After two failed peace processes in the 1990s, Angola has been at open war again for more than a year. Although the humanitarian disaster there is among the worst in the world, the conflict receives little international attention.
The United States bears a large share of the historical responsibility for the war and for turning a blind eye while peace accords collapsed. Developments within the last few months provide significant new opportunities for peace, giving Washington a chance to make amends. But peace is likely to be elusive again unless the international community learns from earlier mistakes and re-engages strongly with a multi-track effort to support peace.
During the Cold War the U.S. joined with apartheid South Africa in aiding Jonas Savimbi's UNITA movement. When UNITA lost the internationally supervised elections in 1992, Savimbi decided to return to war. This was possible because the 1991 peace plan provision calling for an integrated national army had not been implemented, and because the international community failed to respond. The same scenario repeated itself after a 1994 agreement, despite an expanded UN presence costing $1.5 billion.
UNITA's continued war was made possible by income from diamonds, in violation of international sanctions that were not enforced. The climate for peace -- and for reconstruction -- was also undermined by the lack of accountability of the Angolan government and by the failure of either the international community or the government to engage with Angolan civil society.
There are new prospects for addressing all these issues this year. The first serious international efforts to enforce the sanctions against UNITA have helped weaken Savimbi's military capacity. In their most recent offensive, Angolan government forces have taken key UNITA strongholds. If UNITA's capacity to make war remains sufficiently weak, this may help loosen Savimbi's tight control over the organization and allow the Lusaka peace process to resume.
Another hopeful sign is that Angolan civil society has taken new initiatives to call for a peace process that engages the people and not just the warring parties. In addition, there is new pressure on the government to account for its use of oil revenue -- the prerequisite for turning the country's riches away from war to reconstruction.
Achieving peace in Angola this year will take persistent effort on several tracks that are not easy to balance, and results are unlikely to come quickly. Neglecting one track in favor of the others will increase the chances of another failure.
The first indispensable element is energetic enforcement of sanctions against UNITA, so that UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi will not have the capacity to block implementation of peace accords as he did in 1991-1992 and 1994-1998. For UNITA to reengage in the peace process productively, Savimbi must be sidelined. Absent that condition, launching a new round of negotiations would be an illusion, simply providing cover for refueling the war. So sanctions and other pressures must continue and be intensified.
Yet the idea of peace through a full military victory over UNITA is also illusory. A renewed process to ensure implementation of the 1994 Lusaka agreement will be an essential component of the medium-term peace scenario. Its credibility and success will depend on engaging not only the government and diverse elements within UNITA, but also newly outspoken Angolan civil society.
This second prerequisite was also absent during earlier peace processes, as civil society was ignored both by the antagonists and the international community. New independent initiatives calling for peace express the profound war weariness of Angolan society. They have the potential to foster a "culture of peace" that is indispensable for any settlement to become more than a paper reality. The voices involved in these initiatives are diverse, and their statements may at times underestimate the need for continued pressure against Savimbi's UNITA. But the tendency of the Angolan government to view these expressions as hidden support for UNITA and to respond with repression is sure to backfire.
The international community has come to accept that it was primarily Savimbi's intransigence and deception that repeatedly dragged Angola back to war. One of the few ways in which Savimbi's sagging credibility might revive would be for the Angolan government to reinforce the perception that it is as little responsive to the popular demand for peace as is Savimbi. Unless military advances against Savimbi are matched by new internal openness, the prospects for engaging either the international community or Angolan civil society in necessary support for the next stage in peace-building will be very limited. Revived war will simply await the next downturn in the price of oil -- which provides the government's revenue -- or the regrouping of the smuggling networks through which UNITA exchanges diamonds for arms.
Dismissing critical journalists and other diverse voices emerging within Angolan society as surrogates for UNITA simply will not work. This does not mean that the international community should accept at face value every charge against the goverment coming from these sources. But it is also true that there will be no climate for peace unless the government accepts that the demand for openness is justified and that the response called for is dialogue rather than well-worn rhetoric.
