Angola: The Bicesse Accords

Extracted from: "Angola" IN Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa (2002), edited by Tom Lodge, Denis Kadima and David Pottie, EISA, 17-18.

While communist regimes were collapsing in Eastern Europe in the eartly 1990s, The MPLA-PT [Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola-Partido do Trabalho] announced its abandonment of Marxism-Leninism. In March 1991, it lifted the restrictions on opposition parties. The adoption of multipartyism and the Angolan government's acceptance of UNITA as part of a new order cleared the way for negotiations. Conversely, UNITA's recognition of the MPLA-PT as the government of Angola, at least until free elections were possible, facilitated the quest for a peace settlement. This was achieved when a ceasefire was agreed upon on 1 May 1991. The ceasefire took effect two weeks later and, on 31 May, the final accord was signed at Bicesse in Portugal.

The principal objectives of the accords were demilitarization and democratization, including preparations for Angola's first democratic elections. Before elections ((slated for not later than 30 November 1992) could take place it was crucial that the contending armies be demobilised and replaced with a national defence force. The new unified force was to be significantly smaller than the combined personnel of the two existing armies, though it would consist of equal numbers of former MPLA and UNITA soldiers. This implied that many thousands of FAPLA (MPLA) and FALA (UNITA) soldiers could not be taken into the new army now called the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) and would have to be demobilized and reintegrated into civilian society.

A large number of joint structures, at the national and provincial levels, were created by the negotiators to implement the accords. At the centre of this network was the Joint Political and Military Commission, generally referred to by its Portuguese acronym CCPM. The only full members of this body were an equal number of government and UNITA representatives. The arrangement that meetings were to be chaired alternately by each side later proved to be a mistake because, in the absence of an impartial chairperson, there were deadlocks and delays in reaching agreement on crucial matters. Ambassadors from the three foreign powers involved with the negotiations and the peace process served on the CCPM as advisers. Known as the Observer Countries or as the Troika, these powers were the United States, the Russian Federation and Portugal. In terms of the accords, the Americans and the Russians would cease their military assistance to the MPLA and UNITA immediately.

Also serving on the CCPM was the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Angola, who was designated by the UN Security Council to head the second UN Angola Verification Mission (UNAVEM II). Margaret Anstee, one of the UN under-secretary-generals, was appointed to these positions. The UN already had a presence in Angola, in the form of UNAVEM I, which monitored the phased withdrawal of the South African and Cuban troops and whose work was completed at the time of the signing of the Bicesse Accords. The tasks of UNAVEM II were to observe and to verify, first, the assembling and demobilization of both armies in all the provinces, second, the reorganization and functioning of the police, and, third, the preparations for and the actual conduct of the elections. These would enable the Special Envoy to decide whether the elections were "free and fair". In addition to the above, UNAVEM II was to provide technical assistance to a new National Electoral Commission. The Special Envoy also had the crucial task of mediating in disputes between the contending parties to keep the peace process going.

It should be noted that UNAVEM II was a largely unarmed peacekeeping mission with no mandate and resources to enforce peace and that the peacekeepers were required to respect the sovereignty of the Angolan state and its government. Indeed, Special Envoy Anstee warned that UNAVEM's few hundred staff and inadequate equipment were unrealistic, even for the designated task at hand. It would soon become evident that the head office planners of the UN operations in Angola underestimated the challenges of the transition. The political and economic environment differed fundamentally in some important respects from that prevailing in Namibia, the scene of a successful UN peacekeeping mission only two years earlier. Moreover, conditions on the ground were much worse and infinitely more dangerous than those encountered by the comparatively large and well-equipped UN mission to Namibia, consisting of some 7 000 members, including a substantial number of combat troops.