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It is not difficult to see the vicissitudes of the latest rounds of the "peace processes" in Angola and Mozambique -- so vividly evoked by Victoria Brittain, Pierre Beaudet and Judith Marshall in the trio of hardhitting articles that lead off the present issue - as merely the latest phase of the unresolved struggles for liberation from external dictate that we, in TCLSAC, have been supporting in "Lusophone Africa" throughout the twenty years of our committee's existence. (jbv)

vol 9 no 1

War and peace and war: Angola: War without end
Pierre Beaudet

Printable Version
Southern Africa Report

SAR, Vol 9, No 1, July 1993
Page 7
"Angola - Mozambique"




The grim ordeal that the recent history of both Angola and Mozambique has become grinds on. And wars, largely inflicted on these countries from without, prove far easier to set in motion than to wind down. Angola is the cruellest case. There Jonas Savimbi, the darling of the international Right, merely blows aside the democratic outcome that has so defied his boundless ambition and lets slip, once again, the dogs of war. Two accounts of this cruel moment in Angola may help readers to grasp its full horror. The first, by veteran SAR correspondent Victoria Brittain (of the UK's Guardian newspaper), serves to place the events in the broader global framework of imperial calculation while, simultaneously, giving them a human face - as she recalls several of the Angolan patriots who, in Huambo, have paid with their lives for Savimbi's present activities. The second article, by Quebec support activist Pierre Beaudet just back from Angola, further evokes the reality of a war that, despite the recent but short-lived episode of peace, now shows no sign of slackening. A related article on Mozambique - one that draws its strength from the first-hand impressions of Judith Marshall - shows a peace process in that country which, after a fashion, remains in place. But, ominously, it is one fraught with danger signs that are all too familiar from Angola's own recent past. We present, then, an unsettling trio of articles, scarcely light summer reading. But they provide essential information: food for thought, food for action. [ed.]


Pierre Beaudet, director of CIDMAA, the Centre d'information et de documentation sr le Mozambique et l'Afrique australe in Montreal and long-time observer of southern Africa recently returned from a visit to Angola.

Angola is holding its breath, just after the last round of negotiations came to an abrupt halt at the end of May in Abidjan, capital of the Ivory Coast. In spite of US recognition of the Angola Government, Unita refuses to accede to international pressure because, on the ground, Savimbi's movement has enormous advantages. Since the battle of Huambo last February, where more than 10,000 civilians and soldiers died, everyone has been wondering about the future of this country. Right now a de facto partition divides the country into two armed camps. Barring a last-minute agreement, fighting may well break out again. As a result of this catastrophic situation, famine is imminent, threatening more than three million people displaced by the war.

Fragile balance of power

The balance of power between the two leading political forces in Angola remains fluid. The MPLA government is benefiting from majority support within the population across several regions of the country. In the September election the MPLA won a majority in 14 out of 18 provinces. The bulk of the urban population has lined up behind the government (the capital alone accounting for nearly two million people). But in fact, their support is soft - more by default than anything else. "The people don't love the government much," maintains Fernando Pacheco, an official with an Angolan development organization, "but the prospect of Savimbi seizing power scares them enormously." Throughout 1992 and especially during the electoral campaign, Unita has consistently proclaimed its intention of "cleansing" the country, which would have led without doubt to the mainly Ovimbundu southerners taking revenge on the northerners, the mixed race, and the whites - in short, all the urban world.

On the military front, the government army isn't threatened with immediate collapse. The elite force, which the MPLA had already "transferred" from the army to the military police over a year ago, has demonstrated its abilities, notably in the battle for Luanda last December; and the air force, a monopoly of the state, remains relatively powerful. On the other hand, the defeat at Huambo has been costly.

Even so, on the economic front, the government can hope to survive, thanks to Cabinda's petroleum. Angola's production of 350,000 barrels a day ensures considerable income and remains relatively sheltered from possible Unita attacks because it's basically located off-shore. Because of this situation, the government is re-arming. "The arms merchants of all nationalities are now jostling against each other in Angola," asserts a diplomat with a posting in Luanda. The end of the Cold War has in effect "liberated" the market from all ideological "interference." Americans, Russians, French, Brazilians, Israelis, and South Africans not only offer arms and equipment, but also "ready-to-use" systems, including mercenaries to handle the arms and materiel, and to train the Angolan army. But even if the financial situation remains buoyant in the short-term, the prospect of a prolonged war certainly scares the government. Arms must now be bought in hard currency.

