Preparing for Peace
The website of the Westmorland General Meeting 'Preparing for Peace' initiative
Leading a UN Mission: Angola 1992-93
Dame Margaret Anstee
Originally published in Never Learn to Type - a Woman at the United Nations, John Wiley & Sons, 2003. Reproduced by kind permission of the publisher and writer.
U1NAVEM 11 - A 'Small and Manageable Operation'
At the end of January 1992 I met the new Secretary-General. Knowing that he was under pressure to cut posts, I hastened to say that I had no vested interest in staying on, but it was pointless for me to continue in Vienna unless the social development programme was fully integrated. If not, I was happy to retire. If I could be of service I would prefer an operational job and was ready to go anywhere.
I had many items to discuss but never got beyond the first: my efforts to help the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. Full of my experiences in Moscow a week earlier, I said that the world community should, in its own interest, extend generous help, particularly to offset the dire social costs of economic transformation. If not, I foresaw grave economic and social problems that could lead to political backlash and instability, especially in the Soviet Union, with serious implications for the rest of the world. The West seemed oblivious to these risks and I urged that the UN and the Secretary-General take the lead in calling world attention to the problem.
Boutros-Ghali insisted, however, that all such help should go to developing countries, and we became locked in feisty argument, a radical change of style from his predecessor. I found our exchange intellectually stimulating, exhilarating even, but it took up much time and I felt less than exhilarated when the Secretary-General abruptly got to his feet and shook my hand, leaving much of my agenda unbroached.
Less than a week later, on 5 February, I was telephoned late at night in Vienna. The Secretary-General wished to know, within 24 hours, if I would accept the post of his Special Representative for Angola and head of the peace-keeping mission there — the UN Angola Verification Mission, UNAVEM II. I knew that a considerable gamble was involved and sought the advice of the man who had first aroused my interest in Angola 25 years before in Addis Ababa. I saw this surprise development as an ironic twist of fate, creating another bond between us, even though we might never meet again, and expected him to react enthusiastically to the prospect of my helping the Angolan people. Instead he said adamantly 'Don't touch it. It's an impossible mission and you'll only get hurt.'
His remarks proved prophetic but after hours of soul-searching, I perversely accepted the challenge. Marrack (Mig) Goulding, then Under Secretary-General in charge of peace-keeping, told me it was undoubtedly a difficult mission but not a totally lost cause. Others were less sanguine, and warned me that it would be dangerous.
Insofar as I was able to reason coolly the disadvantages were outweighed by other considerations. I longed to be back in the field and the tragic plight of the Angolan people made it hard to refuse. If the mission was successful, it would make possible the development of a potentially rich country and do much to assure political stability and economic prosperity in Southern Africa. The end of the Cold War and the Peace Accords recently signed between the MPLA Government of Angola (previously supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba) and the UNITA rebels (supported by the United States and South Africa) held out greater promise of a settlement than ever before.
This was also the first time that a woman had been asked to head a UN peace-keeping mission, with command over military and police components, as well as civilian elements. If I refused, the sceptics would say, 'It was offered to a woman, but she refused', while women would feel I had let them down. Yet the risks were considerable. Failure, which many thought likely, would entail the familiar search for a scapegoat, a role for which the UN seems particularly well designed. And if the senior official were a woman, then the aforesaid sceptics would have a field day.
The most persuasive argument was the echo of my mother's voice: 'Don't jib!' I decided that it was better to end my career with a bang (and how true that turned out to be!) than a whimper. Things moved fast. On Friday 7 February 1992, the Secretary-General announced my appointment, to last seven months, until multiparty general elections were held at the end of September.
Mig Goulding was supposed to lead a mission to Angola on 16 February to prepare the ground for my arrival, as well as plan for an electoral component to be added to the military and police operation, but he was called away on another mission. On 14 February I received another late-night call, asking me to replace him.
In Luanda I plunged into four hectic days of activity: briefings at Vila Espa, the UNAVEM camp; visits to the Government and UNITA delegations; attendance at a meeting of the Joint Political and Military Commission (known by its Portuguese acronym CCPM); and a flight to two troop cantonment areas (one government, one UNITA) in the rugged northern province of Uige. President Jose Eduardo dos Santos was unable to see me but Dr Jonas Savimbi, the UNITA leader, received me immediately, in some state, at his heavily guarded White House, surrounded by his 'Cabinet' and in the mediaeval court atmosphere that was his hallmark. An imposing and charismatic figure, Savimbi was all sweetness and light, promising full cooperation. But I detected that under this blandly smiling exterior lay a ruthless will of iron. On the night flight back to Paris, I composed a personal letter to the Secretary-General voicing my concern about the immensity of the task in contrast to UNAVEM's marginal mandate and paltry resources.
Starting at the end of 1988, UNAVEM I, a purely military mission, had successfully monitored the withdrawal of 50 000 Cuban troops. Meanwhile Portugal, the Soviet Union and the United States had negotiated a peace settlement between the MPLA Government and UNITA, signed on 31 May 1991 in Bicesse, Portugal. The UN had no part in the negotiation, except for a military observer present at the last stage.
The Bicesse Accords envisaged the cantonment of two rival armies, estimated to total 200 000, in assembly areas all over the country; their disarmament and demobilisation; and the formation of new, joint armed forces, numbering 50 000. A neutral police force was to be set up, the central administration was to be extended all over the country, and there was to be free movement of people and goods. The process was to culminate in multiparty general elections and a democratically elected government. UNITA wanted the elections in three months, the Government not before three years. In an arbitrary compromise the accords stipulated they must take place between September and November 1992. The supposition that 16 years of war could be restored in 16 months was over-optimistic, as was the assumption that elections would clinch the process, rather than mark a mere first step towards reconciliation and democracy. Moreover, no preconditions were established for holding the elections.
CCPM comprised only two members, the MPLA Government and UNITA, which alternated in the chairmanship, the thesis being that they would control one another. This arrangement naively presupposed a Boy Scout spirit, in circumstances hardly conducive to its evolution. Portugal, the Soviet Union (later the Russian Federation) and the United States, known as the Troika, had official observer status. The UN was only to be 'invited' as appropriate.
This extraordinary set-up was characteristic of the marginal role given to the UN at Bicesse. UNITA had wanted a strong UN presence, with armed 'Blue Helmets'. The Government had wanted the minimum, citing considerations of sovereignty, a somewhat illusory concept since they controlled only part of the country. In another compromise, the UN's role was restricted to observing and verifying that the two sides were doing what they said they were doing. This suited the negotiating countries, especially the two superpowers, who wanted a 'quick fix' now that the Cold War was over, when in fact the Cold War had exacerbated the Angolan conflict and armed both sides to the teeth.
The means given to the UN were not commensurate even with its limited mandate. On 30 May 1991 Security Council Resolution 696 established UNAVEMII with 350 unarmed military observers, 90 unarmed police observers and 80 civilians. It was to function until the day after the elections. Initially it was headed by a Chief Military Observer, with the rank of Major General. It was not until December 1991 that the Angolan government requested the Secretary-General to send electoral observers and it was decided to appoint a political head of UNAVEM II or Special Representative of the Secretary-General. Yet two more months elapsed before I was asked to arrive the day before yesterday.
An interesting sidelight came to my notice recently. When my appointment was announced the Portuguese observer, Ambassador Antonio Monteiro, expressed doubts to his minister, Jose Durao Barroso, about the wisdom of appointing a special representative to an under-mandated and under-resourced mission. The Minister found it an excellent development: it would get the Troika off the hook, should things go wrong. The UN - and hence I - was precast in the role of scapegoat.
When I assumed my post only seven months before the election date, no electoral preparations had begun and the military provisions of the Bicesse Accords were hopelessly behind schedule. Since October 1991 the Secretary-General had repeatedly warned the Security Council about the seriousness of this situation. The seeds of the eventual debacle were sown long before my arrival.
On 7 March 1992 I flew to New York to sort out budget and personnel matters. The Secretary-General's request for my small staff had been submitted to the Security Council on 3 March, but no action was taken until three weeks later. Approval of the budget - a mere US$118 million for 18 months - took even longer. The Security Council, I was repeatedly told, wanted a 'small and manageable' operation. In vain I pleaded that Angola, as large as France, Spain and Germany combined, could hardly be considered small nor, from my preliminary observations, particularly manageable. There were difficulties also over obtaining civilian staff. Because of pressure to cut posts, outside recruitment was not allowed, and the tremendous increase in UN peace-keeping operations meant there was a dearth of people to choose from. Moreover Angola was not a popular choice: the Secretary-General's report of October 1991 to the Security Council described conditions of service there as 'amongst the most difficult that have ever been faced by UN peace-keeping personnel.' Again the insistence on certain nationalities meant a less than optimum choice of incumbents for some key posts, for which I was to suffer later.
The Chief Military Officer from Nigeria, General Edward Unimna had been head of UNAVEM II until my arrival. Goulding had warned me that he was a difficult man but that it was politically impossible to remove him. In his own recent book, Peacemonger, Goulding records that he had welcomed my appointment but worried how Unimna would react, adding, 'He had not made a good impression when I visited Angola the previous year and I had received a number of complaints, then and since, about his short temper and autocratic management.' Later he describes him as 'a martinet, short-tempered, autocratic and even violent; he had been observed more than once to strike his driver. This was not the style of command which is needed in a multinational operation.'
Forewarned, I was at first able to develop reasonable relations with him. His unpopularity with his officers meant that they warmly welcomed me, even though a female head of mission was not what they had expected.
