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Angola: From War to Social Justice?

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Oct 21, 2004 (041021)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Negative peace (cessation of hostilities) is far preferable to no peace at all but it ... leaves deficits and injustices in the social, political and economic structures, institutions and cultures largely unresolved. It fails to promote political negotiation and democratic processes." - Conciliation Resources briefing paper

More than two years after the formal end to war in Angola, both political democratization and economic reconstruction are still stalled. A new Conciliation Resources study includes a series of articles analyzing the recent past and the legacy left by an incomplete peace process. It is available on the web at, in both English and Portuguese.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin features a summary briefing paper released with the Conciliation Resources report. It also includes a recent article from the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), noting that new income from recent increases in oil prices is apparently going to pay off foreign loans rather than to address urgent domestic needs.

For another recent report, focused on issues of freedom of expression, see the July publication by Human Rights Watch at

For earlier issues of AfricaFocus Bulletin on Angola, as well as other links, see

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International Policy Briefing Paper

From military peace to social justice? The Angolan peace process

Conciliation Resources, 173 Upper street, London N1 1RG, UK; Tel +44 (0)20 7 359 7728, Fax +44 (0)20 7359 4081

The Luena Memorandum of April 2002 brought a formal end to Angola's long-running civil war between the government of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) insurgency. Although violent conflict still continues in the enclave of Cabinda, the majority of Angolans now face the enormous task of rebuilding their country and shaping a common future.

This policy paper offers some insights on Angola's recent past and current challenges from a conflict transformation perspective. It assesses the implications of Angola's history of peacemaking efforts and approaches to post-conflict reconstruction for the prospects of a peaceful, prosperous and equitable society.

The paper summarizes and builds on Conciliation Resources' Accord publication: From military peace to social justice? The Angolan peace process. The publication was authored by Angolans and non-Angolans and is available from Conciliation Resources (CR) in English and Portuguese ( CR is a leading NGO with ten years experience in applied international conflict transformation work.

Lessons Learned

The limitations of the 'one bullet solution'

The killing of UNITA's leader Savimbi by Angolan government forces was decisive in ending Angola's conflict. However the 'one bullet solution' is not a desirable approach to concluding long-running civil wars. Negative peace (cessation of hostilities) is far preferable to no peace at all but it has huge opportunity costs for the country's future. On its own, a military solution reinforces the victor's power and creates scant incentive to address the root causes of conflict. It leaves deficits and injustices in the social, political and economic structures, institutions and cultures largely unresolved. It fails to promote political negotiation and democratic processes as generally accepted norms for running the state and society. Strategies to resolve armed conflict and build sustainable peace in places like northern Uganda and Liberia should take these limitations into consideration.

Transforming national liberation movements

There is a natural tendency for liberation movements to have 'national' pretensions and operate in an exclusive manner. In Angola there were three competing movements with hegemonic intentions and this legacy of mutually exclusive claims lies at the heart of the failure of successive peace accords. It creates particularly difficult challenges for two related transitions: national liberation movements often struggle internally in the change from a hierarchically structured military organization to a more open and participative political party; and within the broader political arena they are not naturally predisposed to operating as part of a pluralist democratic system. The presence and aspirations of national liberation movements in countries such as Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo presents real challenges for peacemaking.

Why Angola's previous peace process failed

The warring parties completely disregarded the Angolan population, pursuing military victory at any cost. The 'international community' of global and regional powers and transnational corporations compounded these dynamics through strategic and shifting support to the conflict protagonists, at the expense of genuine commitment to a negotiated settlement. The UN had inadequate mandates and insufficient resources to play a truly effective conflict management role. All parties colluded in the marginalization of the unarmed sections of Angolan society who were calling for dialogue and negotiation to end the war and for a truly democratic political system. Angola's peace process highlights the importance of the international community's principled support for and provision of sufficient resources to facilitate a negotiated settlement.

Resources for conflict vs. resources for peace

Oil and diamond wealth sustained the warring parties economically but were not necessarily the source or the motive for the war. There is a danger that Angola's natural wealth could become a future source of violent conflict and instability if the current combination of massive exclusion and poverty with corruption and self-enrichment is not addressed. The opportunity exists to use the country's wealth (including its social and cultural as well as economic resources) to rebuild and develop Angola. This will require broad-based political and social participation and the inclusion of formerly marginalized groups, as well as transparent and accountable governance at all levels. The dual potential of natural resource wealth should be given careful consideration in other resource-rich African countries, such as Equatorial Guinea, S o Tom‚ & Pr¡ncipe, Gabon and Congo-Brazzaville.

Future challenges

Continued conflict in Cabinda

A military approach towards the conflict in Cabinda is unlikely to create the conditions for sustainable peace. The government has exploited the fragmentation of the separatist movement, but strategies to resolve issues of Cabindan identity and economic interests have been absent. Investment of oil revenue into the province could assist in addressing levels of dissatisfaction. Rather than alienating the Catholic Church in Cabinda, the government should make greater efforts to engage in dialogue with this interlocutor and potential mediator.