The same applies to the issues raised by the new report by the British non-governmental organization Global Witness, which calls for transparency on the use of oil revenues by the Angolan government. Last year, the Global Witness report on the international diamond trade and UNITA's arms purchases helped galvanize international attention to the need to enforce sanctions against UNITA. The new report calls attention to the fact that there are no publicly available records of the government's oil account, which provides up to 90% of government revenue. It charges that revenues not only go disproportionately to fuel the war rather than to grossly neglected civilian needs, but also to bolster the life style of a highly privileged elite.
While Global Witness charges against particular individuals are suggestive rather than conclusive, few familiar with Angola would challenge the general contention that little of Angola's oil wealth -- estimated to produce as much as $18 billion in new investment over the next four years -- goes to investment in government services seen by Angola's people. In Angola, as in Nigeria -- the other most prominent African case -- oil wealth has had a corrupting influence. Transparency is an essential component of restoring public confidence and redirecting resources. To insist that the Angolan government and the oil companies respond to this demand is not to support UNITA, but simply to assert a fundamental condition for a stable peace.
But if changes are required for the Angolan government to establish its credibility, the international community must also demonstrate in practice that such demands are not a pretext for weakening the pressure against Savimbi. Pressure for reform in Luanda will only be credible if it is matched by intensified implementation of sanctions against UNITA.
Pursuing multiple tracks for peace will no doubt prove difficult. But, compared to the alternatives of cynical withdrawal or a repeat of the policy of wishful thinking which pervaded previous efforts, such a course stands a real chance of turning the tide towards peace in Angola. This would be a major contribution to expanding the zone of peace on the African continent. And it could give new energy to efforts to address the series of major wars that block progress across a central part of the continent, from Angola through Congo (Kinshasa), Sudan, and the Horn of Africa.
For more information on the web:
General background and news:
Angola Peace Monitor, available on the Africa Policy Web Site (http://www.africapolicy.org); also October 1999 report from U.S. Institute of Peace on "Angola's Deadly War" (http://www.usip.org/oc/sr/sr991012/sr991012nb.html).
Human Rights Watch Report (1999) on the Peace Process in Angola (http://www.hrw.org)
Global Witness reports on the roles in Angola of the diamond trade (1998) and the oil and banking industries (1999) (http://www.oneworld.org/globalwitness)
Speech by British Minister of State Peter Hain to the Action for Southern Africa Conference, 20 November 1999 [Note: the British government has recently taken a very active role in international action on Angola; this speech stresses the same points made in the APIC statement above.] http://www.fco.gov.uk
Background publications available from
(order form at http://www.africapolicy.org/apicordr.htm)
Angola: Background Paper (Country Profile 1995). Includes capsule history, map, fast facts, and poem. ($1.00 each for 1-19, $.80 each for 20 or more.) Order from APIC.
A Family of the Musseque: Survival and Development in Postwar Angola (book 1996). Photos and text. Describes a day in the life of a family in a musseque (shantytown) in Luanda. Their story helps to illustrate five short essays on the economy, gender, development, war, democracy and civil society. This unique resource is the cooperative effort of six Angolans (A. Gamito, J. Ramiro, J. Da Silva, V. Vunge, V. Paulo, and P. Estevao) and Dutch photographer and writer Bob van der Winden. ($14). Order from APIC.
Key Background Books on Angola
Victoria Brittain, Death of Dignity: Angola's Civil War. London: Pluto Press and Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1998. In U.S. order on-line from Africa World World (http://www.africanworld.com).
Human Rights Watch, Angola Unravels: The Rise and Fall of the Lusaka Peace Process. New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999. Order on-line from Human Rights Watch (http://www.hrw.org).
Karl Maier, Angola: Promises and Lies. London: Serif, 1996. Available from amazon.com through APIC's Africa Web Bookshop (http://www.africapolicy.org/books).
William Minter, Apartheid's Contras: An Inquiry into the Roots of War in Angola and Mozambique. London: Zed Books, 1994. Available from amazon.com through APIC's Africa Web Bookshop (http://www.africapolicy.org/books).
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