JOHANNESBURG, 20 January (IRIN) - With peace seemingly entrenched after nearly three decades of civil war, Angolan society now strives for normalcy. But, warn observers, the end of the war is merely the beginning of a long, hard road to development.
For aid agencies, NGO's and the government, 2003 will be a very important year. Many see it as the transitional year - when the focus slowly shifts from dealing with a large-scale humanitarian crisis to more developmental objectives. The United Nations has already expressed its wish that the 2003 Consolidated Appeal for Angola would be the last.
UN Mission in Angola (UNMA) head Eric de Mul, the humanitarian coordinator, told IRIN that he feared donor fatigue may hamper efforts to rebuild the country. But the government has pushed ahead with plans for a donor conference to be held in either March or April this year.
John Rocha, of development NGO Angola 2000, advocates drawing up a national plan for reconstruction and development and nation-building, "a kind of RDP plan" he said in reference to South Africa's post-apartheid programme.
"Development is harder than making war," Rocha said. "You need the right policies, structures and people," and Angola was critically short on all of these, it especially lacked human capital. "Stopping the war was one challenge, but there's an even harder task that lies ahead. Expectations are high among the Angolan people, they are expecting delivery and an improvement in their standard of living. The political parties, the ruling MPLA and UNITA, will have to equip themselves to give a constructive response to those challenges," he added.
Not only political parties would have to ready themselves to meet new challenges, but UN agencies as well.
"We are looking at this year, 2003, as a kind of a transition year. So that by the beginning of 2004, we could say okay now we have a situation of normalcy - meaning in principle everybody in Angola is in his or her place, everybody's out of camps, gathering areas ... and have basically begun a hopefully normal and productive life. That's what we call normalcy," De Mul explained.
"The first months of this year we still see a strong emphasis on the humanitarian issues, mainly because the number of people that need some type of assistance remains high as long as the rainy season is with us. Let's say the rains stop sometime in March, from that point onwards I think we will see an acceleration of people returning to places of origin or resettlement," he added.
Three main groups are in need of return to areas of origin or resettlement: demobilised former rebel UNITA soldiers and their families; refugees from across Angola's borders; and internally displaced persons (IDPs).
"With the demobilised soldiers, since that is a well defined, organised and controlled group, that process [of return and resettlement], we expect would be complete by the middle of the year. People will have gone back to places of origin and their needs for humanitarian support would have diminished considerably," De Mul said.
With regard to IDPs, he said: "The process of return will also accelerate from March/April but it could take a little longer, because it's a larger group and because there are differences. Some [IDPs] live closer to their places of origin than others. Those who are more recently displaced and are closer to areas of origin will be first to return. Those who have been longer displaced and over greater distances will take longer [to return]."
The organised return of refugees would also take place a little later in the year. "There are two important issues there: one, the agency responsible for it UNHCR [UN High Commission For Refugees] is currently building up its presence in areas where most of the return will take place, that will take a little time; secondly, areas where people will return need to be attended to and conditions need to be improved in order to make it more attractive for people to move in," De Mul noted.
The post return and resettlement period would necessitate a shift in focus, he added.
"The UN agencies and the NGO community will have to adjust. The UN will have to adjust the coordinating network, the OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] system, which has a very strong central point and has provincial offices. That will gradually be transformed into a coordination system and network that deals more with development issues than humanitarian issues.
"So, we will keep in place a system that has been very helpful in the [humanitarian] emergency situation and use it to meet the new demands. It will also be a bit challenging to a number of NGOs who will have to adjust from purely humanitarian operations to development operations," De Mul said.
Accompanying the shift in focus would be "a gradual decline of attention to and funding for activities relating to humanitarian emergency operations, and gradual increase in activities and projects in the development field".
"The idea is that 2003 will be the last appeal for Angola. For two reasons: psychological, to send a message that since the war is over and since there are now enhanced possibilities for economic and social development that we should work hard to bring the emergency humanitarian situation to an end. [But] it's always difficult to find the exact point when that goal will be reached, we hope it will be sometime this year; secondly, since people will be back in their places of origin and resettlement, they will need a different type of assistance, not urgent humanitarian aid," he added.
Recent news reports said the European Commission believed "pressure must be kept up" on the Angolan government to "insist that it assumes direct responsibility for its most vulnerable citizens". The comments on Angola were made in a letter sent by Commissioner Poul Nielson, responsible for aid and development, to the European Parliament.
Nielson's letter was a reply to a European parliamentarian, who had asked what measures were being taken to minimise the suffering of about four million starvation-threatened people.
Such comments, De Mul noted, were indicative of international thinking regarding the responsibility the government had in providing services and care for its citizens.
Late last year the advocacy group Global Witness and the International Monetary Fund both alleged that nearly US $1 billion had gone missing from state coffers every year for the past five years. The figure represented about one-third of state income.
World Bank figures put the country's gross domestic product (GDP) at close to US $9 billion, yet Angola ranks 161 out of 173 countries on the Human Development Index of 2002. Prompting a Refugees International report titled 'Poor people in a rich government's country' to ask the question: "Does the international community care more about the Angolan people than does the government of Angola?"
There has been increasing pressure on the government to disclose revenue from oil production in a bid to limit corruption and ensure more funds go to the rehabilitation and development of a shattered country.
Rocha said: "I think the government needs to be pressured, it needs to start delivering and looking after the majority of people. Angola has immense problems, roads need to be repaired, housing, schools, education and training and human resource development are critical. I am against the notion that we can develop Angola in an ad hoc manner, without any comprehensive and sustainable plan.
"We need to sit down, government, political parties, civil society and the international community and understand the extent of the damage inflicted on Angola, the psychological and economic damage. Then we need to discuss what capacity and resources are required to rebuild the country. Then we can know what Angolans can contribute, what the international community can contribute and what the approach should be in the short, medium and long term."
De Mul senses a new urgency within the government. "I think everyone is aware, including government, that the responsibility [for the welfare of the Angolan people] is first and foremost with the authorities themselves, the government," he said.
"I have no doubt the government will also gear up its efforts and energy to address more of the socio-economic issues, the medium and longer-term issues, to ensure there's going to be better service delivery to people, particularly also in the provinces and to see to better conditions for economic recovery. Also, that the necessary rehabilitation and reconstruction and development of basic infrastructure is done. [For example] the priority of de-mining is important, these issues are being addressed by government," De Mul added.
France recently announced a US $3 million grant for de-mining and re-integration of demobilised soldiers.
De Mul believes "this year is going to be somewhat difficult to get ... significant amounts of money going for the development effort, as the emphasis is still going to be on the humanitarian emergency, with a slant towards assisting displaced and returnees in getting to areas of origin. I would guess [there would be] somewhat modest contributions from the international community towards the development effort."
However, he expected that "by 2004 that would probably change".
There was little doubt about the enormity of the challenge ahead, Rocha said. "Angola is a long way from normal, it may not even be normal in 20 years," he concluded.
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