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Dealing with Savimbi's Ghost: The Security and Humanitarian Challenges in Angola


Emerging slowly from decades of civil war, Angola stands at a crossroads between a spectacular recovery or further cycles of instability and crisis. The government that won the fighting must now move on a number of fronts – with international support – to win the peace.

Although there are critical longer term political and economic issues (to be considered in a subsequent report), several immediate security and humanitarian challenges must be addressed to avoid laying the foundations for a return to conflict. The late rebel leader Jonas Savimbi’s ghost, the legacy of a war that killed a million people and uprooted a third of the population, will haunt the country for years. Millions who are either internally displaced or refugees in neighbouring countries must be resettled in their areas of origin. 105,000 fighters of the former rebel organisation UNITA – each with an average of six civilian dependents – must be reintegrated into civilian life on an urgent basis. The removal of millions of mines laid over the past half-century has to be accelerated.

If the government addresses these challenges responsibly and is helped by the international community, Angola can stabilise. If it ignores or minimises them, at best banditry and organised crime will intensify insecurity in the provinces; at worst, resentments will build, intersect with remnants of potential organised and armed resistance, and form the nucleus for future instability.

Reintegrating the UNITA rank-and-file back into civilian life is first priority. There are reports of their increasing disenchantment, as government promises of support do not materialise and camp conditions remain poor. The related problems – security, economic, psychosocial, capacity and political – are enormous. How they are met will be a major determinant of whether or not, five years down the line, the country has succeeded in building peace.

The scope of population flows in Angola has few equals. Approximately two million of a total displaced population of over three million have been, are, or soon will be on the move, most seeking to go home. These massive movements ensure the continuation of at least a low-grade humanitarian emergency. Indeed, a year after the death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi and the de facto end of the war, mortality rates remain at emergency levels. The rainy season, landmines, and the regional food crisis limit access for aid agencies and mean the situation could worsen considerably over the several months before the next harvest. Already, aid officials in five different provinces have reported acute levels of malnutrition.

Landmine infestation – among the worst encountered in any post-conflict situation globally – is the biggest challenge to resettlement. Injuries have increased particularly on the Planalto, the central highlands. This is happening as the hungry season is at its height and the rains have reached their peak. Nascent commercial traffic has been inhibited by the incidents, which, if they do not decrease, and especially if it is determined that new mines are being laid, will seriously affect aid agency operations. This would both impact deliveries to current populations – which in a number of provinces are highly dependent on such deliveries – and prevent assessments for post-harvest aid.

In the context of forthcoming democratisation efforts, the government needs to recognise that it is in its strategic self-interest to become more responsive and accountable. A good start would be to redirect some of its oil money to social services and public investment in order to build wider support for its policies. State building should be understood as a conflict prevention strategy, and service delivery as a peace consolidation strategy.


To the government of Angola:

1. Demonstrate that it is assuming responsibility for the welfare of all Angolans, most urgently by visibly taking the lead in the process of resettling internally displaced persons (IDPs) and former UNITA combatants, including by:

(a) building government capacity to deliver social services and agricultural inputs in the provinces;

(b) investing transparently in infrastructure (roads and bridges) and public works programs; and

(c) developing a strengthened partnership with donors for de-mining.

2. Establish the necessary infrastructure for implementing the reintegration plans for former UNITA combatants as soon as the rains end in April, and engage UNITA, affected communities, civil society organisations, aid agencies, and donors actively in this process.

3. Revitalise the provincial-level Reintegration Commissions, which currently involve government and UNITA representatives, and expand involvement to include UN agencies, NGOs, local community representatives, and – where possible – donor government representatives.

4. Develop specific reintegration programs that include real livelihood alternatives for former UNITA officers.

5. Develop the capacity to do serious humanitarian de-mining.

6. Create a peace dividend by reallocating expenditures in favour of the social sectors and humanitarian assistance.

7. Commit to humanitarian assistance and development as basic conflict prevention and stabilisation tools.

To donor governments and UN agencies:

8. Engage the government through both quiet diplomacy and public pressure on its social welfare responsibilities, particularly regarding reintegration of former UNITA combatants and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

9. Work closely with the Angolan government, UNITA and civil society in order to help meet the country's massive requirements for rehabilitation and reconciliation initiatives.

10. Increase de-mining assistance, including through the provision of South African-made Chubby mine detection and clearance vehicles specifically suited for Angola's circumstances.


11. Work closely with the government to address the significant challenges inherent in the effort to reintegrate its former rank-and-file fighters and to develop alternative livelihood programs for its former officers.

Luanda/Brussels, 26 February 2003


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