Angola: Pretence of normality

Behind the façade of 'normalization'Manipulation, violence, and abandoned populations

Introduction

On 11th November Angola will celebrate 25 years of independence. This date also marks 25 years of war between the Angolan Government and Unita. Since December 1998, the conflict has been going through a new and particularly violent phase. Today however, the Angolan government, which claims to control of more than 90% of the territory, today trying to demonstrate to the world that the situation has stabilised. In this context the government has decided to 'reinstall' the populations displaced by the conflict back to their original areas.

It is not only the Angolan government that is speaking of 'normalization' in the country. The international community and the United Nations echo this talk of new-found stability. In response, the United Nations agencies, and in particular the World Food Programme (WFP), will shift the system of general food distribution to support the governments planned 'reinstallation' of people. Support from the international community in the form of intensive economic investments - investments whose impact are only visible in Luanda and on the Atlantic coast - make this faÃ?§ade of stability possible.

This pretence of normality might be acceptable, except for the fact that, more than ever, Angolans are paying the price of the war: forced displacement of populations, complete dependence on the parties to the conflict, total dependence on humanitarian aid. The high price Angolans are paying is clear from the demographic and health data; the mortality and malnutrition rates; the recurring epidemics; and in the stories told by the people themselves.

During the 15 years of war that followed the country's independence, attacks, forced conscription, harassment and plunder were a part of everyday life for the Angolan people. Now the violence have been taken to another level, and for two years the quality of the aid offered to civilians has been deteriorating. In this respect, the witnesses' accounts gathered by MSF from among the Angolan people - whether displaced persons or refugees - are starkly eloquent. They tell:

  • Of terror, mutilation and reprisals - not only against men, but also against pregnant women, children and the elderly, and especially in Unita - controlled regions to which humanitarian organisations have no more access;
  • Of repeated flight into the bush (mata), where they must hide for longer and longer periods, in an effort to escape the plunder, the reprisals, the forced enlistment, and the murders;
  • Of orchestrated displacements, to regions where the meagre protection and aid offered to them make it impossible to ensure genuine relief for those displaced. The people are used by both sides as a weapon of war, and are literally displayed into humanitarian "shop windows", at best to secure maximum access to funds, at worst to get the approval of the international community.
  • Of 'window dressing' assistance which does not reach those who are most fragile and most in need.

    It is for these reasons that MSF has decided to give, in this report, a blunt, realistic picture of the situation, backed up by medical and health data and by the witnesses' accounts given by Angolans with whom MSF works. Once again, it should be noted that the information in the report refers only to those population groups that we are able to access, since certain regions - especially those under the control of Unita - are completely inaccessible to humanitarian aid organisations.