An Unmourned Death

Angolan rebel leader Joseph Savimbi in an undated photo ( 
One man who will not be missed is the former leader of Angola’s long-fighting rebel group, UNITA’s Jonas Savimbi, shot and killed by the Angolan army in late February. Could the former guerrilla’s death herald an era of peace and prosperity for Angola? Gamal Nkrumah, writing in Egypt’s Al-Ahram Weekly, sums up the current optimism. In his view, Savimbi’s death represents “a challenge to the people and leadership of Angola to forge a prosperous and democratic future in an economically strategic, albeit impoverished and politi-cally unstable region” (March 6).

During the Cold War, Jonas Malheiro Savimbi was something of a “VIP freedom fighter” in the United States, enjoying the hospitality of the Reagan White House. In the ’90s, he became another obstinate, redundant rebel leader who refused to abandon the field of battle even after peace agreements were concluded and reasonably free and fair elections held.

The Angolan army’s killing of the UNITA leader has provoked passionate reactions throughout Africa. “Jonas Malheiro Savimbi...should have been taken out and shot 27 years ago, thus saving at least 1 million lives. He is Angola’s greatest tragedy....His death is good riddance,” Magesha Ngwiri wrote in Kenya’s The Nation (Feb. 26). And “Savimbi was a nasty piece of work whom history will judge very harshly,” said Muniini K. Mulera in an editorial for Uganda’s The Monitor (March 4). Enthusiastic about future prospects, O Jornal de Angola’s editorial called Savimbi’s death a “historic moment,” a time when “new horizons have opened for Angola” (March 10).

While there is now hope for peace, corruption and mismanagement are rampant and remain that country’s greatest hurdles. “[W]ith Savimbi dead, the biggest excuse that the [President José Eduardo] dos Santos regime had for not performing has gone for good,” wrote John Githongo in The East African (Feb. 25-March 3). John Kamau commented in The Nation (Feb. 26): “Savimbi is not the only crook in Angola. While much world attention has focused on his notoriety, we have all forgotten how the MPLA government has used the oil wealth to create some of the richest generals in the world!” And the greatest tragedy of all, finally, is that there is starvation in Angola. One of the world’s most resource-rich nations will need emergency food aid this year.

Thanks to its diamonds and oil, Angola presents investment opportunities that cannot be ignored. Savimbi’s death may be Angola’s “biggest opportunity for sustained peace in a generation,” enthused a representative of De Beers, the world’s biggest diamond company, to Julie Bain of South Africa’s Business Day (Feb. 26).

  Al-Ahram Weekly
semi-official, English-language weekly, Cairo, Egypt
The Nation
independent, Nairobi, Kenya
The Monitor
independent weekly, Kampala, Uganda
O Jornal de Angola
government-owned, Luanda, Angola
The East African
independent weekly, Nairobi, Kenya
Business Day
financial, Johannesburg,
South Africa
Angola’s resource wealth may show the way to a brilliant future, yet it has also been its bane, financing Savimbi’s endless struggle for power and lining the pockets of government officials, in a cycle that may now be broken.