The deficit in the balance of payments is estimated at more than $1.4 billion and Angola is not even in a position to meet the interest on its debt. In this context, negotiations with the IMF to reschedule the debt have been suspended since last January. The economic liberalization programmes promoted by the World Bank at the start of the 90s have prompted a strong rise in prices ( inflation being over 200%), along with several thousand job losses in public enterprises, without any thread of security in place for the most destitute. In the shanty-towns of Luanda anger is brewing, especially as 55% are either underemployed or unemployed - an anger all the more intense since those privileged in power (high military ranks or government bureaucrats) don't at all mind flaunting their wealth. Generally speaking, the MPLA can probably still hold on, at least in the short term. "It's still not Kabul," claims an official of a humanitarian agency in Luanda. Yet taking everything into account, the government is not strong enough to oust Unita from its bastions, and its strategy consists essentially of buying time.

The "comparative advantages" of Unita

In the face of this situation Unita remains an enormously powerful movement, as was strikingly demonstrated at the battle of Huambo. After the fierce fighting against the government's elite troops Unita troops got the upper hand, in spite of the aerial onslaught (although at the price of very serious losses). While more concentrated geographically, Unita's base of support is also more "dense."

The Ovimbundu, which make up over 35% of the population, are not only more concentrated geographically in the south-east, but also constitute a very solid bloc behind Savimbi, as the elections demonstrated. On the military plane, Savimbi has been able to protect the bulk of his troops by refusing to demobilize and disarm throughout the process supervised by the UN, with the result that it's estimated that he can count on more than 40,000 men, including 10,000 to 15,000 well-trained soldiers. In relative terms this army is highly armed, since Unita has not only preserved its stocks, but continues to receive significant quantities of arms such as munitions, artillery and vehicles.

There are multiple networks supplying Unita but the main line is still found in South Africa. The South African government proclaims its neutrality in the present conflict loudly and strongly, but powerful sectors of the South African military high command are doing everything in their power to support Unita, their "historical" ally; and President de Klerk, though not necessarily with much enthusiasm, shuts his eyes. Since January there have been almost daily flights originating in the south, perfectly well observed by Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, which claim however that they are incapable of stopping them.

Beyond this semi-official traffic, considerable support reaches Unita from important sectors of the Portuguese community, as much among those who live in South Africa (nearly 350,000) as within the Angolan-Portuguese "diaspora" back in Portugal. To sustain these supplies Unita has important resources at its disposal, notably the profits extracted from the diamond mines which Savimbi has seized along the Zairean frontier. The income from this trade is estimated at more than $500 million and because of the current rampant chaos in Zaire, exports are rising without limit.

Savimbi's strategy is to hold fast while capitalising on the temporary disarray that has characterized Luanda since the battle of Huambo. For in the longer term, time is against Savimbi, who is seen increasingly as a liability both regionally and internationally. As he continues to lose his backers, his best chance is to move ahead militarily, to maintain his momentum in the medium term.

In the shadow of the "New International Order"

The end of the Cold War had encouraged the belief that Angola would cease to be the strategic battleground that originally led the great powers to intervene in the country. The New York accord of 1988, followed by the Bicesse agreement in Portugal on ways of bringing peace to the country, opened the door to the end of the conflict. But the United Nations, which had been entrusted with the care of monitoring the peace process, had failed. Even the UN representative in place, Margaret Anstee, now admits the international community was not given the means to help Angola find its way to peace. The 450 unarmed military observers were far too few to truly impose demilitarization. Moreover, the electoral process had been rushed forward under pressure from the US. Washington, which was hoping for an easy victory for its protg Unita, frantically promoted a delicate and fragile process, which would demand much more diplomacy and time.

Already in 1991 some independent Angolans, critical both of the party in power and of Unita, foresaw the unfortunate outcome of a battle between the two leading forces of Angolan politics, rather than national reconciliation. A case in point was Savimbi already announcing several months before the election that he had to win, otherwise the elections would be considered "illegitimate." Before the announcement of the election results (even though declared "free and fair" by the UN), Unita was hurrying to get ready for a new round of fighting.

The international community could have reacted at that time. The US, for example, could have pushed Unita to recognize the victory of the MPLA, while encouraging the latter to form a coalition government, which President dos Santos moreover would probably have accepted. When Unita set its sights on a military solution, there could have been new pressures, such as a clear and threatening message to Pretoria to stop the convoys of arms to Unita. But in the end nothing was done. "Ultimately the American administration is the major player responsible for this mess," claims Joaquim de Andrade, one of the first Angolan dissidents to dare to criticize the party in power in the 70s. Today, recognition of the Angolan government comes too late. The fact is that the American president procrastinated too long in the face of the powerful pro-Savimbi lobby within the American Congress.

Currently Unita controls more than half of the country and now speaks of "federalising" it, which could amount to a de facto partition. This partition, all agree, is not a lasting solution, and would in fact enable Unita to prepare the "final" assault. According to Andrade, "only vigorous international intervention could lead to peace. We must push Unita to return to reason." In the event of a return to war, not only Angola would be affected. Other African countries, which themselves are also experiencing a fragile process of peace-making, could follow this "bad example," notably South Africa and Mozambique.

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