Angolan rebel Jonas Savimbi's family lose Call of Duty case

Image source, AFP/Youtube/Activision
Image caption,
Jonas Savimbi depicted in 1985 - and in his virtual appearance in Call of Duty

A French court has rejected a case in which the family of late Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi sued the makers of Call of Duty over his depiction in the best-selling video game.

Three of Savimbi's children accused Activision Blizzard of defamation by representing him as a "barbarian".

Magistrates said the lawsuit contained procedural flaws and that they had no jurisdiction in the case.

Savimbi founded the Unita movement, waging a civil war with Angolan forces.

Angola became a Cold War battleground, with Unita backed by the US and the apartheid government in South Africa, while Angola's ruling MPLA party was supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba.

The rebel leader was eventually killed in clashes with state forces in 2002.


The family was seeking €1m ($1.1m; £0.75m) in damages.

"We are disappointed," Savimbi's son Cheya was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

Who was Jonas Savimbi? By Justin Pearce

In the last years of the Angolan war, Jonas Savimbi became a symbol to the outside world for everything that was wrong in Angola.

Although it's difficult to separate the truth from the propaganda and the "Heart of Darkness" stereotypes that stick to many African conflicts, Savimbi's reputation is based on some confirmed incidents.

Suspected witches were burnt alive at Savimbi's headquarters in the early 1980s.

Fred Bridgland, Savimbi's previously admiring biographer, later wrote a horrifying tale of the murder of the Chingunji family who had fallen from grace with Savimbi.

Yet the Angolan civil war lasted for 27 years and both sides committed acts of brutality.

It would be wrong to pin everything on one man, who is still remembered with awe by many who lived under the rule of Unita, and admired by a generation that has grown up since the war.

Justin Pearce is a former BBC Angola correspondent, now at the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 shows him rallying his troops with phrases like "death to the MPLA".

His family had said they were outraged at the depiction.

"Seeing him kill people, cutting someone's arm off... that isn't Dad," Cheya Savimbi said.

The three children live in the Paris region and took the French branch of Activision to court in Nanterre, near the French capital.

A lawyer for Activision Blizzard, Etienne Kowalski, argued that the case was about freedom of expression.

"He was a warlord, there is no possible contestation," the lawyer said, according to AFP.

The latest Call of Duty was the world's top selling game last year, and the game has often featured versions of real-life figures.

In 2014, a bid by former Panama dictator Manuel Noriega to claim damages over his depiction in the game was dismissed by a US court.

Savimbi timeline

Image source, AFP
  • Founded Unita movement in 1966 in eastern Angola
  • Abandoned his medical studies in Portugal to join anti-colonial struggle
  • Despite Angola's independence in 1975, Unita continues to fight the government
  • Savimbi considered himself leader of Angola's struggle against communism
  • He received strong support from the US and met President Reagan at the White House in 1986
  • More than 500,000 people were killed in the four-decade conflict
  • His death in 2002 was celebrated in the capital, Luanda