so samakuva won

Here are a few words about the man who has just been voted in as leader of UNITA. I wrote this initially for BBC radio broadcast. Reading it now, it seems rather laboured. So you know, his first name, Isaias, is pronounced i-zigh-ee-ush.

On the 8th July 1946, Isaias Henriques Ngola Samakuva was born in the municipality of Cunge in Bié in Angola’s central highlands. He was the third child, but first son, of ten. His father, Henriques Ngola, was a pastor and teacher and came from the huge and very close-knit Samakuva clan.

The young Isaias had a strict upbringing. As well as intellectual schooling, he was taught how to build a home, to sew and to cook. To this day he says he still takes great pleasure in preparing an entire meal for his family.

Justice and equality were early obsessions. One of the first essays he wrote at school was on forced labour, which he said he would abolish as soon as he was old enough to do so.

In January 1967, Samakuva, by now a young man, faced military service in the Portuguese army. Despite several attempts to flee the country, he was eventually recruited for two years into the colonial forces. Ironically, perhaps in hindsight, he was posted to Camabatela for the vast majority of this period… This is the same municipality in which he and his delegation say they were fired at eight days ago, in Kwanza Norte… It was also here that he first made contact with men who would soon form the UNITA leadership…

Samakuva has never been wounded, but after this phase in the colonial army he became so ill that he was sent to the military hospital in Luanda.. his first visit to the Angolan capital… He made good use of his time in hospital, reading among other books, J’accuse a denunciation of colonialism by Felix Youllou, the first president of Congo….

It was during this phase in Luanda that he was also approached by someone claiming to be from the MPLA – now the Angolan ruling party, but then the main liberation group – and invited to join a clandestine cell… But Samakuva feared this was a scheme of the Portuguese secret police. He never attended any meetings… and shortly returned to the central highlands, to take up a series of good jobs…

On the 25th April 1974, when the Portuguese dictatorship was finally toppled in Lisbon, Samakuva was in the north eastern Lunda provinces working for a diamond company… It was now that his life was to change rapidly…

By the late seventies, he was a brigadier in UNITA. Never in the front line, he was nevertheless a talented logistician. ‘The south Africans called those of us in logistics the jam steelers,’ he laughs, because we weren’t at the heart of the battle and, so they said, could sit around eating marmalade!

Later, he became a crucial negotiator and diplomat for the then UNITA leader, Jonas Malheiro Savimbi… Samakuva was at the forefront of peace negotiations throughout the mid 1990s… But the year before Angola returned to war in 1998, Samakuva left for Paris where he was based until October 2002… A year later, he was elected to lead the party, now in peace….

The great love of his life is his wife, Ines Satwala. They married in 1979 and have five children and one grandchild. He says he has never considered having more than one wife and laughs at the suggestion he could even manage more.

He says he has no vices. He rarely drinks, only supping at wine when it would be impolite not to do so. And apart from one puff on a cigar as a young child, Samakuva has never raised a single cigarette to his lips.

In his spare time, he reads, recently enjoying the biographies of the former US president, Bill Clinton, and former British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. He also highly recommends The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs.

Away from politics and economics, he is, he says, a music lover. ‘Everything apart from rap,’ he told me, ‘and I have a particular affection for Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald’

Samakuva has one small regret, or sadness perhaps, and one wish. His regret is that he was unable to do more to save the life of a nephew who died in Jamba in the early nineties. His wish is to finish the degree in Social Sciences which he started at the UK’s Open University. I want to carry on investigating the sociological aspects of Angolan society, he told me.

Originally written for broadcast on the BBC World Service Focus on Africa, March 2007

I wonder how Chivukuvuku is feeling. I wonder. He was publicly so very confident that he would win. People joked, calling him President-elect, the presumption that he would be the leader and would take on Dos Santos at nationwide presidential elections (whenever they are…). He must feel some humiliation: he was so sure. There was, as one friend reminded me, a myth of Chivukuvuku, a myth created for the great day when he would become party leader. But that day has come and gone. What will he do next?


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