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close this bookThe Courier N° 153 - Sept - Oct 1995 - Dossier: Southern Africa - Country Reports: Namibia; Djibouti (EC Courier, 1995, 96 p.)
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View the documentSouthern Africa - The state of democracy
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The prospects for consolidating the peace in AngoIa

by P. Pierson-Mathy

The signing of the Lusaka Protocol on 20 November 1994 and the security Council's decision of Feb. wary 1995 to undertake a new peace-keeping operation in Angola (UNAVEM III - United Nations Angola Verification Mission) are the starting points for a long process of re-establishing and consolidating peace after the unprecedented trauma and devastation caused by two years of war which followed the first multi-party elections organised under international supervision in September 1992.

The UN mission will have a maximum of 7000 armed men, 350 unarmed military observers and 260 police observers. These 7610 personnel, drawn for the most part from UNAVEM II (the previous mission) will be supplemented by an appropriate number of civilians recruited locally and internationally. The cost of UNAVEM III has been estimated at $1261 million, $65 million of which is to be provided by the Angolan government. The latter, of course, also faces the enormous cost of national reconstruction. UNAVEM III has thus been designed as a wideranging operation which is radically different in both size and nature from the two earlier United Nations operations in Angola.

In order to appreciate the scope of the mandate of UNAVEM III and to assess its likelihood of success, we think it essential firstly to recall the circumstances, objectives and mandate of the two previous operations, particularly UNAVEM II, which was linked to the disaster into which Angola sank and which was the predecessor of the current mission.


The first operation in Angola resulted from the international settlement of the conflict in South West Africa leading to the independence of the territory as Namibia. This conflict had been fuelled by the political aggression of South Africa's apartheid regime which opposed both the independence of Namibia and the consolidation of MPLA rule in Angola. The Angolan government had opted for a People's Republic and had pledged solidarity in the fight for national liberation in Southern Africa. This solidarity, also expressed by the other 'Front Line States' in the region posed a threat to the interests of the Pretoria regime which linked its own survival to the preservation, if necessary by force, of the status quo elsewhere in the sub-continent.

South Africa was not wholly isolated in its hostility. Up until 1988, the year the first peace accords on Angola were concluded, Western nations, led by the United States, tolerated this aggression and rejected any proposal for sanctions against South Africa on account of its policy. The USA was also hostile to the Cuban presence in Angola. Since 1975, they had, on this pretext, been refusing to establish diplomatic relations with the Angolan government. From 1981, they linked Namibian independence to the departure of Cuban troops from Angola- a position of doubtful international legality -and in 1985 they agreed to give direct military aid to UNITA, which was already armed and supported in the field by South Africa. The irreversible crisis of the apartheid regime at the end of the 1980s, coinciding with the weakening of the role of the USSR in international politics, provided the catalysts for the USA to intervene to speed up the conclusion of accords which would help to preserve certain geostrategic interests of the United States and its allies in Southern Africa.

UNAVEM I was the product of the first peace accords signed on 22 December 1988 between South Africa on the one hand and Angola and Cuba on the other. The mediator for this was not the United Nations but the United States, then effectively a party to the conflict. These accords linked the end of South African aggression against Angola and the independence of Namibia-hitherto prevented by Pretoria-to the subsequent withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola. The Cuban forces had arrived in 1975 to assist the new Angolan state in confronting South African aggression. Angola and Cuba accepted this withdrawal and agreed to apply for support from the Security Council for this to take place under the supervision of the United Nations. UNAVEM I was the result, with the Security Council authorising a mission whose mandate was limited to observing the withdrawal and departure of Cuban troops. This proved successful, with the Cuban and Angolan parties respecting their undertakings.

The 1988 accords effectively ended South African aggression but did not put an end to the war in Angola nor to the intervention of the United States in the conflict. While forcing Pretoria to stop all military aid to UNITA, the agreements did not oblige the USA-which was not a party to them-to do likewise. American aid continued to flow via Zaire. Despite the departure of the Cuban troops, Washington persisted in its refusal to establish diplomatic relations with Angola. It now made the normalisation of relations with the country dependent on the ending of the single-party system and the legalisation of UNITA. Angola had, in the meantime, abandoned its socialist stance.