Things became complicated when my civilian deputy, Ibrahim Jobarteh, arrived. A long-serving UN official and clever administrator, he had a very mixed personal reputation, but there was no one else available. While he assured me he wished to improve relations with Unimna, it soon became clear they were making common cause to isolate me. They objected to my customary team approach of regular meetings with all the heads of individual components of the mission, to ensure that everyone understood the political context in which I was working and that there was appropriate interaction between them, especially between military and civilian units. They maintained that I should meet only with them and eventually boycotted these general meetings. Jobarteh had the gall to complain that I did not consult him enough, because I convened meetings at 8 o'clock and he never appeared until mid-morning, having hosted heavy drinking parties until the early hours. His aim was to run the show through direct contact with colleagues in New York behind my back, but soon found I was no Trilby needing a Svengali. Worst of all my special assistant, a young woman who performed well before his arrival, became part of his coterie and nightly gatherings. For the first time in my UN experience I could not count on loyalty from my immediate staff, except for a devoted Filipino secretary, Elizabeth Pantaleon, and my Chief Administrative Officer, Tom White. It became a very lonely job indeed.
I accepted to go to Angola for seven months but circumstances obliged me to spend 17. It was the most traumatic and heartrending mission of my life, a story I have told in my book, Orphan of the Cold War: The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Angolan Peace Process, 1992-3.
I installed myself in the UNAVEM camp, 15 kilometres outside Luanda in order to be 'with the troops'. I had a tiny bungalow and shared another with the General as our offices. I had another office in an insalubrious building downtown. The majority of our staff lived and worked in what came to be known as 'Container City'. Conditions were crowded; water scarce; electricity, provided by an aged and noisy generator, was often cut; and communications at first very difficult, even with New York.
I had domestic help in the buxom shape of a lady with the appropriately statuesque name of Maria do Fatima, who sailed round the house like a galleon before a barely perceptible breeze, and in a generally becalmed state of mind. Fortunately I had decided to bring Sissy from Vienna at my expense (the UN does not provide such niceties]. She arrived clasping a lugubrious teddy bear, almost as large as herself, and strung around with twice as much hand-baggage as any sensible person would carry or prudent airline allow. Sissy greatly helped my official work. With her arrival I was able to receive key people discreetly over a good meal in my little house.
There was a swimming-pool and at dawn I swam my kilometre before the rest of the camp stirred, undeterred by the fact that one of our Russian pilots drowned there, by green algae, or an invasion of frogs. The latter caused the Chief Administrative Officer to send a circular saying that the 'SRSG has complained about copulating frogs in the pool'. The Ghurkha guards whom we were eventually allowed to have under private contract (no one in the UN mission could carry arms] used to fish the offending amphibians out, but disconcertingly insisted on saluting me while I stood by, feeling foolish in a bathing suit.
UNAVEM was little less than a logistic miracle. Our scant personnel were spread over 84 locations: six regional headquarters; 48 troop assembly areas; 18 police locations; and 12 critical points along Angola's long borders. Civilian and electoral staff were stationed in the provincial capitals. Even there, housing and sanitation were usually dreadful. The harshest conditions were endured by the military observers (UNMOs) in isolated assembly areas: teams of five officers, each of a different nationality, often with no common language, having to monitor several thousand disgruntled Angolan soldiers. At first they lived in grass huts, shaking snakes from the roof before they went to bed, but later we obtained tented accommodation.
Because of the remoteness of these sites and the devastated infrastructure UNAVEM's air support absorbed nearly 50 per cent of the budget. My fleet consisted of three fixed-wing aircraft and 14 helicopters, the latter, like their crews, contracted from Russia or Bulgaria, the cheapest international source. The helicopters were elderly, seemingly held together by wire, but the pilots first-class.
I flew the length and breadth of Angola, visiting provincial capitals and assembly areas, usually in the Beechcraft, changing to a helicopter wherever there was no landing strip. These demanding trips provided me with valuable information and boosted staff morale. We would leave at first light and come back late, the plane's lights extinguished to avoid unwelcome attention from the sharpshooters who abounded after dark, even around Vila Espa.
At assembly areas, I had to address several thousand soldiers, in the open air, without a microphone. I developed a parade-ground volume of delivery but at one UNITA area I asked the commander to bring the troops nearer. He barked an order and in seconds the men had surrounded me in perfect formation. I felt glad that it was a friendly occasion. The UNITA camps were better organised and their stored weapons, well-greased, looked all too ready to use.
I had a further demonstration of UNITA's rigid discipline on my visit, in April 1992, to Jamba, the mysterious non-town in the far south-east, unmarked on any map, that had for years been Dr Savimbi's headquarters. It boasted an international-class airstrip that had seen the passage of many prominent people, including officials from successive US administrations, but the town consisted of grass huts scattered in acacia scrub. I was received by dancing, chanting crowds in apparently huge numbers, until I discovered that they were being trucked from point to point. From this remote bush location Vorgan radio - the Voice of the Black Cockerel - broadcast UNITA propaganda as far as Europe. I expressed surprise that a clothes factory seemed only to produce dark green military uniforms, now that peace had been declared, and was blandly told that this was surplus stock to be worn by civilians ...
President Jose Eduardo dos Santos did not receive me until 2 April but any misgivings I had about the delay were dispelled by the cordiality of my reception. I developed good relations with both leaders. Their styles were very different: President dos Santos, modest and reserved, often only accompanied by his foreign affairs adviser; Dr Savimbi, ever flamboyant, flanked by serried ranks of well-rehearsed courtiers.
CCPM took for granted that I would attend every meeting, and not just 'when invited'. I detected relief that there was another pair of shoulders on which to place responsibility. At UNAVEM's suggestion, cantonment and demobilisation were conducted simultaneously instead of consecutively and on 31 March, the whole of CCPM flew to Luanda for the first demobilisation ceremony. The troops were delirious with joy, and we felt a sense of euphoria.
My euphoria was short-lived. I returned to Vila Espa to receive a reprimand: the Secretary-General was displeased because the Portuguese Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Dr Durao Barroso, had expressed concern about the adequacy of UNAVEM's resources. The Swedes had spoken similarly. It was assumed, wrongly, that this was at my instigation, when the paucity of the means granted to resolve Angola's immense problems was plain for all to see. One European Ambassador in Luanda referred to Angola as 'a footnote in the internatio agenda'. In CCPM, UNITA and the Government complained th t Angola was being short-changed, a view supported by th Portuguese and US observers, whose governments had limited the operation in the first place! In New York the Secretary-General told the Portuguese Minister that the problems were the same everywhere, whether it was Cambodia or Yugoslavia, and his special representatives should not think they were les seuls au monde. Considering that Cambodia had a budget of US$2 billion and Yugoslavia US$600 million, compared to our paltry US$118 million, this was quite rich.
Security Council Resolution 747 (1992) of 24 March authorised the establishment of my small office, an electoral division and electoral offices in all 18 provincial capitals. We would have only 100 electoral observers, to be increased to 400 during the poll. The Angolans were to organise the elections, with UNAVEM II simply observing and verifying the process. My responsibility was to give a public verdict on whether the three phases - voter registration, the electoral campaign and the poll - were 'free and fair'. In a controversy that rumbled on for weeks Headquarters sustained that comparisons with electoral budgets for Cambodia and Namibia were invalid because in Cambodia the UN was organising the elections, and in Namibia had supervised and controlled them, while we were only to observe. I argued, without success, that the one to four difference in funding with Namibia was excessive, since Angola had ten million inhabitants and an estimated 6 million voters, compared to Namibia's population of 1.8 million and 6-700 000 voters.
My dwindling popularity in New York was not improved by the prominence given in international media to my quip about Security Council Resolution 747 - that I had been given a 747 Jumbo to fly but fuel sufficient only for a DC-3! Even authorised resources were slow in coming. Six weeks after my arrival I stil had no secretary who could take English dictation. When an old friend did arrive for that function, she contracted cerebral malaria and typhus, very nearly died in my house, and was medica y evacuated. My Chief Electoral Officer had to be medically evacuated after less than a month. Some delays were bureaucratic, in others the effect of the strain placed on the UN by the upsurge ni peace-keeping missions.
Free and Fair Elections
A UNDP team was to help the Angolans organise the elections. This project foresaw a transport element comprising four-wheel drive vehicles, and — astoundingly — 600 motorcycles, totally unsuitable for local conditions. Massive air support was essential if voters all over the country were to take part in the elections. The Angolan Government did not have the capability to provide this, much less incentive, since voters in remote areas were mainly UNITA supporters.
I concluded that the only solution was to seek contributions in kind from donors — transport (including aircraft), services, supplies and personnel. Initially even this approach received a cool response in New York. On 1 May the Secretary-General wrote me a letter that, despite expressions of admiration for my 'vigour and energy', was a thinly veiled rebuke. He instructed me to inform all concerned that member states would not approve increased resources for Angola and to discourage the Government from expecting any logistical support.
The matter was resolved only by my going to New York at the end of May. As usual I found much greater understanding when dealing directly with the Secretary-General than through written communication. I also managed to convince the Security Council, and was able to launch my 'lease-lend', 'make-do and mend' strategy. It was a huge gamble, but it worked. We eventually mounted the largest UN air operation in support of elections that the organisation had ever had anywhere, and all without any budget. We begged, we borrowed (we never actually stole!) and took every imaginative measure conceivable to ensure that the elections would reach all corners of Angola. Meanwhile, the Government was dragging its feet. It did not announce the election dates for 29-30 September until 2 April, nor appoint the National Electoral Council (NEC) and the Director-General of the Elections until 10 May, only 20 weeks before the election. Fortunately the Director-General, Dr Onofre dos Santos, was an inspired choir Brimming with ideas, he quickly re-ignited the flames of hope th had begun to flicker dangerously low.
Voter registration started on 20 May and was to end on 31 }uiv but donors were slow in providing promised ground and air transport and by 30 June only 750 000 voters had been registered With government agreement, the process was saved by help from an unlikely quarter — the South African Air Force (SAAF) -formerly known in Angola only for its indiscriminate bombing in support of UNITA. This was a controversial move but seemed an encouraging sign of the new approaches gaining momentum in South Africa. Registration figures jumped to 4.3 million by 31 July. Thanks to an extension until 10 August, the ultimate result was 4.86 million eligible voters, or 92 per cent of an estimated voting population of 5.3 million.
