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Between Old Allies, A Profound Divide

Former Angola Rebels See Leaders Prosper

By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, September 16, 2004; Page A22

MONA QUIBUNDO, Angola -- The rebels from the village of Mona Quibundo fought on the same side with Marceal Miji Itengo during Angola's civil war. But their lives have gone in starkly different directions during the country's troubled peace.

Itengo became provincial governor, wears tailored suits and lives in an elegant government palace. The former rebels wear tattered clothes and live in mud huts. Itengo travels by airplane and four-wheel-drive truck. The former rebels travel by foot. Itengo works in a refurbished colonial building that has marble floors and a conference table so large that 45 leather chairs fit around it. The former guerrillas work in the fields.


Marceal Miji Itengo, a former rebel leader, now enjoys a lavish lifestyle as the governor of Lunda Sul province. (Craig Timberg -- The Washington Post)

Such profound inequities between the ruling class, based in the capital of Luanda, and rural Angolans fueled 27 years of civil war. After two years of peace, the divisions are more visible than ever.

The government, flush with revenue from oil, Angola's main export, has used jobs and other enticements to win the loyalty of some former leaders of the rebellion, human rights groups say. Government officials, no matter which side they supported during the war, are now better dressed, live in nicer homes and work in grander surroundings than the vast majority of Angolans. Government buildings across the country have returned to their prewar elegance.

Meanwhile, the rural poor, whose sons and husbands spent decades in the bush as guerrillas, are struggling to resume modest lives in a country that is among the most war-ravaged on Earth. They have little to show for their sacrifices, even though their erstwhile leaders have assumed formal roles in the government.

"At some point, everyone got on the government's side," said Rafael Marques, the top Angolan official for the Open Society Foundation, an organization that promotes human rights and is funded by international financier George Soros. "The moment they get all these perks, they stop paying attention to the party."

Mona Quibundo is situated along one of the few paved roads in Lunda Sul province, deep in the northeastern interior of Angola, about 30 miles from the provincial capital, Saurimo, where Itengo lives.

Sixty-eight former guerrillas and their families have settled in Mona Quibundo since the 2002 peace deal, which came soon after government forces gunned down the rebels' charismatic but volatile leader, Jonas Savimbi. They are not from here, but received the land as part of the peace deal. After so many years fighting together, they say they would rather be in Lunda Sul than in far-off villages.

As a sign of their enduring loyalty, the former guerrillas fly the red-and-green flag of the rebel movement from a pole in the village center.

But they have few other sources of pride. Under the peace deal, the government was supposed to provide them with the basic tools to start new lives: clothes, cooking pots, mattresses, zinc roofs for their huts and an initial stipend of $100.

Of that, the former guerrillas said only the cookware had arrived. They built their homes by themselves, using thatch to make roofs because the zinc ones never came. The U.N. World Food Program has provided rations, though here and across Angola the supply will stop soon, mostly because of a shortfall in international donations.

One lean former rebel, Victorino Aurelio, 38, grabbed his grubby pants in frustration and gestured toward the holes worn through both knees. "How can someone remain like this?" he asked.

The former rebels expressed little enthusiasm about the government's recent announcement that general elections would be held in September 2006. It would be the first nationwide balloting since 1992, when the rebel leader Savimbi rejected results showing him behind President Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Savimbi returned to the interior and resumed the war.

Twelve years later, Savimbi's former fighters remain skeptical of Angola's ruling party.


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