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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .


Death of Dignity
Victoria Brittain

(London: Pluto Press, 1998)
108pp. Index. Bibl. Hb. O-7453-1252-7. Pb.: 9.99; ISBN 0-7453-1247-0.



Brittain is well known for her sustained coverage of Angola in the pages of The Guardian and elsewhere, but here puts together her own narrative of that country's history since independence. She uses a chronological structure to set out her account pieced together through years of visiting the country and talking with it's people. With seven chapters on the years 1975-6. An Epilogue, which was written in 1997, considers the implications of Kabila's capture of power in Zaire, reflecting the then common optimism about the future for Africa run by a new generation of leaders.

That there is a need for such an account is a reflection of a number of features of Angola's history: it's relative obscurity; its complexity; but also the highly ideological concerns which lie behind most of the public accounts of the various periods. As one of the main sites of the Cold War, and being intensely caught up with South Africa's own political history, accounts of the war along the way were often intended to support one or other side. Brittain herself has been one of those who was at pains to assemble evidence which showed up the deceit of those supporting the cause of UNITA, South Africa and the USA. Such concerns are also apparent in the first half of this account, but in the second part Brittain is critical not only of the ignorance and lack of courage of the international community but also of the Angolan government supporters.

The author is not unusual in not considering that ethnicity was a feature in this history of conflict. The only times ethnicity is mentioned here is when reviewing the urban terrors of 1992-4, in which she describes how Ovimbundu people were in hiding from MPLA supporters who might assume they were UNITA supporters (p.65), and the distress of some Ovimbundu people on hearing that the Savimbi was claiming to be acting in their interest, when they considered themselves to be his victims (p.77). Debates about the significance of the MPLA leadership are also alluded to but not analysed in any detail. As the war continues long after the end of the Cold War and is once again tied to events in what now is the Democratic Republic of Congo, the issue of ethnicity is one which surely receive more attention in the future.


Donna Pankhurst, University of Bradford



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