The Current situation in Angola
September 24, 1999
The government has finally launched its assault against UNITA held territories from four different cities. Government generals are privately calling it an "All weather offensive". Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis deepens everyday, the civil society continue to call for talks and the country slides back to a Police State. A UNITA member of Parliament, who refused to join UNITA renovada, was shot dead on 09/18/99, four others remain in jail. Independent journalists have been arrested, interrogated and some beaten. Others are banned from leaving the country. The private media was told by the information minister, to be "patriotic". Under pressure, exchange programs with sister radios abroad were canceled.
Dr Savimbi broke his long silence and expressed his readiness to sit down with President Dos Santos and begin a "serious dialogue about the causes of the conflict". In interviews to the BBC, VOA, Radio France International and to the daily paper Liberation. Dr Savimbi said he was convinced that the war was not a solution to the conflict and that insisting on it would simply increase the suffering, the deaths and the destruction of the country. Among the things he considers important to talk about were, economic imbalances; respect for the country’s cultural diversity; allocation of national resources; and decentralization or devolution of power, vesting real authority in regional governments that could take on the task of rebuilding the local communities within a unitary state.
He also reached out directly to the MPLA leaders and militants, in a letter addressed to them on August 25, 1999, shortly before the MPLA’ Special Central Committee Conference. Again, he emphasized the need for a frank dialogue among Angolans.
Finally, UNITA reached out to regional governments with conciliatory messages and requests to encourage President Dos Santos to talk.
Luanda interpreted Dr Savimbi’s call for talks as a sign of weakness and fear of government attacks. Government and MPLA officials, alternated statements not only rejecting any dialogue with UNITA but also vowing to pursue a military strategy designed to "destroy Savimbi and his followers". President Dos Santos himself said in Maputo that he had "nothing to talk about".
He called for a especial meeting of the central committee, August 25- 28, where he sought and got "general approval" for his non-negotiation/total war on Savimbi policy. The strategy was designed to placate opposition to his war strategy within the party and fend off pressure for negotiation from regional and other world leaders by presenting the posture as party policy. It was decided that all possible measures and instruments would be used to ensure a successful outcome.
Intimidation stepped up
Journalists and opposition officials have come under pressure from the government as it becomes more and more intolerant to criticism. The Media Institute of Southern Africa, reported on its issue of September 16, a list of journalists, including a priest, director of the Catholic Radio service, who were arrested and interrogated for rebroadcasting the Savimbi interviews or simply for referring to them in their papers.
The government has practically re-imposed censorship, in a campaign against national and foreign journalists spearheaded by DINIC, the Police criminal investigation branch. The Minister of Information is calling on journalists to "follow the law" otherwise, they are accused of being "mercenaries at the pay of Savimbi". The government wants the media to focus on demonising UNITA and Savimbi; highlight FAA military successes small though as they may be; emphasize the humanitarian crisis; and expose "deserters" from UNITA ranks.
Lopo do Nascimento, a historic MPLA leader and former prime minister, had his office burgled and his computer hard drive copied. Lopo is a critic of the government and has been rumored as possible contender to dos Santos.
A UNITA member of parliament, Joao Ngalangmbe Jacob, was found dead on Saturday September 18, lying on the road leading to the presidential compound. Mr. Jacob is among those who refused to join UNITA Renovada.
The opposition party FpD - Front for Democracy - issued a report condemning the "acts of intimidation by the organs of political power...arbitrary judicial processes leading to imprisonment...prohibition of political rallies, and the violation of private property and arbitrary arrests of people suspected of collaborating with the enemy". All those who call for talks and reconciliation are branded enemies.
In a new development, the government called for sanctions to be imposed on South Africa, Zambia, Togo, Burkina Fasso and Ivory Coast for alleged continued support to UNITA.
Government military preparations
The government announced many times the imminence of what was then called the dry season offensive. However, difficulties with the recruitment, delays in the delivery of new equipment and low morale of the troops, forced constant postponements.
During the special Central Committee meeting - Aug 25-28, a definitive decision was taken by the political leadership to launch the attack regardless of the season. What is new?
Ready, set, go...
