Southern Africa: At Last the Guns May Fall Silent in Angola


Johannesburg — A MONTH ago, it was fashionable to dismiss talk by optimists that the death in combat of Jonas Savimbi spelled the arrival of peace for Angola. However, the events of the past month, which culminated in the signing of a cease-fire last Thursday, must prove an embarrassment to the doubting Thomases of Angola's troubled path to peace.

In just weeks, acting on orders from President José Eduardo dos Santos, the Forcas Armadas Angolanas (FAA), Angola's army, has initiated cease-fire talks with local units of Uniâo Nacional para a Independ≖ncia Total de Angola (Unita), the rebel movement that Savimbi led.

These talks have led to Thursday's general cease-fire witnessed by Angola's neighbours, like SA, and, in part, to the approval by Angola's parliament of an amnesty deal for Unita's fighters a few days earlier.

Just days after Savimbi's death, Dos Santos, the leader of the ruling Movimento Popular de Liberacâo de Angola (MPLA), was in Washington, asking for aid to help develop his country which, thanks to the internecine civil war, has been unable to feed, clothe and educate its citizens.

Thursday's "peace deal" has taken Angola closer to peace than its predecessors. And, it has, arguably, opened many doors to the unknown for Angolans and their neighbours: some to peace; some back to war; others, even, to elections and democracy the possibilities are limitless.

There are several reasons why Thursday's deal has slightly better chances of success than previous ones.

But two stand out. First, Savimbi's death.

Unlike his MPLA and FAA counterparts, Savimbi, as his death showed, led from the front. But this has also meant that few leaders were allowed to emerge and, therefore, his absence would make it harder for Unita to regroup as a rebel movement.

Second, this comes perilously close to a textbook definition of a homegrown solution.

Foreigners (both Angola's neighbours and the so-called international community) have played a minimal overt role in it.

With the main irritant (Savimbi) out of the way, the deal offers Dos Santos, the next chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a chance to extend the military deal to civil society and to start playing a role in regional politics beyond the Democratic Republic of Congo. Apart from propping up the Kabilas in Congo, he has hardly played any role in the SADC.

Angola can now also concentrate on rebuilding its battered economy which has only benefited a few mainly, the men with guns, their families and their international sponsors (arms merchants, as well as oil and diamond magnates).

While Angola has enough mineral wealth to feed itself, it urgently needs outside help to get back on its feet. Outsiders (western powers and international financiers), though, are unlikely to offer blanket cheques to Luanda.

Angola has missed most targets agreed with the International Monetary Fund, a bad start.

The nature of the conditions, not conditions per se, is detested by the MPLA elite. Now that the war has ended, it would seem fair for donors to demand greater transparency in the use of money, so they go.

Put differently, the need for extrabudgetary financing mechanisms (oil-backed loans) and parallel political structures both key to FAA's war effort has significantly reduced.

But lifting the veil of secrecy is likely to "expose" the wellknown secret that the war has also benefited the ruling elite.

If Dos Santos wants to be taken seriously (it's unclear if he does), he will soften his appeal to national sovereignty by opening up the books and even contributing part of oil receipts to Angola's development needs.

Dos Santos' commitment to transparency will also depend on the exact, albeit covert, role played by foreigners in eliminating Savimbi. Talk is that Israel and/or Portugal had a hand. What, if at all, were they promised in return?

Global Witness, an international lobby, claims in a report that $1bn-3bn went missing from Angola in 2001. It is calling on stock market regulators to require oil firms to report their payments to all national governments as a listing condition.

Dos Santos now has an incentive to retire from active politics by calling an election. Stepping back may also help revive MPLA's democratic spirit to enable a popular leader to emerge.

Dos Santos helped stifle, if not kill, this spirit during his rule.

Having stayed out of the military fray and done little, diplomatically (save for ritual denunciation of Savimbi), to end it, the SADC now has a chance to assist with Angola's reconstruction. Pretoria, its richest member, has the means to do so. Still, there are many minefields to avoid.

Having stayed out of the military fray, the SADC has a chance to assist with Angola's rebuilding

Dludlu is Managing Editor at Business Day.

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