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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 08:38 GMT
Angolan politics after Savimbi
Jonas Savimbi
Few believe Savimbi's death will mean the end of war
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By the BBC's Justin Pearce in Angola

After Friday night, Angolan politics will never be the same again.

Only history will tell the consequences of the death of Jonas Savimbi, but at this stage it is safe to predict that they will be profound and complicated.

For the government, Savimbi's death makes life simultaneously easier and more difficult.

Angolan woman
Luanda will be under more pressure to improve the lives of Angolans
There is one large drawback to losing its arch-enemy - it also loses its best excuse for the fact that a country of such natural wealth has one of the lowest standards of living in the world.

Without the alibi of a war budget, Luanda will be under pressure at home and abroad to ensure that a decent proportion of the country's oil earnings goes towards improving the lives of Angolans.

And the continued delaying of elections - Angolans last voted in 1992 - will be increasingly difficult to justify.

The government has promised elections this year or next year, as long as the situation in the country allows the free movement of people and goods.

Most observers agree that this is a reasonable proviso - but the onus is now much more clearly on the government to ensure that these conditions are met.

The government is much more likely to be able to have peace on its own terms

At the same time, a militarily weakened Unita strengthens the hand of the government, making it better able to determine, on its own, the shape of a future Angola.

Savimbi died at a time when United Nations officials had been saying that the rebel leadership was creeping towards the acceptance of a negotiated settlement.

With Savimbi out of the way, the government is much more likely to be able to have peace on its own terms.

This prospect will be greeted with dismay by those who had hoped that a peace plan would also include mechanisms to broaden democracy in Angola.

Recently churches, civic organisations and traditional chiefs have been demanding that all groups within society, and not just the two warring parties, be allowed a say in Angola's future.

Within Unita, the death of Savimbi is being greeted with quiet relief by some members of the movement who, after the 1992 election, stayed on as politicians in Luanda rather than follow their leader back to war.

Without a man like Savimbi at the top, Unita would never have lasted as long as it did as a rebel army.

With the founder out of the way, the prospect of the the rebels disarming and reuniting with Unita's legal political wing under civilian leadership now seems better than ever before.


But after an initial mood of euphoria in Luanda, few people are still predicting that Savimbi's death will bring an immediate end to the war.

Their caution is well founded, since over the years, the Angolan conflict has taken on a momentum of its own.

Unita guerrillas have been operating in many regions of Angola, reliant on looting and ambushing for their survival. Often they are barely distinguishable from ordinary bandits.

And after so many years under Savimbi's domination, the new Unita leadership could have a hard time asserting its authority.

If future leaders decide to follow the path of peace, they may find it difficult to persuade the scattered Unita forces to give up their guns.

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