News / Africa

Angola's UNITA - From Battlefield to Ballot Box

Supporters of Angola's main opposition UNITA party cheer during an election rally in Luanda, August 25, 2012.
Supporters of Angola's main opposition UNITA party cheer during an election rally in Luanda, August 25, 2012.
Angola is still waiting for final results of the parliamentary elections, which are likely to be won by the ruling party MPLA and its leader, incumbent president José Manuel Dos Santos. In the meantime, the main historical opposition party, UNITA, is using all legal means to contest the elections. From the battlefield to the ballot box, the party has come a long way to achieve a peaceful resistance.

Sitting on his motorbike, Calupeteca Leonardo Mario, 20, is waiting for customers. In this suburb of Luanda, the young man is a moto-taxi driver. He says life is not easy around here.

Mario says he works twelve hours a day to earn only $20 per day which, given the high cost of life in Luanda, is not enough to live decently. So for its first elections, he decided to vote for the opposition party, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, known as UNITA.

Mario says that it is the first time he can vote and as he was growing up, he has always known the UNITA as the main opposition party in Angola. And that is why he voted for them. To him, UNITA, or the newly-created opposition party CASA-SE, are the same, their program does not matter as long as they oppose the ruling party, known as the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), and its leader, José Eduardo Dos Santos, who has been in power for the last 33 years.

UNITA, according to preliminary results, should get about 17% of the vote. And although the party contests the figures and claims the vote total is higher, it is still almost twice what the party had four years ago, during the first post-war elections.

For journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques de Morais, the simple fact that UNITA is still around is seen as quite an accomplishment, 10 years after the end of the civil war with the MPLA which lasted for 27 years and ended with the killing of UNITA's founder Jonas Savimbi in 2002.

"Peace was not a priority for UNITA, and ultimately they paid the price of war," he said. "I think UNITA has shown a great ability to survive under the most depressing conditions. After having lost part of its leadership in '92',  UNITA was able to rebuild its structure. It has done a remarkable job, in becoming a true civilian party. "

UNITA was created in 1966 by former MPLA member Jonas Savimbi, to fight Portugal, which ruled Angola as a colony. After independence was won in 1975, the liberation parties started to fight each other for power, in a Cold War proxy war, pitting the U.S. backed-UNITA against the MPLA, supported by the former Soviet Union and Cuba. In 2002, the MPLA eventually won by killing Savimbi.

UNITA's spokesperson Alcides Sakala, who was fighting alongside Savimbi back then, remembers the soul-searching the party had to face.

"Doc Savimbi died in combat," said Sakala. "That was really a very difficult moment. Because the party was founded by himself and now, what to do? 

"Continuing the resistance in a very difficult condition in a world that was changing then the second option was to take the idea of Doc Savimbi who was willing to negotiate again with the MPLA," he added.

So UNITA decided to become a peaceful political party. Its members elected Isais Samakuva to take over the party leadership, and engaged in the demobilization and re-integration of their army. This transition was not made without trouble, and relations with the ruling party are still difficult.

UNITA claims that the current elections are rigged, but unlike in 1992, elections during which the party rekindled the war, a call for violent action is now definitely off-the-table, says Sakala.

"Now UNITA is a political party," he said. "We don't have any army, we don't have a territory. Ten years have gone ever since the war has finished. Now, our option is to work with the Angolans."

The final elections results are expected to be announced Friday. The ruling MPLA party of President José Eduardo Dos Santos is widely expected to win by a landslide.

You May Like

Germany Celebrates 25 Years of Unity

October 3 is a public holiday, marking the day in 1990 when East Germany and West Germany reunited More

Analysts: Russia's Syria Strikes Shake Regional Powers

If Moscow bolsters Assad, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries may feel obliged to step in More

Video Innovative Nano-Tech Water Filter Prevents Disease

It can absorb contaminants like copper, bacteria, viruses and pesticides, says Askwar Hilonga, who has been successfully trying out his product in Arusha More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs