Thursday, January 28, 1999 Published at 10:46 GMT
Angola: The roots of conflict
By Antony Goldman
At various stages, the violence has been characterised as anti-imperial and revolutionary, a Cold War proxy, or a brutal competition between rival elites for a wealth of natural resources.
The real source of the bloodshed, however, is rooted as much in ethnic and historical tensions that stretch back centuries.
Unita emerged because of a perceived dominance of the Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) by mixed-race intellectuals from the coastal cities, and of the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) by northerners.
As independence approached in 1975, each side solicited the support of Cold War patrons, with Cubans helping the MPLA to take the capital, Luanda, South Africans siding with Unita and the United States supporting an increasingly ineffectual FNLA in the north.
Despite criticism of external involvement, in reality it was more a case of the puppets pulling the strings of the puppet masters in a ruthless bid to seize the initiative.
That process of institutionalising tensions based on class, race and ethnicity remains at the heart of the conflict:
Peace agreements reached in 1974, 1989, 1991 and 1994 have all collapsed, leaving a country laid waste by war and a generation that has known nothing but conflict.
Much of the responsibility must lie with the intransigence of political personalities on all sides so ready to exploit those fundamental cleavages within society that are as sharp today as when the fighting first began.
Antony Goldman is Senior Africa Editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit