For sixteen years he has been leading the main opposition party in Angola, he has only experienced electoral defeats. But at the time of retirement, the leader of Unita Isaias Samakuva wants to believe that his successor could finally win.
« I know that the challenge is immense for the three years that separate us from the next elections, » said Mr. Samakuva in an interview with AFP before the opening on Wednesday of its last congress as president of the party.
« But I tell you sincerely, I hope that Unita will take power » in the general elections of 2022, he hastens to add, « it is possible ».
Born in 1966 during the war against the Portuguese colonizer, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) has long been confused with its authoritarian, charismatic and controversial founder Jonas Savimbi.
Supported by the United States and South Africa apartheid, the party has for twenty-seven years faced the ruling Marxist-inspired People’s Liberation Movement of Angola (MPLA), supported at arm’s length by the Soviet Union.
The civil war killed more than 500,000 people. It was not until the death of Jonas Savimbi during the fighting with the army in 2002 that the weapons were finally silenced and that Unita donned the opposition party costume.
Since then, his successor Isaias Samakuva, 73 years old today, has failed to shake the absolute rule of the MPLA over the country since independence in 1975.
‘D-Day is approaching’
« We did a lot of things. First, we managed to reorganize and restructure Unita (…). Today, we are present everywhere in the country, « he says. « In 2002, we had only 900,000 members, today we are over 3 million. »
But neither the terrible economic crisis caused by the plummeting oil prices in 2014, nor the retirement of the all-powerful president Jose Eduardo dos Santos in 2017 seemed to endanger the regime.
Mr dos Santos’ dauphin, Joao Lourenço, succeeded him as planned in the 2017 general elections, which the MPLA has largely won.
The head of Unita, however, points out that his party has gained 8 points (winning 26.6% of the vote) and 19 seats of deputies (51).
« The MPLA is no longer the same, in my opinion, » said Samakuva. His influence « recedes, while that of Unita goes up (…), so I think that D-Day is coming ».
The opposition leader concedes that he has had to amend his criticisms of the regime’s corruption since his arrival at the helm of Mr. Lourenço. To everyone’s surprise, he attacked the interests of the clan dos Santos.
« Joao Lourenço tried to change the way of governing »
The daughter of the former head of state, Isabel, has been removed from the national oil company and one of his sons, José Filomeno, who headed the country’s sovereign wealth fund, must be tried soon for embezzlement of public funds.
« Joao Lourenço tried to change the way of governing, » says Isaias Samakuva. « He has a lot of intentions but life remains difficult economically and socially (…) the perpetrators of corruption are still there. »
Unita will choose on Friday its new president among five candidates, including the leader of the parliamentary group Adalberto Costa Junior and Vice President Raul Danda.
The outgoing president refuses to decide between them. « No, it does not happen like that in the monarchy! », He reacts. He only agrees to sketch the portrait of the ideal successor who should, according to him, « ensure the continuity » of the party and be endowed with « a lot of energy and intelligence ».
Isaias Samakuva assures that he will entrust him with the keys of the party without ulterior motive.
« It is time to leave and give the opportunity to my comrades who also have ideas, energy and the desire to lead Unita, » he concludes. « Sixteen is a lot, I now have to serve Unita in another way, » he adds, without giving details.