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Angola - History & Background

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceAngola - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education


Angola is located in southwestern Africa, bordered by the South Atlantic Coast to the west, Namibia to the south, Zambia to the east, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the north and northeast. The Cabinda Province is separated from the rest of Angola by the Democratic Republic of Congo. Angola boasts 1,600 km of coastline with four major ports and rich natural resources. It is potentially one of Africa's richest countries with impressive oil reserves and gem-quality diamond deposits.

Recorded history of the people of Angola dates back to 6000 B.C., with indications that the Khoi and San peoples populated the area as far back as 25,000 B.C. The Bantu arrived from the north from 800 A.D., but their main influx occurred during the fourteenth century, preceding the arrival of the first Portuguese in 1483. The Bantu established kingdoms and absorbed much of the Khoisan-speaking population, and by the fifteenth century, native Africans numbered close to four million in Angola. The major kingdoms were the Kongo, Loango, Mbundo, with smaller kingdoms such as the Lunda and Ovimbundu. The leader of the most important Kongo kingdom, mani-kongo or King Nzinga Nkuwu, converted to Christianity during early Portuguese contact, and his successor, King Afonso, was also a Christian. Early relationships were mutually beneficial for the Kongo king and the Portuguese, who were also ruled by a monarchy and had a similar social structure from nobility to slaves.

Colonial Rule: The Portuguese colonial period in Angola lasted almost five hundred years, but the Portuguese population itself was quite small for most of the period. In 1845 there were only two thousand Portuguese living in Angola, increasing to forty thousand by 1940. The last twenty years of colonial rule, from 1955-1975, saw the major influx of Portuguese who totaled 340,000 at independence in November 1975. Despite their relatively small numbers, the Portuguese had a tremendous effect on native Angolans and their education. For four hundred years, the Portuguese were heavily involved in the slave trade, and perhaps eight million Angolans were lost to slavery. Economically, the Portuguese developed Angola within separate colonial sectors far removed from most of Angolan society. Initially through slave trade and later through production and exportation of rubber, diamonds, coffee and then oil, the Portuguese developed an economy that used natural resources of the country but did little to include Angolans other than through forced labor even after slavery was abolished in 1878.

Socially the Portuguese also had a great impact on the native population. They reorganized villages and established transportation routes that facilitated exportation while at the same time dividing native groups. Colonial rule allowed and at times encouraged interracial marriage, but there was a distinct separation of population groups according to racial background. Mestiços of mixed European and African ancestry were allowed access to more education and other opportunities than indígenas Africans, but in the last fifty years of colonial rule, official policies were strictly racially divided and even mestiços were denied access to or greatly restricted from holding jobs in the public and private sectors. Despite official statements to the contrary, education of the native Africans from the beginning of colonization was discouraged.

Officially Portuguese colonization valued education within its civilizing mission, but little was accomplished, especially outside of urban centers. Natives who were educated were considered assimilados or assimilated into the Portuguese culture and values, and during the later years of colonial rule, the brightest were often sent to Portugal for secondary and/or higher education. Many of these, however, were exposed to "progressive" ideas in Europe and were prevented from returning to Africa for fear of political unrest. The most accurate census figures from 1950 estimated that there were fewer than thirty-one thousand assimilados in the entire Angolan population of four million.

Although Portuguese was the language of instruction from the first primary school established by the Jesuits in 1605, in 1921 the Portuguese forbade by decree the use of African languages in the schools. In 1940, the Portuguese ruler Salazar signed the Missionary Accord with the Vatican that made the Roman Catholic missions and their schools the official representatives of the state in Africa. Most students in the early mission schools came from traditional African ruling families, thus creating a small but important educated elite in the country. But until the 1960s, the Catholic missions had limited financial backing, and education declined in Angola. In addition, the Portuguese created the Department of Native Affairs, and they officially separated state-run education of the assimilados and the Portuguese from that of rural native Africans, run by Catholic missionaries and called ensino de adaptação (adaptation school). A great majority of Africans remained uneducated even after the 1960s when a new emphasis was placed on education by the colonial rulers. During the 1960s many new schools were established, but by some estimates, just slightly more than 2 percent of the Angolan school-age children were admitted. Other figures state that enrollment in primary school rose from 6.3 percent in 1960 to 32 percent in 1970, and secondary-school enrollment rose from 0.6 percent in 1960 to 4.3 percent in 1970, but these figures include both state- and missionary-run schools.

Those students who were in schools followed an educational system similar to that in Portugal with a preprimary year stressing language, and then four years of primary school of two two-year cycles. Secondary school consisted of a two-year cycle and a final three-year cycle. Most students who began schooling, however, did not complete even the primary school cycles. Adaptation schools run by the missionaries had especially high dropout rates, with 1967-1970 figures showing 95.6 percent of the students not continuing. One of the significant reasons for this was that the majority of teachers at all primary schools had very few qualifications. Secondary schools had many Portuguese teachers, but they, too, had limited success in part because they needed to spend the first years teaching material from the primary level.

As part of the Portuguese university system, the University of General Studies was established in Angola in 1962. English and medical studies took place in Luanda, educational studies were given in Sá da Bandeira, and agronomy and veterinary medicine were at Nova Lisboa. Within ten years, close to three thousand students attended the university, but only a very small percentage of these students were African.

Independence: The first national movement against colonial power took place in 1961; Portugal sent in thousands of army troops and tens of thousands of native Angolans were killed. Many nationalists fled to surrounding countries and in time organized into three main guerilla groups: the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Although each group fought Portuguese colonial rule, they also fought each other and were already close to civil war by November 1975 when Portugal granted independence to the colony. The MPLA, backed by Cuba and the Soviet Union, gained control of Angola after independence. Civil war ensued and eventually the FNLA, supported by China and the United States, dissolved, leaving UNITA with support from South Africa as the primary opposition to the ruling MPLA. Cuba sent in troops in 1975 in response to South African troops crossing the border at Namibia, and over the next fifteen years hundreds of thousands of Angolans lost their lives to civil war. In 1986 the United States backed UNITA against the Marxist MPLA governing party, but in 1991 it was influential in negotiating an eventual peace agreement between UNITA and the MPLA, and Cuba withdrew its troops.

This brief period of peace was shattered in September 1992 when UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi refused to accept MPLA leader José Eduardo dos Santos as president of Angola following elections. Armed conflict resumed, and in May 1993 the United States officially recognized the dos Santos government, removing all support of UNITA. A new peace agreement was signed between dos Santos and Savimbi on November 20, 1994, but sporadic fighting continued until a new national unity government was installed in April 1997. However, in late 1998, UNITA refused to give up territory and resumed fighting against the government. Civil war continued into the new millennium. By March 2001, dos Santos' government had control over most of the country, but fighting continued and civilian lives continued to be lost, notably from the estimated seven million landmines scattered across the countryside.

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