The 1991 accords and UNAVEM II

The Angola Peace Accords, signed on 31 May 1991 between the Angolan Government and UNITA, were negotiated in Lisbon under the auspices of Portugal. The United States and the USSR were party to the negotiations, although the former did not halt aid to UNITA while they were going on. The peace they envisaged was based on a cease-fire and the disarming and demobilisation both of the government army and of UNITA's forces. The United Nations was called upon to intervene in the process. The peace was to be consolidated by multi-party legislative and presidential elections to be organised in 17 months, under international supervision.

In exchange for UNITA's recognition of the Angolan state and of its institutions up to the elections, the government was obliged to deal with this organisation, after the signing of the accords and before it had been disarmed and demobilised, as if it were a political party free to move and operate over the entire country. There were major risks inherent in relying on the sudden transformation of UNITA, a totalitarian and militaristic organisation whose leader demanded power as a 'right', into a democratic party. However, the intervention of the United Nations and of the three states which had taken part in the negotiations reassured the government and population of Angola. In fact, the UN's role, as defined in the accords, was severely circumscribed. The UN was not nominated in the accords to supervise the elections. It was nevertheless invited to act as principal observer by the government, acting in consultation with UNITA, although without the composition of UNAVEM II being significantly increased. Thus UNAVEM II consisted of just 450 unarmed soldiers, police and civilians supplemented at the height of its mission in March 1993, by 400 additional personnel.

In fact, UNITA was able to take advantage of the 1991 accords, whose implementation was to be supervised by UNAVEM II under the authority of the Security Council, and with the backing of the guarantor states. Against the background of the installation of a multi-party system and of democracy in Angola, it was able legally to set itself up in strategic centres and towns throughout the country -while fraudulently retaining its character as an essentially armed movement whose objective was to take power either through the ballot box or by force of arms. No preventive measures were envisaged by the Security Council in the event of UNITA losing the election, although it was well known that, unlike the government forces, Jonas Savimbi's movement was only partially disarmed and demilitarised. Some countries were convinced that the MPLA, worn out by years in power, would be abandoned by a population tired of the horrors of war. This analysis proved false. So tragically, did the 'hopes' expressed by the three observer stat" and the UN in their diplomatic initiatives, after the elections. These were aimed at persuading UNITA, already on a war footing, to accept the results and assume the main opposition role. The polls were deemed free and fair by the UN.

The Lusaka Protocol and UNAVEM III

The MPLA won the legislative elections with 53.8 % of the vote as against UNITA's 34.1%. In the Presidential race, President Dos Santos received 49.5 % gust short of the required absolute majority with 40.7 %going to Jonas Savimbi. Rather than face the likely outcome of a second round in the presidential election and ignoring the legitimacy of the vote, UNITA reverted to military means in an attempt to take power. The United Nations and the guarantor states were slow to condemn UNITA's actions. By ignoring the democratic choice of the Angolan people, UNITA forced the country back into a disastrous war.

Condemned by the Security Council for recommencing hostilities, UNITA was asked on 15 July 1993 to withdraw its armed forces from all territories occupied since the election. Its refusal to do so led the Council, on 15 September 1993, to adopt a military and oil embargo against the rebels. Meanwhile, the Angolan institutions established as a result of the elections saw themselves endowed with new legitimacy.

The Lusaka Protocol was preceded by several attempts at negotiation, led by UNAVEM II and assisted by the three guarantor states. Such attempts, however, were doomed to failure as long as the military balance favoured UNITA and international pressure on the latter remained limited. Among the failed efforts were the so-called 'Namibe ceasefire' (26 November 1992), the Addis Ababa negotiations (January/February 1993) and the Abidjan talks (April/May 1993). In Abidjan, the United States sought to induce UNITA to accept the cease-fire in exchange for political gains. Through the mediation of the United Nations, they obtained major concessions from the government which was then in a poor position militarily speaking. In the interests of 'national reconciliation', UNITA was assured that it could take part in government at all levels. However, after 40 days of talking, UNITA withdrew from the process and again took up its offensive against provincial capitals. This intransigence was finally to lead to a reversal of the USA's attitude. Following the failure of the Abidjan negotiations and 20 years of diplomatic 'boycott', Washington normalised its relations with Luanda in May 1993. Obstacles to the acquisition of military equipment by the Angolan government were removed and American objections to limited but obligatory sanctions against UNITA were lifted. Meanwhile, the government re-formed the national army.

