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Briefing Paper : Toward Free Elections in Angola

May 28, 1991|From the World Report staff

The News:

Representatives of Angola's warring factions initialed a peace accord May 1, 1991, that has effectively ended a bloody 16-year civil war.

The agreement, which will be formally signed during ceremonies this week in Lisbon, Portugal, confirms a de facto cease-fire in effect since May 15 and calls for national elections to be held between September and November, 1992.

The Background:

Portugal ended almost 400 years of colonial rule in Angola on Nov. 11, 1975, after a prolonged guerrilla campaign. The subsequent civil war between the ruling MPLA and UNITA rebels resulted in an estimated 60,000 to 120,000 casualties and economic ruin to the once-prosperous and mineral-rich southwest African nation.

A short-lived cease-fire was previously agreed to on June 22, 1989, but while negotiations have been under way with Portuguese mediation ever since, the violent civil war has actually continued virtually unabated.

As part of the Namibian independence agreement, it was agreed that Cuba would by July 1 pull out the expeditionary force it sent to prop up the Marxist government in Luanda. But last week, Angola and Cuba jointly announced that the force was already gone, 36 days ahead of schedule.

The Key Players:

* The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA)--Angola's ruling party since the country gained independence from Portugal in 1975. It gained control with the help of Cuban troops and Soviet military aid. The Luanda government has been headed by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos since 1979. In his position as both head of the government and of the MPLA party structure, Dos Santos has maintained virtual control over the negotiations for a cessation of hostilities.

* The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA)--Headed by Jonas Savimbi and backed by the United States and South Africa, it has been battling the Luanda government since the earliest days of independence. UNITA has control of many of the mineral-rich rural areas of Angola but possesses little support in the urban centers.

* Portugal--The former colonial power in Angola has brokered the latest round of negotiations in an effort to regain lost prestige within the European Community. Prime Minister Anibal Cavaco Silva views his country's former colonial holdings in southern Africa as the key to a resurgence of Portuguese influence and respect.

* Cuba--Its troops first arrived in Angola in 1965 to aid the guerrilla war for independence from Portuguese colonizers. They subsequently sided with the Marxist MPLA and their Soviet backers after the hastily granted independence. Their presence in Angola led both the United States and South Africa to support UNITA.

* The Soviet Union and the United States--Supporters, respectively, of the MPLA and UNITA, the superpowers joined the peace talks last September and have been influential in nudging their allies toward a settlement.

* South Africa--Also a UNITA supporter, Johannesburg agreed to a Namibian independence accord that linked the territory's freedom to the withdrawal of Cuban troops from neighboring Angola by the end of 1991.

The Agreement:

More than 1,000 pages of protocols await the signatures of representatives of the Luanda government and UNITA in Lisbon this week.

A de facto cease-fire went into effect May 15 after conditional acceptance by the warring factions. It provides for:

-- United Nations monitoring of the cease-fire.

-- Formation of a single 40,000-member national army under the control of a joint political and military commission.

-- Internationally supervised, multi-party Angolan elections to be held in the fall of 1992.


Even with the Cubans gone, the war-battered country faces a difficult road to peace and prosperity. Roads and railways stand ruined, and the economy, despite a recent dose of free-market remedies, also is in poor shape.

Like other former Portuguese colonies in Africa, Angola also suffers from a severe shortage of doctors, lawyers and technicians.

Most of the country's rich gold and diamond fields are in the UNITA-controlled hinterland, and the government will be at pains to persuade foreign mining companies that the peace is real and they can return to the country with confidence in the future.

UNITA's Savimbi, a charismatic figure, is unlikely to join a transitional government, which will find its free-market economic-reform program--and the resulting high prices and civil service layoffs--unpopular. Instead, he is expected to gear up for the elections in 1992.

Savimbi is popular in the south but is bitterly hated in the north, especially in the capital, Luanda, where the streets are filled with men who have lost legs and arms in the war with UNITA.

If Savimbi takes power, though, he will be able to count on his old friendships with the United States and South Africa, the region's economic powerhouse, to help rescue the country's economy.

Angola Official Name: People's Republic of Angola Population: 9.7 million (mid-1989 estimate) Area: 481,354 square miles. Slightly less than twice the size of Texas Official Language: Portuguese Capital City: Luanda. Population estimate: 1.25 million GDP: $4.7 billion GDP per capita: $600 Major trading partners: Brazil, USSR, Cuba, Portugal, United States Major exports: oil, coffee, diamonds, fish and fish products, iron ore, timber, corn. Foreign Debt: $3 billion, in 1989

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