From Martin Meredith’s The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence:
One of the paradoxes of the Angolan conflict was that Cuban forces were given the task of defending American-owned oil installations from attacks by American-backed rebels.
My position on the Reagan Doctrine and American intervention in places like Angola has changed a lot over time. As a much younger man, I bought into the administration’s (and Charles Krauthammer’s) argument and was led to believe that people like Jonas Savimbi could help increase human freedom in the Third World while aiding U.S. interests in the Cold War struggle with the Soviets. Oh, how time, experience, study, and data have changed my mind! Not only were peripheral conflicts like Angola unnecessary for beating the Soviets and securing US interests but many US proxies were ultimately found to be hostile to American values as well. And then we have the sheer human cost and blowback from US policies.
Here are some further points from Meredith about the war in Angola that may be useful when reflecting on the Reagan Doctrine, Jonas Savimbi, and other aspects of what today seems like an ancient historical contest:
The overall cost of the war was huge. During the 1980’s more than 350,000 died and a million more – deslocados – were uprooted from their homes (601). [GC – And this doesn’t count the costs of the civil war that continued after the end of the Cold War)]
As for Unita, it was Savimbi’s personal fiefdom, a vehicle for his relentless drive for power. For all the praise heaped on him by President Reagan and other Western admirers, Savimbi was a ruthless dictator with a messianic sense of destiny, insistent on total control and intolerant of dissent and criticism from anyone in the movement (603).
Yet, like the MPLA, Savimbi relied heavily on an extensive security apparatus to maintain his grip, using fear as a method of control. He systematically purged Unita of rivals and critic, ordering death sentences not only for party dissidents but for members of their family as well. Human rights groups reported incidents of how women and children, accused of witchcraft, had been publicly burned to death, on a bonfire (604).