South of Nowhere, Another Chance for Peace


London. -- Recall the prayer of Kor, leader of the Griquas tribe, before a battle with South Africa's white Afrikaners in 1876:

"O, Lord! Despite a great many prayers to you we are continually losing our wars. Tomorrow we shall again be fighting a battle that is truly great. With all our might we need your help and that is why I must tell you something: This battle tomorrow is going to be a serious affair. There will be no place in it for children. Therefore I must ask you not to send your son to help us. Come yourself."

The combatants in Angola's war long ago made sure that neither God nor his son was much respected or listened to. No part of Africa in this century has spilled so much innocent blood as this southern corner. After 30 years the war is supposedly to end this weekend, but will peace will be observed more in the breach than the making?

"South of Nowhere," is the title of Antonio Loba Antune's brilliant novel which chronicles "the murderous violence in this pregnant land of Africa. . . . The war these parties waged among themselves was sloppy, dogged and cruel. Everyone was everyone's enemy and no one was sure who would meet death. At whose hands, when and where. And why?"

Yes, why? -- a question that needs to be asked.

Outsiders are up to their necks in the blood of Angola. Russia, Cuba, South Africa and the United States are the main villains, with France, Saudi Arabia and Britain playing supporting roles. For all the horrors of Rwanda, nothing stirred the pot in Africa like the Cold War's struggle for influence.

In late 1974, after fighting a hopeless war to maintain its colonial domination, Portugal agreed to negotiate handing over the country to the three rival independence movements.

To general surprise, the three groups agreed on a form of power sharing, to be followed by elections. But President Gerald Ford and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, worked secretly to undermine the settlement. They regarded one of the groups, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (the MPLA), today the governing party, as too leftist. Only days after the agreement with Portugal was signed, establishing a transitional government, the CIA sent a large donation in cash to its long-time client, the National Front for the Liberation of Angola, (now defunct and succeeded by Jonas Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, UNITA).

The CIA payment, made without the knowledge of the U.S. Congress or the American public, was soon known to the Soviet Union. Moscow quickly resumed large-scale arms shipments to the MPLA and Cuba sent in 230 military advisers. The U.S. then upped the ante, furnishing its client with CIA operatives and millions of dollars of cash for arms.

Then South Africa, thinking it had Washington's blessing, sent troops into Angola. The MPLA, under siege, called in more Cubans, who started to arrive by the boatload.

Notch by notch, the confrontation ratcheted up. Jimmy Carter made some efforts to seek peace, but was thwarted by South Africa. Then Ronald Reagan became president and the ratcheting resumed.

In 1990, after a laborious negotiation, the Cubans left. Elections were called, but when Mr. Savimbi lost, the war continued. Another four years of terrible fighting "South of Nowhere" reduced Angola's gross national product almost to zero -- the World Bank says there's no economic activity to measure. Now a new peace agreement is on the table.

Now comes the hard part. The Angolan people are about to learn an awful truth about contemporary life. The political polluter never pays, and clean-up costs are not part of the peace deal.

Even as the American, Russian and Portuguese ambassadors looked on benignly at negotiations, document writing and peace plans, their bosses back home read, if they glanced at them at all, their diplomatic dispatches and saw with a shrug that the mistakes were made on a predecessor's watch. The instigators of the slaughter will likely atone with a paltry donation to a U.N. peacekeeping force.

For the Angolan people that this weekend's scheduled peace settlement will be sweet, but they'd better get back to their prayers.

Jonathan Power writes a column on the Third World.

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