Angola's civil war was the longest in Africa. Once the battleground for a proxy war between the Cold War superpowers, the country was supposed to become a model for a smooth transition from armed conflict to democracy. The government, earlier backed by the Soviet Union and Cuba, and the UNITA rebels, supported by the Americans and South Africans, would exchange bullets for ballots - but it all went wrong - UNITA's Jonas Savimbi rejected his defeat in the elections and plunged Angola back into war. The United Nations could only wring its hands, eventually negotiating a fragile new peace agreement. For most Angolans, however, the effects of a quarter of a century of violence have proved to be more enduring than the taste of peace. Karl Maier was the Angola correspondent for The Independent and Washington Post for 10 years, and provides a fascinating analysis of the realities behind the conflict as well as a vivid eye-witness account of the devastation it brought. Whether speaking to soldiers, nurses, black-market traders or aid workers, he views Angola's strife with a rare sympathy for the ordinary people caught in the crossfire. Sceptical of both sides' promises and lies, his is a classic account of one of the civil wars that continue to plague Africa. This updated new edition covers the massive corruption and other problems that have arisen since the ending of the war with Savimbi's death. Armed conflict has been replaced by an oil boom that has benefited only the country's elite - as Maier observes, the vast majority of Angolans now face 'a war of neglect by their rulers'.
Combining finely detailed reportage with anecdotal snapshots of the horrors of war, Maier, a correspondent for The Independent and the Washington Post who began reporting on Angola in 1986, offers an explanation of the Angolan civil war for the rest of us. His engrossing chronological account lays out the nearly two decades of conflict that have ripped apart the southern African nation. An inability to resolve differences rooted in race, political ideology and tribal ethnicity has set contemporary Angola on a highway to hell instead of the road to prosperity its vast reserves of natural resources promised. Maier notes with some irony that American oil companies have continued their drilling operations throughout the war. He also intelligently positions the conflict's historical import as one of the last battlegrounds for the combatants in the Cold War. Despite a glossary defining the plethora of acronyms that riddle the pages, some readers may have a hard time following which faction is fighting for what side during, first, Angola's war for independence from its colonial Portuguese rulers and, second, the lengthy civil war that continues today. Maier tells his story in the present tense, which makes the book read like dispatches from today's paper. The writer's sharp eye for detail catches a swarm of hungry Angolans falling upon a bag of maize that foreign aid workers have dropped onto an airport tarmac. The powder sifts through their emaciated fingers as they try to stash it in strips of fabric tied around their concave chests. More of this kind of personal observation and reflection would have added to the book's compelling narrative.