October 10, 2002

UNITA Reunified

After several months of negotiations Angola's former rebel group UNITA was unified Tuesday, October 8, paving the way for national reconciliation and the implementation of outstanding aspects of the 1994 Lusaka peace agreement.

"It has taken some time but we have successfully accomplished a very important task. We are now working towards a concrete programme of action. Already we have set up 18 working groups which will act as a shadow cabinet to the government," George Valentim, secretary-general of the now defunct UNITA Renovada faction, told IRIN. He added that UNITA would work on transforming its image from that of a guerrilla movement "to something that appeals to most Angolans".

Splits in the rebel movement surfaced after the abortive 1994 Lusaka peace deal. The Luanda-based Renovada was formed by Eugenio Manuvakola in September 1998 along with other dissidents who had fallen out with UNITA's founder, Jonas Savimbi. The new group was recognised by the government as the interlocutors for the 1994 Lusaka Protocol. However, since the 4 April ceasefire between UNITA and the government this year, the splinter group has found itself on the sidelines of the broader political changes happening in the country. In July Manuvakola resigned from the Renovada leadership, saying his decision would pave the way for the reunification of the party.

Valentim was appointed caretaker of the splinter group until the final reunification of the party. He had earlier been appointed to conduct negotiations with the main wing of UNITA. "We have to restructure the united party so that it can reflect democratic principles. Admittedly, we [UNITA] do not have a very positive image but our focus is on bringing new ideas to the people. Angolans must be free to voice criticisms of the way public affairs are conducted," Valentim said.

Meanwhile, João Porto, a senior researcher at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, told IRIN that as a unified political movement, UNITA could prove to be a serious contender for political power. "Although reduced to a fraction of what it once was, UNITA now constitutes a serious contender for power in Angola as was demonstrated in the 1992 legislative elections where UNITA commanded 34 percent of the votes. UNITA could substantially increase this result in the next elections should it demonstrate to the Angolan people that it has the capacity to address some of their major concerns," Porto said.

"After so many years in power it would interesting to watch if the MPLA government opens a political space for multiparty politics. Will civil society be permitted to voice criticisms of the government?" Porto said. The government-controlled media dominates the scene. The country's only news agency, Angop, and the only daily newspaper, Jornal de Angola, are state-owned and they all carry little criticism of the government. Porto said a successful transition to political pluralism would replace, once and for all, the violence and mistrust which has historically marked relations between the government and UNITA.

Meanwhile, Unita National Political Commission Secretary General, Paulo Lukamba Gato, assured that this organ will project the party's affirmation in the future. He said Unita must be a democratic and modern party able to respond the aspirations to construct a better motherland for all Angolans. "Now, with the party more unified and strong, let's put hands to work" Lukamba Gato said to members recently invested, among them Jorge Alicerces Valentim, Daniel Samy and Eugenio Manuvakola (absent) all of them from Unita renewing wing. "The success claims for new successes and failure for a new experiences", Lukamba Gato concluded. (IRIN / ANGOLA PRESS AGENCY)

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