Given that the shape of a possible settlement is relatively clear, the conflict protagonists and those playing third-party roles could give greater attention to the design and preparation of a process that could lead to an acceptable outcome. Peace processes dealing with issues of self-determination from elsewhere in the world (such as Papua New Guinea-Bougainville, Philippines-Mindanao, Northern Ireland, among others) may offer some useful ideas in this respect, including for example mechanisms for consensus-building on an agreed negotiating position and development of the principles for engaging in talks.


More than two years after the Luena Memorandum, the reduction of peace to a military logic has hindered the development of the democratic process. Numerous ongoing delays and constraints (including continued politicization of state institutions, delays in enacting constitutional reform and holding elections, obstacles to the activities of political parties and NGOs, etc) endanger the consolidation of peace. The ineffectiveness of opposition parties in acting as a channel for citizens' concerns, and in holding the executive to account, exacerbates political tensions and discredits the democratic process. In this context, it is crucial to support efforts to promote continuous and inclusive public dialogue on the challenges facing Angola, ensuring that these processes enable the participation of rural communities and traditionally marginalized sectors of society, such as women and youth.

Civil society participation

Despite being excluded from peace negotiations and subject to ongoing political restrictions, Angolan civil society represents an important social force with growing potential. More than any other part of Angolan society, it has identified and promoted the resolution of underlying structural causes of the war as essential to a just and sustainable peace. Peacebuilding work begun during the conflict therefore remains equally valid during peacetime and is an important dimension of the democratization process.

International support to Angolan civil society initiatives should be sensitive to locally identified priorities and should work to build up, rather than substitute local capacity. Particular effort should be made to support greater women's participation in all levels of social and political life.


The years of war also led to considerable development within the Angolan media, and particularly to the emergence of more critical and communicative journalism (alongside partisan and bellicose writing and broadcasting). However, while the independent press has made significant contributions to the broadening of political discourse, huge challenges remain if the media is to develop its potential as a tool for democratization and peacebuilding. In particular, there needs to be a strategic redefinition of the media's role in a democratic society, as well as a range of technical support to improve training programmes and professional structures and ensure wider coverage outside the capital city.

Demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR)

DDR arrangements for ex-combatants in Angola have been treated largely as a military process, with insufficient attention to the social dimensions of the transition. Although the demobilization and disarmament has been largely judged a success by the government and the international community, greater support is needed to secure the long-term social reintegration of ex-combatants. Their return to their communities of origin or their resettlement in new environments can be a conflictual process, particularly in contexts of poverty, unemployment and struggle for resources. Careful attention is required to ensure sufficient support is provided to ex-combatants, whilst at the same time providing for the development of the whole community.

Demobilization and reintegration plans also failed to take account of those in 'civil defence' groups who had been armed by government. Many of these people feel they have fought legitimately to defend their communities and are as deserving of assistance as the UNITA and other ex-combatants. Moreover there is question of civilian disarmament, given that there are an estimated 3-4 million small arms in the hands of civilians, obtained as a result of uncontrolled distribution by the MPLA or the government at times of crisis or through other channels.

Child soldiers and children

The DDR process also failed to make sufficient provision for the needs of child soldiers and children. Child soldiers were not eligible for official reintegration programmes and although separating them from adult combatants in the transit camps was in their interest, without family structures to assist them they are very vulnerable. The system of delivery of humanitarian aid in the transit camps led to many orphans being temporarily 'adopted' in the camps; once outside, the rationale no longer held and unaccompanied children have tended to 'get lost' in the system.


The distribution and ownership of land and the income it generates have been a source of conflict for many years as well as a cause of huge inequalities among the Angolan population. In the aftermath of the colonial era, land ownership has been concentrated largely in the hands of the political elite, members of the armed forces and businessmen, excluding the disadvantaged and uninformed population and further increasing their marginalization. With the peace accords dealing primarily with the allocation of state power, this structural problem was left untouched until the drafting of a new Land Bill in 2002. The Bill - and the concomitant process of public debate - creates a crucial opportunity for the implementation of a policy of inclusive agrarian reform that could enable participative and sustainable democratic development.

Dealing with the past

Despite the rhetoric of 'national reconciliation' that accompanied the Angolan peace accords, little attention has been paid to the social processes that enable individuals and communities to address and overcome the distrust, polarization and pain caused by the war.

The blanket amnesty accorded to the warring parties for crimes perpetrated during the conflict may have been a precondition for the end of fighting, but it has entrenched the injustice experienced by victims. Although the UN expressed reservations about the amnesty, the parties largely ignored its concerns. Public recognition of and apology for the crimes committed during the conflict would be important steps in addressing this injustice, as would opportunities for discussion and storytelling about what took place.

With appropriate political and practical support, Angolans can draw on a great diversity of cultural resources (both 'traditional' and 'modern') to facilitate processes of truth and reconciliation, so as to adequately process the pain of the past and move towards a common future.

