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Angola and Building Peace
Alex Steffen, 4 Apr 05

Winning a war doesn't always create a useful peace. This is particularly true when "liberation" movements which have become structured to win a civil war suddenly find themselves in power. Finding ways to help such armed movements to give way to civil society and democracy is a critical task.

This is the case in Angola -- which today celebrated three years of peace, after 27 of civil war -- says a new report from the NGO Conciliation Resources.

The killing of UNITA’s leader [Jonas] 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.

Of course, "negative peace" is a time-honored human tradition, summed up two thousand years ago by Tacitus when he said of Rome's victory over Carthage, Solitudinem fecerunt, pacem appelunt -- "They made a desert, and then called it peace." But negative peace is particularly problematic in a civil war, when you have to go home and live in the desert you have made. ("Much of the country's basic infrastructure -- buildings, roads, bridges, and hospitals -- lies in ruins. The human tally of the war's impact is equally stunning: over 500,000 people killed, 50,000 orphans, and 4 million people displaced from their homes. Unexploded ammunition and landminesare scattered like confetti around the country. The U.N. estimates that there are between 6 to 7 million mines and unexploded devices remaining in the ground.")

The report offers a compelling and illuminating overview of the problems Angola now faces: an economy built to support war (largely through the sale of oil and illegal diamonds) does not necessarily aid sustainable development; democratization lags, particularly in regard to consitutional reform and elections; media and civil society need help finding new and vibrant peacetime roles; demobilization, disarmament and reintegration efforts are difficult there, as everywhere, particularly where child soldiers are involved; and, in general, the work of reconciliation still has a long way to go; health conditions are still terrible (as today's outbreak of Marburg virus illustrates), particularly in Luanda:

Luanda faces an uphill struggle to become a clean, sanitary city. According to a recent survey, it is estimated that the capital could grow to five and a half million people by the year 2010. Currently there are four million people living in the capital, which is already grossly overcrowded.

Progress is being made, though, and not all is bleak:

What are the positive dynamics that help to build peace? Certainly, the battle against poverty is crucial. One counterintuitive lesson is that, as long-overdue land reform proceeds in Angola, former enemies (the ex-soldiers of the MPLA, Unita and the FNLA, and the peasant populations that supported them) find that they have common interests that are bringing them together.

Furthermore, Angola has been spared some of the worst ravages of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and has a somewhat successful national campaign (with the active involvement of the army) to combat the spread of the disease.

In these ways, the report argues, Angola offers lessons for much of the region. Many African countries face similar sets of problems, and helping Angolans get right their solutions may create exportable knowledge about how best to rebuild in the aftermath of civil war.

We've argued before that sustainability, development and peace are inexorably linked, and that peacekeeping and nationbuilding in war-torn countries are of vital importance. Angola shows us why: the one bullet solution may work for a while, but in the long run, we need one planet thinking.

(image: Angolans vote, Guus Meijer)

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Tacitus's famous quote was actually about empire, not about bad peace. In full, it reads: "To plunder, to slaughter, to steal, these things they misname empire; and where they make a wilderness, they call it peace." It's become popular again to describe Bush's imperial efforts with it.

Tacitus wrote a simpler and equally famous line about "negative peace" though: "A bad peace is even worse than war."

But to complement the fascinating article. Mozambique offers an even better example for the region. It's one of the true success stories about post-civil war reconstruction in Africa. There are many similarities between those two ex-portuguese colonies. One succeeded brilliantly in its transition (Mozambique), the other is still struggling very much.

A good comparison of the differences between Angola's failure and Mozambique's success can be found in the works of Lusophone africanist Patrick Chabal, especially in "A History of Postcolonial Lusophone Africa".

A very complex story.

Angola has very limited chances of success, I think, because unfortunately it has oil, which has turned the entire political elite into a predatory network of resource robbers.

Both the Americans and the Chinese are very present (China's building the resource railway from Katanga to Lobito, so as to plunder via Angola, instead of going all the way to South Africa), and their influence may have some stabilizing effects for now (influx of Worldbank and IMF money, etc...). But that's about it. When they're gone the oil will be gone, and Angola will collapse once again because not one dime will have been spent on medical services, civil society, infrastructure or whatever you need to create a sustainable state..

It's a sad story really.

Posted by: Lorenzo on 4 Apr 05

Actually the Tacitus comment was from Agricola which is the Roman conquest and oppression of Britain.

"These plunderers of the world, after exhausting the land by their devastations, are rifling the ocean: stimulated by avarice, if their enemy be rich; by ambition, if poor; unsatiated by the East and by the West: the only people who behold wealth and indigence with equal avidity. To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace."

Posted by: JIm Bailey on 6 Apr 05



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