The electoral campaign opened on 29 August. Twenty-five parties were legalised but there were only two real contenders, MPLA and UNITA. President Dos Santos, originally considered a poor performer on the hustings, grew into the part, presenting the calm demeanour of a moderate statesman preaching peace, unity and prosperity. Savimbi's speeches, in contrast, were fiery and colourful but his aggressive style was afterwards thought to have put many voters off.
While the electoral process was proceeding better than hoped I was greatly concerned about delays in the cantonment, disarming and demobilisation of troops. The Secretary-General's last report to the Security Council before the elections stated that only 45 per cent of government troops had been demobilised and a mere 24 per cent of UNITA's. Fear of an unknown civilian life was a factor for UNITA but our appeals to donors to fund reintegration programmes went largely unheard.
In another anachronism of the Bicesse Accords the UN was accorded no role in the formation of the new, Joint Armed Forces (FAA), but when things went wrong, we were brought in. Logistical problems played a role. I got agreement from the USA to supp y tents, only to be rescinded later, because Congress had prohibits military assistance to Angola - as if tents were a lethal weapon. Portugal manufactured uniforms and airlifted them to Luanda.
It was not until June 1992 that I managed to persuade Headquarters and the Security Council to increase our police observers from 90 to 126. The establishment of joint police monitoring teams and the integration of UNITA personnel into a unified, neutral police force never got very far, despite intensive efforts by UNAVEM.
Two related crises rumbled on in CCPM, from April onwards. The government side voiced concern about UNITA's alleged 'hidden army' of 20 000 men. A joint investigation by government and UNITA representatives, UNAVEM and the Troika, failed to find any trace of it. Incomprehensibly the Government called off the hunt, while still maintaining their allegations. In early September the Foreign Minister painted me a dire picture of UNITA's intentions and demanded a large contingent of Blue Helmets - blithely forgetting that one of the main reasons why we did not have such a force was his government's opposition. Simultaneously UNITA accused the government's newly created anti-riot or emergency police force of being a 'parallel army'. My efforts to find a compromise by making it a neutral and transparent body, in which UNITA and other non-MPLA elements were adequately represented, were unsuccessful.
Another unresolved issue was the extension of the central administration. By mid-September many places remained outside government control. In others its presence consisted of one unfortunate man, dumped in an outlandish place, without offices, pay or food. There was an alarming degree of brinkmanship and cliff-hanging on both sides, though when the cliff-edge became vertiginously near, neither side wanted to take the fatal plunge while the elections were in the offing.
A major stumbling-block was the reluctance of the two leaders to meet each other. A 'summit', only the third since the Peace Accords, should have taken place on 24 August but Savimbi failed to appear. A deadly game of poker was being played out. When the meeting did take place on 7 September the two leaders agreed on a crucial encounter between 23 and 27 September, at which they must declare their armies to be disbanded and the FAA to be Angola's only armed force.
When I saw President Dos Santos on 23 September the date was still not fixed. Dr Savimbi was campaigning in the north and it was only on Friday 25 September that I managed to find him in Uige. I was kept hanging about for hours and then encountered a Savimbi I had heard about but never seen. He was aggressive, argumentative, at times appearing to struggle with pent-up rage, at others rambling in a discourse consistent only in its vituperative accusations against the Government, the MPLA and President Dos Santos. He appeared impervious to my plea that he meet the President before the election. Back at Vila Espa I played my last card and, by 3.00 a.m., had arranged a satellite telephone call from the Secretary-General to Savimbi.
The next evening, Saturday 26 September, the meeting took place. Afterwards Savimbi made a conciliatory statement, much at variance with his tone the night before, which ended 'while many people think of war, we think of peace'. On Sunday a joint communique announced the disbandment of the two armies, and that the FAA would have two Chiefs of General Staff, one from each side. The new FAA was sworn in the next afternoon, barely 14 hours before the polls were to open. We were all moved by the sight of arms long raised against one another now raised in joint salute, the voices proclaiming their common allegiance to Angola, and the identical uniforms that made it impossible to detect who was government and who was UNITA.
Meanwhile, against all the odds, we had managed to set up a huge logistical support operation quite outside our mandate. A visit I paid to Washington, where I had high-level meetings in the Pentagon, the State Department, the National Security Council in the White House and both Houses of Congress, had greatly helped in this respect. Our greatest achievement was to assemble our air force. Both US and European donors ultimately decided the most cost-effective way was to provide cash, amounting to some US$10 million, with which we contracted Russian surplus military aircraft, the cheapest on the market. Huge Antonov-124s roared in over Luanda bringing in 40 M-17 helicopters. Ten fixed-wing planes followed. To these we added UNAVEM's own 14 helicopters and two fixed-wing planes.
Colonel Hank Morris was loaned to us from the El Salvador mission to orchestrate this mammoth operation. In all 25 000 people and 620 metric tons of materials and equipment were flown to and from 5800 voting stations from six hubs around the country but the airports could not handle the anticipated volume of traffic. At my suggestion New York asked a few countries to provide military air traffic controllers, and Argentina and Portugal obliged. We obtained Inmarsat sets to improve communications and set up a computerised control centre.
During the election days everything worked like clockwork. Luanda's airfield looked like a mini-Heathrow, with phalanxes of planes and helicopters, hastily painted white over military grey, and bearing either the UN emblem or the Angolan electoral symbol, a dove of peace. We had had our setbacks and tragedies. On three Saturdays running in September UNAVEM helicopters carrying electoral personnel crashed in the northern province of Uige. In Vila Espa it became a black joke that every Saturday we must mount a 'search and rescue' operation. Miraculously, in the first two crashes no one was killed, but in the third all but one perished.
On 29 and 30 September 1992 Angola had its two most peaceful days in 30 years. Of registered voters, 92 per cent turned out, many trudging for days through the bush, standing for hours under a hot sun, and waiting patiently through the night. Everywhere the ballot was witnessed by our electoral observers, representatives of the MPLA and UNITA and the other parties, and night-long vigil was kept over the ballot boxes. Many countries and organisations sent observers. In Sumbe I met two Americans who exclaimed, This is textbook, absolutely textbook. We have never seen anything that so scrupulously followed the rules.' A group of Dutch observers said the same.
There was one ominous exception to the general calm. On the pretext of an attempt on Savimbi's life, UNITA guards stormed the house of a government minister in Luanda. One unfortunate policeman was shot in cold blood in the garden of my Portuguese observer colleague, Antonio Monteiro.
Bullets not Ballots
Vote counting was slow. The main reason was excessive zeal: electoral officials and party representatives sat over more long nights, counting and recounting ballots, usually amicably. Two days after the election the two most senior UNITA representatives came to assure me they thought the elections went well.
Their encouragement left me unprepared for Savimbi's inflammatory broadcast next day, 3 October, attacking the MPLA and the National Electoral Council (of which UNITA was a member!) and alleging fraud. It was a rambling, muddled speech, sometimes repeating UNITA's commitment to peace, sometimes calling his supporters to arms. He proclaimed it was for Angolans, not foreigners or international opinion, to decide whether the elections were honest. On Monday 4 October, UNITA generals abandoned the FAA to which they had sworn allegiance a week before.
The timing was hard to understand, for the outcome was still in doubt. The quick count system showed the President winning 49.2 per cent of the vote, and Savimbi 38.2 per cent. If correct, that meant a second round, since neither had 50 per cent. I could not release these figures because this was the first time the technique had been used in a country so large and complex, and the President's vote fell short by only 0.8 per cent; the smallest margin of error would eliminate the second round. Nonetheless, it was of the utmost urgency that I tell Dr Savimbi that a second round was possible. But Savimbi had vanished. He had left Luanda, it was said hidden in a coffin. Meanwhile, we helped the NEC set up commissions to investigate all fraud allegations, composed of representatives of all parties, including UNITA, and Angolan and UN electoral staff.
Savimbi did not resurface until 8 October, and next day I flew to Huambo. The meeting was a superb piece of theatre: his lieutenants launched a torrent of invective, thus allowing him to intervene with a voice of apparently sweet reasonableness. To escape this well-rehearsed Greek chorus, I asked to see him alone. I stressed the possibility of a second round, but also recalled his great hero, Churchill, victorious in war, but defeated in an election, who yet came back to govern, and tried to convey the key role of a leader of 'Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition'. Moreover, the man elected President would have an unenviable task: a war-devastated country; an economy to be transformed into the market mould; and an electorate filled with unrealistic expectations. An opposition leader would have an excellent chance of being elected next time -democracies, I reminded him, did not consist of one election. Savimbi appeared receptive but no doubt his mind was made up. The Secretary-General wrote to Dr Savimbi, recalling another hero of his, General De Gaulle and every plane brought more would-be mediators, among them four Permanent Representatives to the UN, sent by an alarmed Security Council; the senior members of the Troika, from Lisbon, Moscow and Washington; and Pik Botha, then South African Foreign Minister.
The arrival of the UN Ambassadors - from Cape Verde, Morocco, the Russian Federation and the United States -coincided with a large bomb explosion outside Luanda headquarters of UNITA, who promptly took police hostages. Heavy firing continued for hours. It gave me perverse pleasure that my briefing of visitors more accustomed to deliberating in the padded confines of the Security Council chamber was interrupted by reports of incidents ever nearer our camp. The mission visited Savimbi in Huambo and met President Dos Santos and electoral officials. They left abruptly, ahead of schedule, and universally gloomy. US Ambassador Perkins exploded angrily, apparently unaware of the irony inherent in his words, This was a UN mission done on the cheap - a totally false economy.'
