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The Angolan Civil War began, when Angola won its war for independence in 1975, with the Communist MPLA fighting the anti-Communist UNITA. FLEC, an association of separatist militant groups, fought for the independence of Cabinda. Formally brought to an end in 2002, an estimated 500,000 people were killed in the 27-year-long war.

The civil war, one of the largest Cold War conflicts in the developing world, involved three main factions and several smaller ones. The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola's (MPLA) base is among the Kimbundu people and the multiracial intelligentsia of Luanda. The MPLA, supported by the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc, fought against the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA), an organization based in the Bakongo region of the north and allied with the United States, the People's Republic of China and the Mobutu government in Zaïre. The United States, apartheid South Africa, and several other African nations also supported Jonas Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), whose ethnic and regional base lies in the Ovimbundu heartland of central Angola.