American humanitarianism and the end of Portugal’s African empire: Institutional and governmental interests in assisting Angolan refugees in Congo, 1961–74 | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 14, Issue 3
  • ISSN: 1476-413X
  • E-ISSN: 1758-9509



Between 1961 and 1974, Portugal’s colonial empire in Africa disintegrated. As African liberation movements in Angola waged a protracted war for independence, hundreds of thousands of refugees fled to Congo. This article examines humanitarian assistance in Africa during decolonization to challenge the myth that humanitarian assistance has ever been impartial, neutral or independent. It compares the ways in which one organization, the American Committee on Africa (ACOA), and the US government assisted Angolan refugees in Congo. It asks: how can we understand the relationship between humanitarian aid and political positioning in a Cold War context? This article argues that the particular interests of humanitarian organizations and states determined the types of aid both provided. Cold War tensions prompted the US government to provide educational assistance as part of its humanitarian response to Angolan refugees in Congo, but the same crisis forced a nascent organization such as ACOA to open dialogue among its members in order to define its position on the relationship between African liberation politics and humanitarian intervention.


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