The Current Situation in Angola:
From my vantage point
There is general agreement among Angola watchers that the military situation in the country remains favorable to UNITA. Early in April, government officials indicated in public and in private that preparations for a dry season offensive were underway. It now appears that the government will "postpone" the offensive for an undisclosed period of time. Following are some of the problems encountered by the government:
The situation is causing tension within the government military leadership. The Minister of Defense, Mr Kundi Paihama, wants quick action. He took the post promising to teach UNITA a lesson. On the other hand, the Chief of Staff, Gen Joao de Matos, is not sure the army is ready and fears that another defeat will set off unpredictable consequences within FAA and the society. He has admitted in private that his forces are not yet ready. Mr. Paihama feels that the Gen has become too comfortable in his "air conditioned office". Meanwhile, the offensive originally scheduled for the end of May, was "postponed" for June/July. Then, Mr. Paihama said on May 24, "UNITA will be chased out of Andulo and Bailundo by the end of the year". The statement implies another postponement. So much was said about the government advantage in the dry season that it is intriguing why the Minister would want to wait until the rainy season comes back.
A South African military analyst said "poor intelligence, arrogance and lack of strategy have played a big part in Angolan government losses at home and abroad". Indeed most of the government tactical mistakes are based on wishful thinking.
At the suggestion of Zimbabwe, the Luanda government sent its Foreign Minister, João Miranda, to South Africa on May 17, to seek military assistance to fight UNITA. Luanda and Harare believe that, South Africa has the means and manpower to intervene, if the leaders of that country show the political will to do so, to change the military balance in favor of the government. South Africa politely refused. A spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs was quoted as saying the Angolans were told that "...seeking to isolate and destroy Savimbi was wrong. It (the government) should seek a more practical solution."
The government is also facing its worst financial crisis ever. The official budget presented in March to the Parliament could not be clearer. In its opening section it stated, "Angola’s access to external financing is almost at its limit. Commercial lines of credit are over-saturated". The new governor of the National Bank told Parliament that foreign currency reserves were near exhaustion. He outlined measures to alleviate the problem such as, floating the national currency and liberalizing imports. These measures will require fiscal discipline, a rare commodity in Luanda. Economists based in Luanda noted that most commercial activity was frozen due to a lack of foreign exchange. The government used all existing reserves to purchase military equipment, three quarters of which, has been either destroyed or captured by UNITA.
In the midst of all this, the world oil prices increased to about $15 a barrel, and the government approved oil licenses for deep water exploration that will bring in close to $900 million in (down payments) signature bonuses. It also secured a loan from UBS, for $579 million. These developments appear to represent a sorely needed boost for the government. However, a closer look shows that the government’s budget was prepared on the basis of $16 a barrel rendering the current increase in the price of oil still short. The money from the signature bonuses is almost totally committed to the purchase of new military equipment. The loan from UBS is for refinancing of old loans. While the government got better terms, the amount of fresh money, around $35 million, is hardly enough to cover months of back salaries for the Police, the Armed Forces and the civil servants. A Luanda based analyst said " I don’‘t think a new loan will make a difference....the government is putting all its reserves int the war effort". In short, the financial/economic situation will not improve unless the government decides to end it "last war for peace" and engage UNITA in meaningful negotiations.
There is a growing number of anonymous pamphlets and newsletters circulating in Luanda. One of them , Kudibanguela, well done with graphics using desktop publishing, has called for the removal of this regime and appealed the youth to refuse dying for " a small elite of corrupt and indifferent leaders whose sons are abroad".
On May 1, O Independente, a Luanda based newspaper, reported a crisis in the central/eastern regional HQ of Sonangol, the national oil company. The cause was the disappearance of large quantities of fuel and lubricants. The superintendent, Tony Ferro, was arrested and all his benefits suspended. The paper wrote that the missing commodities "miraculously found their way to Jonas Savimbi’s men". It went on to report that "military officers in Negage, Uige province, are doing the same business - selling fuel to Jonas Savimbi’s troops".
Another Luanda based paper O Actual reported trouble within the ‘Unita Renovada’ ranks. People were lured into the "new party", created with government financial and political assistance to undermine UNITA, with promises of money and other material benefits. The paper interviewed a number of ‘converts’ who said that they were feeling "used and misled". "Neither those recruited from Luanda nor those who came from the provinces have received a dime." The leadership is accused of lying and nepotism. The Luanda government itself has now realized that it can not invent an opposition political party. General Higino Carneiro, the mastermind behind the plan, is the governor of Kwanza Sul province and no longer involved in promoting `Renovada’.. The government, disheartened by the meager results, has stopped investing money into the effort. ‘Unita Renovada’ is on the verge of collapse.
UNITA has now consolidated its presence over 70% of the country, including the whole border with Zambia, 4/5 of the border with the DRC and 3/4 of the Namibian border. In interviews with the foreign press, UNITA Secretary General Mr. Lukamba Paulo "Gato", said that guerrilla units were now moving closer to the capital Luanda and the oil producing region of Soyo. When asked about the announced government dry season offensive, he replied " God gave the dry season to all of us".
