SIDA—Responsible for procurement to the liberation movements
The interview was held by Tor Sellström in Sollentuna, 21 February 1996.
Tor Sellström: As head of SIDA’s procurement division you were closely involved with Swedish official assistance to PAIGC of Guinea-Bissau and to the Southern African liberation movements. When did you start working at SIDA?
Stig Lövgren: I came to SIDA in 1969 and became almost immediately involved in support to the liberation movements, beginning with the first procurement programme for PAIGC. At that time, we were a section within SIDA’s country division and we only became an independent division in, I think, 1978. I became head of section in 1974 and then head of the procurement division.
Tor Sellström: I understand that the support in the beginning was exclusively in the form of food items and other basic articles?
Stig Lövgren: That is right.
Tor Sellström: How did you assess the needs of the liberation movements? Of PAIGC, for example?
Stig Lövgren: In the beginning, Amílcar Cabral himself would come to Stockholm. He stayed in a hotel under an assumed name for security reasons and was working with us at SIDA to establish a list of articles, goods, equipment etc. that they needed. It was a very simple procedure and not very controversial, because at that time the list just covered food, medicines, hospital and school equipment and so on. We did not question their needs very much. After all, the funds allocated in those days were not that big and Curt Ström, who was the official in charge at SIDA, was of the opinion that we should not question too much.
Tor Sellström: People from Sweden had also been to the liberated areas of Guinea-Bissau?
Stig Lövgren: At that time, perhaps Birgitta Dahl had been there. I think that she was one of the few persons from the Swedish side that had any previous contacts with PAIGC.
Tor Sellström: In the early days, the Swedish solidarity movement would criticize SIDA and the Swedish government for being ‘paternalistic’ by supplying goods instead of unconditionally giving the same amount of money as cash support. How did you look upon this? Do you think that Amílcar Cabral, for example, was happy with the support?
Stig Lövgren: Absolutely. I remember quite well that he said that this was the best form of aid that Sweden could give. What possibility did they have to convert funds into the goods that they needed? Everything that they needed for the war they received from the socialist bloc, but they did not have any resources when it came to food, medicines, school equipment etc. for the civilian part of the struggle. They were totally dependent on countries like Sweden for these items, because they could not procure them on the international market. They had no use for money at the time. That came later.
Tor Sellström: The Swedish support was humanitarian or civilian, that is, non-military. How did you draw the line between non-military and military supplies?
Stig Lövgren: This was very much discussed during the early years. Curt Ström, especially, was always very nervous that we might send things that could be used for military purposes. I remember very well one meeting with Amílcar Cabral at SIDA. We were discussing the lists that we had prepared earlier and which Ström should approve. When we came to machetes, he was very concerned and said that they could be used to kill people. Amílcar Cabral then took up a pen and said: ‘This is a weapon too...’. By then we had already approved the procurement of, let us say, ten thousand pens of that same kind for the PAIGC schools. I think that Cabral had a point there.
There were other interesting episodes. We supplied a lot of food, especially tinned food, to PAIGC. At one stage, we bought something like a hundred tons of tinned fish—quite a considerable quantity—from a Swedish fac
tory. The supplier—Strömstad Canning— asked me if we wanted a special label for the consignment. I thought that it was a good idea, so I contacted Onésimo Silveira, who was then the PAIGC representative in Sweden. He became so enthusiastic! It was not until later that I realized why he became ecstatic. He decided on a label with the PAIGC flag and with the text ‘From the liberated areas of Guinea-Bissau’. Years afterwards, I was told that they had arranged for these tins to appear in different places in the areas where the Portuguese still held power. They even distributed some of the tins in Bissau, the capital. You can imagine what an effective psychological weapon this was. If I had raised this issue with the management of SIDA, I am not absolutely sure that the label would have been met with approval. I still do not know whether this was in accordance with the UN recommendation or not.
So, we were, as a matter of fact, quite heavily involved in the struggle. It does not necessarily mean that we were supplying weapons, but it was very difficult to draw the line. The main problem concerned trucks to the liberation movements. It was discussed many, many times. The basic reason why trucks were finally supplied was the fact that the goods that were provided by SIDA had to be transported in one way or the other from the ports to the stores at the PAIGC bases. After all, we found that it would be reasonable to provide a limited number of trucks at the same time as we were supplying large quantities of goods. But, generally speaking, after a few years this discussion was not so important and in the end we did not pay any attention to it. After all, we did not supply weapons or ammunition.
Tor Sellström: Some countries that supported the liberation movements politically refused to supply vehicles. It was argued that they could be used by the liberation armies?
Stig Lövgren: Yes, but we supplied Land Rovers and other four-wheel drive vehicles. After a few years, there was no discussion about that. We even provided both Volvo and Scania vehicles specifically designed for the Swedish army, but made available in a civilian version too.
Tor Sellström: There was also the question of non-essential goods, for example, the incident when SIDA supplied cigarettes to PAIGC?
Stig Lövgren: Yes, they got their own cigarettes as well, which were also produced in Sweden. The PAIGC people designed exactly what the package should look like. They were called Nô Pintcha. We discussed with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs well in advance of the decision whether cigarettes should be provided or not. After some hesitation we came to the conclusion that it would be reasonable to provide a limited quantity. One evening after work, I walked down Rådmansgatan and saw the headlines outside a tobacco shop: ‘SIDA is distributing cigarettes as humanitarian assistance!’. There was quite a strong reaction by the anti-smoking lobby, but it was no big deal.
Tor Sellström: But the cigarettes were used to generate income for PAIGC. Were they not sold in the people’s shops that PAIGC had?
Stig Lövgren: That is right. And that was the case with most of the bulk items that we provided, like canned food, fabrics for women’s dresses, radio sets, batteries, torches, kerosene lamps etc.
Tor Sellström: Did other liberation movements have similar shops?
Stig Lövgren: I did not come across any. I think that these shops were rather special to the liberated areas in Guinea-Bissau. The rural people would supply rice and other basic articles to PAIGC, for which they in turn received some sort of coupons that they could use in the shops.
Tor Sellström: Was that part of the understanding between the Swedish government and PAIGC?
Stig Lövgren: Yes. The idea was very fundamental and much appreciated. It was absolutely natural that they used Swedish aid in that way.
Tor Sellström: Against this background it is difficult to understand the criticism against SIDA for being paternalistic?
Stig Lövgren: Yes, of course.
Tor Sellström: Perhaps people did not know what you were doing?
Stig Lövgren: No, of course not. We did not advertise it very much either. From SIDA’s point of view this was not something that we gave much publicity.
Tor Sellström: What were the main items that SIDA supplied?
Stig Lövgren: Food was the biggest item. Then there were medicines, mostly essential drugs, and simple hospital equipment, which was very important. Another group of items was school equipment: slates, textbooks, maps, pens and pencils.
Tor Sellström: Was it the same for all the liberation movements?
Stig Lövgren: Yes, these items became normal and basic ingredients for all the movements. Cooking oil, beans and tinned food were the biggest component. Vehicles became more and more important. Hygiene articles like soap were also extremely important. We bought huge quantities of washing-soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
Tor Sellström: How could you check that the goods came to proper use? Did you visit the liberated areas and the refugee camps?
Stig Lövgren: Basically, we did not and could not visit the liberated areas. We tried to, but in most cases they politely found some excuse for not letting us go there. Basically for security reasons, of course. But I was rather close to the liberated areas. I was making follow-up trips to PAIGC and visited one of their camps just on the border between the Republic of Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. I was able to see how the goods were handled from the point where they were discharged in the port of Conakry and taken to the central warehouse, which SIDA, by the way, had provided. A big prefabricated building that was very nicely erected by the PAIGC people themselves. From Conakry, the goods were then transported by truck to the PAIGC northern base. It took three or four days. It could also take two weeks if the roads were bad. There were a lot of ferries that they had to take and sometimes the ferries were not working. It was a very time-consuming operation.
At least in this case we felt pretty sure that the goods were properly taken care of and that they reached the final users. But I am afraid that the picture was not that good when we speak of MPLA of Angola and FRELIMO of Mozambique.
Tor Sellström: At a very early stage you participated in SIDA’s discussions with MPLA?
Stig Lövgren: Yes, I think that they started in December 1971. Curt Ström, Marianne Rappe and myself made a trip to all the major liberation movements. We left in early November and were away for about a month. We started with PAIGC in Conakry and then went to Lusaka. There was a meeting scheduled with the MPLA leaders, but nobody seemed to be there when we arrived. We were later told that we had to wait for one of the commanders from the province in Angola bordering with Zambia. I remember that the MPLA leader we were waiting for was Comandante Daniel Chipenda. He later became a controversial figure within MPLA and eventually joined Holden Roberto’s FNLA. The MPLA people in Lusaka did not dare to discuss with us, because everything had to be decided by Chipenda himself.
