- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

Isaias Samakuva, the man who succeeded Jonas Savimbi as head of UNITA, is confident he can lead the former Angolan insurgency movement to a victory at the polls as a political party over its longtime rival, the MPLA.

“We are well into the process of demilitarization and demobilization of the UNITA fighters and have taken up with enthusiasm our role as Angola’s second political party,” Mr. Samakuva said in an interview last week with The Washington Times.

Until UNITA — the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola — began its transformation, the MPLA, or Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, ran the country as a one-party state. For most of that period it was a Marxist movement based in the capital, Luanda.

Mr. Samakuva, who was selected president of UNITA at a June congress of the organization, said he hopes “to compete successfully in an election against the government party by 2005.”

The Angolan government is also generally pleased over the way the transition from war to peace is going.

“What has happened in Angola since last November has resulted in great gains for peace and it is irreversible,” Evaristo de la Rua, the Angolan Embassy’s spokesman said yesterday.

The United States too has joined the chorus of approval, with a State Department official remarking on the condition of anonymity that “there is no indication of a return to hostilities.”

Few would question that a transformation of the Angolan landscape from war to peace, if successful, would be one of post-independence Africa’s greatest achievements.

The civil war, which lasted from November 1976 until last year, left Angola a nation of walking wounded. Its economy remains in ruins, despite it being one of Africa’s top resource-rich nations. About a third of the nation’s estimated 13 million people became displaced.

That devastation poses one of the great obstacles to a successful completion of the transformation. It was the main reason for Mr. Samakuva’s presence in Washington last week — to seek resources to pay for the reintegration of decommissioned UNITA fighters into civil society, as well as help to finance an election campaign.

Under Mr. Savimbi, UNITA financed the war through the sale of diamonds from the central part of the country, which it controlled. It lost that source of funds when it was kicked out of the region and the international community simultaneously shut the door to marketing what it called “blood diamonds.”

Perhaps the single most encouraging fact is the selection of Mr. Samakuva as UNITA chief. Since 1994 he has been a familiar figure to the government of Jose Eduardo dos Santos and has been recognized as a pragmatic leader who can work within a pluralistic political system.

“He is no stranger to our government,” said the Angolan Embassy spokesman.

The State Department official praised the “free and open process” through which the UNITA congress chose Mr. Samakuva.

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