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Holden Roberto Biography

Holden Roberto biography online

Holden Roberto was an Angolan independence leader who founded the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA). One of the fathers of Angola’s independence and a major figure in the Cold War in Africa, he worked relentlessly in his pursuit of Angola’s freedom from the Portuguese colonialism. Angola had been ruled by the Portuguese for centuries and Roberto was one of the first men who struggled for the country’s total independence from the Portuguese. As a young man he was working for the Belgian Finance Ministry when he witnessed Portuguese officials abusing an elderly man. This injustice made him realize that it was high time Angolans fought for their freedom and dignity, and was thus inspired to join politics. Along with a friend he founded the Union of Peoples of Northern Angola (UPNA), later renamed the Union of Peoples of Angola (UPA). He also became involved in underground activities and secretly traveled to Ghana to attend the ground-breaking All African People's Congress. Upon his return to his homeland he became very active in politics and eventually founded the National Front for the Liberation of Angola, a militant right-wing organization which he led in the fight for Angolan independence from Portugal forces. He was one of the pioneers of national liberation struggle in Angola and is hailed as a hero for leading the country’s struggle for independence.

Childhood & Early Life

  • He was born on 12 January 1923 to Garcia Diasiwa Roberto and Joana Lala Nekaka in São Salvador, Angola. His family moved to Léopoldville, Belgian Congo in 1925.
  • He received his education from a Baptist missionary school from where he graduated in 1940.

Career

  • He found employment at the Belgian Finance Ministry in Léopoldville, Bukavu and worked there till the early 1950s. In 1951 he visited Angola where he witnessed Portuguese officials abusing an old man and became aware of the brutality in colonial rule.
  • This experience inspired him to enter politics and fight for the independence of Angola from Portuguese rule. Along with a friend Barros Necaca he founded the Union of Peoples of Northern Angola (UPNA) in 1956. It was later renamed as the Union of Peoples of Angola (UPA).
  • He served as the UPA president and secretly attended the All-African Peoples Congress of Ghana in December 1958 where he represented Angola. There he became acquainted with Patrice Lumumba, the future Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenneth Kaunda, the future President of Zambia, and Kenyan nationalist Tom Mboya.
  • Roberto acquired a Guinean passport and went to the United Nations on behalf of his movement. In 1961 he appointed Jonas Savimbi as Secretary-General of the UPA.
  • In the 1950s he began receiving aid from the United States National Security Council which was initially $6,000 and later increased to $10,000.
  • Leading a group of 4,000 to 5,000 militants, he launched an incursion into Angola on March 15, 1961, taking over farms, government outposts, and trading centers, killing whoever they encountered enroute. More than 1,000 whites and several natives were killed in this bloody massacre.
  • In 1962, he merged the UPA with the Democratic Party of Angola to form the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA). After a few weeks he established the Revolutionary Government of Angola in Exile (GRAE) and appointed Savimbi to the position of Foreign Minister.
  • However some differences crept in between Savimbi and Roberto, and Savimbi left the FNLA in 1964 to found the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), thus making the former allies bitter political rivals.
  • By the mid 1960s there were three political groups fighting for freedom against the Portuguese government: FNLA, UNITA, and the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) led by writer and statesman Viriato da Cruz. The struggles continued till the mid 1970s and finally in April 1975, Roberto and the leaders of two other political parties signed peace accords with Portugal that led to Angola’s independence the same year.
  • Under the terms of the agreement, UNITA, the MPLA, and the FNLA agreed to form a coalition government. However, disagreements between the groups led to outbreaks of violence which ultimately led to a civil war.
  • The war continued for years at a stretch, going on for almost three decades in which about 500,000 people were killed and thousands others displaced. The circumstances forced Roberto to go into exile though he eventually returned to Angola in 1992.
  • The first multiparty elections were held in 1992 and several FNLA members took part in it; however the party received only two percent of the popular vote. The general elections were won by the MPLA and Roberto became one of the most vocal critics of the MPLA.

Personal Life & Legacy

  • He was already married when he became acquainted with the Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko. However in order to establish a political alliance with him, he divorced his first wife and married a woman from Mobutu's wife's village.
  • He suffered from heart problems during his later years and died of a cardiac arrest on 2 August 2007 at his home in Luanda. He was 84.

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