- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2001


The debate over the causes of the Angolan conflict has always been overshadowed by political expedience or timetables imposed by an impatient international community. I wish to review some relevant aspects never looked at in this long search for peace and stability in Angola.
Before Portugal occupied the geographic space known today as Angola, people of different ethnic groups and cultures inhabited this vast land. Portugal ruled by the famous motto, "divide and rule." In the process, a segment of Angolans, mainly from the coast, became "assimilated" and accepted as Portuguese. Like the Portuguese, the assimilated were taught and made to feel superior to the "uncivilized" Bantu. They were told their customs and culture were backwards and inappropriate for their newly gained status. This led to a superiority complex and a mentality of exclusion.
Since the Portuguese came by sea, it is obvious that the majority of "civilized" or "assimilated" Angolans were found along the coast. This explains, in great part, why the rural population in the interior feels left out and looked down on even today. On the other hand, those in dominant positions in Luanda feel that they have no obligation or responsibility toward the "uncivilized" people who "can't even speak Portuguese well."
These mental attitudes transcend skin pigmentation. There are white or mixed Angolans who act and feel as Angolan as the Bantu, just as there are black Angolans who act and feel as Portuguese as the descendants of Mr. Camoes. After independence, the successive Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) governments made no effort to bridge the country's different regions in view of building a nation based on its diversity. The effort to transform Angola into a socialist country was used to impose on people new ways of living without regard to local cultures and traditions. This effort reinforced the mentality brought from colonial days. The same elites were now the instruments of the party with the mission of "teaching" the rest of the people how to live their lives in line with the new gospel.
The "civilized" or "assimilated" Angolans, now in power, have neither the interest nor the desire to share with the "uncivilized Bantu" the running of the country or the benefits of its vast natural resources. This is the root cause of the current conflict. The concept of citizenship is, therefore, not extended to the majority of the people. As a result Angola is today a dysfunctional state with no political, administrative or institutional structures that reflect the diversity of its people or a system able to render any services whatsoever to those who are supposed to be the reason for the existence of the government.
There is no doubt that the Cold War and the interests of foreign countries played or play a role in this continuous conflict. However, until Angolans recognize and accept their diversity and build a nation on the basis of that which is common, the prevailing mentality of exclusion and the superiority complex on the part of those in positions of power will continue to fuel the conflict armed or not in Angola.
Seven years after the first sanctions were imposed on the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), and 13 months after the fall of Andulo and Bailundo, it is obvious that UNITA is not about to be wiped out as predicted. On the contrary, it appears it has recovered from its losses and remains an active guerrilla force throughout the country. Given its experience in this field, the size of the country and the natural resources available, this situation has the potential to drag on for a long time.
Furthermore, Angola has exported the war to both Congos, Namibia and eventually Zambia, jeopardizing the regional stability that has characterized some of the countries in question. It becomes imperative, therefore, that Angola be given priority in the quest for regional solutions. One is tempted to ask the famous question: Are Angola and the region better off today than they were before sanctions?
The answer is no. The Bush administration has an unparalleled opportunity to lead in a different direction. The international community must shift paradigms and look for inclusive and positive ways to work toward a lasting peace in Angola. Diamonds are not the cause of the war. The conflict is political, historic, economic and cultural, all of which will take generations to address.
However, the dialogue must start now. It suffices to hear the churches, civic society and the opposition parties in Luanda to realize that there is in Angola a legacy of pain, a mentality of exclusion, a yearning for freedom and a cry for access to resources. All this cannot be brushed away with resolutions and sanctions that seek to isolate one party in the name of international collectivism. Peace, just like democracy, is not a destination but a journey. There has to be a deep commitment to human interaction, understanding and imagination to stay the course.
In order to move Angola toward lasting peace, sanctions cannot, and should not, be an end in themselves, as appears to be the case now. There is a need for a conflict resolution strategy. Actions must be taken to help the warring parties recognize the mutual advantages of peace over war and put in place mechanisms to address differences and conflicting views in a peaceful and constructive manner. These include decentralization with limited autonomy and defined powers for the regions; development model for the country; short, medium and long-term projects capable of absorbing the demilitarized soldiers as well as the displaced people in the framework of the country's economic development. Finally, a national commission should be created to oversee the reconciliation effort, and the allocation of national resources, particularly the revenues from oil and diamonds.
This will not be easy, but can be achieved if all concerned abandon the "blaming game" and face the difficult task at hand. Angolan children deserve one more try.

Alides Sakala is UNITA secretary for external affairs.

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