointed out, many regional elites, such as those from Lunda/Cokwe, Bakongo and Cabinda, are complaining about the greed of the « Luandan ogre » and call for a more equal distribution of Angola’s wealthth.

Of course, the labels used by Luandans were contested by Kikongo speakers. Many returnees had joined MPLA ; an indication that ethnicity did not play as large a role in party allegiance as was assumed74. Few exiles had not at all been involved in FNLA. Also during the elections of 1992, FNLA had not received a majority of the votes from the Northerners. The equation Bakongo = FNLA thus did not hold water. Furthermore, also in Luanda, people from Northern Angola remained divided. The rivalries were not the same as in Zaire : such an assumption would erase forty years of history. All the same, during the elections over a dozen parties had been founded by Bakongo, some of which with clear reference to the parties that were active in the 1960s in Léopoldville/Kinshasa. Apart from this political fragmentation, differences between Bazombo and Basansala continue to play a role. Socially, there are differences between elders who have spent part of their life in Angola and youngsters who grew up in Congo/Zaire. Many youngsters hardly know any Kikongo and they tend to be drawn by the quickly growing Pentecostal churches, while the elderly opt for the older Protestant churches, such as the Baptist, Evangelist, Kimbanguist and Tokoist denominations. Finally, there is a considerable group of Bakongo residents in Luanda, who are not returnees at all : they migrated directly from the northern countryside. Such internal differences render it hard to accept one stigmatised label75.

According to many Bakongo, the « people from the Centre » simply dismiss all people from other regions, South or North. While Luandans tend to harbour stereotypes about « Zairenses », many regressados also have strong opinions about Luandans. « Kalus » are, however, not equated with Mbundu : usually reference is made to « Kalus », « people of the Centre », or mestiços. They are considered arrogant, inconsiderate and un-african, speaking a European language and wearing European dress. The regressados take pride in their culture and stress that they, unlike Luandans, uphold African norms and values. They tend to stress their Africanité and authenticity, opposing this to the « colonial-styled » Luandans. The aggressivity with which Luandans denounce ethnic identity, ethnic history, African dress, African customs and African languages is seen as an evidence of Luandans’ veneration for European-colonial culture. So still, while « Kalus » framed the antagonism in ethnic-national terms, most Bakongo tended to reason in terms of race76.

On 22 January 1993, some days after the publication of rumours about Zairians planning to kill the President and Zairian troops supporting Unita, « Zairenses » were attacked in Luanda. Churches, schools, and houses were destroyed, women were raped, numerous people were wounded and killed. People who dressed like « Zairenses » were stopped and had to pass the « rice » test : all those who were thought to pronounce the word arroz in the « wrong » manner were categorised as « foreign »d. These events, known as « Bloody Friday », did much to sharpen the division between Bakongo and Luandans. In tracts and pamphlets, the Bakongo elite reacted to the events : once again it was a discourse full of references to Kongo identity, culture and history. The most radical Bakongo called for a restoration of the kingdom of Kongo and called for « a struggle for self-determination of the lands of Kongo that were annexed by Angola for colonial gains ». Others wished for a federal state, reasoning that only this solution would stop the process of « Lusotropicalism » and guarantee that the Bakongo would be accepted as citizens in their own country. And yet others wished for full acceptance in the Angolan nation, irrespective of ethnic background77. Once again, references to Kongo identity provided arguments in the debate, rather than unanimity.

In this case, the ethnic discourse became intermingled with nationality and locality. In the first place there was a shift from ethnic categorisation to national identities. Those people who formerly were designated as « Bakongo », were in Zaire called « Bazombo ». Back in Angola, they were labelled « Zairese ». In other words, while the regressados saw themselves as Angolans, they were regarded as foreigners by the Luandan population. Even if many Northerners were involved in MPLA, in popular imagination they were associated with FNLA. Thus a chain of equations, all evaluated in negative sense, was set up : Northerner = Kongo = FNLA = foreigner/ Zairese. The category of « Zairenses » was placed in opposition to « Angolans » or « Kalus » : Luanda and Angola were equated. This process of narrowing the nation into one town had started in colonial times, but became stronger during the postcolonial period.



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