Chipenda had to take a domestic flight to Lusaka, but he did not have any money. We had to provide him with a ticket. After a few days, he turned up and we had a meeting with him. But he was not prepared for the discussions either. Frankly speaking, he did not seem to know very much about us and what the purpose of our meeting was. So, the start with MPLA was really slow. It took a long time before we came on speaking terms. They also had a rather weak representative in Stockholm by the name of António Neto.
I often got the impression that the political decision taken by the Swedish government that Sweden should provide assistance to MPLA in itself was the most important. They did not seem to care very much about the content of the assistance. I am afraid that during these first years the technical side of the support to MPLA was not very effective.
Tor Sellström: Was it also not controversial? For example, the Liberal Party argued in favour of support to FNLA.
Stig Lövgren: Yes, that is right. That made the whole picture more complicated.
Tor Sellström: But, of course, there was no liberation movement with such logistical problems as MPLA?
Stig Lövgren: Yes, perhaps they had the worst problems. We visited a camp that they had outside Lusaka. There was some sort of a central warehouse. When the goods arrived, they had been transported from Dar es Salaam all the way through Tanzania and Zambia. And in Lusaka they were only half way to their final destination.
Tor Sellström: There was no railway in those days. Two thousand kilometres on dirt roads only from Dar es Salaam to Lusaka?
Stig Lövgren: Exactly. In the MPLA camp we could also see that a lot of goods and equipment were being spoiled. Either it had been damaged during the transport or it had just been lying there. They lacked organisation and people that were able to handle these questions. This was particularly sad when you compared with PAIGC, which for us was some sort of ideal organization. The PAIGC people were also very social. Very friendly and nice. Most of them were Cape Verdians and I think that you can say that they were more used to the kind of discussions that we had. The MPLA people were more suspicious. Not the top people, but, generally speaking, the atmosphere was not at all the same.
Tor Sellström: Did you meet Agostinho Neto?
Stig Lövgren: I met him once at SIDA, but he did not know very much about these matters. His mind was not with procurement. Amílcar Cabral, on the other hand, was extremely engaged in this kind of detail, because he felt that it was something that he had to attend to.
Tor Sellström: You also started early with FRELIMO?
Stig Lövgren: Yes, that is right. I think that I started in 1970, but Swedish aid to FRELIMO had started before in some modest way. Our cooperation with FRELIMO was very much linked to Janet Mondlane, the widow of the former FRELIMO leader. She used to come to Stockholm as a fund-raiser and partner in this cooperation. She was heavily engaged in the procurement side and seemed to know quite a lot about their requirements. She was very able and interested in these matters. We had an excellent cooperation.
When we made our trip to the liberation movements in 1971, we met the FRELIMO people at the Mozambique Institute in Dar es Salaam. The experience was a little bit similar to the one with MPLA, because at that time we did not have any prior contacts with them other than through Janet Mondlane.
Tor Sellström: In the case of FRELIMO, there was one particular incident with Scania trucks supplied by SIDA?
Stig Lövgren: Yes, I remember it quite well. As part of the annual procurement programme we were delivering two trucks to FRELIMO. They also received a lot of goods and, as in the PAIGC case, we found it reasonable that they should have some means of transport to handle them. On ships, trucks are normally transported on deck and these trucks were also loaded in that way. What I remember is that the ship was not scheduled to call on Beira in Mozambique, but that it had to go there for one reason or another. Such things happen. The fact that the ship had to go to Beira and probably take on some cargo made it necessary to temporarily off-load the trucks and put them on the quay in order to open the hatches. It was noted by the stevedores that the trucks were marked ‘FRELIMO’ and we were told by the shipping company that they reacted immediately. It was then decided by the Portuguese authorities that the trucks should not be allowed to continue to the end users, which, of course, was something that we became very upset about.
I was quite criticized for being ‘so naive’ as to send trucks with the open marking ‘FRELIMO’. But, first of all, Beira was not part of the normal route. Secondly, what Sweden was doing was in accordance with recommendations by the United Nations, namely to provide humanitarian assistance, and I felt that this should not be hidden. It was something that was internationally accepted. However, this was a unique event. It did not create any problems other than at that particular time. The FRELIMO takeover was not far away and I suppose that the trucks became useful tools in the country’s development, at least in the end.
Tor Sellström: Apart from this incident, did you have any problems with freight to the liberation movements? Did you experience any sabotage by the South Africans in the case of shipments to SWAPO or ANC?
