UNITA—Secretary for Information
Tor Sellström: When did you first enter into contact with the Nordic countries?
Jorge Valentim: I was the President of the National Union of Angolan Students (UNEA), which was supporting UNITA. There was another organization, called the General Union of Students from Black Africa under Portuguese Colonial Domination (UGEAN), which was connected to MPLA. Their international base was with the International Union of Students (IUS) in Prague, while the National Union of Angolan Students was connected to the Western International Student Conference (ISC) in Leiden, Holland. ISC had a special programme for Africa, preparing cadres to lead the different national student unions. Another section worked with scholarships. It was mainly—maybe to 85 or 90 per cent—financed by the Scandinavian countries. Many students were from the Portuguese colonies. Students from Southern Africa were the main target group. In the 1960s, most of the African students that got scholarships were supported by ISC with funds from Scandinavia.
In around 1964 or 1965, I met the key leaders of the ISC scholarship section. One was from Norway. That man—Øystein Opdahl—is the one who opened the road and created an impact on the Scandinavian countries, arguing that it was wise to be involved with the liberation movements on a humanitarian basis. After him there came another gentleman, Lars-Gunnar Eriksson from Sweden. He continued the project. One source of the money was SIDA. They worked very hard and Eriksson would travel all over Africa. I think that he was the last man that I worked with.
In 1964, we organized a seminar about Southern Africa at the University of Uppsala. I went there and I still have very good memories from that visit. The contact with the Scandinavian countries is also sentimental, because their economic structure and political stability were examples for us. Ever since I worked at the International Student Conference—which was at the time of the Cold War—our reference and model was the Scandinavian countries. You could not point to the United States since it was fighting against Russia. To show the Africans that a democratic society is a good thing we used the slogan: ‘Free men in a free society’. In this context, it was essential to give examples and that is where the Scandinavian countries were mentioned.
I would, however, like to raise the contradiction that while SIDA was giving us scholarships irrespective of the political parties that we represented, officially, the Swedish government had another policy. It was more connected with the older, accepted liberation movements.
Tor Sellström: Eventually, the Swedish government only gave direct support to MPLA, not to UNITA or FNLA. How did you look upon that?
Jorge Valentim: This dichotomy of behaviour, or approach, would be very interesting for a political analysis. Among the liberation movements there were two groups. Those that were supported by Russia formed a kind of trade union in Rabat, Morocco. Their strategy was that if you wanted to support the struggle in Mozambique, you had to choose a movement that had connections with a movement in Angola or in Guinea-Bissau. They acted as a group. They represented each other and that had some influence. I think that Sweden was getting the impression that it was better to work with those movements rather than to connect ideologically. There was some kind of attitude that ‘let us gamble on these movements and forget the rest’. In addition, knowing Prime Minister Olof Palme, I think that he influenced the Swedish position.
Tor Sellström: You knew him?'
Jorge Valentim: Yes, I knew him. He was one of the founders of the International Student Conference. He was not so well disposed towards the United States. Therefore, he gave priority to the movements that were not connected to the USA. I think that he was aware that they had a certain ideology, but not the money. He would gamble with the Swedish support. That is why UNITA as a party never got any support from Sweden, only UNEA for scholarships and so forth.
Tor Sellström: The Swedish Social Democratic Party was very much involved in the reconstruction of the Socialist Party of Portugal, which had its problems with MPLA but quite good relations with UNITA. How do you explain that?
Jorge Valentim: Well, it is both true and not true. It is true with regard to Mário Soares, but the Socialist Party as such was not favourable to UNITA. As a simple member of the cabinet of the Movement of the Armed Forces (MFA), Mário Soares was in the beginning surrounded by Communists. The MFA was really controlled by Communists and Soares could not express himself freely and strongly at the time of the Alvor agreement. The Socialist Party, on the other hand, belonged to the Socialist International, which was led by Sweden and France. It was therefore very difficult for the Socialist Party of Portugal to have an open policy towards UNITA.
Tor Sellström: The Socialist International advocated multi-partyism. Against this background, is it not strange that the Swedish Social Democratic Party supported only one liberation movement in Angola?
