That day in Angola: a UN official’s story

Angola Past and PresentWhen was the last time you heard a news story about Angola, Africa?


Angola is often lumped into conversations about Africa, represented in the statistics about HIV/Aids, education and literacy, and conflict. This is about to change for a group of Burnaby secondary school students.

District students will learn about Angola by examining a human rights incident and the response of the United Nations to this unreported event.

Though very rich in oil and diamonds, Angola has a very, very poor citizenry with over half of its population living below the UN established poverty line and with an average life expectancy of only 40 years. A civil war lasting intermittently for two decades, destroyed infrastructure, engrained a culture of corruption there and has thwarted economic and social development to this day.

During a brief period of peace amidst that civil war, then UN official George Somerwill worked in a Demobilization and Reintegration Camp, set-up by the UN to help soldiers make the transition from conflict to stability. What he found there was enough to shake the foundation of any peace-loving Canadian: deeply-engrained habits and attitudes of Angolan military and government officials making the safety and security of the country’s citizens uncertain and downright threatened. These days, he analyzes what happened there with a mixture of wisdom and acceptance.

Mr. Somerwill will join our students to discuss his experience and the details of one crisis that surfaced suddenly in the camp. A young man who had become inadvertently tangled up with Angolan military, facing a sure death without UN intervention. What happened and why? Burnaby students will interact with their guest speaker and learn the deeper political, economic, social and military issues of Angola, and of so many other African nations.

The “Tomorrow Your Friend Will Die” case study will be presented Thursday, November 27th from 4pm to 5:45pm in the Burnaby Central Secondary Library. Students from all Burnaby schools are welcome; registration at is recommended. At the time of registration, a hand-out for pre-reading will be sent.