ANGOLA: COULD TRADITIONAL CHIEFS BE USED TO MAKE PEACE? - 19 January, 2001

Divided by a never-ending war which has now lasted twenty-five years, the population of Angola lives in the middle of the battle between MPLA and Jonas Savimbi's UNITA. The country seems to be further than ever from reconciliation. President dos Santos appeals to the international community to respect the sanctions imposed by the UNO against UNITA but the international arms and diamond trade continues to be as strong as ever. UNITA blames the government for not wanting to end the war and accuses the MPLA leadership of gaining huge fortunes through arms trafficking. Meanwhile, both forces have 100,000 soldiers in the field, spread out in Angola's vast hinterland. Efforts to broker peace by Russia, the USA and Portugal, the former colonial power, have all proved fruitless. Last week, the king of Lower Cassanje, a traditional leader, went to Luanda to propose that the traditional African chiefs intervene to try to bring peace back to this potentially rich giant, reduced to a deeply impoverished shadow of itself. If the leaders of the two main factions at war agree, this could be the first step towards a resolution of the conflicts in the African continent. Indeed, while traditional chiefs have an important place in the constitution of some African countries (Namibia and South Africa, for example), in others their role is almost negligible. However, according to the German sociologist, Reinhart Koessler, "whether you like it or not, the tribal chief is a social reality". This reality was basically ignored in Portugal's African colonies (Angola, Mozambique, Guinea, Cape Verde and Sao Tome) and this created a vacuum occupied by a polarisation of power into two warring factions. It should be remembered that in Somalia, it was the traditional leaders who solved a similar problem, after the United Nations had performed much-publicised beach invasions by US Marines, accompanied by jingoistic newspaper headlines "Our boys go in!" The result was the tragedy of seeing dead American soldiers dragged through the streets of Mogadishu in front of howling crowds. After the external players withdrew from Somalia, the tribal leaders settled the issues in their own, traditional manner. Traditional chiefs could also be useful in land disputes in countries where white colonials "stole" land belonging to native Africans in expropriations, such as what happened in Zimbabwe.They may provide a more realistic and appropriate policy than demagogy.

TIMOTHY BANCROFT-HINCHEY Pravda.Ru Lisbon