Since Angola has been wracked by civil strife for over 30 years, most Angolans have never lived in a peaceful, stable environment. The prolonged civil strife in Angola devastated the country in every conceivable way. The conflict began in the late colonial period and continued in the post-independence era, first as an internal struggle which then became internationalized and entangled in cold war ideologies and partisanship. In the three decades of conflict, over 500,000 people died, 3.5 million were internally displaced, hundreds of thousands fled to neighboring Zaire and Zambia and 70,000 Angolans suffer disabilities caused by landmines. Civil society ceased to exist, human rights abuses became the norm, rural and village infrastructure was destroyed or neglected, millions of land mines were laid in all parts of the country and the economy largely collapsed. The majority of Angolans were politically disenfranchised and economically marginalized. Virtually the entire non-coastal population of Angola is war-affected. Despite a wealth of natural resources, the gross domestic product declined from an average of $820 between 1996-88 to $410 in 1995.
The Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA - União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola) rebel movement controlled various portions of Angolan territory over differing lengths of time. During the Cold War the U.S.-backed anti-Communist forces of UNITA were engaged in opposition to the Angolan government, which received support from Cuban troops.
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