Angola: Official confirmation that Jonas Savimbi is dead

The Angolan government has officially declared that the rebel leader, Dr. Jonas Savimbi, is dead. He is reported to have been shot at around 05.00 MSK on Friday.

After many months of playing cat-and-mouse with the Armed Forces of Angola, Savimbi’s military column was attacked. Seven bullets gave the historic leader of UNITA, the world’s oldest guerrilla movement, an instant death.

Jonas Malheiro Savimbi was born on 3rd August, 1934, in Munhango, Bie Province in eastern Angola. The son of a stationmaster and protestant pastor, he was educated at protestant missions in Angola and later completed his secondary school studies in Lisbon, Portugal. After meeting Agostinho Neto, the father of Angola’s independence from Portugal, and being imprisoned by the Portuguese Fascist Secret police, the PIDE, he joined the movement for the independence of Angola in 1959.

He studied Political and Legal Science at Lausanne, Switzerland, before going to china, where he took a nine-month course in military strategy. He was part of Holden Roberto’s UPA (Angolan People’s Union) which launched its offensive against the Portuguese on 15th March, 1961 with a series of bloodthirsty attacks against civilians. This action provoked the Portuguese dictator, Dr. Oliveira Salazar to start the colonial war, in which Portugal used military force to retain its colonies where the independence movements were active, namely Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau.

After becoming the Foreign Minister of the Revolutionary Government of Angola in Exile, recognised by the Organisation for African Unity, he founded UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) in 1966 and fought the Portuguese armed forces, often avoiding unnecessary deaths by negotiating with the colonial power. After the 1974 revolution in Portugal and the subsequent independence of the colonies, he signed the Alvor Treaty in Lisbon on January 15th, 1975, in which Angola was declared an independent state, with MPLA, UNITA and FNLA as its political parties.

On 11th November, 1975, as MPLA leader Agostinho Neto declared the independence of the Republic of Angola in Luanda, the capital, Savimbi declared the independence of the Democratic Republic of Angola in Huambo. In March of 1976, UNITA went on the offensive, starting Angola’s civil war which continues today.

UNITA has its strongholds in the south and east of Angola, the hinterland, where the population is of the Umbundu tribe, whereas MPLA is stronger in the main cities and in the north-west, where the Kimbundu people predominate. Savimbi managed to threaten the government in Luanda several times, and backed by South Africa, then with its apartheid regime, for 15 years was treated on a basis of parity by the international community. Any agreement made with MPLA had a parallel one with UNITA. In 1986, he was hailed as Freedom Fighter by President Reagan in the White House, Washington.

For some years, Savimbi could be seen on the diplomatic circuit with Kissinger, Hassan II and Pieter Botha and received important military aid from the USA, through the passing of the Clark Amendment in Congress.

In 1991, Savimbi and President Jose Eduardo dos Santos signed the Bicesse Agreement in Lisbon, declaring a ceasefire and organising a democratic election in Angola. The election in 1992 gave an advantage to MPLA, but the result was close enough to merit a second round. UNITA contested the result and before the second round could be held, MPLA supporters began a massacre of UNITA leaders in Luanda. Savimbi and those of his leadership able to run, escaped back to their strongholds in the interior of the country and the civil war started again.

While the MPLA received official military backing from abroad, UNITA was forced to use its revenue from the diamond mines it controlled in Lunda to buy on the parallel market. Nevertheless, the growing difference between the two arsenals meant that UNITA was forced more and more into a defensive and guerrilla position as it lost the initiative.

The Lusaka Agreement (1994), sponsored by the troika of powers which held influence in Angola, namely Russia, the USA and Portugal, in which a national reconciliation government was set up, never came into being.

As the Cold War froze, and the international community began to realise that Angola has huge oil reserves off Cabinda, the interest in the Black Rooster movement, as UNITA was known and its leader, called by his people “O Cota” (the older one) began to wane.

Without its historic leader, UNITA will face a severe existential crisis, unless the greed of those who make a comfortable living from commissions from arms deals, on both sides of the political divide, wins the day and the civil war proceeds.

With the death of Savimbi, a chapter in Africa’s history is closed. It remains to be seen whether Angola moves on or turns back the page.