, LUANDA, April 4 – Angola marked the 10th anniversary of the end of its three-decade civil war on Tuesday as President Jose Eduardo dos Santos unveiled a monument near the site where a long-time rebel leader was killed.
UNITA rebel chief Jonas Savimbi was killed in battle against government forces on February, 22, 2002 in the eastern town of Luena.
Savimbi’s death paved the way to a peace deal signed on April 4, 2002, ending the 27-year civil war, one of Africa’s longest and most brutal conflicts, which erupted soon after independence from Portugal in 1975.
Dos Santos, 69, was greeted at the airport by supporters wearing shirts branded with his image, while singing and drumming filled the streets, according to images broadcast on national television.
The president then unveiled the monument that features two giant dark hands releasing a white dove to the sky.
The monument was installed in the town’s Lenin Park, named after the Russian communist leader, Vladimir Ilyich.
Several high-ranking military and political officials traveled with Dos Santos, including minister of state for economic co-ordination Manuel Vicente, tipped as a possible president-in-waiting.
Luena prepared for the high-level visitors days in advance by dispatching hordes of residents to sweep the streets and erecting placards with Dos Santos face on roadside poles.
Meanwhile, in the capital Luanda, residents wore white, marched to music, while children joined a street race across the city. A concert was set for later on Wednesday.
The Angolan conflict became a Cold War proxy battle, with the Soviet Union and Cuba backing Dos Santos’ MPLA, while the United States and apartheid South Africa assisted Savimbi’s UNITA rebels.
The conflict left an estimated 500,000 dead, displaced four million and destroyed much the country’s infrastructure.
This legacy is still visible, even as Angola emerged from the ashes of war as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
Nearly 2.4 million people, almost a fifth of the population, still live in areas riddled with landmines, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Poverty is rife.
Dos Santos, in power for 32-years, has been hailed the peacemaker who has steered an oil-fueled economic boom that began when the war ended.
“The peace constituted a very important actor in people’s lives. Without peace the economic and social development of the country would have been impossible,” Secretary General of the ruling MPLA party Juliao Mateus Paulo told the national Angop news agency.
But under Dos Santos organised opposition has grown increasingly feeble. Over the past year, authorities have stamped out a series youth protests calling for reform.
Unita was roundly beaten in 2008 legislative polls when Dos Santos’s MPLA took 80 percent of the seats, although some said the vote was stacked in the MPLA’s favour, with accusations that opposition supporters suffered intimidation and the opposition’s media access was restricted.
New polls are expected later this year amid concerns about the organisation of the vote, the country’s third since 1975.