On their last evening we visited Pik Botha who, fortified by a glass of whisky, almost certainly not his first, would brook no interruption or counter-argument. Savimbi had given him 'proofs' of widespread fraud and 'as an African' (the Cape Verdean Ambassador winced visibly) he could not accept a different standard of democracy from 'Western colonialist countries' - 'We are not a pile of rotten cabbages to be buggered about.' It was my turn to wince when, patronisingly patting me on the knee, he intoned, 'This lovely little lady here has been doing her best but the UN resources were inadequate.' In that he was correct. Pik Botha's interventions only muddied the waters further. South Africa was proposing a large role for Savimbi in a coalition government and the virtual scrapping of the elections. Fortunately, after a day of discussions with me, the Director-General of the Elections, and the Troika and some trying experiences with Savimbi, Pik Botha recanted, and South Africa subscribed to the international verdict that the elections had been free and fair.
The Security Council Mission had been wise to leave. The next night a huge ammunition dump, just outside our camp, exploded supposedly by accident, but later UNITA sabotage was suspected. Mortar bombs and ammunition rained down on us until dawn. I had been bidden to breakfast with Pik Botha, who had been up most of the night, watching the huge conflagration and who, ever gallant, had with difficulty been dissuaded from coming to my rescue. He had also sent his plane to Huambo in a vain attempt to bring Savimbi to meet the President.
On 16 October, the fraud investigation commission presented its findings. The unanimous conclusion, signed by everyone, including UNITA, was that there was no evidence of improper actions amounting to fraud. Everyone was relieved - until the UNITA representative insisted that he could not accept the report. As I had suspected all along, UNITA would not be satisfied by any other outcome than admission of widespread fraud.
On Saturday 17 October, the NEC announced that the MPLA had won 53.74 per cent of the vote, and 129 seats in the Congress, compared with UNITA's 34.10 per cent, and 70 seats. For the presidency, Dos Santos had obtained 49.57 per cent, Savimbi 40.07 per cent. Our quick count had been remarkably near the mark. That afternoon I declared that the elections, despite some irregularities, 'mainly due to human error and inexperience', had been 'generally free and fair', a judgement endorsed by the United States, the European Union and South Africa.
The situation could still have been saved by a second round but Savimbi would not retract. He constantly made new security conditions for meeting President Dos Santos. I readied a cordon of 'Blue Berets' to surround his aircraft and escort him but Hank Cohen, the US Troika member, and Pik Botha spent five hours in broiling heat at the airport waiting for the UNITA leader who never came. Botha reported that close colleagues of Savimbi had threatened to kill me and members of the Troika, and returned to Pretoria a sadder and wiser man. The Troika also left, after an unsuccessful visit to Savimbi. The big league of mediators flew off to the four corners of the globe, leaving us lesser mortals to wrestle with an intractable situation. The UN, originally given a walk-on part, not even 'bearing a spear', was now thrust to centre stage and I was the chief actor.
Formerly Dr Savimbi had called me 'the mother of the peace process'. Now Radio Vorgan attacked me viciously. I was without moral character, and had 'sold (my) honour and dignity for diamonds, industrial mercury, and for US dollars, from Jose Eduardo dos Santos.' The Secretary-General and the Security Council reacted angrily but the attacks continued, and a UNITA leader in Lobito was heard to declare that he was arranging my assassination.
Clashes were escalating everywhere but CCPM was still working. Two joint commissions were set up, one political, the other military. Savimbi sent his Vice-President, Jeremiah Chitunda, to Luanda, a relatively hopeful sign. But things were spinning out of control.
During the night of Friday 30 October, shooting erupted near the airport. A vital CCPM meeting was convened for Saturday but our patrols reported heavy fighting on the roads to the city. General Unimna inexplicably refused to accompany me and sent his Deputy, Brigadier Nyambuya, an excellent Zimbabwean officer. We set off in convoy and arrived safely. The meeting was one of the worst I had ever attended, both sides hurling accusations, the UNITA delegation chief, Salupeto Pena, like a man possessed, but it culminated in agreement to send joint military missions to all the areas in conflict. Each side was to order its followers to cease fighting.
The British Ambassador, John Flynn, had arranged a reconciliation lunch for the leaders of the two CCPM delegations, some ambassadors and myself. I had decided not to go, because of the deteriorating situation, but in view of the agreement changed my mind. Two ambassadors were already there, but the government and UNITA representatives never did arrive. I had not finished either my gin and tonic or my account of developments when a monumental explosion reverberated in the street outside. It heralded the sanguinary battle for Luanda.
I tried in vain to get an armed police escort or helicopter back to camp. Luckily the embassy had radio communication with all European Union embassies and with the Americans, who were in hiding in their compound near Savimbi's house, threatened by UNITA. Other ambassadors were taken hostage. The British residence was dangerously positioned between UNITA below us and government forces and the Ministry of Defence above. The horrendous racket of death and destruction thundered on for 48 hours. Sometimes the explosions were so near we feared that UNITA was advancing up the hill and might know that I was in the embassy, something we were keen to keep dark, as I was a prime target.
To contact my camp I had to dash out to the forecourt, under crossfire, to use the car radio. Luckily one of the military contingents, more concerned for my safety than New York, had provided me with a flak jacket. My frustration was all the greater because General Unimna disappeared off the airwaves. During almost three days in the middle of a battle I was unable to contact my military commander. The camp was not in danger but I was concerned about the morale of the UNAVEM staff - whom equally inexplicably, neither he nor Jobarteh convened during the weekend, nor did they send any reports to Headquarters. Knowing that everyone would be glued to their radios I said that I was 'somewhere in town, trying to negotiate a ceasefire'. I could not say more for our radios were monitored by UNITA.
John Flynn and I worked ceaselessly to obtain a ceasefire. The best chance was through international intervention. I was in constant touch with the Secretary-General, John with Foreign Secretary Douglas Kurd and both of us with the US State Department (the US Mission could not communicate with Washington). Miraculously, the problematic Luanda telephone system continued to work, so we could talk to the Government and to Antonio Monteiro, who was in touch with Lisbon. During Saturday night and all of Sunday the messages flew back and forth, the Secretary-General speaking several times to the President, everyone trying, without success, to reach Savimbi, hidden away in the central highlands.
None of us knew which side had the upper hand or how long the grim battle would last. When I lay down briefly in the small hours of Sunday morning I felt fear for the first time, convinced that none of us would survive. A knock at the door announcing a call from the Secretary-General at 3.00 a.m. was a welcome relief. Not so a briefing by the British military attache on the game plan if the worst came to the worst. In the ambassador's office he said, 'This is where we make our last stand. The ambassador has a pistol, I have a pistol, and so does Sigi.' Sigi, a gentle giant, was my UN security guard, an Icelandic policeman who had never fired a shot in anger.
On Sunday morning Salupeto Pena, obviously deranged, was screaming murderous threats against the Portuguese, the UN and all white people. At last, at noon, we got through to Savimbi on his satellite radio. John did the negotiating, given UNITA's attitude to me. For over an hour Savimbi, rambling and incoherent, ranged over every subject under the sun - Munich, Churchill, Nasser and the Jews, the US election, his Bantu heritage, his childhood. He was obsessed with his own safety, oblivious to the hundreds of his fellow citizens being killed with every moment lost in this self-regarding exercise. John finally got him to accept a ceasefire. Savimbi, who did not know that I was beside John, asked him to 'tell Miss Anstee that I will apologise personally for the attacks on her ... what Vorgan said did not have my approval, I repudiate it strongly ... Those words upset me particularly for such a civilised lady
Negotiations to get the Government's agreement went on for hours. The Secretary-General spoke to the President, who wanted a delay so that his generals could meet me. His most alarming condition was that I must personally accept responsibility for Savimbi's good faith, a tall order indeed.
The ceasefire was finally agreed minutes before midnight, but sporadic shooting continued through the night. It was not until early Monday afternoon that I could return to camp. An armed convoy took me to the Ministry of Defence, whence a government military helicopter flew me over the silent and devastated city. There had been a last moment of drama at the Ministry of Defence when a trigger-happy soldier had to be restrained because he thought I was Salupeto Pena trying to escape - a far-fetched case of mistaken identity. In fact, Salupeto Pena was already dead, killed, together with UNITA's Vice-President Chitunda, as they tried to flee.
Thousands more died on both sides during that dreadful battle, and mutual vengeance killings continued long after. A high-level meeting between the two sides was of extreme urgency.
I was in frequent touch with President Dos Santos and more sporadically with Savimbi, who tended to switch his satellite off, or claim he 'was too ill with flu to speak', when, if well-substantiated rumour was to be believed, he was in Zaire exploring possibilities of military assistance. His conversation was of the muddled 'stream-of-consciousness' variety, and he usually called in the middle of the night. He apologised eloquently for the attacks on me, which he described as 'faithless, baseless and undiplomatic', and again voiced concerns for his own security. His reiterated commitment to dialogue and peace had a hollow ring as UNITA was running amok all over the country, reoccupying municipalities everywhere.
The Secretary-General sent Mig Goulding to help me. On 7 November we met President Dos Santos who, in an extraordinary volte-face, stressed that only a much-strengthened UNAVEM, with a far-reaching mandate and 'Blue Helmets', could salvage peace. Our request to see Dr Savimbi being constantly put off, we took the initiative and flew to Huambo on Tuesday 10 November. We were left cooling our heels in the UNAVEM camp until, well after dark, a dilapidated car arrived with two UNITA Generals. Fearing a plan to take us hostage, as bargaining pawns, or to ambush us and blame the government, we organised a convoy of every available UN vehicle, each flying a large flag.
