Decommissioned UNITA BMP-1 and BM-21 Grads at an assembly point.

Map of SWAPO and South African operations, 1981–1984.

The Peace Process (1988–90)

Angola was finally ready to accept linkage (the term applied to the U.S. policy of linking independence for Namibia to the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola) and proposed a timed withdrawal of its Cuban allies in return for independence for Namibia, a withdrawal of South African forces from Angola, and an end to South African and U.S. support for UNITA. Cuba and the USSR now accepted linkage and George Shultz, the U.S. secretary of state, and Eduard Shevardnadze, the Soviet foreign minister, agreed to work together. A series of peace meetings was held throughout 1988 in different venues including London, Brazzaville, Lisbon, Moscow, Cairo, New York, and then Brazzaville again, where an agreement was finally reached at the end of the year. The terms of the December 1988 Brazzaville Protocols were as follows: Cuba would withdraw its (by then) 50,000 troops over 27 months; South Africa would implement UN Resolution 435 in Namibia during 1989 to lead to independence in 1990; a commission composed of representatives from the United States, the USSR, Cuba, Angola, and South Africa would arbitrate complaints over implementation; and the African National Congress (ANC) would withdraw its estimated 10,000 cadres from Angola. The final signing of the agreement took place in New York on 22 December 1988. The Namibian peace process began on 1 April 1989, and Namibia became independent on 21 March 1990; all the Cuban troops had been withdrawn as agreed by July 1991.

However, the deal did not also bring an end to the war between the Angolan government and UNITA, and the United States insisted that its continuing aid to UNITA was a separate issue. In 1989, following the Brazzaville agreement, the MPLA government offered an amnesty to UNITA members, although few took advantage of it. President dos Santos also suggested that the United States should recognize his government, but Washington linked recognition to a settlement between the MPLA and UNITA. The war continued throughout 1989, but though UNITA controlled more territory than the government, this did not include any towns. It was then estimated that UNITA had 40,000 trained guerrillas and 30,000 irregulars. The government, on the other hand, had 160 MiGs, helicopter gunships, and an army of 50,000 as well as 50,000 reservists; it also controlled the Cabinda enclave and therefore the oil industry, which yielded an income of $2 billion a year. Various attempts were made by African governments to bring the two sides together and end the war, but these efforts were hardly helped when the United States increased its aid to UNITA in 1990 to $80 million.

Results of the Civil War to 1990

By 1990, after 15 years of civil war, which had been preceded by 15 years of struggle against the Portuguese, Angola had been devastated: towns and infrastructure had been destroyed and revenues were reduced to a trickle while almost no economic development had taken place. In 1986 it was estimated that 600,000 Angolans had been displaced out of a population of 8.5 million, and three years later a further 400,000 had become refugees outside Angola. A country which has the capacity to be a substantial food exporter was importing 50 percent of its requirements and needed UN food aid. About 20,000 people had lost limbs, mainly through land mines, which was the highest ratio to population in the world. External interventions had ensured that the civil war was both more prolonged and more devastating than it would otherwise have been, as UNITA could not have survived as a fighting force without the backing of the United States and South Africa. The MPLA government had received massive military assistance (possibly worth $2 billion over two years) from the USSR, with up to 1,000 Soviet advisers and 50,000 Cuban troops in the country at the end of the 1980s. U.S. assistance to UNITA was at the rate of $45 million in 1989 and $80 million in 1990 and South African assistance over the 1980s was reckoned at $160 million. The Cubans may have suffered as many as 10,000 dead over the years 1975–1990, though they did not publish any figures. By September 1989, possibly 300,000 Angolans had been killed in the conflict, while $12 billion worth of destruction had been inflicted on the country.

