10 years ago this week, Angolan warlord, Jonas Malheiro Savimbi was killed in an ambush by government forcesalong the banks of the Luvuei River in the eastern province of Moxico, Angola.
He was the archetypal bully, demagogue and despite his pretensions to the contrary, he was in the words of one of his Washington backers, "probably the most brilliant man I've ever met, but also dangerous, even psychotic".
However, his intransigence led to the use of his UNITA rebel group as a proxy for the machinations of Western powers and their African stooges in a brutal and often egoistic campaign against the majority of his people. His messy ideological leanings made him a deliberate puppet in the hands of reactionary forces ranging from the elected Republican, Ronald Reagan to the kleptomaniac Mobutu Sese Seko. Not forgetting the white supremacist PM of Apartheid South Africa, PW Botha, whose inauguaration Savimbi was said to have attended. By the early 90s they were all either out of office or dead and soon Savimbi was on his own. His own inevitable end was only a matter of time.
When he died, many a vitriolic obituary was written about him. This by Olusegun Adeniyi with some 'help' from John Githongo remains my favourite. Unfortunately, Africa in 2012 still has many hues and shades of Jonas Savimbi.
So Long, Jonas, Don't Come Back, You Hear?
by Olusegun Adeniyi
THISDAY, 28 FEBRUARY 2002
After more than three decades in the bush, fighting against his country,
Angolan opposition leader, Jonas Savimbi, died last Saturday and was buried
almost like a dog with bullet wounds and his blood soaked uniform. It was an
inglorious end to a most reprehensible life.
Ever since I can remember, I have always detested the politics of Jonas
Savimbi. A man who would allow himself to be used by foreign powers, causing
untold death and destruction to his own people, is to me not a man of
honour. Savimbi definitely was not.
A very brilliant but dubious man, Savimbi who arrogated to himself a Ph.D.
he never completed, started like most other African of his generation a
freedom fighter in the days of colonial subjugation under Portugal. But
after the country became independent in 1975, he could not realise his
ambition to be head of State and then trouble started. One must recall that
Nigeria, and specifically the then Head of State, the late General Murtala
Mohammed, played a key role in outsmarting the bearded rebel leader at the
Organisation of African Unity summit when Nigeria swayed the votes in
support of the ruling MPLA.
That was when Murtala told America to its face that "Africa Has Come of Age"
in what has been described as Nigeria's most glorious era in diplomacy.
Because of the ideological war raging between America and the then Soviet
Union, there was enormous pressure to make Savimbi, a pro-American freedom
fighter, the country's leader but all the moves failed. Rather than work
with the new government and allow for peace, Savimbi plunged the young
country into a fratricidal war. And in the last twenty seven years, the
people have known only war and destruction which has led to the death of at
least half a million people with a third of the population displaced.
Even when a temporary cease fire was achieved and election was conducted in
the early nineties, once Savimbi's party lost, he retreated back to the
Savimbi's motivation has always been power at any cost and almost
single-handedly, he turned what should have been Africa's richest country
into the poorest. Because there can be no prosperity without peace, the
people have been unable to annex the abundant mineral resources for the
betterment of their society. And the rebels he trained have helped to loot
the diamonds that should have been used to develop the country had he
allowed for peace to reign.
With the circumstances surrounding his death, however, Savimbi thus joined
the rank of Mobutu, Samuel Doe, Sani Abacha and others of their ilk who
helped to destroy their country and ended up with ignominy.
It is, however, instructive that Savimbi's former allies, the United States,
have since the end of the cold war been ambivalent towards him meaning he
has been used and dumped and only this week Angola President Eduardo dos
Santos was expected in the White House to discuss with President George
Bush. Ironically, Bush senior was Vice President when President Ronald
Reagan was eulogising Savimbi as one of the best to come out of Africa,
giving him royal treatment at the White House. Sadly too for the late rebel,
the tide has turned in South Africa which used to be a friend of his during
the apartheid days and those who should have mourned him are now out of
contention. Such a waste of a life!
We all have one lesson or two to learn from the life and times of the late
Savimbi the most poignant of which is that no matter our ambition in life,
we must always put the people first and should never behave in such a manner
to suggest treachery. That Angolans were rejoicing at the weekend when the
news broke only remind us of what happened on June 8 in Nigeria when
Lagosians got the information that our "dear Head of State", General Sani
Abacha was no more. It was like another freedom day. Indeed it was.
Perhaps there can be no better epitaph for Savimbi as the piece written by a
Kenyan, John Githongo, with the above title. It is so apt that I want to
quote extinsively from it so that we can all learn a good lesson from the
fall of Savimbi.
"On Saturday, Jonas Savimbi, long-time leader of the National Union for the
Total Independence of Angola (Unita), was killed during an engagement with
government troops. In poorer neighbourhoods of Luanda, the country's
capital, people celebrated by firing flares and honking car horns.
"The death of Savimbi has continental implications. The civil war in Angola
has been a blight on the continent for over three decades. It is unAfrican
to celebrate the demise of even the most odious of figures but I will admit
that the departure of individuals like Sani Abacha and Jonas Savimbi causes
relief in a manner that cannot be articulated.
"I'm sure there are African leaders who are calling up Eduardo dos Santos,
Angola's president, and spending the first few minutes chuckling without a
word being uttered. Ostensibly, Savimbi formed Unita in 1966 to resist
incompetent Portuguese colonialism, but even then his connections to
reactionary interests in the West led to suspicions among the freedom
"The transition from colonialism was messy, with civil war breaking out
almost immediately after independence in 1975. Savimbi charmed gullible
Westerners into believing that he was a bulwark of anti-Communism in
Southern Africa. He was embraced by US President Ronald Reagan as a "freedom
fighter" in the 1980s. Unita received some $250 million of US aid between
1975, when Henry Kissinger approved the first shipments to Unita, and 1991
when, the Cold War having ended, the US walked off.
"Cuba supported the MPLA regime against the US-backed grouping of South
Africa and Savimbi's Unita. It was against the Cubans that the South
Africans suffered their biggest military defeat, shattering the myth of
their regional supremacy and changing the history of Southern Africa.
"In a sense, Savimbi's demise started with that defeat and the withdrawal of
the South Africans from Angola. He survived, however, and with a combination
of foreign backing, an increasingly venal and illegitimate regime in Luanda
and a capacity to exploit Angola's vast resources, the man continued to
wreak havoc. Personally, he remained a figure of great charisma and wit,
capable of entrancing sophisticated foreign diplomats who later said they
had been totally foxed by the big rebel.
"Savimbi finally stood for elections in 1992 as part of the ostensible
post-Cold War peace effort in Angola. He was defeated and almost immediately
went back to the bush - this time retreating to Huambo - and continued his
"struggle." The ferocious fight that soon broke out in Luanda itself saw a
number of Savimbi's key deputies killed.
"Savimbi was the last of Africa's really Big Bad Men; as opposed to the
declining number of "Big Men" in assorted State Houses around the continent.
For even though he never made it to power, Savimbi managed to affect the way
power is won and exercised in many Southern African countries as a result of
the conflict he wrought and sustained and the friends he brought to the
table in his efforts.
"Angola's fate of being simultaneously Africa's richest and poorest country
mirrors that of many other African nations that received close attention and
"assistance" from the West during the Cold War. Many - Somalia, Congo,
Angola, Liberia and Sudan - have stumbled into the 21st century in the last
stages of collective psychosis, like victims of a quack psychiatrist. But
with Savimbi dead, the biggest excuse that the dos Santos regime had for not
performing has gone for good."
Goodbye Jonas, may your likes never come the way of Africa again.