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Building the Capacity to Re-Integrate Angolan Returnees

January 9, 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 previous roundtable discussion on the repatriation of Angolan refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) (November 19, 2002) covered much of what is known about the economic, social and political context relating to human displacement in and from Angola, and the prospects for repatriation.

One of the legacies of the 27-year civil war in Angola is the high number of internal exiles and refugees that exist. It is estimated that there are 4.2 million internal exiles (IDPs) and over 450,000 refugees outside of the country. Out of this population, around 1 million internal exiles have already returned to their places of origin. There has also been a spontaneous return to Angola of approximately 20 percent of externally displaced refugees.

The United Nations Mission in Angola (UNMA), established August 2002 by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1433, is scheduled to end on February 15, 2003. The peace process has thus far been promising. It is, however, still very fragile and requires continued commitment by the Angolan government and international community (other governments, international organizations, NGOs, business, etc.). Moreover, international donor resources are increasingly scarce, and coordinated, efforts by international organizations and donors will be crucial.

What we don’t know:

There are many problems confronting returnees for which answers remain to be found. These include the fact that Angola is one of the most landmined countries in the world. Also, the demobilization of former combatants, which will be funded by the World Bank over the next three years, will be a critical component of a sustainable peace.

The humanitarian situation remains problematic. The nutritional status of Angola has stabilized over the last nine months, but is still fragile. There is weak public health infrastructure in rural provinces. There are 18 provinces in Angola, but only 16 UN human rights officers have been deployed to monitor the protection of IDP returnees. The Angolan government recently promulgated a code of conduct for the estimated 100 NGOs currently working in Angola, but consultation with NGOs was limited, and some NGOs asserted that the code could inhibit their operations.

A variety of challenges remain to be resolved in order to integrate successfully Angola’s returnees. Experience from the past decade, including from operations in Cambodia and Mozambique, has shown that thorough knowledge of the conditions of regions for returnees can lead to an enhanced ability to build local capacities to provide the services necessary to assist returnees, ranging from providing seeds and tools in a timely fashion to establishing adequate health posts and building shelters. At the outset, for planning purposes, realistic numbers of returnees are needed. Extensive planning will be needed to deal with the re-establishment of refugees and IDPs. Attention to the issue of equitable treatment between returnees and those who stayed during the war will be important. People in receiving communities should feel that they have a stake in supporting returnees. Also, local authorities should become involved in the repatriation process as soon as possible. Strong information campaigns will be needed to educate and inform affected populations in relation to issues such as HIV/AIDS prevention.

Post-conflict rehabilitation experiences over the past decade show that development must be linked to strengthening local administration and indigenous NGOs in order to promote political stability. Municipal-level development strategies will be particularly crucial. Angolans desire the re-establishment of government structures with open and inclusive local administrations, as well as title to land, which is crucial to economic survival. The efforts of NGOs must be linked with capable local authorities; reinforcing local government should help to secure the protection of returnees.

The Angolan government has committed $73 million to a Plan of Action, which will be but a small fraction of the capital necessary to rebuild society and consolidate the peace. In 2002, 22 percent of the national budget was spent on social services and development, representing a significant increase from previous years. This figure should continue to rise in the coming years as the need for military spending decreases. Fiscal transparency by the government is a key issue for international donors to the recovery effort. Without an assurance of accountability, funding will be limited. As a first step to fiscal reform, the Angolan government has established a website which lists resource allocations (www.minfin.gv.ao). Whether this reform effort continues will be a key determinant of international involvement in rehabilitation.

A UN recovery strategy will be needed after UNMA ends its work on February 15, 2003, leaving the UN country team to address a wide variety of transitional issues ranging from human rights to land reform and elections. Attention to human rights could help build confidence among returning refugees and internal exiles. The issue of child soldiers will have to be dealt with; psychological trauma could come back and haunt the country’s development in the future.

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

There is a need for strengthened cooperation, coordination, and genuine partnership between state and non-state actors in the future relief and development work in Angola. The consolidation of peace in Angola will require the continued support of the international organizations.

Internationally assisted recovery operations have occurred in many places around the world, but the application of these experiences in Angola has been limited. An effort will be made in this CFR meeting series to identify expertise for the use of stakeholders on such crucial issues as developing a sound strategy to strengthen local administrative and political structures; promoting coordination in recovery operations between national and local government structures, international agencies, NGOs, and donors; and addressing emerging spoilers such as preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS infection, as well as promoting justice, the rule of law, national reconciliation, and remedying problems in human security. The quality of peace in Angola will be affected deeply by how these issues are addressed, including the context of future international recovery operations. This international institutional question is the subject for the last in the series of CFR meetings on Angola.

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