Angola: Year-ender 2002 - Political challenges for the future

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
JOHANNESBURG, 22 January (IRIN) - Commentators widely agreed that the removal of UNITA strongman Jonas Savimbi from the political stage provided the oil-rich country with a window of opportunity for lasting peace. But the death of Savimbi on 22 February 2002 and the truce that immediatedly followed may not be enough to ensure sustained peace, analysts warn.

Within five months of Savimbi's exit from Angolan politics, a ceasefire between the ruling MPLA and UNITA was signed and the process of quartering UNITA soldiers and their families had officially been concluded.

But while the 4 April peace agreement is expected to hold mainly because of UNITA's inability to wage war, a number of significant challenges now confront the country, some of which, if not addressed in the short-term could threaten continued political stability.

The ceasefire has lifted a curtain that had hidden the full impact of the war on the civilian population in the countryside. Malnutrition among people emerging from the conflict zones "is among the worst seen in Africa in the past decade", Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said.

The sheer numbers and desperate physical condition of the ex-rebels and their families caught the authorities and the humanitarian community off guard. The problem was made worse by widespread food insecurity prompting fears that without adequate provisions ex-soldiers could drift into banditry or desert the camps altogether, echoing a repeat of the failed demobilisation attempts in the 1990s.

In a report to the Security Council in December UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan underscored concerns about the living conditions in 33 reception centres holding 425,000 ex-combatants and their family members, a decrease of about 39,000 since early November.

Concerns persist that "demobilised ex-combatants, without means of support, may resort to banditry and theft," the secretary-general cautioned, adding that the government's ill-financed resettlement effort has been "a source of tension".

News of the proposed closure of the camps in September raised concerns among aid workers who told IRIN that agencies were not yet ready to move the former rebels and their families to places of origin or resettlement.

The means and ability of UNITA soldiers and family members to sustain themselves remains a critical element of stability in the short term, analysts said.

A recent report by the South Africa Institute for International Affairs (SAIIA) titled, "Angola: Prospects for Peace and Prosperity" warns that although the quartering camps were originally meant to be temporary structures, there are fears that they may end up becoming "UNITA enclaves", and thus perpetuate the political polarisation in the country.

In accordance with the memoradum of understanding (MOU), signed by both parties in April, 5,000 members of the UNITA rebel movement were incorporated into the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA). As part of the peace agreement, the government launched its two year reintegration plan. UNITA called for further elaboration of the plan saying that although it was "workable" details of its implementation remained vague.

"We are analysing this plan now and although we are pleased with the political message behind it we regret that we were not part of its drawing up. We do not want to obstruct the process at this stage, for the sake of national reconciliation, but we would like the government to make it clear how the plan is going to work technically," UNITA political committee member Horacio Jumjuvili told IRIN. More details:

More than 70,000 demobilised soldiers are expected to benefit from the initiative, estimated to cost about US $55 million, 50 percent of which would be funded by the government.

The militarisation of civilians in Angola is another cause for concern. Hardly any figures exist regarding the exact number of weapons in civilian possession.

"We are starting to see positive developments [regarding peace] but at the same time we are witnessing a worrying rise in crime," a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, Jaoa Porto, told IRIN.

But while the government has been commended on its political commitment to the resettlement of former UNITA soldiers, analysts point out that a more significant challenge lies ahead. Peace, ironically has given rise to a more complex range of needs than existed before.

Four million Angolan's - one-third of the population - have been displaced by the conflict. With the humanitarian operation already stretched to the limit, donors and NGOs have called on the government to play a greater role in the reconstruction efforts.

In June MSF slammed the government over its apparent delayed response to the crisis, and accused the authorities of chronic neglect of its own people. Observers say in the new context of political competition the ruling MPLA must reach out to the civilian population. Failure to do so could cost them dearly at the polls.

The UN has reported that less than 40 percent of the population has access to safe water and life expectancy is only 45 years. Less than half of the population is undernourished. Some 750,000 children have lost one or both parents, only one-third of infants get their required vaccinations and a half of all Angolan children do not attend school.

"Internally, for 46 years, the MPLA fought to gain or maintain power. It never in the past had to rely on popular support for its legitimacy, given the war-induced state of emergency and self-financing through oil and diamonds," John Prendergast co-director of the Africa Programme at the International Crisis Group (ICG) told IRIN.

He added that in the context of the transition to democracy, it would become increasingly important for the government to expand the existing support base.

"To provide for basic human needs is suddenly in the strategic self-interest of the government. It also has a conflict prevention component, as provision of resources for resettling UNITA ex-combatants and IDPs [internally displaced persons] will be perhaps the single most important steps the government can take to consolidate the peace," Prendergast added.

Crucial to sustainable peace is the involvement of civil society in peace process, analysts noted. While the emergence of NGOs is a relatively recent occurrence in the country, an opportunity now exists for full participation in the debate about the future institutions that will shape the Angolan state. SAIIA, however, notes that it is imperative that civil society representatives extend their activities beyond the borders of the capital Luanda.

"They [civil society] still suffer from a human capital deficit, low salaries, and better paying alternatives in the oil sector and outside the country. They were unified around a peace advocacy agenda, and some fragmentation has occurred in the aftermath of the war. Nevertheless, while the influence of these organisations should not be overstated, their impact is likely to increase further over the next 24 months, especially as the country prepares for elections," Prendergast said.

Civil rights activist and Open Society country representative Rafael Marques told IRIN: "The role of civil society in sustaining peace is more fundamental than ever before. In the lead up to the elections it is civil society who will assess if there has been a democratisation of the state."

Asked if a coalition of civil society could pose a credible challenge to the government and UNITA in upcoming elections Marques said:" A lot depends on how the government advances the agenda of political change. If there has been a real transformation of state institutions and true democratisation we might see an amalgam of civil society forces challenge the government in the election. If, however, nothing changes, it would be better for civil society to remain on the outside to exert pressure on the government."

The prospect of elections is expected to dominate dialogue in 2003. While the government wishes to move ahead with the elections to consolidate its political hegemony, UNITA has said that a realistic date for presidential and legislative is 2006. The MPLA is currently the only party with organisational capacity to fully participate in elections. After decades of war, UNITA has said that it needs time to regroup and establish itself as a national party.

There is consensus that there should be freedom of movement throughout the country prior to elections. Also crucial is a drawing up of a new constitution and the preparation of an electoral register.

In 2003 the government is likely to come under increasing pressure to resolve the issue of the Cabinda enclave.

While the government has made peace with UNITA in the rest of Angola, in the oil-rich province of Cabinda it faces a different adversary - the various factions of the Front of the Liberation of the Cabinda enclave (FLEC). Recent reports alleged an ongoing offensive by the armed forces and widespread rights abuses.

"Cabinda, still plagued by destructive civil conflict, will require a sustained negotiations process focused on a negotiated settlement. Past efforts at negotiating cease-fires have been unsuccessful," Prendergast said.

President dos Santos has indicated his willingness to hold "broad consultations" on Cabinda's status, but the government has indicated that it cannot negotiate until Cabinda puts forward a single interlocutor, rather than FLEC's multiple factions.

In the meantime human rights monitoring and advocacy should be a central international community priority, Prendergast said.


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