The Conflict Continues (1992–2002)

A tentative peace was negotiated between the two sides in December 1990 and this was followed by talks in Portugal in February and April 1991, leading to the initialing of an agreement on 1 May. This peace accord was signed on 31 May in Lisbon. The ceremony was attended by the U.S. secretary of state, Jam Baker, and the Soviet foreign minister, Aleksander Bessmertmykh, and it was agreed that the United States, the USSR, and the United Nations should monitor the cease-fire and that elections would be held late in 1992. The UN, thereupon, established the United Nations Angola Verification Mission (UNAVEM) to monitor the cease-fire until after the elections. Registration for the elections took place between May and August 1992; the new Assembly was to have 223 seats and the country would be renamed the Republic of Angola. The elections were held over 29–30 September 1992, with the MPLA winning 128 seats and UNITA 71. Neither dos Santos nor Savimbi received 50 percent of the presidential vote, so a runoff was needed. However, Savimbi claimed that the elections were fraudulent and returned to the bush to resume the war, which he did on 30 October, and by the end of November, his forces controlled two-thirds of the country. When the new Assembly convened, the UNITA members did not take their seats.

In January 1993, government forces launched an offensive to drive UNITA out of the towns it had seized; the UN representative in Angola, Margaret Anstee, said that there was “full-scale civil war” again and that the UN mandate was becoming increasingly irrelevant. The renewed fighting, if anything, was more savage than previously, and though the government had some early successes, UNITA then counterattacked and captured Soyo, the northern oil town, and managed to cut Luanda’s water supply. However, UNITA had done itself great damage by returning to the bush and refusing to accept the election results, for Washington finally abandoned its long-standing support for UNITA and said its resumption of the use of force was unacceptable. Portugal, the United States, and Russia each claimed that the 1992 elections had been free and fair and on 12 March 1993, the UN Security Council passed a resolution placing full responsibility upon UNITA for the renewed fighting. The Council insisted that UNITA return to the peace process by 30 April. On 25 March, the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate passed a joint resolution condemning UNITA and calling for U.S. recognition of the Angolan (MPLA) government. Yet, despite mounting international pressure and the vital change of U.S. policy, UNITA continued the war. On 2 June 1993, the United Nations extended the UNAVEM II mandate for Angola; by that time an estimated two million Angolans were suffering from hunger, drought, or disease. On 21 June, the United States and Angola established full diplomatic relations. In July 1993, the UN representative Alioune Blondin Beye claimed that more than 1,000 people a day were dying from the direct and indirect results of the war. On 9 August, Britain lifted the arms embargo, which it had enforced against Angola since 1975, on the grounds that the government had a “legitimate right to self-defence,” and in September, the United Nations implemented a mandatory oil and arms embargo against UNITA. Finally, on 6 October 1993, in response to these pressures, UNITA said it would accept the election results of 1992, and talks between UNITA and UNAVEM, with Portugal, Russia, and the United States in attendance as observers, began in Lusaka. During this “second” war from October 1992 to October 1993, an estimated 100,000 Angolans had perished. On 9 November 1993, Angola’s deputy foreign minister, Joao Bernardo Miranda, claimed that the daily death toll that year had reached 2,000, while in February 1994 the United Nations claimed that three million Angolans were in urgent need of assistance.

Half a Peace

Peace talks were held during December 1993 and January 1994, while the United Nations extended its mandate to March 1994. On 17 February 1994, the two sides signed a document that listed five principles of reconciliation, and UNITA reaffirmed its acceptance of the September 1992 election results. Essentially 1994 became a year of bargaining—about new presidential elections and what ministerial jobs would be offered to UNITA, which claimed the three key ministries of Defense, Finance, and the Interior. The government refused adamantly to cede control of Huambo province to UNITA, which claimed it as the heartland of the Ovimbundu people from whom came its main support. Although a treaty was signed on 20 November 1994, fighting continued in various regions and the existing antagonisms appeared as great as ever. Given this state of affairs, foreign donors were reluctant to provide much needed funds for rehabilitation, and less than half the $227 million requested for this purpose by the United Nations was forthcoming. Hopes of a lasting peace were set back throughout the year as UNITA forces repeatedly resumed fighting. During 1995 this state of “on-off” peace continued, with both sides accusing the other of bad faith. Presidents Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe urged dos Santos not to pursue his military successes against UNITA; at the same time, the guarantee of a role in the country’s government persuaded UNITA to be more cooperative.