ANGOLA: Frustration as oil windfall spending neglects the poor

Angolans want oil revenue to be used to improve living standards

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)

[This material from IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]

LUANDA, 3 Sep 2004 (IRIN) - With oil prices soaring to record highs and new oilfields churning out more "black gold", frustration and resentment among Angolans is reportedly growing as they fail to benefit from their natural resources.

The government pencilled in an earnings figure of around US $23 per barrel in its 2004 budget, but with prices now about double that, expectations of a government windfall are rising.

"I've heard informal estimates that for every $1 a barrel increase in the price of oil, it translates to somewhere between $150 million and $250 million a year in excess revenue for the government," said Arvind Ganesan, Business Programme Director for Human Rights Watch.

Even an average of $30 per barrel for the year still translates into an extra $1.4 billion for the treasury during 2004.

But Angolans rubbing their hands in anticipation of a social and humanitarian bonanza may be sorely disappointed.

"People are asking, with the doubling of the price of oil, why do we see no major investment being shared with the country," said one source. "The reality is that ... it is [being] used to repay loans faster."

The state-owned Jornal de Angola hinted as much in an article last week but, other than that, the government has publicly said little about what it intends to do with the cash.

Sources say that the way the loans have been set up means that when the oil price rises, the extra amount between the current price and the price in the agreement does not immediately find its way into government coffers. "The poor cash flow of today is a result of the oil-backed loans signed yesterday," said one.

Billions of dollars of potential revenue - no-one knows exactly how much - are believed to have been used as collateral for oil-backed loans to finance the government's external debt, estimated at between $8 billion and $12 billion.

The strength of the oil price and Angola's improving reputation mean the country will slowly be able to negotiate better loan terms, with more favourable interest rates and repayment conditions. But the risk, some analysts say, is that instead of being prudent, the government will use this lucrative period as an excuse to borrow more in future.

"One problem that has been seen historically is that when the oil price is high, governments tend to invest according to the revenue that they are getting at the time, and when the oil price falls - and inevitably it falls - they run out of money," said Ganesan at the Washington-based HRW. "The other big problem is over-leveraging - borrowing against increased revenue and not being able to repay it at a sufficient rate to free up money to do other things. They could run into a real problem down the road.

"Even with the oil price high, the information we've seen is that the Angolan government is still fairly cash-strapped because of this over-leveraging [borrowing against future oil income] in the past. People in the government or the public shouldn't be thinking that there's a huge windfall [on the way]," Ganesan added.

Angola is in desperate need of funds to rebuild its infrastructure, and the country's health and education systems were shattered by almost three decades of civil war. But two years of peace have failed to make a sizeable impact - ordinary Angolans are yet to see the benefits of having a huge national oil reserve.

"I have no water at home - I have to buy it on the street, yet the government is selling oil for more than $40 per barrel," said Graca Nunes, who works as a cleaner in the capital, Luanda. "My son has to bribe his teacher so he can pass to the next grade at school because the teacher is paid so poorly by the government. I don't understand why all this oil is not helping us," she complained.

Observers fear that frustration with the lack of tangible benefits is growing. Some NGOs fear these tensions could escalate into riots and civil unrest if there are no evident benefits from peace and the abundant oil reserves.

"The crime rates are rising - it's getting worse and worse. Poor people will tell you that hope is the last thing to die but, really, they are not getting any kind of conditions to make their life better," said one aid worker.

Philippe Lazzarini, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), citing reports that the money would be used to pay off loans, said: "Long term, the increased oil price will have a positive effect, but if it is not all explained, that can only strengthen the incomprehension of the population - they already don't understand how it can take so long to benefit from the peace dividend."

The Angolan authorities have also been widely slammed for corruption and inefficiency. An International Monetary Fund (IMF) report revealed that $4 billion went missing from government coffers between 1997 and 2002, in a country where two-thirds of the population live in poverty.

But the government has also been congratulated on some of its recent steps to open its books to scrutiny. Publishing the $300 million signature and social bonus that the US oil giant, ChevronTexaco, paid to extend its operating licence in deepwater Block 0, off the Cabinda shore, was seen as a major step forward.

The promise of an external audit of state oil firm Sonangol, publishing some of the KPMG oil diagnostic reports and expressing a willingness to sign up to Britain's Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) also drew praise.

"Angola has made some positive steps," Ganesan said. "But, fundamentally, all of those have to do more with how to account for incoming money. They've done less to account for how they spend the money, or where it goes."

Others believe the government is doing its best in what is undeniably a very complicated situation. They argue that after such a long war, it will take more than two years to deliver a substantial peace dividend to the people.

"This requires mindset changes first, then strategic thinking and strategic planning, and finally execution," said Olivier Lambert, senior country officer at the World Bank. "The mindset change phase is probably over, to a large extent; the strategic thinking and planning phase is in full swing; the execution phase has already started. Hence, the seeds have been planted but we cannot yet see the fruits."

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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