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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Ovimbundu in Angola

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Angola Facts
Area:    1,246,700 sq. km.
Capital:    Luanda
Total Population:    10,865,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The Ovimbundu have two of the factors that encourage rebellion: a history of rebellion and a history of government repression, although both of these have greatly decreased since the end of the civil war in 2002. There are serious armed conflicts in the area that contribute to regional instability. Factors that could inhibit rebellion include efforts made towards negotiations (a ceasefire was signed in 2002) and transnational support for peace. In addition, there is immense war-weariness among the Angolans. However, the probability of protest will increase if restrictions and repressions continue and/or increase. Though levels of repression fell between 2003 and 2006 in the aftermath of the civil war, it is possible that the authoritarian regime will revert to its earlier ways. Elections were held in 2008 and were described as chaotic. The ruling MPLA is currently the only group in the country capable of organizing and winning an electoral contest, which it did with almost 82 percent of the vote. This is a factor that could concern UNITA. An unstable democratization process might create conditions ripe for protest. Most importantly, if the chronic poverty in the resource-rich country is not addressed, the probability of renewed conflict will rise.


Analytic Summary

Prior to colonization, the Ovimbundu were organized into 13 kingdoms. After Portuguese colonization, the Ovimbundu were often appointed to high positions. The Ovimbundu are the largest ethnic group in Angola and were originally based in west-central parts of the country (GROUPCON = 3) and speak a language called Umbundu (LANG = 0). As a result of war and internal dislocation, there has been a considerable amount of integration among the different groups. They are primarily Roman Catholic (RELIGS1 = 1).

The former leader of National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), Jonas Savimibi, belonged to the Ovimbundu tribe. The organization had a strong base in the group. UNITA, along with the Mbundu-supported MPLA, were active in fighting for independence from the Portuguese.

Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975. With the ascendancy of the MPLA after independence, both the Bakongo and the Ovimbundu were discriminated against. However, more important than systematic, group-specific discrimination was the fact that the government ruled by patronage. The UNITA-MPLA civil war broke out shortly after independence and continued until Savimibi’s death in February 2002.

Angola has been ruled by a Portuguese-speaking urban elite descended from Portuguese and Dutch buccaneers who came down the coast hundreds of years ago. Most of them are of mixed-race descent. Savimbi alleged that this elite were not real Africans. His belief that Angola belonged to black Africans resonated with his own Ovimbundu tribe. Over time, the civil war in Angola became a function of both the Cold War and the machinations and ambitions of Savimbi and the leaders of the ruling government. The Ovimbundu, like other Angolans, became trapped in a vicious cycle of seemingly unending violence and destruction during the civil war.

It is unclear what proportion of Ovimbundu continued to support Savimbi and UNITA as the war continued. What is clear is that the people were subject to immense brutality, including forcible recruitment, from both sides to the war. With Savimbi’s death in February 2002, hopes for peace increased. A ceasefire agreement was signed in April 2002, and since then hostilities have ceased (REB03-06 = 0). Given the near total destruction the Angolan economy, society and infrastructure, the dividends of peace might take years to be realized by the people of Angola.

Because of the civil war, the situation of the Ovimbundu in Angola is difficult to determine. There are few press reports referring to them. However, based on time-invariant information, their areas of concentration, and their association with UNITA, one can infer that the Ovimbundu are not doing well. It is almost certain that large numbers of the group were internally displaced because of the conflict and otherwise affected by the ravages of the brutal conflict. There are some remedial policies in place specifically targeting former UNITA fighters promising improvements in underrepresentation in military/police services. Little evidence exists on policies of systematic discrimination against the Ovimbundu, and remedial political policies have been implemented as part of the peace agreement (POLDIS06 = 1). Economic difficulties appear to be a consequence of past conflict and not due to current discriminatory practices. Some policies have been implemented to improve the economic conditions specifically for the Ovimbundu such as the reintegration and training programs for UNITA soldiers (ECDIS06 = 1). The civil war has also contributed to immense demographic stress. Health problems and malnutrition associated with the war have hit the Ovimbundu, who also were tortured and killed in large numbers. These atrocities were committed both by government forces and UNITA. As of 2006, military hostilities have ceased completely. This has led some improvement in conditions for the group. At the same time, the Ovimbundu, like other groups in the country, continue to suffer from chronic poverty and have little access to economic or political opportunities.



British Broadcasting Corporation.

CIA World Factbook 2003.

Collelo, Thomas, ed. Angola: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1991.

Human Rights Watch.

Le Monde. 09/05/2008. “Elections ‘chaotiques’ en Angola.” [accessed 01/23/2009]

LexisNexis. Various reports. 2001-2006.

Romandie News. 09/07/2008. “Elections en Angola: 81,65% pour le parti au pouvoir. ”


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Information current as of December 31, 2006