NAMIBIA'S peaceful transition to independence in March 1990 remains one of the UN's major peacekeeping triumphs. The 9,000-strong United Nations Transitional Assistance Group (UNTAG), provided a model for UN intervention during a major transition in the nation's history. UNTAG was charged with monitoring the demobilization of all armies, restricting guerrilla forces and the South African armed forces to bases, and supervising and controlling the whole electoral process.
It was the next phase of the interlinking Namibian independence settlement and Angolan peace accords that turned out to be one of the UN's greatest disasters in Africa.
Angola's first multiparty elections on Sept. 30, 1992, turned sour when rebel leader Jonas Savimbi rejected the results and returned to the bush, plunging the country back into a bitter civil war. The UN Angola Verification Mission (UNAVEM II) was charged with monitoring and verifying a cease-fire, confinement and demobilization of troops, formation of a new defense force, disposal of weapons, and monitoring and verifying the electoral process.
In Mozambique, a UN peacekeeping force of about 7,500 is trying to learn from the mistakes of Angola and ensure that the implementation of a peace accord in Mozambique does not trigger renewed hostilities.
In retrospect, the reasons for both the success of the Namibian operation and the failure of its Angolan counterpart, UNAVEM II, are clear.
In Namibia, the ratio between UN personnel and inhabitants was 1 to 200; in Angola, that figure was 1 to 12,000. Perhaps the most important factors, however, revolve around political will, the extent to which contending factions respect the election process, and the demobilization of opposing forces.
In Namibia, the political settlement was the outcome of more than a decade of painstaking negotiations and experiments in self-rule. This period in which South Africa equivocated on relinquishing its authority over its neighbor served as a prolonged transition to independence.
Once Pretoria made its decision, however, UN Special Representative Martii Ahtisaari quickly developed a relationship of trust with the South African administrator-general, despite Pretoria's contention of UN bias toward the former guerrilla movement, the South West Africa Peoples' Organization (SWAPO). South Africa's role in delivering the internal parties, which feared a SWAPO victory, was crucial and perhaps the most vital element missing in the Angolan equation.
The numbers of the UN mission in Angola were far too small and its resources hopelessly inadequate to demobilize the parties. The mission failed to ensure neutrality of the police, so it was easy for the rebel National Union for the Liberation of Angola (UNITA) to wage war in pursuit of their goal of political power. The UN failed to gain any meaningful rapprochement between the parties.
Some question the appointment, within the cultural context, of a refined British woman, though an able diplomat, as the director responsible for gaining the respect of hardened UNITA generals. Margaret Anstee herself points to the limited UN mandate to merely ``verify and observe'' the implementation of the Angolan accords and electoral process as ``woefully inadequate.''
There is little doubt, too, that the limited numbers and resources of UNAVEM II made it impossible to establish whether a proper demobilization of the opposing armies in Angola was taking place.
Ms. Anstee insists that the parties might have reached agreement on a cease-fire at talks in Abidjan in April if she had been able to commit the UN to providing a ``small, symbolic force'' of blue helmets to oversee an accord.
``I still believe that the only hope of achieving a peaceful solution in Angola is for the international community to break this vicious circle by providing such a symbolic presence,'' she wrote in a recent letter to The Daily Telegraph of London.
The UN Special Envoy in Mozambique, Aldo Ajello, insisted from the start of his term in December last year that he will not countenance embarking on the electoral process until demilitarization has been successfully completed.
He has already sanctioned a 12-month delay in the proposed date for the country's first multiparty elections now scheduled for October next year.
He also ensured that the UN operation, ONUMOZ, had a broader mandate and that ONUMOZ had the powers to disarm combatants and organize elections.
By coaxing the two Mozambican leaders into an eight-day meeting in August, Mr. Ajello acknowledged that only trust at the leadership level can lay the foundations for a positive UN intervention.
``Unless the political will is already there, the UN operations will inevitably become tangled up in internal conflicts,'' said a Western diplomat. ``That's always a no-win situation.''