This Day (Lagos)

2 April 2002

Angola: Savimbi And the Loser's Guilt

opinion

Lagos — It was a man of the old Bendel State of Nigeria who said; If you and me get case and tomorrow you die; who win? Of course the answer is obvious.

This perspective aptly captures the situation of Dr. Jonas Savimbi the dead UNITA leader on the chess board of public judgement. Ever since his death, I have hardly come across a compassionate and fair review of the peculiar circumstances of this ebullient African patriot. Every opinion is on condemnation.

In the world, might is right and therefore morality and justice take a back seat. Biafra's experience about 35 years ago is a good illustration of the case of Savimbi. When Biafra overan the then midwest, the Voice of America broadcast an opinion that "The war has come to a stage where Nigeria has no alternative than to negotiate with Biafra. But as soon as Biafra started losing ground the same Voice of America said "The rebels are on the run". And that is how it is that a loser is losing friends. And till eternity, Biafra is inexcusable on all charges as far as this mortal concept is concerned.

This is the situation in which Savimbi and UNITA found themselves since 1975 in Angola. Many a commentator have called UNITA "Rebels". But rebel against who?. Questions. How did Angola gain its independence? How did MPLA, a rival liberation movement crystalise into the government of Angola? These questions are the root of the conflict in Angola.

The naked truth was that when Portugal the colonial power was overwhelmed by the fire-power of the liberation movements acting independently, it summoned the three liberation movements to Luanda the capital and mischieviously told them "Here Is Your Country" and abdicated. The three groups tried to form a shaky tripatite coalition which soon packed up and hostility resumed, now among the liberation movements.

FNLA of Roberto Holden the oldest but the weakest group soon fizzled out. Regretably nobody remembers Roberto, now dead, who kindled the fire of nationalism. However, MPLA and UNITA equally matched, slugged it out. Savimbi's bitterness arose when MPLA with the endorsement of the O. A. U with very active influence of Nigeria imported over 30, 000 Cuban mercenaries to bolster their campaign.

The same O.A.U roundly condemned UNITA for seeking counter support from America and South Africa with which it shared a boarder. With the Cuban soldiers, MPLA was able to entrench themselves in the capital Luanda and subsequently gained diplomatic recognition. UNITA then retreated to the hinterland with Huambo the second largest city of Angola, as its capital. It controlled about half of the country with a parallel government for over sixteen years.

The frustration of Savimbi was aggravated when he sought to counter the Cuban presence by asking for America's massive support. While President Ronald Reagan was willing to oblige him, the American Congress refused, citing the Vietnam fiasco from which America had just emerged with a battered image as an excuse.

That was how MPLA was able to keep the capital Luanda. Savimbi turned to South Africa who could only offer limited logistics and ensure the safety of UNITA's rear. South Africa itself was involved in a war with the A.N.C.

Why will Savimbi not be dogged and uncompromising? For inspite of the presence of Cuba, he fought MPLA to a standstill for 16 years until the 1991 fiasco called an election was suggested and implemented. And if the matter had been left to the Angolans alone, certainly MPLA will never be in a position to call a fellow liberation movement, "The Rebels".

So the answer to the two questions. Angola gained its independence in the battle field by the three liberation movements. However, the sovereignity of Angola was handed over to MPLA by Cuba. This is the anger and contempt of Savimbi. And then came the turning point in an election in 1992. Suffice it to say that democracy in terms of universal adult suffrage can only have a meaning where there is a long standing culture and structure like political awareness and system. Such a situation did not exist in Angola because the Portuguese had never prepared the country for that and indeed never wanted to quit Angola.

Some opinion think that the greatest mistake made by Savimbi was in accepting such naive suggestions of an election. Though he might be excused when one considers the extent of diplomatic pressure on him as the world political equations were changing with the collapse of world communism. Nevertheless, Savimbi was to voice his fears in anticipation of losing the elections when he said "how will all these boys who had been with me be rehabilitated?

Yes, for once you lose election the machinery of governance is out of your control. Before the election, UNITA was running a parallel government in arears under its control with a well organised army of at least 50,000 strong. By the agreement of the election the Cubans left and UNITA losened areas under its control for the government of MPLA to come in. This was their undoing.

For when UNITA lost the election and the realities starred them in the face that they must exist at the mercy of the MPLA, they had lost ground both politically and militarily. As they could not just comprehend their sudden total subjugation under the MPLA, hostilities broke out, first in Luanda where quite a lot of the leadership of UNITA lost their lives, trying to escape to the interior. The election was a collosal mistake because there was no way UNITA could have expected to win a government on the ground in such circumstance and moreso in Africa. And on the other hand if MPLA lost, could they have surrendered the machinery of governance to UNITA? Certainly not.

The battle raged on and that was the first time Huambo the erstwhile UNITA capital came under contention with MPLA government forces. From then on, with both military disadvantages and the international diplomatic blackmail for not subscribing to the results of an incomprehensible election, UNITA's chances continued to dim. Worst was the recognition accorded MPLA by America and the subsequent UNO sanctions against UNITA.

But the tragedy of international politics is that often times people who are in a relative comfort and advantage elsewhere arrogate to themselves the prerogative of deciding the fate of people they cannot have a true feeling of their situation. This is what the OAU and the UNO did in Angola.

Worst still in the Angolan situation is the West's obsession with the word "democracy". That perception was totally illogical where two well armed groups were fighting for supremacy. A good peacemaker with understanding of the circumstances would have been insisting of integration of the opposing sides in a union government to be supervised and guranteed for some good number of years by force of arms by an external body like the UNO.

By this method a natural dissolution of all barriers would have crystallized after some number of years. In this circumstance one can be justified in accusing any recalcitrant leader of vaulting ambition by non conformity. That was the primary duty which Portugal abdicated and that was a way of exacting vengeance on the Angolan people for fighting Portugal for their independence. Something more brutal than what Charle De Gaulle did to Sekour Toures Guinea in the late fifties for embarking on civil agitation for independence. For certainly, Portugal knew that the scenario would emerge as it has now happened.

The OAU led by Nigeria did not play a sincere and unprejudiced role by their jaundiced support of one side, based on a siege mentality about Western colonialism. The OAU forgot that all the people involved were Angolans and they have the fundamental human right to decide for themselves. It is this denial of fundamental human right by the aggregation of international conspiracy and hypocricy that made Savimbi the more obstinate.

Consider the strenght, courage, commitment, vision and discipline with which Savimbi handled his organisation for several years against all odds, then one will come to a conclusion that Africa has lost the services of a purposeful and visionary leader. It is sad the way the Angolan government treated the corpse of Savimbi and his lieutenants by burying them in obscure graves. If President Eduardo dos Santos and his colleagues possess wisdom and magnanimity, this is an opportunity to begin to redress a catalogue of injustices and begin a process of national reconciliation.

It may not be too late to exhume the body of Savimbi and his lieutenants and give them a heroes burial in Luanda. The judgement of men is certainly not the judgement of God.

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