The UNITA Generals led this cavalcade far out into the countryside, where we found Savimbi surrounded by saturnine, heavily armed guards, in a dimly lit, malodorous cottage. An even stranger feature were shelves piled with pink-cheeked plastic dolls with piercing blue eyes and tinselly golden hair, beaming down on the grim scene, like a galaxy of misplaced cherubs. Our meeting went on for four hours. Savimbi was in discursive mood, and we were treated to a canter through ancient history, while Churchill and De Gaulle were also given an airing. Mig said bluntly, 'You have two choices: war or dialogue.'
Savimbi replied, 'I will never lead a war. I prefer to retire. War solves nothing.'
Mig departed for New York with the message from both sides that a much stronger UN mandate and presence were required, including 'Blue Helmets'.
Negotiations to Restore Peace
By dint of further negotiation and another visit to Huambo I persuaded both sides to meet in Namibe, in southern Angola, on 26 November. Unimna and Jobarteh refused to accompany me, however, fearing failure and an outbreak of shooting. The meeting ended in bear hugs and a joint 'Declaration of Namibe' in which both sides reaffirmed the Bicesse Accords, their firm intention to honour the ceasefire, their wish that UNAVEM's mandate be enlarged and their desire to meet again as soon as possible.
But less than three days later, UNITA forces captured Uige and Negage, important northern towns. In the fighting a grenade landed on the UNAVEM camp and killed a Brazilian police observer. We were back to square one.
The Secretary-General called me to New York, where I arrived on 9 December. Dr Boutros-Ghali tried unsuccessfully to arrange a . meeting with President Dos Santos and Dr Savimbi in Geneva, and on 22 December the President of the Security Council issued an anodyne statement, long on appeals but short on action. Meanwhile, instead of being strengthened, UNAVEM was dwindling as contingents completed their tour and were not replaced.
My own future was under discussion, as the seven months had now become ten. In the middle of 1992 the Secretary-General asked me to go to Mozambique after the Angolan election as his special representative there. I had agreed, provided the errors of inadequate mandate and resources that had undermined the Angolan process were remedied, and had provided Headquarters with specific suggestions. An acting special representative was sent to Maputo to hold the fort until I could leave Angola. In December, however, the Secretary-General asked me to continue in Angola for another year. I explained that for personal reasons I could not accept a long commitment, but promised to remain until a replacement could be found. We agreed on 28 February 1993 as a target date. I never got to Mozambique, but my suggestions were acted upon, the Mozambique operation learned from the mistakes in Angola and was a success.
I had hoped to spend Christmas at Knill, but Christmas Day, a special anniversary for UNITA, was regarded as ominous. As it happened, there was a lull in the fighting. I organised a lunch for my closest collaborators, Sissy presented a sizzling hot turkey (a frozen one from Windhoek) on a sizzling hot day, and we shared a very small Christmas pudding and some mince pies. On New Year's Eve we had a party, but my best memory is of an hour spent on the Ilha watching the sun sink into the ocean and then, as the shadows deepened, a night heron fishing in the wavelets lapping the shore.
There had been progress in December over UNITA's withdrawal from Uige and Negage, and on Christmas Eve I gave the two leaders a draft proposal on UNAVEM's future role as the basis for a Security Council decision. My life was made easier by Goulding's decision to remove Unimna. His replacement was Brigadier Nyambuya of Zimbabwe with whom I had excellent relations. Together we recommended the immediate despatch of a Ghanaian company of 'Blue Helmets' that we knew to be available, to help meet UNITA's almost paranoid security concerns, but we were turned down by New York. The Government was now blaming the UN for everything. On 22 December the Foreign Minister told me aggressively that my reputation and that of the UN was at stake if we did not force UNITA to withdraw, something that was impossible without 'Blue Helmets', which he simultaneously declared were unacceptable.
Media comments about myself were laden with sexual innuendo. The Jornal de Angola named me one of the Top Ten Personalities of the Year, but in the caption below my photograph lurked a little bracket 'although it was rumoured that she was Salupeto Pena's mistress'. An even more amazing canard rumoured that the real reason for my visit to New York had been to have an abortion, the progenitor of the baby, it was whispered, being none other than Savimbi. On hearing these absurd slanders my Filipino secretary rolled her eyes in mock admiration: 'Miss Anstee, we are all wondering, how do you find the time?'
I met Savimbi in Huambo for two hours on Saturday 2 January 1993. I had rarely seen him in such an amenable mood, which caused me to speculate about the underlying motives. I returned to Luanda with some faintly encouraging proposals for high-level military contacts, as well as another Namibe meeting. In Vila Espa an urgent summons awaited me to see Foreign Minister De Moura. I was received with French champagne (pink, and profuse), and apologies for the inaccessibility of himself and the President over Christmas. The Government, too, wanted a Namibe II meeting, which I agreed to arrange for the next week.
But early next morning, Sunday 3 January, government forces attacked UNITA in Lubango. It was not until evening that I managed to locate the Foreign Minister who gave a long wail of despair, apparently unaware of what was afoot. The next day UNITA captured 200 FAA troops whom the Government had sent to Uige at our request.
During January war spread like wildfire. UNITA gained the upper hand and their forces were so close to Luanda that people began to think the hitherto unthinkable - the capital might be besieged. We launched demarches at every level, in a last-ditch effort to restore a ceasefire and new negotiations. We had also to protect our personnel. Slit trenches were dug in all our camps, reminding me of wartime schooldays, and contingency plans drawn up for evacuation. Those for the whole mission included a distinctly unappealing journey of several days by barge to the nearest port outside Angolan waters, if airports were closed. Embassies booked more comfortable vessels but we had to be 'the last to leave.'
Our plan for internal evacuation became quickly obsolete. Fighting escalated so rapidly that all our field stations and regional commands were in grave danger. Their withdrawal to Luanda and the coastal belt was achieved without loss of life in a superb air operation. The most dramatic exodus was from Huambo, where our camp was caught in crossfire. Several UNAVEM staff were injured; one, with a bullet lodged dangerously near his heart, lay in an open slit trench, under torrential rain, for two days, without qualified medical attention. On 14 January a convoy of 29 UN vehicles, which also rescued NGO staff, managed to reach an airfield. One old lady, seeing the convoy leave, embraced the Regional Commander and, with tears in her eyes, said, 'Now our troubles will really begin.' Months later, UN auditors criticised us because much equipment remained behind. I could not resist the caustic comment that they should be asked to rewrite their report in a slit trench, under crossfire and pouring rain.
Savimbi continued to call me up late at night. In one of these kilometric monologues, on 6 January, he implored me to consider myself 'a mother', who should not abandon her children 'even when they break plates' (an odd analogy for thousands of deaths). He urged me to find a place where the military leaders could meet. We got agreement on Addis Ababa, but then Savimbi disappeared off the airwaves. On 20 January he broke his silence in a BBC interview in which he questioned my trustworthiness as a negotiator, yet another volte-face.
We were in an impasse until 22 January. At 2 a.m. a UNITA representative called to say peremptorily that the Addis Ababa meeting should take place from 27 to 30 January. There was no explanation of the long silence, or how they traced me to Lisbon where I unexpectedly had to spend the night owing to a flight delay.
Impasse in Addis Ababa
UNITA arrived late in Addis Ababa and then claimed they were 'too tired' to meet immediately. For vigorous men, inured to the rigours of bush fighting, they were remarkably prone to bouts of insuperable exhaustion at critical points in our negotiations. They were also aggressive and intractable. Their strategy was to play for time, as the military situation unfolded in their favour.
Just after midnight on the second day, when breakdown seemed imminent, I called in the two leaders and lent on them hard. In my exasperation I exclaimed, 'If either of your delegations included a woman, we might have a better chance of ending the senseless killing.' In all the negotiations I, the chairman and mediator, was the only woman at the table. The final communique reaffirmed the commitment of both sides to the Bicesse Accords, to maintain political dialogue leading to a ceasefire, and to meet in Addis Ababa on 10 February. My appeal for an interim truce went unheard.
The Angolan Ambassador gave a lavish alfresco lunch: tables groaning with the finest French and Angolan cuisine, aperitifs, wines and French champagne. Both delegations were in holiday mood, with much back-slapping, gales of laughter and regaling of news of family and friends on the other side. It was hard to believe 'there was a war on'. When it came to a toast, there was hesitation; they could hardly drink to each other's success. I quietly suggested, 'Peace'. I could not join in the apparently unclouded enjoyment of everyone else, haunted by the knowledge that the grim battle for Huambo was pounding brutally on, and the fighting, killing and dying were continuing unchecked all over Angola.
Next day the two delegations went back their separate ways, to war.
On 5 February when I was briefly in England, UNITA, with its customary eerie sense of timing and knowledge of my whereabouts, called me to say they could not return to Addis Ababa on 10 February 'for logistical and security reasons.' They continued their cat-and-mouse game, calling up with different demands interspersed by long periods of unnerving silence. In response to their insistence that UNAVEM transport them to Addis Ababa we drew up an elaborate plan, involving various aircraft, obtained guarantees from the Government, and assured UNITA they would be accompanied at every stage by senior UNAVEM military officers. After much chopping and changing UNITA agreed on the date of 26 February but at the last moment told me they were unhappy with the arrangements.
The Government insisted that we go ahead and we congregated in Addis Ababa on Friday 26 February. From there I was sporadically in touch with UNITA, who kept switching off their satellite radio. At 1.00 a.m. on Saturday morning UNITA telephoned, alleging the dangers were too great for the delegation to leave. Negotiations continued feverishly during the next day. President Dos Santos, who was in almost permanent session with his closest advisers, was very cooperative.
I could not reach Savimbi personally. In the end I was left with no option but to cancel the meeting and to point to UNITA's non-appearance as the cause. UNITA's protestations about security were patently a pretext. They wanted to take Huambo before resuming negotiations, so as to bargain from a position of strength, but government forces held out longer than expected. Huambo finally fell on 7 March, virtually destroyed by eight weeks of bombardment.