The country as a whole, meanwhile, faced formidable problems. In 1995, the World Food Programme (WFP) earmarked $65 million of aid for 1.2 million displaced persons, such as, refugees and demobbed soldiers. On 8 February 1995, the UN Security Council resolved to send a peacekeeping force of 3,000 to Angola. One of the worst problems facing the country was the need to find and destroy an estimated 26 million land mines. Savimbi finally agreed to meet dos Santos and was supported in his decision by the eighth ordinary Congress of UNITA, which also endorsed the peace of November 1994. The National Assembly created two vice-presidential posts, one of which would be filled by Savimbi, once he had demobilized his army. It was agreed that UNITA should now simply become a political party. Savimbi accepted these terms, including one of the vice presidencies, and the peacekeeping force was then deployed. However, UNITA remained deeply suspicious of the government’s intentions and called upon the international community not to supply the government with any more arms. It also claimed that the new army (supposedly an amalgam of the two fighting forces) was behaving arrogantly in areas which had formerly been controlled by UNITA. During 1997, the formation of a government of national unity was repeatedly delayed and the main stumbling block, as always, appeared to be Savimbi. The UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, called for flexibility on both sides; part of the problem lay in the reluctance of UNITA to demobilize its troops, while the UNITA members who had been elected to the National Assembly did not appear to take their seats. The government of national unity and reconciliation had yet to be inaugurated at the end of March 1997 and most of the delay was attributed to Savimbi who insisted that a joint government program be defined before any inauguration took place. The minister of national defense, General Pedro Sebastiao, complained at the quality of the weapons being surrendered by UNITA under the peace terms and the fact that only 6,000 former UNITA guerrillas had been integrated into the Angolan Armed Forces (although 26,000 had been stipulated in the peace agreement).

The Unity and National Reconciliation Government was finally inaugurated on 11 April 1997; it consisted of members of the MPLA-Partido do Trabalho and UNITA, with portfolios allocated according to the November 1994 agreement in Lusaka. Fernando Jose da Franca van Dunem became prime minister. The inauguration ceremony was attended by a number of African leaders including Presidents Frederick Chiluba of Zambia and Nelson Mandela of South Africa, both of whom had assisted in the peace process. But Savimbi refused to attend, claiming that his safety had not been guaranteed. At a sitting of the National Assembly on 9 April, which now included the 70 UNITA members, legislation was passed which granted Savimbi special status as leader of the largest opposition party. On 16 April, the UN Security Council called for the peace process to be completed without delay, including the incorporation of UNITA’s fighters in the Angolan Armed Forces and the normalization of state administration throughout the country. The Security Council once more extended the UNAVEM III mandate to 30 June, but wanted to transform its functions into those of an observer mission as soon as possible. In both May and June 1997, the government moved its forces into largely UNITA-controlled areas, especially Lunda Norte, the diamond producing region, which had produced an income of $600 million a year for UNITA, with the diamonds being smuggled out through Zaire. The new president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire) Laurent Kabila, however, was not friendly to UNITA, while the MPLA government seemed bent on a new drive to destroy UNITA as a guerrilla force. During the second half of June, UNAVEM III called upon the government to suspend the fighting as it was endangering the peace process.

In July fighting again increased and, according to the government defense minister, General Pedro Sebastiao, UNITA still had 44,000 troops under its command; many of these had deserted their assembly areas while only 11,764 UNITA troops had been integrated into the Angolan Armed Forces. The Assembly condemned UNITA for returning to violence and concealing arms and troops in contravention of the 1994 Lusaka Accord. On 30 June, the mandate of UNAVEM III came to an end; it was replaced by a UN Observer Mission in Angola (UNOMA). On 28 August, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution to impose further sanctions on UNITA, unless by 30 September the secretary-general was able to certify that UNITA was moving satisfactorily toward compliance with the Lusaka Accord. On 1 September, a UNITA official confirmed that the party would return to government control all territory still in UNITA hands. On 5 September, on Portuguese Radio, Savimbi said he would demobilize UNITA’s remaining forces and comply with the other outstanding terms of the Lusaka Accord. Reports through September indicated that large quantities of arms were being handed over to the government and that numbers of UNITA troops were handing in their weapons, with the result that, on 30 September, the Security Council delayed the imposition of new sanctions until 31 October. When this date was reached and UNITA had clearly failed to meet the conditions of the Lusaka Protocol, the UN imposed sanctions upon it. The result was a savage renewal of the war by Savimbi and his UNITA forces: this came to be called Angola’s “fourth war.”