UNITA troops have high morale as a result of their recent gains. They have not lost any decisive battle and gained precious combat experience with their newly acquired armor, in the last five months.
UNITA announced that its Front Commanders were called to HQ for a leadership meeting to "assess the last five months of resistance". The communique released after the meeting indicated that there was a "need to create and develop strong Armed Forces....whose quartering and disarmament is totally excluded". The commanders manifested "optimism and confidence in the future in view of the strategy adopted at this meeting..."
An annex to the UNITA communique, stated that during the last five months, nine government regiments were put out of combat, 90 armored personnel carriers (BMP-1 and 2); 21 tanks T-55 and T62, were captured. 159 military trucks destroyed and 11 Mig-23 shot down. The list is long and, however one looks at it, represents serious losses for the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) and a big dent in its capabilities.
This is the first meeting of its kind since the resumption of the war by the government in December last year. The fact that such a meeting could be called in Bailundo, is an indication of UNITA’s confidence in its strategic advantage. The communique gave no details of decisions taken or the general strategy UNITA plans to pursue. However, given the persistent rejection of talks by the Luanda government, and its prevailing threat to launch an offensive, UNITA may be getting ready to take preemptive action.
In the last five months, the Luanda government was by far, UNITA’s main source of fuel and lethal equipment. This, in addition to the failed conscription, explains why the government is having difficulties starting the offensive on time.
The three Russians captured after their Antonov-26 was downed by UNITA, are reported in good conditions. Russia faces the dilemma of respecting the UN sanctions - prohibiting contacts with the leadership of UNITA - and seeking the return of its nationals. So far, it seems, Russia has opted for using the UN Security Council statements to send messages to UNITA leadership.
The humanitarian crisis
The UN Security Council has issued yet another statement on May 27 calling on the government and UNITA to cooperate with relief organizations and allow them free passage. However, since the tragic death of Maitre A. B. Beye, contacts between the UN and the UNITA leadership have ceased. Despite UNITA’s open-door policy, the Luanda government used the UN sanctions to deny anyone access to UNITA leadership including the UN itself. Given the difficult and complex military situation on the ground, relief operation can not be conducted successfully without some form of coordination with the leadership of UNITA in Bailundo.
The UN may need to revisit the sanctions text. It made exceptions for "humanitarian reasons" therefore, if the concern with the suffering of the Angolan people is not "hypocritical", there is no reason why a serious relieve program can not be presented and discussed with all the parties and put into operation. Dancing to the Luanda government’s tune will not bring relief to anybody as Mr Jean-Charles Day, the World Food Program (WFP) representative, found out in Malange. The WFP has been sending food regularly, trusting government controlled institutions to distribute it. In his own words " as far as I am concerned, the food is not arriving". He hinted that supplies may have been diverted away from the needy. We can all guess who the food ended up feeding...
In Menongue, Huambo, Kuito and Malange, to cite a few examples, the government is deliberately concentrating civilians in urban centers away from their farms, compounding the humanitarian tragedy. To prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, the government must be pressured to not hold hostage all those who want to leave these urban hells. By going back to secure rural areas, they can work on their farms and the population leaving on handouts could be substantially reduced.
Other UN actions...
The UN Security Council has also approved an investigative mission to Southern Africa led by Ambassador Robert Fowler, Canadian Ambassador to the UN and president of the Angola UN Sanctions Committee. His mission was to find out why the sanctions were not working. While in Lusaka, Zambia, the Ambassador seems to have discovered that "allegations of Zambia gun-running to UNITA, were nothing but rumors..." He visited the whole region and his report is awaited with much anticipation. One wanders if he read the Luanda newspapers for tips.
If this mission is the totality of the UN intervention "to bring peace to Angola", the Security Council would do better admitting its failure to "mediate" in Angola and move on. Finding out how UNITA got its equipment may satisfy curiosities but will not revert the situation. To use a favorite saying of a US president "We don’t mistrust each other because we are armed, we are armed because we mistrust each other". If the causes of the conflict are not addressed , people will find ways to get the means to defend themeselves.
It is time to rethink the whole approach to the Angola conflict. Sanctions encouraged the Luanda government to spend time, money and energy in the destruction of UNITA and its leadership. In turn UNITA spent its money and energy preparing for what it saw as an inevitable onslaught. The UN moved closer and closer to the government, abandoning any pretense of mediating in a non-partisan manner, and Angola slipped into a tunnel of madness.
Angola will not be closer to peace because the UN discovered how weapons got there. It will move closer to peace if the government drops this unrealizable goal of making "the last war for peace." Negotiating with compatriots as equals to find solutions that bring economic and political balance to the country’s social and cultural diversity is a sign of greatness and not weakness. UNITA has repeatedly expressed its openness to dialogue as the only way of finding lasting solutions. The President of the Republic, José Eduardo dos Santos should be the number one promoter of a national dialogue. He needs to be nudged in this direction. Until then, I ‘m afraid, madness will prevail in Angola.