Jorge Valentim: Well, I think that the Social Democratic Party stayed in power for more than thirty years and that Palme was the boss. He did not listen to all the voices. I think that there were big sections of the population in Sweden that did not agree, but, unfortunately, they also supported the official policy of Sweden. They did not want to show their disagreement outside the borders. The democratic line inside Sweden was biased outside, encouraging one-party systems.
Tor Sellström: It may also have to do with the close relations between Palme and African socialist leaders such as Nyerere of Tanzania and Kaunda of Zambia?
Jorge Valentim: Yes, it is true, but that brand of African socialism was emotional. It did not mean anything. I praise President Nyerere, who afterwards made self-criticism, and President Kaunda, who ended with the mentality of the one-party system, accepting multi-party elections that the world had imposed on him as a condition for economic support.
Tor Sellström: Did Savimbi ever visit the Nordic countries?
Jorge Valentim: Yes, he visited Denmark before the military coup in Portugal. He was very well received. Denmark never completely followed the position of Sweden. It had a different policy. We had more support and understanding in Denmark than in Sweden.
Tor Sellström: In the 1980s, there was a UNITA support group in Sweden which included a member of parliament from the Moderate Party, Birger Hagård. He visited UNITA’s headquarters in Jamba and campaigned for support to UNITA in Sweden. Did you notice that support inside Angola?
Jorge Valentim: Yes, there was a tendency in Sweden towards a different approach. I think that there was some weakness of the Social Democratic Party in power, which made it possible for the other side to come out strongly. The members of the Swedish parliament who visited Angola helped us a lot. They helped to change the perception in the world at large, because people were getting the impression that every single Swedish person was against UNITA. Later, they realized that this was due to party politics and that you also would find a different opinion, depending on the leadership. Others have said that the support given to our first representative in Sweden was very useful. We should now try to send a stronger delegation there, because even for the reconstruction of Angola Sweden should help and play a great role. I am pleased that the contacts now are very good.
Tor Sellström: Did you get any financial assistance from UNITA support groups in Sweden?
Jorge Valentim: I was working in the information department and that kind of foreign policy activities was directly connected to the President, so I cannot answer the question. However, some support was necessary for our representative. First of all, political support, giving him the opportunity to speak for our cause. The strongest embassy of the MPLA government was in Sweden, so if they allowed a different opinion that in itself was important. The financial questions were, however, not part of my responsibility.
Tor Sellström: Would you like to comment on the incident in 1987 when three Swedish aid workers were kidnapped by UNITA at Quibaxe? One of them died and the other two were taken to Jamba.
Jorge Valentim: Well, I can say that it was not the outcome of any anti-Swedish policy. Before that happened, UNITA had announced that all foreigners should leave the areas of military activity. The MPLA government used them and exposed them to danger. It so happened that some Swedes were found, not captured. An enemy is captured, but they were not the en emy. In addition, kidnapping is when you ask for ransom, but we were not asking for money. We did not get any benefit out of it, apart from some publicity. I am really sorry for what happened to the Swede who died, but the instruction from the President was that they should be treated well. As I said, it was not part of any anti-Swedish policy, but due to the war situation.
Tor Sellström: Perhaps you were present in Jamba when the Swedes were handed over to the representatives from the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs?
Jorge Valentim: Yes, I was. The message from our President was clearly that we had nothing against the Swedes and that the incident was due to the state of war. I think it is a thing of the past.
Tor Sellström: In retrospect, do you think that the role of the Nordic countries was constructive for the liberation of Southern Africa?
Jorge Valentim: Well, having worked with international organizations and also according to my education, I want to see things globally. Sweden helped only one side, MPLA, but MPLA represented part of the opinion of Angola. If the support was beneficial to that part, fine. Other countries assisted the other side. This was due to the Cold War configuration of blocs. I would now prefer to learn from the lessons of the past and have a positive perspective. We finally have the Lusaka protocol—I am one of the negotiators—and we should now build confidence between ourselves. In this situation, we ask the Nordic countries to be dynamic, to open the doors to both sides and see UNITA and MPLA as twin brothers. I think that the Nordic countries have great possibilities to assist. They have the know-how and a lot to say.