Oxfam: Diary from Angola -The challenge of peace

Originally published
The challenge of peace: what future for demobilizing UNITA fighters in Angola?
Many former UNITA fighters have only known life as a mobile guerilla fighter in the bush. Many did not finish their schooling, and have no civilian work experience or training

The killing, in a government ambush, of the leader of UNITA, Jonas Savimbi, on 22 February 02 precipitated the end of the civil war in Angola.

One year on, the majority of former UNITA fighters and their families are concentrated in specially-created demobilization camps, scattered across the country. Some 350,000 people are currently resident in these camps, or Reception Areas.

Oxfam is working in several such areas to provide clean water and health education.

Exfinge Reception Area, in Huambo Province, contains around 9,400 people. An additional 2000 people who had recently left the camp to go home have decided to return, because they did not receive their 'demobilisation kits' - an essential collection of tools, blankets, clothing, and utensils.

Demobilisation kits were promised by the government to every demobilizing UNITA but only a few have been distributed to date.

Other returning ex-UNITA soldiers have reportedly been rejected by their former communities: for civilians, fighters from both sides of the conflict were the cause of widespread fear, terror, and hardship during the war.

Talking to some of the ex-UNITA soldiers and their families, it is clear that their demobilization and reintegration into civil life represents a major challenge for Angola. This challenge will require more than the distribution of kits and demobilization papers.

Many former UNITA fighters are young, and have known only life as a mobile guerilla fighter in the remote Angolan bush. Many of them did not finish their schooling, and have no civilian work experience or training. And it's not just a question of how to make a living: the UNITA soldiers are used to living as part of a structured institution, trained to respond to orders; civilian life represents a new way of thinking, and of interacting with others.

'I have been a soldier for UNITA for 19 years,' explains Celestio Artur, 'I joined up when I was 20... I think it will be very difficult to reunite Angola, but I believe it will be possible - because now we have realized that the war could not take us anywhere... Thinking of the new life ahead gives me many different emotions. I will miss my friends here, and I don't know what will happen to me when I leave... If I can, I would like to learn about computers.'

Domingos Bastos sums up the uncertainty of his future and that of his colleagues: 'The future worries me, because peace is not yet effective here in Angola. The government made so many promises at the beginning - promises to give practical support, like the kits, and to give vocational training to the demobilizing soldiers. So many people here have had no education... How will they find work, with no training? Many of us are worried. How will we live and feed ourselves, when we leave here?'