Jonas Savimbi

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Jonas Savimbi (died November 2002) was the leader of the UNITA rebels during the Angolan civil war[1].

With support from the governments of the United States, South Africa, Israel,[2] several African leaders including Félix Houphouët-Boigny of the Ivory Coast and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire(Mobutu denied helping UNITA)[3]. Savimbi spent much of his life battling Angola's Marxist-inspired government, which was supported by weapons and military advisers from the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Nicaragua Sandinistas.[4] The war ultimately became one of the most prominent Third World conflicts of the Cold War. Sean Cleary was a political advisor to Savimbi[5].

2002: Killed in combat

After surviving more than a dozen assassination attempts, Savimbi was killed on February 22, 2002, in a battle with Angolan government troops - and, reportedly, South African mercenaries and Israeli special forces[6] - along riverbanks in the province of Moxico, his birthplace. In the firefight, Savimbi sustained 15 machine gun bullets to his head, throat, upper body and legs. While Savimbi returned gun fire, the blows proved immediately fatal.[7]

The Cold War and the Heritage Foundation

Savimbi's war against Angola's Marxist government became a sub-plot to the Cold War, with both Moscow and Washington viewing the conflict as important to the global balance of power. In 1985, with the backing of the Ronald Reagan administration, Jack Abramoff and other U.S. conservatives organized the Democratic International in Savimbi's base in Jamba, Cuando, in Cuando Cubango Province in southeastern Angola.[8] The meeting included most of the anti-communist guerrilla leaders of the Third World, including Savimbi, Nicaraguan contras leader Adolfo Calero, and Abdul Rahim Wardak, then leader of Afghanistan's mujahideen who went on to become Afghanistan's Defense Minister.

Equally important, Savimbi also was strongly supported by the influential, conservative Heritage Foundation. Heritage Foundation foreign policy analyst Michael Johns and other conservatives visited regularly with Savimbi in his clandestine camps in Jamba and provided the rebel leader with ongoing political and military guidance in his war against the Angolan government. Savimbi's U.S.-based supporters ultimately proved successful in convincing the CIA to channel covert weapons and recruit guerrillas for Savimbi's war against Angola's Marxist government, which greatly intensified and prolonged the conflict.

During a visit to Washington in 1986, Reagan invited Savimbi to meet with him at the White House. Following the meeting, Reagan spoke of UNITA winning "a victory that electrifies the world."

Two years later, with the Angolan Civil War intensifying, Savimbi returned to Washington, where he was filled with gratitude and praise for the Heritage Foundation's work on UNITA's behalf. "When we come to the Heritage Foundation", Savimbi said during a June 30, 1988 speech at the foundation, "it is like coming back home. We know that our success here in Washington in repealing the Clark Amendment and obtaining American assistance for our cause is very much associated with your efforts. This foundation has been a source of great support. The UNITA leadership knows this, and it is also known in Angola."[9].

Reception amongst the US right

Thomas Frank gives the following account of the reception given to Savimbi by the US right:

The peerless darling of the freedom-fighter fan club was Jonas Savimbi, the charismatic Angolan guerrilla leader whose every utterance seemed to strike young Eighties conservatives as a timeless profundity. Angola had been one of the very last countries in Africa to be freed from colonial domination, but, unlike seemingly every other “national liberator” in the preceding decades, Savimbi was not a communist. In Angola, the communists were the ones who grabbed power in the capital as soon as the Europeans left; Savimbi, who fought them with the backing of the apartheid government in South Africa, supposedly believed in free enterprise and balanced budgets.
Conservatives were smitten with this self-titled general who struggled for free markets in his remote land. They fell for Savimbi as romantically, and as guilelessly, as Sixties radicals once did for Che, Ho, and Huey. Savimbi was “one of the few authentic heroes of our time,” roared Jeane Kirkpatrick, queen of the neocons, when she introduced him at the 1986 Conservative Political Action Conference. Grover Norquist followed the great man around his camp in Angola, preparing magazine articles for Savimbi’s signature. Jack Abramoff made a movie about Savimbi, depicting him as a tougher, African version of Gandhi. Even Savimbi’s capital—the remote camp called “Jamba”—was described in conservative literature with elevated language such as “Savimbi’s Kingdom.”
In truth, Savimbi’s main achievement was to keep going, for nearly thirty years, a civil war that made Angola one of the worst places on earth—its population impoverished, its railroads and highways and dams in ruins, its countryside strewn with land mines by the millions, even its elephant herds wiped out, their tusks hacked off to raise funds for his army.
This was the man the rebel right chose for the starring role in one of the strangest spectacles in American political history, a media event designed to cement conservatism’s identification with revolution. The organizer was Jack Abramoff; the place was Jamba; the model, I am told, was Woodstock—only a right-wing version, with guerrillas instead of rock bands. Every kind of freedom fighter was there, joining hands in territory liberated by arms from a Soviet client regime. There were Nicaraguan Contras, some Afghan mujahedeen, an American tycoon—and they all got together at Savimbi’s hideout.
This “rumble in the jungle,” as skeptics called it, came to pass in June of 1985. Of course, bringing it off required considerable assistance from Savimbi’s South African patrons. Nobody else even knew how to find Jamba.
Since these freedom fighters had no actual issues to discuss—no trade agreements or mutual-defense plans or anything—they signed the Jamba Declaration, a bit of high-flown folderol written by Grover Norquist that aimed for solemnity but sounded more like the work of a fifth-grader who has been forced to memorize the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence and has got them all jumbled up somehow.
Jamba was meant as a celebration of freedom, a word revered by Americans generally and a term of enormous significance to conservatives in particular. Yet as freedom’s embodiment Abramoff had chosen a terrorist: Jonas Savimbi, the leader of an armed cult. To fill the main supporting role in this great freedom-fest, meanwhile, the organizers turned to apartheid South Africa, a place where only a small, correctly complexioned percentage of the population possessed even the most basic democratic rights. .”[10]


UNITA | Heritage Foundation



  1. BBC Monitoring Africa - Political, Angolan interior minister: "There will be no negotiations with Dr Savimbi", BBC Worldwide Monitoring, 23-March-2001, Accessed via NexisUK 11-September-2009
  2. National Congress Library,Angola: A Country Study, Congress Library, Accessed 11-September-2009
  3. Blaine Harden, Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent, p. 51, and Sean Kelly, America's Tyrant: The CIA and Mobutu of Zaire, p. 4
  4. Nicaragua Betrayed, by Anastasio Somoza and Jack Cox, backflap
  5. Elaine Windrich, Angola's War Economy: The Role of Oil and Diamonds, HNet Book Reviews, Accessed 11-September-2009
  6. Fred Bridgland in Johannesburg and Michael Evans, 'Dogs of War' ban will rob British Army of vital frontline soldiers, The Times, 05-August-2006, Accessed 11-September-2009
  7. BBC News,"Savimbi 'died with gun in hand'", BBC News, February 25, 2002.
  8. James Verini, The tale of "Red Scorpion", Salon, 17-August-2005, Accessed 11-September-2009
  9. Jonas Savimbi,The Coming Winds of Democracy in Angola, The Heritage Foundation, 30-June-1988, Accessed 11-September-2009
  10. Thomas Frank ‘The wrecking crew: How a gang of right-wing con men destroyed Washington and made a killing’, Harpers Magazine, August 2008