Taduru Swathi, M.A. IR, SAU
The Angolan Civil War began a few months after the war of Independence against the Portugese colonial rule ended in 1975. The South Africans who had been involved in the war had many troops then in Angola and backed by the Americans were hoping to make Angola a democratic country. However, the communists soon learned about this and sent their troops to Angola in order to protect communism as part of the cold war competition between the two power blocs. The Angolan civil war started as struggle for power between two liberation movements – UNITA (The National Union for Total Independence of Angola) and MPLA (Marxist Popular movement for the Liberation of Angola) which were ideologically aligned to the cold war blocs of USA and erstwhile USSR respectively. The Angolan war became a proxy war between the two cold war blocs with their respective puppets being MPLA and UNITA. The war intensified during the 1980s claiming hundreds of thousands of Angolan lives – most of them being women and children. In 1989, the South Africans, the Cubans, and both Angolan political parties, met to hold a round of negotiations. They agreed to a ceasefire. The United Nations passed Resolution 626 later that day, creating the United Nations Angola Verification Mission a peace keeping force. The Lusaka Agreement signed in 1994 between the Angolan government and the UNITA forces was an important peace agreement which implemented in proper terms would not have turned Angolan state into a battleground. Its implementation would not have pushed the country into a hopeless condition. The terms of Lusaka protocol agreed to integrate and disarm UNITA forces. The foreign mercenaries would be sent back to their home countries and both the sides would stop acquiring foreign arms. The parties also signed a ceasefire as part of the protocol. However, mutual distrust between UNITA and the MPLA, loose international oversight, the importation of foreign arms, and an overemphasis on maintaining the balance of power, led to the protocol’s collapse and the civil war. United Nations Angola Verification Mission III (UNAVEM III) and later United Nations Observer Mission in Angola (MONUA) were sent to oversee the implementation of the protocol. The UN largely did not enforce the provision prohibiting UNITA from buying foreign arms and both sides continued to build up their stockpile. Due to the collapse of peace process in Angola, the then UN Secretary General recommended to the UNSC that the mandate of MONUA be not renewed. Since MONUA’s official termination in 1999, the UN forces are no longer present in Angola.
Reflections about Conflict Analysis in terms of firsthand experience of an army officer who has served in UNAVEM III and MONUA
According to the officer’s experience in the mission, the conflict was at a very fundamental level was a manifestation of clash between the socialist ideologies on European mainland fought by the proxies on the African continent. However, the hostility between UNITA and MPLA was based more on the economic and tribal considerations with little true allegiance to on either side for any stated ideology. The MPLA has a large social base in the ethnic community of Ambundu people and the UNITA has its support base in the ethnic community of Ovimbundu people who constituted about one third of the Angolan population. UNITA, on the other hand, has succeeded in using ethnicity to rally and sustain popular support among the Ovimbundu. By highlighting the fact that Ambundus dominate the governing MPLA, UNITA has consistently characterised the failure of governance in conspiratorial terms – as a conscious effort by the MPLA to deny other groups the fruits of oil and mineral wealth. Therefore, UNITA has been able to justify the use of military means as a way of redressing the inequitable distribution of power and wealth. This has fostered a culture of violence. Like most modern conflicts, the Angolan civil war was a fight to wrest control of resources – economic, human, environmental, ideological and cultural. The most obvious prize was undoubtedly economic – diamonds and oil. But, these economic resources could be viewed as essential tools for the prosecution of a higher agenda – that of imposing one’s own world view on a recalcitrant people. The core reason behind the failure of Lusaka protocol has been that every party to the conflict had its reasons to sabotage the Lusaka protocol. The MPLA government was unwilling to share power with the UNITA and the UNITA deeply suspicious of MPLA’s intentions was also reluctant to give up arms. The government violated the terms of the Protocol by continuing to employ foreign mercenaries while UNITA continued to acquire arms. The UN also did not act assertively to demand compliance by the opposing factions. The UN responded to the Angolan crisis in a very conservative manner which severely restricted its capacity to enforce and oversee the implementation of the Lusaka Protocol. Both sides were involved in the brutal killings of people, especially women and children. Women and children were particularly disadvantaged in the conflict because of insecurity and unemployment. The liberal customs inherited from the Portugese rule were diluted and constrained by desparate economic circumstances. There were also acts of banditry by people in uniform during the Lusaka peace process. UNITA’s attacks on UN and international personnel were not random acts of aimless violence but were well-calibrated acts designed to evoke a particular reaction or to reinforce a particular point championed by UNITA. For example, UNITA had a definitive notion of its territorial supremacy and the authoritarian legitimacy of its government. As such, it insisted on Mr Jonas Savimbi, the leader being treated in every manner as a head of state and any failure to comply by its diktats elicited immediate and brutal reprisals. The UNITA forces had brought down two UN planes over its occupied territory successively in a week and it had always believed that the UN forces colluded with the Angolan government. Hence, they did not believe that the UN forces were neutral and were there to de-escalate the conflict. However, both the parties, particularly the UNITA imposed a lot of restrictions on the UN verification activities. There have been instances where the UN helicopters were detained by the UNITA. A case in point being the detaining of World Food Programme helicopter by the UNITA army. The government also at times failed to provide information on troop and military equipment movements and on occasions UN military observers were stopped from conducting inspections.
