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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 11:48 GMT
Analysis: Unita's chance to unite
Corpse of Jonas Savimbi
Savimbi's death may unite Unita's various factions
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By the BBC's Justin Pearce in Angola

The death of Jonas Savimbi opens up new opportunities for the Unita movement, which he founded during the struggle against Portuguese colonial rule in the 1960s.

With the 1992 elections, Unita had a chance to play a political role in a democratic Angola, and many predicted it would win.

Unita soldier
Savimbi returned his troops to war in 1992 after losing the election
However Mr Savimbi decided to return to war after losing the election, taking some of the leadership with him.

Those who chose to stay in the country's capital, Luanda, found themselves compromised by the absence of the man whom they still regarded as party leader, even if they rejected his war-mongering.

Then, in 1998 a group of Unita MPs led by Eugenio Manuvakola made a formal break with Savimbi and founded the Unita Renovada faction, thus creating a further division.

Now Savimbi's death has prompted talk of "reuniting the family of Unita" in the hope of bringing the various elements back together again.

This message has come from the external mission - officials who were associated with Savimbi but living in exile - as well as Unita figures in Luanda.

Starving child in Angola
The war has caused tremendous suffering in Angola
According to Unita's constitution, the presidency of the organisation passes for an interim period to General Antonio Dembo, the former deputy president who was with Savimbi in the bush.

It is not known what General Dembo and others in the armed faction think of the idea of reunification.

However there is a wide consensus that Savimbi's death makes the reunification of Unita a real possibility for the first time in almost 10 years, since it was on Savimbi's initiative that the party returned to war.

Jaka Jamba, Unita MP and deputy speaker of the Angolan parliament, says he envisages a congress bringing together the various elements in Unita.

These elements could elect a new leadership that would be able to consolidate the movement into a political force and contest the next election.

Opinions within Unita are divided as to whether Renovada members would be welcome at the congress.

But Mr Jamba makes it clear that the congress could only happen after a ceasefire, because it would be unrealistic and politically embarrassing for Unita civilians to sit down at a table with guerrillas who were still at war.


Diplomats point out that there is only a small window of opportunity for this to happen.

Mr Dembo's interim presidency lasts for only 60 days and Unita's constitution requires a congress within this time.

If a ceasefire, followed by a broadly inclusive Unita congress, has not happened by then, the next step becomes much less certain.

If the congress does go ahead, party sources have suggested that the following might be in the running for the leadership:

  • Abel Chivukuvuku, Parliamentarian, based in Luanda
  • Antonio Dembo, currently acting Unita President, with the armed faction
  • Paulo Lukamba Gato, Unita Secretary-General, with the armed faction
  • Alcides Sakala, Foreign Secretary, with the armed faction
  • Isaias Samakuva, former Unita chief negotiator, based in Paris.

Unita will clearly face huge practical difficulties on the path to reconciliation.

However, it will be able to benefit from financial and other resources of a large Unita diaspora. The party made a strong showing in the 1992 elections, but its electoral support could now suffer as a result of the fact that its traditional areas of support - the central highlands and the east - are the areas that have seen the worst of the war in the last 10 years.

A large part of the population of these areas has spent time in displaced people's camps where MPLA party flags fly above the huts of camp officials.

Nevertheless, most observers believe nevertheless that a reunited Unita has a better chance than any other political grouping of becoming the first viable opposition party in a democratic Angola.

See also:

25 Feb 02 | Africa
Angolan politics after Savimbi
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