The West's Stake in Angola's Elections

By Witney W. Schneidman. Witney W. Schneidman is vice president of Samuels International Associates, Inc., . | The Christian Science Monitor, September 21, 1992 | Go to article overview
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The West's Stake in Angola's Elections


Witney W. Schneidman. Witney W. Schneidman is vice president of Samuels International Associates, Inc., ., The Christian Science Monitor


THE southern African nation of Angola will hold its first-ever elections on Sept. 29. The elections are likely to be without incident, but the prospects for genuine peace in this war-torn nation are far from certain.

On May 31, 1991, Jose Eduardo dos Santos of the governing Popular Liberation Movement of Angola (MPLA) and Jonas Savimbi of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) signed the Angola peace accords in Lisbon that mandated the legislative and presidential elections.

While encouraging optimism that a generation of war might finally be over, aspects of the accords - brokered by Portugal's Secretary of State Jose Durao Barroso, with critical support from the United States and the Soviet Union - repeat mistakes made in the flawed 1975 Alvor accords that set the terms for the transition to independence after 500 years of Portuguese colonial rule.

In 1975 the Portuguese military was exhausted from 15 years of anti-guerrilla warfare, and the new revolutionary government in Lisbon wanted to cede independence to its five African colonies as quickly as possible. For Angola, this resulted in the mass exodus of virtually all Angolans of Portuguese descent as well as civil war.

Both the Alvor and Lisbon agreements allowed for short periods to prepare for elections. The Alvor agreement gave the Angolans 11 months to prepare for elections and independence. The Lisbon accords allowed the MPLA, UNITA, and 18 other fledgling political parties 15 months. Despite the country's history of warfare, the international community expects the Angolans to create a pluralistic system of government overnight.

Another similarity between the accords is that both mandated the integration of warring armies. Under Alvor, a transitional army was to have come from the colonial military and the poorly trained nationalist armies. Not surprisingly, that army never materialized.

Establishing a unified military under the 1991 accords has been equally difficult. Although a new army is supposed to be created by the time of the elections, less than 10 percent of the unifying envisaged has been accomplished.

The possibility exists that instead of one army, Angola will have three armies - two existing ones and a partial "unified" one.

Perhaps the most troubling similarity between the two agreements is their intended purpose.

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