The Altiplano of central Angola is home to the Ovimbundu, the country’s largest ethnic group. These highlands also were refuge to the primarily Ovimbundu UNITA-aligned paramilitaries during the decades-long Angolan Civil War, but the protection of this rugged zone came at a cost, preventing UNITA from projecting power throughout the country. UNITA’s primary rivals — the MPLA of the rival Mbundu clans of the country’s northern Cuanza River Valley and the northwestern coast — enjoyed higher mobility, control over the country’s oil sector and Soviet/Cuban backing. The result was that the grueling, bloody onslaught continued, with the MPLA — and their access to petrodollars — eventually winning out despite the best efforts of the Western world to bolster UNITA. Today the MPLA continues its assaults against Ovimbundu’s refuge, steadily using cash and political power to chip away at the Ovimbundu’s physical and cultural independence.
For more on Angola and the future of West Africa’s energy industry, see Chapters 10 of The Accidental Superpower and 9 of The Absent Superpower.