Washington, DC — The death of Unita rebel leader Jonas Savimbi "substantially changed the political and military situation, thus creating an excellent opportunity for peace," Angolan President José Eduardo Dos Santos told an audience of business executives and government officials at a dinner hosted by the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) on Tuesday night. "Peace is, at this stage, priority number one" he said, adding that both sides had to find the "political will" to create reciprocal trust.
Earlier in the day, Dos Santos, along with Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano and Botswana President Festus Mogae, met with U.S. President George W. Bush for talks on peace and security in the southern Africa region. Dos Santos told Bush he wanted to see a ceasefire "as soon as possible". Despite attacks by Unita, Monday, that left nine people dead, the Angolan President said he was not discouraged.
"As a party, Unita has room [to operate]," Dos Santos said, immediately after the White House meeting, "but we won't allow it to have a private army." He told his CCA dinner audience that the first step "should be a laying down of weapons through an 'in situ' truce that leads to a general cease-fire." Political parties must disarm, he said again. "We can not accept that the political parties hold private armies."
He said the MPLA government had created a fund to support reintegration of Unita personnel abandoning the organisation's military wing and he called for new U.S. investment to help create employment of demobilised forces.
Dos Santos acknowledged, there was a need for political reform at local and state levels and for new regulatory legislation. He said a new electoral law was being drafted and that Angola was working with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, on creating conditions to ensure future elections would be free and fair.
Much of Dos Santos' half-hour address focused on economic development issues. His government had managed to reduce inflation, the currency was relatively stable and both employment rates and incomes were up. Small and mid-sized enterprises were showing "signs of revitalization", he said.
But despite progress, much remained to be done, he told the audience, promising "new opportunities for American business." Citing the "urgent" need to rebuild his nation's war-shattered infrastructure, Dos Santos said "we will have to mobilize enormous financial, technical and human resources. We will encourage American participation in all of this development."
President Dos Santos laid emphasis on the value of Angolan oil to the United States, hinting at the potential benefits of a bilateral relationship and the uncertainty of Middle East oil sources: "Angola already supplies about five percent of the oil imported into the United States... As a non-OPEC oil-producing country, we want to work with the US to contribute to its energy security."
US relations with Angola had steadily improved, he said, and had never been better than they were today. He pointed to the now-regular direct flight between Houston and Luanda as a sign of the increased level of business between the two countries, not only in oil but several other sectors.
Dos Santos said Angola would support the US in its war against terrorism and saluted President Bush's "global leadership". He said Angola now considered the U.S. "an important partner on whom it counts for the development and consolidation of democracy in Angola."
Dos Santos also promised support for US objectives in Africa, saying Angola would "work in partnership with the US to tackle regional problems, such as the war in the DRC". US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Walter Kansteiner, would be making an official visit to Angola in April.