Issue 13 - Article 16

Angola (March 1999)

March 1, 1999
Marion Birch, HealthNet International, Mozambique

The peace process agreed by the Angolan government and UNITA with the signing of the Lusaka Protocols in 1994, and which had appeared increasingly fragile over the last two years, finally broke down in December 1998.

It had been clear that far from demobilising, as required by the protocols, UNITA had been using the time to actively re-arm. In early December the government attacked the UNITA strongholds of Bailundo and Andulo in the central highlands in an attempt to extend state administration ‘by force of arms’. UNITA responded with weaponry of a sophistication that surprised the Angolan armed forces. In a virtual repeat of the events of 1993 following UNITA’s rejection of the election results, their troops surrounded and shelled the government-controlled provincial capitals of Huambo, Kuito and Malange. After an initial hiatus in field leadership the Angolan armed forces appeared to gain the upper hand with a strong defence of these cities. At the end of January in a possible move towards the oil installations in Soyo, UNITA troops took the town of M’banza Congo 500km north of Luanda; they held it for two weeks before it was retaken by government forces. This resulted in an estimated 200,000 refugees fleeing across the border into the DRC.


Twenty-two UN staff are still missing following the shooting down of two Hercules transport planes over UNITA-held territory in late December and early January. Both planes were transporting peace monitors from MONUA, the UN observer mission. UNITA, suspected of targeting the mission, has officially admitted no responsibility. President Jose dos Santos has made it clear he thinks MONUA can no longer play a useful role given the present situation. The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned that the situation ‘has the potential to develop into a full-scale humanitarian catastrophe’. Though he recommended the withdrawal of the peace monitors due to the ‘steadily worsening security situation’, he has consistently stressed the need to continue humanitarian assistance. As it stands, MONUA is scheduled to cease operations when its mandate expires on 26 February.

The number of internally displaced is now estimated at 1.5 million. There is concern that many more have crossed the border into the DRC and Zambia. Relief flights into the provinces were temporarily suspended at the end of December but have now resumed. UN agencies are in the process of revising the amounts requested in the 1999 Consolidated Appeal in light of recent events. While rains have been good much farmland is inaccessible and WFP’s representative in Angola has said that the next few months look ‘very grim’; 80–90 per cent of humanitarian assistance is deliverable only by air.

After decades of instability, Angola’s population is extremely vulnerable to shocks. The insecurity and psychological stress induced by the return to war and the possibility of renewed siege situations is tangible. Mine laying recommenced some time ago. De-mining has now ceased and organisations are concentrating on mine awareness, training and institution-building.

The economic effects of the situation are felt throughout the country. Regular and arbitrary price rises are again adding to the extreme poverty and insecurity of people’s lives. The present denial of access to much agricultural land will aggravate this situation. Support to Angola’s civil society continues with NGOs and churches resuming ongoing work where they can, and adapting to give emergency support where appropriate. A meeting of senior church and civic leaders took place in Luanda on 21 December 1998 to discuss plans for an Angolan peace-building project.

The development of the fledgling official opposition, including the UNITA delegates who had been incorporated into the Government of National Unity in April 1997, has received a huge setback. The UNITA leader, Jonas Savimbi, is increasingly seen as individually responsible for much of UNITA’s unconstructive behaviour. A fuel and arms embargo, a travel and flight ban (and closure of overseas offices) and most recently sanctions on diamond exports, have been imposed on UNITA. However, it is estimated that the organisation has earned $US3.7bn from diamonds since 1992, and enforcement of sanctions is severely restricted by porous borders and the lack of global political will and commercial desire to improve compliance.

The situation has been further complicated by the involvement of both sides in the DRC conflict: the Angolan government has sent troops to support President Kabila and UNITA sides with those who oppose him. Most recently the Angolan government has officially accused the Zambian government of supporting UNITA, a charge that Zambia has denied.

It is clear that Angola is entering another phase of protracted conflict. It will be essential that the international community maintains it capacity to assess the developing situation, and assists in meeting increased needs. If this does not happen there is the potential for greater humanitarian crisis than was seen as a result of the fighting in 1993.


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