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How Will Savimbi's Death Affect Angola's Development? - 2002-03-14

Political analysts say the death last month of Angolan rebel-leader Jonas Savimbi will have a long-term effect on the country and economic development in southern Africa.

Many political scientists believe the death of Jonas Savimbi could lead to a more competitive multi-party system and a more responsive government. Others say it could entrench the country's drift into what they call repressive one-party rule with deepening economic rot and corruption.

Observers say an optimistic outcome would be a cease-fire, peace talks, and reconciliation between Mr. Savimbi's UNITA movement and the ruling party of President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, the MPLA, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola.

A pessimistic scenario would include the disintegration of the UNITA movement, perhaps divided among battling warlords.

Today, UNITA's military wing has lost control of many of the lucrative diamond fields it once held. It is relegated to the largely resource-poor Moxico province in the eastern part of the country. UNITA's base of support remains the Ovimbundu ethnic group, which makes up about 35 percent of Angolan population, roughly the same percentage UNITA holds in parliament.

International Law Professor Andre Thomashausen teaches at the Institute of Foreign and Comparative Law at the University of South Africa in Pretoria. He fears Angola is heading in the direction of what he calls failed states like Sierra Leone or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

He says that is especially likely if the Angolan government uses the military to end UNITA's armed opposition. The government says it is willing to consider a cease-fire, but Professor Thomashausen says that is contradicted by Interior Minister Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos.

"He [recently] declared that those who do not surrender would be killed. If the remaining leadership is captured or liquidated, then the [UNITA] movement will disintegrate and, on the provincial or even district levels, you will have small groups continuing on their own," Professor Thomashausen says.

Jonas Savimbi won 40 percent of the vote in 1992, about nine points less than President Dos Santos. Professor Thomashausen says that indicates that UNITA represents a sizeable number of Angolans who need to be brought into the political process.

But he says the recent killing of Mr. Savimbi and other high-level officials is not likely to create the trust needed to bring the two sides together.

"The way Savimbi [died] indicates he probably did not die in combat, and that does not indicate a [government] willingness to follow a policy of reintegration and re-establishing peace. The entire camp was taken and either the [camp members] are dead, or as some accounts say, there are a group of 50 senior officers of UNITA being held at an unknown location and under unknown circumstances. This raises serious humanitarian questions. There is a protocol number two to the Geneva Conventions of 1977 that prohibits the execution of prisoners of war even in internal conflicts," Professor Thomashausen says.

Steven Kibble is the Africa and Middle East advocacy officer for the Catholic Institute for International Relations in London. He says if UNITA can broaden its appeal to rural and disenfranchised groups it could defeat the ruling party in free and fair elections.

"Increasingly, the population says this is a corrupt, self serving, oligarchy which has long since lost any transformational rhetoric or socialist ideology and is just using oil wealth to line its pockets. If this were to occur, this would be a historical irony, given that the MPLA was the party of revolution, of the poor, of bringing down colonialism," Mr. Kibble says.

Most observers say an end to the war would allow Angola to develop. Political scientists say about 40 percent of Angola's budget goes to the war effort, while less than five percent goes to social services.

Rising corruption and mismanagement have also accompanied the conflict. A study by the International Monetary Fund and the Angolan government shows that almost one-third of the revenues from Angola's oil sales are not accounted for.

Simon Taylor is the director of Global Witness, a London-based organization that looks at the role of natural resources in the funding of conflicts. "There were comments in December attributed to economists associated with the [Oil Diagnostic] study who said we can not account for discrepancies, money in excess of $1 billion. [Compare that with the] $200 million required by the World Food Program for Angola," he says. "The United Nations had problems raising these funds, which are essential to feed the more than one million people who are totally dependent on imported food," he says

Mr. Taylor and Global Witness are asking foreign oil companies to make public the revenue they pay to all governments of the developing world, just as they do in industrialized countries. And, they ask the Angolan government to make its budgeting procedures public as a means of deterring corruption and encouraging development.

Mr. Kibble says peace and good governance could make Angola a formidable economic presence in southern Africa. "A well-run Angola with a well-run infrastructure provided by [neighboring] South Africa would be very interesting in terms of how a region, even in this late stage, could take off. We might actually see something of an African renaissance," he says.

Mr. Kibble tempers the optimistic scenario with reality. Angola is not just a country of untapped resources, but also of land mines, a lack of education and infrastructure, and great distances that impede the development of a national and regional trading network.

But he says anything is possible with will power and good planning.