Jonas Malheiro Savimbi ('O Mais Velho')
Former leader, União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (UNITA)
Date of Birth: 03/08/1934
Place of Birth: Munhango
Married to Ana Isabel Paulino, 5 children
Education: Silva Porto Secondary School; University of Lisbon, Portugal, 1958-60; University of Fribourg, Switzerland, 1961-64; University of Lausanne, 1964-65.
Career: Secretary General, União das Populaçoes da Angola, 1962; Foreign Minister, Governo Reolucionario da Angola no Exilio, 1962-64; With Antonio Fernandes founded National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), 1966; Leader of UNITA, 1968-2002.
Commentary: An undying ambition to rule Angola was both Savimbi's greatest strength and greatest weakness. For nearly 40 years it helped him operate in the maquis and impose an iron discipline on his movement. UNITA grew from organising villages in the remote east in the 1960s into a force capable of confronting all-out assaults by possibly the strongest armies in Africa, the Cuban and Angolan, and surviving - with protection from apartheid South Africa. Savimbi proved a master at the ideological ballet: courting the Chinese and the Zambians, then the South Africans, the Americans and conservative rulers such as Mobutu Sese Seko, Félix Houphouët-Boigny and King Hassan II.
His initial military training was in Nanking, China; he obtained covert military equipment, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, from the Central Intelligence Agency and visited Ronald Reagan at the White House. Anti-white feeling was strong in his UNITA – the MPLA was criticised for having too many mesticos – and yet white South Africans working for the apartheid regime helped run his election campaign. Savimbi regards this as pragmatic. A charismatic orator, Savimbi charmed foreign backers and encouraged deep resentment among his Ovimbundu people towards the MPLA coastal elite to reach the brink of power in the 1992 elections.
If the polls had been soon after the Bicesse peace accords in May 1991, Savimbi would have stood a better chance: José Eduardo dos Santos' goverment was in disarray, with senior party officials preparing to emigrate. Savimbi was poised to swap his military uniform for a suit. Poorly advised by UNITA sycophants and outsiders, Savimbi ran a disastrous campaign steeped in aggressive rhetoric. When the vote went against him, he rejected opposition politics in Luanda and retreated to Huambo, withdrawing his officers from the integrated armed forces. The ensuing return to war cost an estimated 500,000 lives. Within months, UNITA forces occupied Huambo and 80% of Angola, though most people lived in government-controlled areas. After UNITA's defeat at Cuito in June 1994, the war shifted in the government's favour, and the Forças Armadas Angolanas recaptured Huambo from UNITA.
Savimbi finally agreed that UNITA would sign the United Nations-mediated peave accord in Lusaka. In exchange, his forces were protected from annihilation. He rearmed using some $300mn. from the UNITA-occupied diamond areas. As in 1991-92, Savimbi stalled on demobilisation, disarmament and demining. Repeated threats by the UN convinced him to accept UNITA's participation in the GURN.
The fall of his friend Mobutu Sese Seko in May 1997 dealt a further blow to Savimbi's international support, together with the rise of South Africa's African National Congress, the United States' recognition of Dos Santos' government and the spreading coalition of African countries centred around Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, who saw UNITA as an ally of Mobutu and Rwandan Hutu extremists.
Savimbi was killed in 2002 in a battle with Angolan government troops.