The government believes that with the introduction of this equipment it has met the necessary conditions to overturn the military situation and "break UNITA’s back". Thirty thousand government troops - FAA -, including units brouhgt in from Cabinda and others recently withdrawn from Congo B., are involved in battles on four different fronts since September 14, 1999.
From the provincial capital city FAA troops intend move north towards Sanza Pombo and Quimbele
From the capital city FAA troops are moving in two axis. One eastwards to Kakulama and the other southwards towards Mussende/ Andulo.
From the capital city FAA troops are moving in two axis. The first eastwards along the Benguela railway and the second moving north towards Bailundo.
Two axis, one progressing north towards Kunhinga/Andulo and the other eastwards to Chipeta/Catabola, along the Benguela railway.
The ultimate goal of this offensive remains to take over Andulo and Bailundo. There is also the intention of targeting leaders with the air force, using newly acquired "precision bombs".
The strategy: use saturation air bombardments, including napalm, cluster and the so-called "poor man’s atomic bomb", to "soften the targets", before ground troops are ordered in; open as many fronts as possible to guarantee small successes to build morale and concentrate on the main axis in the second phase ( Andulo) of the offensive. Two weeks after the offensive started, the government has no major gain to show. Reports of the fall of Bailundo can not be confirmed even by the government itself. Morover, one thing would be to win a battle, the other is to win the war.
UNITA military preparations
UNITA expected the government to come after its positions some time. Some of the measures it took include:
Reorganizing of the UNITA defense all over the country:
UNITA also continues to call for talks on the assumption that the war in itself will not bring a solution to the country’s political, social and economic conflict. History supports this assumption.
The region is going to witness one more of the most ferocious battles fought on the continent. The size of the armies, the sophistication of the equipment and the stakes involved, make this a particularly destructive military engagement.
There is bound to be hundreds if not thousands of people wounded or killed in the cross fire. Only ten days into the offensive, the increased number of displaced people in Malange, Cuito and Uige, is alarming. People run away from constant air raids and from the fighting between advancing government forces and UNITA. To compound the problem, the government has told aid agencies to leave the urban centers of Malanje , Cuito and Huambo. Apparently, to secure a complete blackout of military activities.
The government argues that UNITA is pushing people into the cities while UNITA argues that the government’s air and ground military campaign is the cause of massive movements of people. UNITA also stresses that those running into cities are only a fraction of the total population being displaced by the offensive. Most run away further into the interior, far from the foreign media or Aid agencies. Evidence suggest that waves of displaced people do flow into cities only when there are heightened military activities. Moreover, this offensive coincides with the planting season in most areas. Besides the increase in the numbers of displaced people, it will also cause further disruption of agricultural activity. This will in turn cause shortages of food in areas otherwise self-sufficient.
The government opposition to the humanitarian corridors and its prohibition of relief actions in areas outside its control, will deprive a significant number of people from assistance. Caught up in the politics of sanctions, the operations of international relief agencies are limited to government areas.
The UN seems to be pulling in two different directions calling for a negotiated settlement on the one hand, and for further isolation of UNITA on the other. Its actions "to bring peace to Angola" are limited to setting up two commissions which will investigate violations of the arms and diamond sale embargoes against UNITA. In the present context, this amounts to supporting the government war effort by seeking to tie UNITA hands while the government is free to punch when and where it wishes. More revealing yet, no effort is being made to find alternative solutions to war. The Security Council would well listening to Mr Diallo, the UN special representative to Angola, who said that " the international community needed to go beyond mere sanctions to the heart of the issues dividing the warring sides..."
The US "concern" with the recent murder of a UNITA parliamentarian is commendable. However, no public outrage was expressed at the continuing imprisonment of four others, the intimidation and arrests of journalists and opposition officials or the rampant corruption permeating the power structure in Luanda. . Instead the US is working hard to complement Ambassador Fowler ‘s efforts to tighten sanctions imposed on UNITA, a move bound to encourage the Luanda government in its war strategy. What must be asked is whether sanctions have helped move Angola deeper into the mad morass of an unwinnable war.
If the country is to be spared further devastation and human suffering, all involved need to look beyond the parameters of the Lusaka Protocol and be more creative. The current approach is, frankly, too simplistic to solve the complex Angola problem. The only sane alternative is for Angolans with the support of the international community to :