The source of funds for buying foreign arms for UNITA came from its business with the middlemen from foreign countries in diamonds. UNITA got arms and money from these middlemen in exchange for diamonds. UNITA did not interact with the foreign governments directly but through middlemen. Also, the large funding provided by the western governments to UNITA is needless to mention. The UN peacekeeping forces enjoyed a fair amount of good will and support from the local population. The fact that some of this support was because of the boost provided to the economy the dollar-spending peacekeepers brings into light the question of underdevelopment and unemployment. Extensive presence of landmines in the country side proved to be costing the population their livelihoods because most of the land became uncultivable and unapproachable. It discouraged the aid workers and agencies from venturing into these areas and restricting their freedom of movement and ultimately paralysing their ability to reach to the civilians. It hindered the efforts of the UN peacekeepers whether in terms of ceasefire violation verification missions or when escorting aid convoys. There was press censorship by the government and also harassment of the journalists by both the government as well as UNITA during the Lusaka peace process. There was hardly any press freedom. Overall, the conflict in Angola was a struggle for power between the government and the UNITA which was fuelled by the foreign support and intervention. It has pushed the country of Angola into a state of war ravaged nation even after its decolonisation from the Portugese.
Subjective Analysis of the conflict and the role of the United Nations
War and violence has become a part of daily lives for the Angolan people with a dictatorship in place. There have been hardly any connectors between the two conflicting parties in Angola. The dividers between both the parties have ranged from the ideologies of the parties to the ethnic support base of the respective parties. The ethnic difference is of central importance, but it not the only cause of the armed conflict, but it rather an instrument of political mobilization by the leaders. The ethnic difference in case of Angola between the communities of Ambundu and Ovimbundu people though is not the cause of the armed conflict, but there has been a case for mobilization of support of these communities by the MPLA supported government leaders and the UNITA leaders respectively.
The difference between ‘ended’ and ‘suspended’ is crucial to the understanding of armed conflict today. Most of the armed conflicts resume not only after the signing of ceasefires but also after the conclusion of peace agreements. Often the wars return with a greater ferocity and destructiveness and almost always at a particularly high cost for the civilian population. Many reasons could be attributed to such resumption of wars. However, in the case of Angola, the failure of the Lusaka peace process and resumption of war could be attributed to disappointment on the part of UNITA. UNITA has agreed to sign the peace agreement with the expectation of winning the post-war election. The minute that expectation was not realised by UNITA, the parties have plunged back to war. On the economic front, the armed conflict can be read in terms of greed and opportunity. Taking into account, the analytical construct of civil war given by Collier and Hoeffler, the armed conflict in Angola can be seen as a form of industry for economic profit. There has been an extortion of natural resources – especially oil and diamonds by both the parties to buy foreign arms to propel the armed conflict. There has also been a transnational influence in terms of greed in the Angolan conflict which has further worsened it.
The analytical framework of moment of ripeness given by William Zartman can be debated in the case of the Lusaka peace process. Though there has been a signing of a peace agreement between both parties in the form of Lusaka protocol by providing them with a opportunity that is enticing to come for dialogue, there has been no mutually hurting stalemate that was created. There has been no willingness or readiness on the part of both the parties to implement the Lusaka protocol since each party was trying to win over each other and ultimately win the war. Though the timing of intervention of UN peacekeeping forces in the conflict to implement the terms of Lusaka protocol has been apt, its failure could be attributed mainly to the non-cooperation from the two sides of the conflict. Also, the exit of the UN forces in such circumstances has plunged the country deep into civil war. There have been human rights abuses on civilians, especially women and children by both the government and UNITA which the UN forces were reluctant to reveal for a considerable period of time since they assumed that it would derail the Lusaka peace process. Post the death of Jonas Savimbi in 2002, the de Santos government has enjoyed unchallenged supremacy. However, there has been no peace with justice seen in these circumstances. The daily casualties have been on the rise and there has been no change in the situation.
- Smith, Dan (2004), “Trends and Causes of Armed Conflict”, [Online: web]URL:http://www.berghofhandbook.net/documents/publications/smith_handbook.pdf