DESPITE the euphoria resulting from independence in Namibia and prospects for negotiations in South Africa, another conflict in that region continues - and the United States is fanning the flames. The US government continues to arm UNITA, a rebel organization seeking to overthrow the Angolan government. Angola's civilians are the principal victims. Angola, with its large oil reserves, is potentially one of the richest countries in Africa. Yet thanks in large part to the chaos wreaked by UNITA, the country ranks near the bottom of the world's nations in providing its citizens with even the most basic needs. In 15 years of war since independence, over 200,000 Angolans have been killed and more than 20,000 children orphaned. UNITA's use of land mines has produced a gruesome statistic: over 50,000 Angolans have been left amputated, the highest per capita in the world. Many of these mines come courtesy of the US taxpayer.
UNITA's sabotage of highways and rail lines has severely disrupted the economy - already strained by drought - and has made it difficult to transport food and necessities to remote regions of the country. Even international relief workers are threatened by UNITA attacks as they try to get food to starving peasants.
Other African countries are damaged as well. The Benguela Railway, a favorite target of UNITA assaults, is the only outlet besides South Africa from mineral-rich areas of Zambia and Zaire. Indeed, these attacks force nations to depend on South Africa and its ports to move minerals to market, a result that motivates the apartheid state to join the US in supporting UNITA.
Unlike the contras of Nicaragua, UNITA has its roots in the anti-colonial struggle against the Portuguese. It has a popular base. However, this support comes almost exclusively from the minority Ovimbundo tribe. It's far from unanimous. UNITA's alliance with South Africa, their disruption of the economy and attacks have damaged their claim to be legitimate liberation movement.
While the Bush Administration and most of Congress have lauded UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi as a freedom fighter for democratic ideals, only a few years ago this Chinese-trained guerrilla leader was depicted as a Maoist terrorist. Though there's been much speculation regarding the reasons for Savimbi's flip-flop, it seems little more than crass opportunism. Savimbi's main interest is personal power.