Angola: reactions to Savimbi death

Generalised hopes for peace as President Santos visits Washington. In Lisbon, rumours that US intelligence was behind the death of Savimbi.

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos’ visit to Washington was scheduled around a month ago and curiously, on the eve of the visit, the rebel movement UNITA’s leader Jonas Savimbi was killed by Angolan government troops.

White House spokesperson Richard Boucher declared that George Bush will ask President Santos to proceed with peace after 27 years of a bloody civil war which has left 100,000 dead and a further 100,000 maimed.

The Bush administration, without expressing sorrow for the death of Jonas Savimbi, despite his having been a privileged ally of Washington for decades, described him as “a new victim of the war which should have finished a long time ago”.

The USA, Russian Federation and Portugal make up the troika of nations which are the observers of the Angolan peace process. The efforts of this troika resulted in the peace treaties of Bicesse (1991) and Lusaka (1994), both of which failed. The first, because the UNITA leadership was massacred in Luanda by MPLA after a hung election. Those leaders who managed to escape, Savimbi among them, fled back to the bush. Lusaka failed because UNITA did not seize the opportunity to disarm and integrate into the Angolan Armed Forces basically because Savimbi did not want to be vice-President.

Gone are the times when Jonas Savimbi was feted as a hero in Washington, being decorated by Ronald Reagan as a Freedom Fighter in 1986. As Cabinda’s oil became more and more important and as the USA became its main destination, UNITA was officially dropped.

Regarding the future, the Portuguese Foreign Minister, Dr. Jaime Gama, declared after his one-hour meeting with President Santos, that “he is committed to taking positive and very rapid steps” towards a lasting peace in Angola and that in the near, “but not immediate” future, there will be democratic elections.

The big question mark is what happens in the meantime. UNITA itself is divided internally. Although Antonio Sebastiao Dembo is the vice-President of UNITA and as such should naturally succeed Savimbi, others may covet the position, provoking na internal struggle. Certainly, UNITA declares that it was not a one-man movement. Abel Chivukuvuku, one of the senior figures in the movement, declares that MPLA did not finish when Agostinho Neto died, so neither will UNITA on the death of Jonas Savimbi. Chivukuvuku goes further, claiming that “The liquidation of Jonas Savimbi was always on the agenda of the MPLA...because it is the only party which can offer democracy to Angola”. He added that MPLA “also wants to physically liquidate other UNITA leaders in the bush” (a reference to number 2 General Antonio Dembo, General Paulo Lukamba Gato and Alcides Sakala). He went on to denounce that although the government had announced a complete cease-fire, this is not the case on the battle front. He states that UNITA fears that the government forces will try to eliminate as many of its leaders as possible before elections are called.

In Lisbon, Joao Soares, son of ex-president Mario Soares and ex-Mayor of Lisbon, who visited Savimbi on three occasions in Angola, suspects that Savimbi was killed as a result of US intelligence. “The truth is that it was probably the Americans who provided the satellite intelligence information which led to his death”. He also claims that MPLA uses former soldiers of the South African Defence Force as its mercenaries.

Both Jonas Savimbi and Jose Eduardo dos Santos, along with those around them, lived comfortable lives supported by commissions from the war effort and by sacking Angola’s vast natural wealth. President Santos is claimed by some to be one of the richest men in the world. Well may be step down, with the conscience that neither he not Savimbi served their people justly although either one could claim that there could never be peace without the disappearance of the other.