Hardliners now prevailed on the Government's side also. On International Women's Day, 8 March, when I was in New York for consultations, 2000 black-clad women demonstrated in Luanda, bearing a coffin with my name on it, and chanting, 'Margaret, you are a bandida (bandit), you are a criminal', for not having prevented the resumption of the war. I later learned that the event had been organised by 'elements' in the Government. I was sorry not to have been there to confront the women.
Next day, 9 March, in a triumphalist 'Address to the Nation', Savimbi virulently attacked several individuals, including the Roman Catholic cardinal, and myself, and demanded I be replaced by an African. Members of the Security Council came up to commiserate with me. As one of them said, 'If Savimbi had desperately wanted you to stay he could not have found a better way of ensuring it.' The UN spokesman reiterated that I had 'the full support and confidence of the Secretary-General'. I had been promised I could leave on 28 February but the Secretary-General, expressing disgust and indignation at Savimbi's remarks, said, Tm afraid you cannot leave now. I will not be dictated to.' He had a successor in mind, Sergio Vieira de Mello, an outstanding UN career official, and we agreed that, as his name could not be put forward for some months, his identity would be kept secret between us and not divulged even within the Secretariat. I accepted to continue only after receiving a firm commitment on this point, crucial to my credibility as a mediator.
On 11 March I briefed the Security Council, presenting five options for future action that I had previously submitted to the Secretary-General. They ranged from a major peace-keeping force of armed 'Blue Helmets' to a minimal presence, comprising only a small 'good offices' mediation mission. I adopted a frank approach which the council welcomed (Madeleine Albright, then US Ambassador to the UN, referred to us as 'sisters', because we were the only two women there).
Regrettably the forceful tenor of the council's discussions was watered down in Resolution 811 at US insistence. But whatever the council said, Savimbi simply pressed ahead, encouraged, I was sure, by the concurrent incapacity to get the Serbs in Bosnia to heed the Council's admonitions. It was becoming the done thing among rebels to cock a snook at the UN, and not at all far-fetched to detect a copy-cat phenomenon. The same resolution strongly condemned the verbal and physical attacks against myself. When I returned to Luanda the Government told me that they too deplored Savimbi's onslaught; they wanted me to stay on, and assured me I had their full confidence.
The onus was now on the Americans to demonstrate the leverage with UNITA that had led them to dilute successive Security Council resolutions, oppose sanctions against UNITA and defer US recognition of the Government, originally promised as soon as a legitimately elected administration was installed. They proposed further talks, under UN auspices, either in Rabat or Abidjan, in the hope that King Hassan II of Morocco and President Houphoiiet-Boigny of Cote d'lvoire, both long-time Savimbi supporters, could influence their wayward protege. I preferred Morocco, since I knew the king and other influential men in the government, but at UNITA's insistence Abidjan was chosen. After a difficult bilateral meeting between the USA and UNITA it was agreed that negotiations would resume under my chairmanship on 12th April.
On 5 and 6 April, UNITA's Vorgan radio launched another vicious tirade, not only repeating all the old allegations but calling me a prostitute and threatening that a stray bullet would find me if I stayed in Angola. The BBC sent this edifying message whizzing round the globe on its World Service. The reaction of my aunt, who listened to it daily, was typically debonair: 'I don't mind about your morals, darling - though a prostitute might be a first in the family - but do be careful about stray bullets.'
Many others rushed to defend my virtue — and my life - among them the Secretary-General, the Security Council and the Troika, while the State Department read the riot act to the UNITA Washington Representative. UNITA unabashed, rebroadcast its venom, and declared they would not accept my mediation. President Houphouet-Boigny upbraided his long-time protege, Savimbi, saying that this was 'no way to treat a lady' and demanded that he make a personal apology to me before the talks began.
Meanwhile human suffering was escalating. Security Council Resolution 811 enjoined me to mount a much larger humanitarian operation, adding the familiar caveat 'with the resources at her disposal'. NGOs and humanitarian agencies were greatly exercised about the participation of UNAVEM military personnel but nothing could be done without UNAVEM planes, UNAVEM communications and UNAVEM liaison with military commanders on the ground, especially those of UNITA. Our 'safety-first' policy of not undertaking flights or road convoys to combat areas without prior clearance by the Government and UNITA was not always understood. The shots most difficult to call ended up on my desk and involved agonising decisions.
We were caught between two fires. What the NGOs considered to be excessive caution, desk-bound officers in UN agencies, often without field experience, construed as recklessness. In a classic exchange the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Rome proposed that the Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs in New York, rather than myself, should clear all flights with the Government and UNITA and do so 30 days in advance to facilitate WFP's planning. When I read this to the local agency representatives there was a universal guffaw. Everyone knew that UNAVEM obtained clearances on an almost hourly basis and that windows of opportunity were all too fleeting.
The courage and initiative of my colleagues gave succour in many fraught situations. A remarkable rescue was mounted, in atrocious weather, of Huambo refugees stranded in Caimbambo, where they had arrived weak and hungry after a horrendous trek over the mountains. In four days some 4000 were taken out by relays of UNAVEM helicopters, and another 2000 by road. I visited Caimbambo and can never forget a 15-year-old girl, who had staggered into the village the night before and given birth to a premature baby. Crawling with flies, they lay on the floor of a hospital wrecked by retreating UNITA troops, and yet the girl still smiled at me.
President Dos Santos told me that the Caimbambo operation had 'captured Angolan hearts'. UNITA jeered that it was evidence of my hypocrisy. Wilfully oblivious of the people who had fled from them in Huambo they said, 'She knows that Caimbambo is a war zone, and that there is no civilian population there.'
Marathon in Abidjan
On Easter Saturday 1993, President Houphouet-Boigny sent a plane to ferry me and my small team to Abidjan. Both President Houphouet-Boigny and Amara Essy, the Cote d'lvoire Foreign Minister, for whom I developed great liking and respect, played an active part in our negotiations. Before the formal opening I had a two-hour meeting with the President. A tiny, myopic old man, steeped in time and wrinkles, he shuffled into the room supported by. Minister Essy, and his immensely tall and ceremonial Lebanese Chief of Protocol. He gave me a lengthy soliloquy on his unsuccessful attempts in 1975 to reconcile Savimbi and the then President, Agostinho Neto, and his subsequent efforts to bring the two sides together. Angola was 'unfinished business' that he wanted to resolve in the little time he had left, convinced of his unparalleled influence with Jonas Savimbi. He described, almost with glee, the rebuke he had delivered to his protege for the way he had treated me. I did not tell him of Savimbi's hang-dog apology, delivered by a discomfited UNITA intermediary the evening before. A formal apology and personal guarantees for my safety had been a prerequisite for the talks but they had been delivered perfunctorily and with ill grace.
True to form, the UNIT A delegation arrived a day late, trotting out their usual complaint of utter exhaustion. In Angola their comrades shot at two WFP planes carrying humanitarian aid, and their delegation leader gave the usual glib explanation of 'accidental' firing. His assurances that 'UNITA had no animosity towards the Special Representative of the Secretary-General' were probably no more sincere, but on no occasion did UNITA raise any question about my chairing the meeting.
The meeting dragged on for seven weeks, spent drafting a 'Protocol of Abidjan', comprising 38 articles embracing every conceivable aspect: ceasefire; military dispositions; disarmament and demobilisation; law and order and the creation of a neutral police force; political arrangements for new elections and the establishment of a government of national unity and reconciliation; setting up democratic institutions and judicial systems; and human rights. UNAVEM was to act as arbiter and call all the shots. In short, the draft protocol sought to remedy the defects of the Bicesse Accords.
The Government was cooperative but UNITA followed their usual tactic of playing things out, requiring much time to 'study', arriving late, and refusing to work more than a limited number of hours (they would have done well in a radical trade union).
While they filibustered, the spectre of mass death was stalking the war-shattered countryside of Angola. Our efforts to help hundreds of thousands of people trapped in cities besieged by UNITA, or fleeing the battle zones, faced great odds. On 26 April a WFP Antonov-12, delivering food and medical supplies to Luena, was hit by a ground-to-air missile. The pilot crashlanded short of the airstrip, the plane burst into flames and the seven occupants jumped into a minefield. Rescue was impossible until next morning. One of the wounded died during the night, another lost his legs. It was hard to believe UNIT A's protestations that this too was an 'accident'.
The government delegation went back twice to Luanda for consultations and Foreign Minister Essy flew to Huambo to see Savimbi. The UNITA delegation refused to accompany him; citing security reasons as usual. In the event, the danger came from their home side: when the minister's plane was circling over Huambo UNITA gave the pilot incorrect coordinates for landing. The minister came back thinking he had obtained Savimbi's agreement to the protocol but this, too, proved illusory. President Houphouet-Boigny intervened several times with both leaders but my heart sank when he told me that Dr Savimbi was applying his now familiar stalling tactic - 'Don't call me, I'll call you when it suits me' - even to his oldest and staunchest ally.
In early May the UNITA delegation left to meet Dr Savimbi who was 'somewhere at the front', where he remained consistently incommunicado. Characteristically, they stayed away for six days instead of three, while the rest of us cooled our heels in Abidjan, except one day when we were flown to Yamoussoukro, the President's phantasmagoric palaces and basilica in the middle of the jungle.
The Ivorean government, alarmed by UNITA threats, had surrounded me with burly Ivorean guards who slept outside my room and even accompanied me on my early morning swim. I also had my personal UN Security Guard. It was with this entourage that I went one evening for dinner with the British Ambassador, and they surged around me as soon as I reappeared. As I said goodnight I patted the Ambassador's dog which, flummoxed by all the commotion, promptly sank his redoubtable fangs into my left arm. Our departure became a rout, with crestfallen guards rushing forward to staunch the blood. News that I had been 'attacked' became something of an anticlimax when it was revealed that the aggressor had not been some zealous UNITA henchman but the British Ambassador's dog.
