African Arguments

By Keith Somerville

February 16, 2012

Abel Chivukuvuku leaves UNITA in readiness for dos Santos’ departure in 2017

It is now nine years since Jonas Savimbi was killed by Angolan government troops, but the UNITA movement he founded and led is still struggling to find its feet and to develop a clear identity and political role.  Although it is the second largest party in the Angolan parliament – receiving 10 percent of the vote and 16 out of 220 seats in the 2008 election – it is dwarfed by the ruling MPLA of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, which has 191 seats. The next elections, due in September this year, are unlikely to see that position improve much, despite signs of growing popular impatience with a government that delivers little, despite the country’s oil wealth. UNITA is poor and seems unable to make political headway.

The desire of UNITA to rebuild itself and develop the support base to seriously threaten the hegemony of the MPLA will not be furthered by the decision of a leading member, Abel Chivukuvuku, to leave and make his own bid for political power, in opposition to the party that has been his home throughout his political career.  Chivukuvuku, a former foreign secretary of UNITA when it was a guerrilla movement led by Jonas Savimbi, now wants to run for office in a coalition with former members of the small PRS (Partido de Renovacao Social) party and the Democratic Block, which claims support of urban-based civil society organizations which desire an end to MPLA dominance but see little chance of UNITA achieving that.

UNITA is still led by Isaias Samakuva.  He was elected leader in 2003 to replace the interim leadership, which took over after Savimbi’s death.  He worked to make a guerrilla-based movement into a democratic, political one and was re-elected in 2007 – beating Chivukuvuku in the leadership race and fending off another challenge from him last year.  Samakuva is a solid leader viewed as honest and hardworking – the former UNITA supporter and writer Sousa Jamba has described him as a politician of the ilk of John Major rather than a charismatic leader like Savimbi or, to continue the analogy, Margaret Thatcher.

The former UNITA representative in London and signatory of the 1994 Lusaka peace accords, which brought an end to the second phase of the MPLA-UNITA conflict,  Samakuva has sought to make a military movement with a record of atrocities during the war and against dissident supporters, into a national political movement, transcending its regional roots among the Ovimbundu of central and southern Angola and overcoming the legacy of its alliance with apartheid South Africa.  But he has struggled with few funds and has had to overcome the suspicion of non-Ovimbundu who may not love the MPLA but were frightened by the rhetoric and violence of Savimbi’s movement.  There was a lot of truth in the graffiti that used to be daubed on walls in Luanda saying “the MPLA steals, but UNITA kills”.  UNITA’s reputation may no longer be that of a murderous guerrilla army, but it has not developed into a movement capable of challenging the well-entrenched and seriously corrupt MPLA.  Read more…