On 30 March 1998, the government sent an open letter to the UN claiming that UNITA, with 8,000 well-equipped troops (a figure that was later revised upward of 25,000) was preparing for war. The government blamed UNOMA for its failure to prevent UNITA building up its weapons supply. In June, President dos Santos made a number of trips to gather international support: he concluded an arms deal with Russia, attended the Lusophone summit in Cape Verde to strengthen ties with Portugal and other Lusophone states, and obtained promises of support from members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which at a summit in Luanda on 1 October, called for “a swift and rapid campaign to rid the region of UNITA.” The violence and successful hit and run attacks mounted by UNITA escalated during the second half of 1998. In December the Angolan army launched an all-out attack on UNITA’s principal base of Bailundo, effectively declaring war on UNITA by so doing.

On 17 January 1999, UN Secretary-General Annan told the Security Council that Angola was on the verge of breakdown yet, on 20 February, the Security Council voted unanimously to withdraw the 1,000 strong UNOMA force. UNITA managed to beat off two further attacks upon Bailundo while the UN and other aid agencies were flying in food for the populations of towns, such as, Huambo and Cuito, that were virtually besieged by UNITA and had swollen refugee populations. Renewed heavy fighting by government forces took place in September to capture Bailundo and Andulo; Bailundo finally fell to government forces in mid-October and Andulo in November and on 15 November the MPLA Army Commander claimed that 80 per cent of UNITA’s “conventional” capacity had been disrupted and 15,000 tons of weapons had been seized. On 31 December, President dos Santos broadcast: “The somber circumstances and despair resulting from successive wars and persistent economic decline are changing. The Angolan people are on the brink of a new era of hope.” This statement proved to be more of a hope than a reality for the war went on throughout 2000 and by the end of the year 3.8 million people had been displaced as refugees. UNITA appeared to make a comeback during 2000. There were many allegations of government violence against civilians, including a scorched earth policy in Cuando Cubango and Luanda Sul provinces. In May, the UN Sanctions Committee produced a 54-page report in which it accused President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo and President Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso of supporting UNITA. It also pinpointed Rwanda as an important location for gun-running and diamond trading and Libreville in Gabon as a refueling center for planes supplying UNITA and breaking sanctions. The war continued throughout 2001 and both the Angolan government and SADC branded Savimbi a war criminal. Sanctions appeared to be largely ineffective in preventing UNITA obtaining the supplies it needed to carry on the war. From May onward, UNITA was carrying out attacks close to the capital and on civilian targets. In late 2001, there was heavy fighting in the central province of Bie while numbers of refugees were crossing into Zambia and Namibia to escape the fighting.

Jonas Savimbi

The Death of Savimbi

The death of Jonas Savimbi on 22 February 2002 effectively brought the war to an end. He had led UNITA forces against the government from 1975 to 1992; then, on losing the election of the latter year, he had returned the country to warfare in his determination to become head of state. His most likely successor, General Antonio Dembo, was also killed. The government then offered an amnesty to the rebel fighters. A cease-fire was signed in Luanda on 4 April and UNITA soldiers were offered assistance in returning to civilian life. Thereafter, some 50,000 UNITA troops with up to 300,000 family members moved into government-run assembly areas. However, many of these assembly areas lacked sanitation, clean water, food, and medicines, and UNITA claimed that numbers died because of these poor conditions and about 30,000 were estimated to have left the camps and returned to their homes. The death of Savimbi was the key to achieving a peace. Few other wars in Africa had been so dependent upon and driven by the ambitions of one individual. The government then faced the immense task of rebuilding the nation. The infrastructure was devastated, the country was covered with millions of anti-personnel mines, agricultural production had all but ceased in large areas, and four million people had been displaced as a result of the fighting.

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