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Angola's Returnees: The Future of International Recovery Operations

February 13, 2003
Council on Foreign Relations

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[Note: A transcript of this meeting is unavailable. The discussion is summarized below.]

What we know:

The United Nations Mission in Angola (UNMA), which began its work on August 15, 2002, was established by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1433, following the April 4, 2002 memorandum of understanding for the cessation of hostilities between UNITA and the Angolan government. UNMA’s mandate expired on February 15, 2003, and will not be renewed. However, the end of the mandate does not signify the end of the residual tasks foreseen in Resolution 1433 that would contribute to a sustainable peace in Angola, nor the end of related UN activities.

As stated in Resolution 1433, the United Nations Resident Coordinator (the United Nations Development Programme representative) will now resume the coordination of UN activities after UNMA’s mandate ends. In addition, he will oversee five categories of remaining tasks with the help of a technical unit: (1) continued humanitarian assistance, (2) demining, (3) the social and economic reintegration and resettlement of ex-combatants and their families, of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), (4) protection and promotion of human rights and the rule of law, and (5) preparation for national elections.

Daunting humanitarian tasks remain in Angola. Although Angola is rich in natural resources, it still requires emergency assistance. The Angolan government’s 2003 budget of $6 billion will not suffice to cover fully the costs of the humanitarian and reconstruction efforts needed for the consolidation of peace and long-term stability.

What we don’t know:

The resettlement of refugees and internal exiles (internally displaced persons or IDPs) is a long-term issue requiring continued international assistance. It is estimated that 1.2 million ex-combatants, refugees, and IDPs will seek to re-establish themselves just over the next six months. Ultimately, some five million persons could be directly affected. Whether a prospective donor conference will commit the necessary funds to address the needs of this population will be a key determinant of Angola’s future.

The social and economic reintegration of ex-combatants will be crucial for the future security of Angola. In 2001, the number of ex-combatants was estimated at 65,000; however, on April 4, 2002, the estimate was increased to 85,000. Today, the count stands at 105,000 ex-combatants, accompanied by 200,000 family members. In December 2002, 36 ex-UNITA camps existed. Since then, three camps have closed. The demobilization of ex-combatants is being conducted by the government of Angola, in partnership with international donors like the World Bank, which has created a multi-donor fund for a demobilization and reintegration. Whether the government will have sufficient capacity to undertake this responsibility is unknown, and the government is seeking international assistance to undertake this work.

Another potentially destabilizing issue is the existence of an armed civilian population. During twenty-seven years of civil war, civilians procured arms to defend themselves. It is estimated that today at least one-third of the civilian population possesses weapons. Disarmament of the population will be a crucial indicator of a stable future.

Property laws were introduced in Angola by the Portuguese during the colonial period. The current government must review and revise these laws in accordance with the current needs of the population in order to sustain return and promote economic development.

The United Nations, when requested, will continue to offer technical assistance to the Angolan government in preparation for the next elections. This crucial watershed event will most likely take place sometime during 2005.

Concerns remain about the Angolan government’s decision to grant amnesty to all war criminals, at the time of the signing of the April 2002 peace treaty, for fear that the failure to bring offenders to justice may contribute to a renewal of conflict.

Issues of equity will also be important. By way of illustration, government benefits such as five months salary, survival kits ranging from $200-$400, and education, are given exclusively to male ex-combatants. As a result, dependant populations of women and children have become increasingly vulnerable. However, the establishment of micro-lending institutions for women could help to create more autonomy for the dependant family members. Also, the high number of unemployed young men could contribute to banditry.

Ultimately, the key question is how much assistance the Angolan government will receive from international donors in the future. Much will depend on the government’s ability to demonstrate fiscal transparency and to take effective steps in combating corruption. Consultations are envisioned to prepare the ground for a donor conference at a date yet to be determined, an event of potentially enormous import. The Angolan government has requested continued support from the international community in order to maintain a balanced budget and to increase the proportion spent on creating employment and distributing social welfare services.

What are the next steps; what should be done and by whom?

The experience of UNMA has proven the importance of the linkage between the process of peace making and development. Cooperation and coordination between UN agencies, the Angolan government, and the international community will be essential for a successful transition from relief activities to pursuing longer-term development objectives. A key factor will be the good will by all the parties. Also, certain sectors will need strengthened coordination. The Angolan government has expressed a desire for UN help, to be accomplished through a new partnership, in order to accomplish the daunting tasks outlined above.

Indeed, the main burden of relief and reconstruction efforts must be carried out by the Angolan government, which wants to take on this responsibility. The UN system, international financial institutions, European Union, foreign governments, corporations, and NGOs should continue to encourage the efforts of the Angolan government, while simultaneously urging reforms. Specifically, fiscal transparency should be encouraged, along with openness in the political process. The capacity of the Angolan government must be strengthened, including on such matters as human rights enforcement, if it is to discharge its responsibilities successfully. Civil society actors and NGOs can make important contributions to peace and justice.

This is an important moment of time in relation to Angola’s recovery. If humanitarian needs are not addressed, insecurity could result. Considerable differences in security already exist between Luanda, the capital, and the rest of the country. Several provinces are in desperate need. Increased coordination and communication between the capital and the provinces will be needed to ensure the distribution of aid as well as progress in reconstruction efforts.

This CFR meeting process has sought to launch a dialogue calculated to strengthen international recovery efforts in Angola. The dialogue will continue at the Council and elsewhere as the new partnership between the UN and the government of Angola is negotiated in this critical recovery phase. How international actors configure their efforts to support rehabilitation will be critical. And the stakes are high – nothing less then the future of Angola and the well being of its people.