25 June 2002

Angola: Don't Simplify History, Says Savimbi's Biographer

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I'm thinking about this one. I think for people outside Angola, yes, he did a deal with the devil. For the people within Angola, Savimbi had a great deal of support at the time that he "did a deal with the devil".

Earlier in this interview I talked about the need to respect history. If we're going to respect history, then we mustn't oversimplify it. Savimbi at the beginning was hailed as the peacemaker in Angola. He tried to get a peace deal between all three movements. When it began to break down - and now we don't want to get into the discussion about how it did break down because it's very complicated and very controversial -- he actually first went to western capitals and said, look, the promise we had for elections at independence, it's not going to happen. He said the Russians are now pouring a lot of arms in for the MPLA (current government), what are you going to do about it?

And it was the West that was responsible for the South African invasion of Angola, it wasn't Savimbi. Savimbi asked for Western help. The West gave the green light to the South Africans to invade Angola, which the South Africans did. And when a journalist discovered that they had invaded Angola, which was me, and reported it, it changed the course of the war. The South Africans said to the west, 'look now we've been found out are you going to stand up and be counted if you want us to go on?' Of course the west said 'sorry'.

So was Jonas Savimbi a pawn of the Cold War, of America, of those who saw communism as the red devil, as the red scare?

All the Africans in Angola were pawns of the Cold War. Angola was the hot focus of the Cold War. The FNLA was the pawn of the CIA initially. The MPLA was the pawn of the Russians and the East Germans. Savimbi, initially, was China's man. And when he found that the Chinese help was insufficient....

What he once said to me is that when you're a drowning man in a crocodile-infested river, you don't argue about who is rescuing you until you're safely on the bank. And I think that was a reasonable argument. And he used to point also to the fact that Britain, during the Second World War, made an alliance with Joseph Stalin, who had wiped out 33 million people in the 1930s.

So, people make, all people make, all statesmen make alliances of convenience, cynical alliances of convenience everywhere around the world. On that score, I don't particularly condemn Savimbi. But what I do condemn him mightily for, and I revealed it, is the killing of his own very fine people. That can never be justified.

So are you absolutely sure that Unita is finished militarily?

For certain. I'm absolutely certain in my own mind. As I keep saying, Savimbi had destroyed his second tier leadership, with a few possible exceptions.

Is the Cold War over in Africa? Are the proxy wars of the west and their African partners over? I ask that, because Jonas Savimbi is, I suppose, the last Cold War icon on the continent...

Yes, but it was no longer an ideological war. It was a war being conducted by a man who wanted dictatorial power. He wanted supreme power. He had achieved supreme power within his movement. He had ended any last vestige of democracy within Unita and, finally, he was fighting for absolute power in Angola. But certainly the Cold War was over, we were talking about sheer human demagogy in the end.

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