Book Review: Portugal's War in Angola, 1961-1974


by W.S. van der Waals

Pretoria: Protea Book House / Dulles, Va.: International Publishers Marketing, 2011. Pp. 320. Illus., maps, append., biblio., index. $37.50 paper. ISBN: 1869193512

Portugal, the first of the European powers to acquire an overseas empire, was also the last to try keeping hold of one, leading to protracted brutal wars in Mozambique, Guinea, and Angola, which, although rarely making headlines, inevitably became entangled in the Cold War. 

In this volume former South African brigadier general van der Waals, a veteran of several African wars, does a good job of sorting out the events, despite some apparent biases in favor of the Ancien Régime .   He uses the conflict in Angola, a particularly complex one, as the lens with which to examine Portugal’s other African wars.  Van der Waals covers the background to the insurgency, the creation of the rebel forces, their spilt into two hostile factions, which made the war both more complex and, in some ways more violent, the political and diplomatic struggle, organization, tactics, external intervention, and more.  In the course of his examination of the wars in Angola, van der Waals makes observations on the conflicts in Portugal’s other colonies.  This helps set the struggle in Angola into context.  In the end, of course, neither in Angola nor any of the other colonies did the insurgents actually win a victory in the field.  Rather, it was the ouster of the country’s long-term authoritarian regime in 1974 that brought freed Portugal’s African colonies, but the collapse of the dictatorship was greatly influenced by the protracted struggles in Angola,  Mozambique, and Guinea

Although not the definitive treatment of the Angolan war, van der Waals' account is certainly the most complete yet seen, and a valuable read for anyone interested in insurgency and counter-insurgency, de-colonialization, or irregular warfare.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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