Stig Lövgren: No, they never had the possibility of getting in contact with the goods. Of course, some goods were shipped by boats that were calling on South African ports, but the goods were stored inside the ships. No, I do not remember that we had any problems with that.
Tor Sellström: How was the relationship with ZANU and ZAPU from Zimbabwe, SWAPO from Namibia and ANC from South Africa when it came to procurement matters?
Stig Lövgren: I had the impression that they were better organized and that the goods that we provided came to more efficient use. In the beginning, the support to these movements was very modest and mainly on a cash basis, namely support to cover the living costs in the host-countries, such as Zambia, Tanzania etc. But it became more and more important over the years and it gradually changed to include the supply of goods. SWAPO, for instance, became a major recipient—like an independent country—during the last few years in Angola, where they had a camp outside Luanda. I think that they were very efficient.
Tor Sellström: You did not only procure goods, but you also supplied the liberation movements with courses in procurement, storage and handling?
Stig Lövgren: That is right. They became interested in these matters. I think that they realized that if you try to procure goods efficiently and try to locate the best sources of supply, you get better value for the money. They became a bit impressed with what we were doing, because they normally received much more goods and equipment than what they were expecting, due to the fact that we could do good business by comparing different sources of supply and so on.
They became very interested and said that ‘once we are independent, we will have to take care of this ourselves. We would like to learn some of this already now’. We at SIDA also felt that we should try to teach them how to handle the goods, how the goods should be stored and accounted for and so on. That, of course, was partly selfish, because we wanted to make sure that they were handling the goods properly. However, it was interesting to note that they were looking ahead, saying that they would need the knowledge one day and therefore would already like to start in exile.
Tor Sellström: So, you acted as some sort of tender board for them?
Stig Lövgren: Yes, that is exactly how we tried to act. We invited bids from different parts of the world and from different sources of supply. If we had the possibility, we let the movements study the material and propose ideas. Especially those movements that had representatives in Sweden took a very active part in the procurement work.
Tor Sellström: One could perhaps say that this was part of pre-independence planning?
Stig Lövgren: Exactly. That was also the case with PAIGC, although we did not arrange any courses for them, as we did for SWAPO and ANC. But I can assure you that they learned from these experiences. I was part of the first Swedish official delegation to Bissau after liberation and we were invited to a dinner with the President, Luís Cabral, whom I regard as a personal friend. During the dinner he invited me to come to Bissau and take up a job as the one responsible for all imports and public procurement in the country. I politely said that it was very tempting, but that I could not do that. Later SIDA arranged training courses for the procurement people in Guinea-Bissau.
Tor Sellström: Was SIDA’s procurement to the liberation movements tied to Swedish goods?
Stig Lövgren: No, not at all.
Tor Sellström: How about sanctions and South Africa? Did you procure from South Africa?
Stig Lövgren: No, it was absolutely clear that there should be no contacts whatsoever with potential suppliers in South Africa. That was part of our basic policy.
Tor Sellström: Did you purchase goods for FRELIMO or MPLA in Portugal?
Stig Lövgren: No, of course not.
Tor Sellström: On the shipping side, did you transport the goods on Swedish ships or on any ships?
Stig Lövgren: There were very limited transport possibilities to Conakry. As a matter of fact, we had some problems in finding a shipping line with regular sailings for PAIGC, but we used a Danish company which had a regular service to some West African ports, among them Conakry. With respect to the other liberation movements, Dar es Salaam was the main port and there were no problems getting the goods there. We mostly used a Soviet shipping line called Besta Line. They had an excellent service. For Luanda we used the Swedish line Transatlantic.
Tor Sellström: Did the shipping companies know that they transported goods for the liberation movements?
Stig Lövgren: Well, they must have known. I cannot recall that the matter was ever discussed. They did not raise any questions. They were not hesitant at all, as far as I remember.
Tor Sellström: Did you enter into any agreements with the host countries, that is Guinea-Conakry, Tanzania or Angola? Or did this fall within the general scope of SIDA’s accreditation to these countries?
Stig Lövgren: Yes, in the case of Tanzania and Zambia it did. I never heard of any discussions on the matter. It was quite natural that these activities were going on, but I cannot exclude that there might have been some special arrangements through the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Regarding PAIGC, I know that we had to enter into a special arrangement with Guinea-Conakry in order to get things moving. I was also engaged in this. The price Sweden had to pay was the provision of a complete printing press for the education sector in the Republic of Guinea. It was set up in Conakry and we even sent an expert there to assist with the installation and the start-up of the printing press. I do not know whether this was wasted money or not, because the conditions in that country were not very easy. We set it up, but I d o not recall that we had any contacts with the Conakry government afterwards. However, I doubt that the printing press could operate efficiently for a long time without continued technical assistance.