Negotiations began again in November 1993, this time in Lusaka. UNITA had had to make a formal preliminary undertaking to accept the principle of the withdrawal of its forces from all territories occupied after the elections. Conducted under the auspices of the new representative of the Secretary General, A.B. Beye, the negotiations were to last a full year. The UN played a major role in the process, alongside the observer states. The Lusaka Protocol was finally signed on 20 November 1994, despite the absence of Jonas Savimbi. This was mainly because the military situation now decisively favoured the government which was coming under strong pressure from the United States and the Security Council not to 'humiliate' Mr Savimbi. UNITA had, in the meantime, lost most of the provincial capitals it had seized and no longer had access to most of the diamond-mining areas it had exploited to finance the war. Finally, the regional context had also changed with the ANC's election victory in 1994 and Nelson Mandela's accession as President of South Africa.

Main provisions

The Lusaka Protocol set out the principles and conditions of the ceasefire and of national reconciliation. It established the role of the bodies responsible for monitoring application of these provisions, namely the joint commission, the three observer states and the UN.

The cessation of hostilities firstly implied the limited disengagement, under the supervision of the United Nations, of the fighting forces. At the same time, there was to be free movement of people and goods. The second phase entailed the quartering and disarming of UNITA forces under UN supervision.

A third set of actions was to involve completing the training of the FAA (Angolan Armed Forces), with the incorporation of UNITA personnel at all levels into this body. Implementation of these provisions has been extremely slow coming up against numerous obstacles, including hundreds of cease-fire violations perpetrated, for the most part, by UNITA. The situation did not ease until April 1995.

The subsequent Lusaka meeting on 6 May between President Dos Santos and Jonas Savimbi improved matters further. Despite this, by July 1995, the process was five months behind schedule. No quartering or disarming of UNITA had commenced by that date.

The provisions relating to 'national reconciliation' formed the other pillar of the peace process. These provisions set the number and the nature of the posts to be allocated to UNITA, both within the government and in provincial and local authorities, which were now to be decentralised.

A post of Vice-President was offered to Jonas Savimbi by the Angolan government after the Lusaka meeting. The appropriate amendments were made to the constitution but the UNITA leader was slow to agree. The participation of UNITA members in government and administrative structures was made subject to the disarming of this organisation's forces. It should be noted that an amnesty had been agreed by Parliament before the protocol was signed.

Role of the United Nations

The specific nature of the peace process lies particularly in the importance of the tasks allocated to the United Nations. This time, the UN presided over the joint commission, the body responsible for monitoring application of all the political, administrative and military aspects of the 1991 peace accords which had still not been applied and all the provisions of the Lusaka Protocol. The other members of the joint commission are the government, UNITA and the three observer states, with decisions being taken on the basis of consensus.

In the context of national reconciliation, the UN has been invited, after the departure of UNITA forces from occupied areas, to monitor compliance with the security conditions required for normalisation of state administration.

It is also to be involved in the electoral process which was begun in September 1992 and which was due to be concluded in a second round of presidential elections. It is the UN which, in consultation with the joint commission, has the task of declaring at the appropriate time that the political and material conditions set out in the protocol have been achieved.

Deployment of UNAVEM III and future prospects

Despite being afforded the basic means to control implementation of the protocol, UNAVEM III has taken a long time to be deployed. At the time of writing, seven months after the cease-fire came into effect, it was still far from complete. On 7 February, the Security Council authorised the deployment of advance elements of UNAVEM III to prepare for the arrival of infantry units and the subsequent arrival of the personnel needed for setting up the areas where UNITA forces would be billeted.

However, various conditions needed to be met for the deployment of the 7000 armed men to go ahead. Some of these depend on the cooperation of the government and UNITA in complying with their respective obligations and others are linked to material obstacles resulting from the devastating effects of war. The UN has a very big task but it must be seen through if the ceasefire and the overall peace process is to be consolidated. In this context, the delays encountered are bound to be a cause for concern.

There can be no guarantee of long-lasting peace while UNITA retains its weapons and has not been integrated into the military and institutional processes of the Angolan state. UNAVEM III has a major role to play in this respect. Everything humanly and materially possible should therefore be done to accelerate its deployment. After UNAVEM II, which was a dramatic failure for Angola, its peace process and the credibility of the United Nations, the Angolans have legitimate reason to expect more from the international community this time.