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Savimbi Is Not to Blame For Angola's Troubles

By Martin James and Margaret CalhounMartin James teaches international relations at Henderson State University in Arkansas. He authored the book "Political History of the Civil War in Angola." Margaret Calhoun is senior Africa analyst at the International Freedom Foundation in Washington. Both were accredited election observers in Angola. / November 16, 1992



RECENT shocking events in Angola, once a hot arena of cold-war confrontation, portend a return to civil war. Since the Bicesse Accords were signed in Lisbon in April 1991 a cease-fire has been in effect, and elections were held on Sept. 29 and 30. The primary challengers in Angola's historic first election were a "former" Leninist regime known as the MPLA party (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola), which rules Angola, and a former Western-backed resistance movement, UNITA (National Union for t he Total Independence of Angola).

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The election results subsequently were disputed by a host of opposition parties. With a run-off required between the presidents of UNITA and the MPLA, the MPLA government invited key UNITA leaders to Luanda under a white flag to negotiate a meeting between President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and UNITA's Jonas Savimbi. Two hours after discussions ended on Oct. 31, the MPLA launched an attack, using tanks, armored personnel carriers, and helicopter gunships against UNITA's lightly defended civilian installat ions in the capital.

UNITA's vice president, Jerry Chitunda, was executed with a bullet fired at close range, as was key negotiator Salupeta Pena; Mr. Savimbi's foreign minister suffered a leg wound and is in the MPLA's military hospital. Savimbi's nephew and top guerrilla commander, General Ben-Ben, is also reported dead.

The MPLA is arming its militants, and the word on the street is that any known or suspected UNITA sympathizer is fair game. The MPLA's riot police are ransacking houses in the UNITA-leaning musseques, or slums, shooting anyone possessing Savimbi campaign paraphernalia.

Other unarmed opposition parties, whose only provocation was to decry electoral fraud, have been imprisoned, tortured, or are under house arrest. The MPLA is ruthlessly and efficiently reimposing its one-party state. The "reform communists" in the MPLA have reverted to totalitarian tactics, expecting the United States to react feebly, if at all.

Less than a month ago, international observers, led by a small, 400-man United Nations monitoring force, observed the election. Tensions flared only days later, when 10 of 13 political parties fielding presidential candidates issued a joint declaration alleging electoral fraud, which they warned could be "a catalyst for destabilization of the whole democratic process." Among those challenging the ballot counting was Daniel Chipenda, formerly MPLA campaign manager, who ran as an independent. Reacting to f raud complaints and seeking to avert an impending political crisis, the UN Security Council dispatched an additional four officials to supplement the work of four subcommissions reviewing alleged electoral "irregularities."

Reports of stolen ballots, faceless voter identification cards, the hasty creation of more than 100 "mobile" polling booths, the circulation of surplus ballots, and a large percentage of "nullified" ballots deepened distrust of the MPLA-staffed electoral system. Invalidated ballots accounted for 25 percent of the total votes in some provinces. Under Angola's electoral law, these ballots were subject to review. No voter registry was ever given to opposition parties, nor was the opposition informed of how many votes were actually cast. The UN never conducted a recount and certified that the elections were "generally free and fair."