My task was made no easier by relentless public scrutiny and criticism. On the government side there had been a public recantation by a former Minister of Justice of his earlier vicious article in the Jornal de Angola, in which he blamed me for the renewed war, and urged me to grow old in a rocking-chair, lulled by the wails of Angolan children for whose deaths I was responsible; now his article was headlined 'Senora Anstee, forgive me'. In contrast, the May 1993 issue of African International (a francophone monthly) sported a full-page photograph of me, charmingly captioned 'Public Enemy No. 1'. The accompanying article concluded that I was a scapegoat, blamed unjustly for the failure of a UN mission under-mandated and starved of resources. But the headline was more likely to stay in the reader's mind.
My main problem was lack of backing from my own Headquarters. I daily sent the latest draft of the Abidjan Protocol, which I negotiated in Portuguese, but which we painstakingly translated into English. I never received any comments or advice, and had to be dissuaded by my secretary from sending a code cable to Kofi Annan (who had succeeded Goulding as Head of Peace-keeping) enquiring, 'Is anyone there?'
On 7 May the Secretary-General asked me to accept yet another extension because, while the Government had accepted Sergio Vieira de Mello as my successor, UNITA had rejected him because of his Brazilian nationality. I was appalled that the UN had yielded to pressure that contravened basic UN principles but even more indignant that his candidature had been presented at all, contrary to my pact with the Secretary-General. Now the ground had been cut from under my feet as mediator by my own Headquarters, and UNITA could treat me as a lame duck. Later I learned that UNITA knew of the proposals for my successor even before the Abidjan talks began ...
Worse was to follow. The next day, someone in New York incorrectly told the media that I was to be replaced immediately by De Mello! Journalists had a field day speculating about the reasons, mostly derogatory to me. Deaf to my pleas that Headquarters issue a dementi, New York did nothing for six days, and then made a statement of typical diplomatic fudge that further weakened my position: while reiterating the Secretary-General's full confidence in me it stated that I wanted to leave, and that he would take a decision shortly. While that was true, it was crassly inept to make it public knowledge at a most sensitive juncture in the Abidjan talks. With exquisite timing the statement coincided with UNITA's return to Abidjan.
They arrived, unsurprisingly, 'too fatigued' to attend a meeting called to ascertain Savimbi's latest position before President Houphoiiet-Boigny left for medical treatment in Paris next morning. UNITA's refusal was a deliberate rebuff to him. I bade him farewell and watched the frail old man carried up the steps to the Concorde that President Mitterand had sent for him. He never returned alive, but died of cancer in France, deprived of his cherished goal of achieving peace for Angola.
UNITA's position had changed not one iota. A breakdown was staring us in the face but, noting some incipient cracks in the delegation's normally monolithic front, I persuaded them to ask Savimbi for new instructions. Since the weekend would be critical, I asked my main interlocutors in New York, Kofi Annan and James Jonah, for contact telephone numbers but received no reply. When I called on Friday night I could find no one.
Fortunately I had the Secretary-General's private number and on Saturday morning I asked him to speak to Savimbi. He took a pencil and paper and asked me to dictate what he should say. But Savimbi was again playing hard to get, allegedly somewhere 'at the front', and we resorted to a written message through the UNITA delegation. I was in constant communication with the Secretary-General, and again found direct contact more satisfactory than through those around him. At 2.30 a.m. (Abidjan time) on Monday morning, 17 May, the Secretary-General told me he had spoken with Savimbi, and deduced from his incoherent rambling that he wanted the talks extended for another week. I suspected more filibustering, but Boutros-Ghali insisted that we should agree. Foreign Minister Essy, who had undertaken a parallel demarche to Savimbi through President Houphoiiet-Boigny, telephoned at 3.00 a.m. with a similar message.
There were two surprising developments during that extra week. First, the Government offered further concessions. Notwithstanding UNITA refused to budge. Second, the US Government announced its long overdue recognition of President Dos Santos's government. The timing at this crucial moment in the Abidjan talks was unbelievable, but I had long ceased to be amazed by Washington's policy towards Angola.
The protocol was predicated on political concessions on the part of the Government (a full role for UNITA in all levels of government and all aspects of national life), in return for military concessions by UNITA. The tragic irony was that the two sides agreed on all but a couple of the protocol's 38 articles. The main bone of contention was the requirement for UNITA to withdraw from the cities and regions it was occupying.
UNITA requested an assurance that one battalion of armed 'Blue Helmets' would immediately be despatched as a 'symbolic presence' to protect their withdrawing troops and the civilians left behind. I begged New York to authorise me to make this commitment, only to be told that the Security Council would not countenance the despatch of any Blue Helmets until I obtained the signature of the protocol and a ceasefire. In vain I pleaded that this was an absurd 'chicken-and-egg' situation, since I could not obtain either of those things unless I could promise the 'symbolic' battalion.
Even more dismaying were instructions to inform both sides that, even if the protocol was signed, current peace-keeping demands and member states' reluctance to provide troops and money were so great that six to nine months would elapse before UN troops could arrive. I did not impart this information, since it would have rendered the talks, and my role as mediator, pointless. I returned to the charge with New York about the symbolic battalion, without success. I realised that UNITA's demand could well be a bluff, made in the expectation that I would be unable to deliver, but if that were the case, I would have liked to be able to call that bluff. A mediator cannot succeed without leverage and of that I had been deprived.
On Friday 21 May, I declared the talks to be 'interrupted'. At the final meeting, Minister Essy, in a scarcely veiled rebuke to UNITA, recalled that many attacks had been made against me but that, after working with me for weeks he could only say 'Cast une grande dame.' The two sides, who had been trading angry words for days, embraced with much back-slapping, and cries of 'My brother', before they went off to fight one another again. The rest of us were close to tears. I was described by Le Monde as having 'les traits tires', as I am sure they were.
The End of the Affair
I left for New York deeply depressed but determined that the world should not abandon Angola. I proposed to the Secretary-General that the UN should combine an expanded humanitarian operation with a small 'good offices' mission that could monitor the military and political situation. The key element would be a small nucleus of armed UN troops (Blue Helmets) to ensure the security of the humanitarian operation. They would then be on the spot to monitor a ceasefire, if it eventuated; the only formality required being a security council decision to expand their mandate. In that way the dangerous hiatus between a ceasefire and the arrival of international support would be avoided. My ideas aroused the usual bureaucratic objections. Two of the three persons whom the Secretary-General asked me to consult were won round to my point of view — Kofi Annan and James Jonah -but it was the third, Ambassador Garekhan, who wrote a minute of our meeting. This, we discovered too late, gave the Secretary-General the impression that all three were opposed, instead of only one, himself. Much to the Security Council's annoyance I was not allowed to brief them, but only to sit in on their informal consultations. I threw decorum to the wind and privately informed as many members as I could about my idea. The response was encouraging, especially from Madeleine Albright, who said she would consult Washington.
At the council's informal consultations on 27 May, the Cape Verde Ambassador proposed amendments to the draft resolution, along the lines of my proposal, supported by Spain and Brazil. The US did not go along: Washington evidently had different ideas from Madeleine Albright. They also softened the criticisms of UNITA, still under the delusion that they could influence Savimbi, despite the Abidjan experience, which demonstrated that no one had influence with him anymore. Consequently Resolution 834, adopted on 1 June, was sadly short on decisive action. There was no mention of Blue Helmets.
Meanwhile, I had flown to Geneva to chair an appeal for humanitarian aid for the thousands of war victims. On 15 June I was back in Luanda for a last hectic two weeks. In New York the Secretary-General had told me that he had at last found a successor: Maitre Alioune Blondin Beye, a former Foreign Minister of Mali.
I tried to ensure the safe delivery of aid through agreed humanitarian corridors. President Dos Santos accepted our proposal. UNITA did so 'in principle' but created difficulties that wrecked our plan. I also continued to plug my Blue Helmets proposal. President Dos Santos and the Government liked the idea. So did the new US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, George Moose, who visited Angola. A strategy was devised whereby President Dos Santos would get the proposal included in a resolution on Angola to be adopted at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) summit in Cairo in June. This would be endorsed by the Troika, meeting a few days later in Moscow, and submitted to the Security Council. But the President took no initiative in Cairo. I could only conclude that his initial enthusiasm waned because of his deep disillusion with the international community in general, and US policy in particular, grievances on which he waxed eloquent during our final encounter.
My request for a farewell meeting with Dr Savimbi in Huambo was not granted, but he sent a courteous letter in a decorative typescript. It ended with the prayerful wish that Almighty God would be with me and my family, which was rather better than a death threat.
On 19 June, Maitre Beye asked me to delay my departure a day or two to brief him on my latest negotiations. I cabled New York for urgent approval but no reply came. On 25 June, which happened to be my birthday, UNAVEM threw a touching farewell party for me. Next morning a communications officer brought me a cable that, she nervously explained, she had withheld on the previous night because 'it would have spoiled your evening'. It was the reply to my cable, signed by Kofi Annan. Couched in terms more appropriate to a reprimand to a delinquent subordinate than a message between two Under Secretaries-General, particularly when the recipient was more senior, it curtly told me to get out of Angola on 28 June (two days before my original departure), report immediately to New York, and complete formalities for my final exodus from the UN on 3 July. This was the last official communication I received from the UN after 41 years of service. I was bitterly hurt by the tone and the unjustified assumption that I was trying to hang on. I replied, equally tersely, that I could not leave on 28, as I was giving a farewell reception, that I intended to take the many weeks of leave due to me before formally retiring and would arrive in New York on 14 July.
On 29 June, I flew to Namibia. During three days at a remote game reserve I went through something akin to the decompression process after a deep-sea dive. One night I slept under the stars in a clearing in the bush, the dark vault of the sky a blazing jewelled canopy, and moonlight filtering between the trees. It was a good memory to take away of the Africa I had long known and loved, overlaying the anguished, bloodstained months in Angola.