Tor Sellström: SIDA purchased a lot of items for the liberation movements on the Swedish market. In your experience, how did the Swedish companies look upon the assistance to these movements?
Stig Lövgren: I cannot say that they cared very much about that. They looked at it commercially. However, Luís Cabral was once in Sweden for a period of time and I arranged a trip for him to some of ‘their’ suppliers in the Lake Mälaren region. One day we visited a factory in Gnesta which had supplied huge quantities of bars of soap for washing clothes to PAIGC. Cabral talked to all the people in the factory and explained how important this particular line of supply was for PAIGC’s activities. They were all gathered together and he talked to them for half an hour. I think that it was something that the people at the factory must remember. I personally remember it as a very nice moment.
Tor Sellström: And later, of course, he became the President of Guinea-Bissau.
Stig Lövgren: Yes, that is right.
Tor Sellström: When it comes to some important Swedish companies, it could perhaps be said that SIDA actually brought them into cooperation with the liberation movements. I am thinking of Scania and Volvo, where you not only supplied vehicles, but also arranged training courses?
Stig Lövgren: Yes, when the movements became more organized and the conditions so allowed, both Scania and Volvo arranged courses in Dar es Salaam and in Luanda. Particularly in the case of SWAPO, where they even assisted in setting up a mechanical workshop in Angola.
But I am afraid that a lot of trucks were more or less regarded as consumption material—even by PAIGC—because of the extreme conditions. And, of course, they did not have the facilities to attend to the trucks. They did not last very long, but that was mostly due to heavy damage, even caused by gun-fire and landmines.
Tor Sellström: How did you deal with the problem of spare parts?
Stig Lövgren: The trucks were supplied with basic spare parts. A truck is a fantastic machine. Once you provide it with oil, it will work year after year. But, of course, if you break the axles or the wheels it is destroyed. One thing that I regret very much is that instead of supplying the liberation movements with Swedish trucks, we should have supplied them with Russian trucks. At the time, you could get almost three Russian trucks for one Swedish truck. That was really a waste of money. They should not have received so many of these very technical and sophisticated Swedish machines, but such simple trucks as possible.
Tor Sellström: Did they not insist on having Swedish trucks?
Stig Lövgren: Well, yes, but their preference for Swedish trucks was to be seen as a gesture towards Sweden.
Tor Sellström: When it comes to the ANC settlement in Morogoro, Tanzania, and the SWAPO settlement in Kwanza Sul, Angola, SIDA was involved in huge projects, covering various aspects, such as the supply of water, agriculture, bakeries, mechanical workshops etc. Did you also work with these projects?
Stig Lövgren: At that time, the assistance to the movements had become similar to SIDA’s country programmes. It was properly planned and involved the different sector divisions at SIDA. In the early years, the sections were not involved and not even very keen to become involved. As a matter of fact, in the beginning I tried to involve the sector divisions. I remember in particular the problems that MPLA had with the production of a SIDA financed textbook for their schools. The translation into Portuguese and the printing of the book was very costly, so I tried to encourage the people at SIDA’s education division to look into the question and come up with a judgement whether this was reasonable or not. But they were not really interested and did not want to be engaged too deeply as the division had not been able to carry out a prior feasibility study. I am afraid that this particular book was another complete failure as far as the MPLA support was concerned.
Tor Sellström: Looking back over the years when you were responsible for SIDA’s procurement for the liberation movements, what gave you the greatest satisfaction?
Stig Lövgren: I think that we by and large were successful in providing value for money. I am basically a military person. I am a naval officer and my speciality is logistics. When I came to SIDA in 1969, I immediately became engaged in procurement to the liberation movements and found that it was both something that I knew and was interested in. The representatives of the movements were really amazed that they could get so much out of the rather limited funds available. What has given me most satisfaction is that Swedish aid was very valuable to them.
Tor Sellström: What were the biggest disappointments?
Stig Lövgren: The greatest disappointment was the slow start in the cooperation with MPLA. I became extremely frustrated, because I felt that we did not come anywhere and they seemed not to care. Time just went on and on and nothing really happened. The specifications and the lists we received were so unrealistic. We tried to establish a close cooperation with the MPLA representatives in Stockholm and they were supposed to be in contact with their leaders. However, it did not work very well. It was very frustrating.