Angolans Don’t Need Our Arms and Generals : Peace Worked Out by Exhausted Factions Can Take Hold If America Allows It

<i> Gerald J. Bender is director of the school of international relations at USC</i>

The recent Angolan truce reached in Zaire is the second breakthrough in southern Africa in the past six months. The first was a tripartite agreement among Angola, Cuba and South Africa that opened the way for Namibian independence later this year and the removal of Cuban troops from Angola. This agreement, brokered by the Reagan Administration, is being implemented; more than 10,000 Cuban troops have already left Angola and South Africa has started its exit from Namibia.

The Angolan peace accord, however, was reached without American help; in fact, Washington was caught off guard since its new policy toward Angola was still being formulated under old assumptions of war. The current struggle over a new U.S. policy on Angola centers on whether Washington should use carrots or sticks to facilitate the peace process.

The Bush Administration is in danger of capitulating to right-wing forces in Congress who myopically still view Angola in Cold War terms and therefore want to continue and escalate military support to the UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) rebels, led by Jonas Savimbi, who have fought the government for almost 15 years.

Yet, despite attempts in the East and West to impose a Cold-War view on the struggle for power in Angola, the truth is that ideology is the least salient factor in explaining why Angolans formed not one but three nationalist movements: MPLA, (the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola); the defunct FNLA, (National Front for the Liberation of Angola) and UNITA. Regional and ethnic factors have been infinitely more important.


Immediately following independence, the three Angolan parties engendered enthusiasm with their slogans, songs, martyrs and heroes. As time has passed, however, none of the parties were able to deliver either peace or prosperity to their adherents. Cynicism and alienation have replaced the initial partisan fervor.

Now, as the MPLA and UNITA begin face-to-face discussions as a result of the peace accord, each party appears to be experiencing more internal divisions and to have less political coherence than at any time since Angolan independence in 1975. With rare exceptions, none of the members of the first MPLA cabinet or political bureau is still in a position of power in the government or party. Adherence to Marxist doctrines no longer appears to drive the selection or promotion of individuals in the MPLA government or party. Moreover, no ideology seems to have clearly emerged as a substitute for Marxism. Pragmatism--and Dos Santos’ attempt to balance diverse interest groups--apparently explain the rise and fall of MPLA officials.

Dos Santos is still the most respected member of the party hierarchy and even some of those whom he has fired speak highly of his intelligence, diligence and political acumen. Yet increasingly he appears to be isolated, without a stable inner group of close advisers. Perhaps the most biting criticism of Dos Santos is that he predicates major decisions on the achievement of consensus--leading to paralysis in many sectors, especially the economy.

On the other hand, UNITA’s internal problems appear to be far more serious than those of the MPLA. Savimbi’s incarceration of one of the top four UNITA leaders last December may well have exacerbated schisms in the party beyond repair. In recent years, rumors of serious divisions within UNITA have frequently circulated. One schism was said to be generational, with the younger UNITA generation demonstrating impatience and hostility toward Savimbi. Dozens of UNITA dissidents in Europe during the past 18 months have published articles and appeared on American, British and Portuguese television suggesting that Savimbi had become erratic, paranoid, and arbitrary. More and more observers condemned what was seen as Savimbi’s growing tendency to torture and/or murder UNITA officials who threatened his total control over the party.


While the Soviets and Cubans have been turning away from military to diplomatic solutions in Angola, many in Washington are developing an appetite for a good fight in Angola. In Congress, conservative legislators are pushing the Administration’s request to increase greatly the amount of lethal aid to UNITA to compensate for the loss of South African military support. U.S. representatives to the International Monetary Fund continued their futile effort in recent weeks to block Angolan membership. The State Department’s initial reaction to the peace accord was to make clear that “we will continue our aid to UNITA until there is a national reconciliation.”

The most important reason why the conflicting sides agreed to peace in Angola is that they are tired of the killing and the destruction. Outside powers, like the United States, should therefore encourage peaceful solutions rather than prolonging the suffering.

Fortunately there is time for Washington to rethink and relinquish its old posture in order to join others in bringing peace to Angola.

The United States has an excellent opportunity to reverse itself in Angola when Herman Cohen, assistant secretary of state for Africa, visits the Angolan capital, Luanda, on July 7. One hopes that the United States will decide to remove the Stinger missiles from their quiver and replace them with offers of economic aid. Even Henry Kissinger saw the wisdom of such an approach in 1976, when he proposed a $1-billion development package to the contending forces in Rhodesia as a reward for ceasing their war and joining hands in a peaceful Zimbabwe.


While pundits try to sort out what Savimbi and Dos Santos won or lost, the true winners are the Angolan people who, with the cease-fire, face no war in their country for the first time in 28 years. The 14 years of the national liberation struggle against Portugal and civil war have devastated what could become the wealthiest country (per capita) in Africa.

While formulating a new Angola policy, the Bush Administration must consider Angolan realities. This point is driven home in a letter written by an Angolan, born in 1961, who wrote on the initial day of the cease-fire that this was the first day in his 28 years of life that there were no hostilities in his country.

“Please send no more arms,” he wrote. “Why do we need arms now, with no war going on? Send no more general’s advice. If we need any generals from your part, it would now be General Motors, General Electric, General Tire, and others like that.”