In Windhoek President Sam Nujoma and his principal ministers invited me to a working lunch. Nujoma, too, liked my idea of Blue Helmets but it was at this lunch that I learned, to my dismay, that President Dos Santos had not broached the matter in Cairo. Nujoma said that he would take the matter up with his Angolan colleague. Perhaps he did, but nothing came of it.
In New York I attended the Security Council's informal consultations on Angola and its formal session on 15 July, also attended by several African Foreign Ministers. The Secretary-General's report at last put the record straight on the reasons for my departure, saying that he had agreed reluctantly to accede to 'my wish' to be released. The surge of international opinion against UNITA was reflected in Resolution 851, which warned that the Council would clamp sanctions on UNITA if it did not accept a ceasefire by 15 September 1993. Ambassador Albright's statement was curiously nuanced. She talked of UN peace-keeping becoming a growth industry and warned of costs, a far cry from her eager reaction to my idea of an immediate deployment of Blue Helmets to Angola six weeks earlier.
Every speaker had some kind words for what I had tried to do, some very personal and moving. Next day the President of the Council, then Sir David Hannay of the United Kingdom, sent me a formal note, thanking me on the council's behalf.
No similar letter came from the Secretariat. Apart from a cordial farewell visit to the Secretary-General, no one was interested in Angola or in what I had to say. The man and the place of the moment were General Morillon and Bosnia, where the charismatic French General had just completed his mission. It was only as an afterthought that I was asked to brief Kofi Annan's daily meeting and invited to the General's farewell party.
In Washington my Blue Helmets idea was welcomed. I had meetings in the White House, on Capitol Hill, in the State Department, and the Pentagon, with the Angolan Ambassador, and with UNITA representatives. After seeing me, representatives of both Houses of Congress sent a bipartisan appeal to President Clinton and Secretary of State Warren Christopher, urging greater attention to Angola, and support for the immediate despatch of a contingent of Blue Helmets to carry out the functions I had described. I was rash enough to think that something might now happen. Later I learned that reference to Blue Helmets had been dropped, because 'it would cost money', an ominous echo of Madeleine Albright's remarks in the Security Council.
My last day with the United Nations was 31 July 1993. I had risen from being a local staff member in the Philippines in 1952 to the highest rank — Under Secretary-General. I had served in many different countries, in all regions of the world, and participated in virtually every aspect of the organisation's work. Privileged to have pioneered many new paths previously untrodden by women, I was the senior woman in the organisation, and possibly the longest-serving official of either sex, at any level.
It should have been a momentous day in my life. The only official acknowledgement of the occasion was a communication about pension and medical benefits. I left the tall building on First Avenue as I might have done on any day during the preceding four decades.
It was a strange feeling of anticlimax.
I cannot free myself from Angola and seize every opportunity to publicise that forgotten tragedy. Writing my book, Orphan of the Cold War: The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Angolan Peace Process, 1992-3, was a cathartic experience, occupying two and a half years. I tried not only to give a faithful account of the events that led to the relapse into war but also to convey what it was like to be burdened by a huge responsibility for peoples' lives but deprived of the minimal resources to discharge it. The book was published in 1996, and a Portuguese translation followed in 1997. The public presentation of the Portuguese version in Lisbon, filmed on prime-time television, nearly became a riot. UNITA hard-liners attacked me, Angolans of a different persuasion defended me, and the two sides almost came to fisticuffs. While it made interesting publicity, it did not bode well for the Government of National Unity and Reconciliation that had just then been formed. The country soon plunged back into all-out war anew.
Ironically, the continuation of the war, despite the stronger mandate and increased resources provided to UNAVEM III and my successor, Maitre Beye, led to kindlier judgements of the UN by some Angolans. At a conference in London in 1997, the Angolan Deputy Foreign Minister transfixed both me and his audience by his opening gambit; 'In 1992—3 some of us thought that the Angolan peace process collapsed because the UN sent someone who was British, white ... and female.' He paused for effect, then went on: 'For the last four years we have had someone who is African, black ... and male, and it still isn't working. So we have to look elsewhere for the true causes of continuing conflict.' This was handsome public recognition that UN Special Representatives become the scapegoats held responsible for events beyond their control. Tragically Maitre Beye died in a suspicious crash of the UN Beechcraft in Cote-d'Ivoire, in June 1998.
In March 2000 I returned to Angola, after seven years, representing the British Angola Forum which we had set up in London in 1998. It was a highly emotional experience. There was a new spirit abroad: the Government claimed that the conventional war against Savimbi had been won, and new elections were promised for late 2001. My arrival, coinciding with action by the Security Council to make sanctions against UNITA more effective and progress towards agreement with the IMF, gave hope of renewed international interest.
I was given an extraordinary reception. I saw the President, key ministers, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, opposition leaders, the cardinal and representatives of civil society. People in the street, road sweepers and vendors, gave the thumbs-up sign, as if my return symbolised a new beginning. All went out of their way to vindicate my efforts in 1992-93. The woman who had organised the coffin with my name on it in 1993 apologised and a prominent UNITA leader, now alienated from Savimbi, revealed that in Abidjan he had indeed disagreeed with UNITA's position but was too frightened to speak. This time the worst thing that happened was that I got locked in a lavatory in Benguela!
In May 20011 returned again, and had another long meeting with President Dos Santos. Savimbi was still cornered in south-eastern Angola and continued UNITA guerrilla activity gave cause for concern. And then, at last, on 27 February 2002 Savimbi was killed.
Military victory will not be enough to assure stable peace in Angola. The Government must govern the territories recovered from UNITA and show that its rule is oppressive but will bring a genuine peace dividend: reconstruction, democratic institutions and sorely needed public and social services. Only in this way can reconciliation be fostered and faith and confidence restored to people who for 30 years have known nothing but war. In my conversations with President Dos Santos I was delighted to find we had a meeting of minds on what needs to be done. The main burden must fall on the Angolans but they will need generous international support. The task ahead is vast. I suggested to the President that a pilot area should be chosen, as a testing ground for techniques that can later be extended to the whole country and a demonstration of what can be done. The Government has now selected two provinces, Kwanza Sul and Huambo (formerly Savimbi's stronghold), the UN is providing support and I have been asked to assist. It would be a dream come true to feel I could make some small contribution to lasting peace in Angola.
Paradoxically, the unipolar world in which we now live often seems more unstable and dangerous than during the precarious balance of power that went before. Yet, though the larger picture is depressing, I do see evidence of progress on the smaller scale. As I travel round the world I constantly run into people whose lives were transformed by UN programmes and find that projects on which we worked long ago have borne results. Unlike capital investment, the impact of technical cooperation is impossible to measure because it is inextricably interwoven with the many other threads of the process that we like to call progress. One thing is certain: 'development' has proved to be a much more complex and elusive concept than we ingenuously thought in the early 1950s. Yet without it, without the fairer distribution of the world's resources and the attainment of reasonable living conditions for those living under the poverty line, we and future generations are doomed to continue to live in an increasingly insecure world.
I have seen an enormous change for the better in the role that women play in the so-called developed world, and in some respects in developing countries. But in too many parts of the world women continue to be the down-trodden underdogs of society, condemned to drudgery and degradation at worst and, at best, severely limited in the scope of their permitted activities. So, although much has been achieved, there is still a long way to go.
As for the United Nations, it bears a much more tarnished image than in its heady early days when I first joined it. Now it is underfunded, constantly criticised for perceived lack of effectiveness and efficiency and sometimes bypassed by its most powerful member states. The brinkmanship that has taken place in the Security Council since the autumn of 2002 over the actions to be taken over Iraq have come alarmingly close to making the organisation a virtually irrelevant actor on the world stage.
Few people who criticise the United Nations realise that the Secretary-General and the international officials that serve him do not act unilaterally but as the servants of 191 member states. It is the latter who call the shots. More often than not national and regional interests prevail over logical actions for the common good. In such circumstances it is impossible for the United Nations to be fully effective in attaining the ideals so eloquently described in its charter.
The same limitations make it impossible for the United Nations to be fully efficient. Member states constantly call for reform. The organisation is so regularly overhauled that it is a miracle it functions at all. The basic problems remain the same. I was centrally involved in several of these exercises but, as I have tried to show in this book, it was often the very member states who had insisted on reform who undercut its effective implementation when they perceived it could affect their own vested interests. My starry-eyed conviction in the 1960s that logical, across-the-board reform was possible, received a rude awakening.
The present Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, was himself elected on yet another reform ticket and has made significant efforts to that end, but major reform is still bedevilled by the age-old problem: member states, even those supposedly like-minded, cannot agree on far-reaching changes, particularly the key issue of Security Council reform. National interests prevail, in yet another illustration of the paradox that bars effective international action at the start of the twenty-first century: sovereignty is still deemed supreme, although a shrinking and increasingly globalised world renders it daily more irrelevant.
The only way forward is through specific changes that would have a multiplier effect, such as a more rational way of selecting the Secretary-General, and executive heads of agencies, based on qualifications and experience, rather than political horse-trading; single, though longer, tenures for top officials, so that political jockeying for re-election would be eliminated; and a consolidated budget for the whole UN system that would reduce both duplication and the inordinate outlay of money on 'co-ordination', which simply creates new layers of bureaucracy. People - the best possible people, in the right place — are a surer recipe for success than the most elaborate organogram. But could governments agree on even this modest programme?
Nevertheless, I still believe passionately in the ideals and aims for which the UN was created, and in the indispensable need for it to exist. As Adlai Stevenson once aptly said, if it did not, then it would have to be invented. A globalised world needs a universal institution and the vast scope of the activities undertaken by the UN system embrace virtually every aspect of human life.