Article published by Developments magazine, January 2005:
Angola, imperfect peace
A new report on Angola’s drawn-out civil war draws important lessons for other African conflicts, says Huw Spanner. No one can pretend that Angola offers a shining role model to the rest of Africa. Every attempt to make peace in the civil war, that first broke out in 1975, failed until government forces succeededin killing Jonas Savimbi, the leader of Unita, 27 years later – which would seem to recommend violence as the most effective way to resolve conflict. Moreover, peacebuilding is not proceeding as smoothly as it might, and the secessionist war in the enclave of Cabinda is still grinding on. Nevertheless, a major report published by Conciliation Resources draws important lessons from Angola’s recenthistory – which the authors believe can be applied to other armed conflicts across the continent. From Military Peace to Social Justice? is the fruit of a two-year analysis of the successive peace processes that sought to bring to an end the civil war. Editor, Guus Meijer, describes the project as "something of a challenge" but the 14 report authors argue that valuable lessons can be learnt, evenfrom failure. Most controversially, they reject the "myth of redemptive violence", pointing out that when one side wins a war outright it has no great incentive to understand and deal with the grievances of those it has defeated. Military victory encourages a winner-takes-all mentality rather than the "dialogue, negotiation, respect for other points of view and eventual compromise" that are thestuff of democracy. For sure, the intractability of conflicts like that in northern Uganda between the government and Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army – not to mention the uncompromising rhetoric of the so-called "war against terror" – has encouraged belief in "the one-bullet solution". But in Angola the fact that the MPLA and its supporters now have a virtually free hand means that, almost twoyears after the formal end of the war, there is growing frustration, disillusion and unrest – not only among supporters of Unita. There are still no effective opposition parties to hold the executive to account and to channel people’s concerns. There is also a pressing need to reform the constitution and hold elections. In Cabinda, meanwhile, "the shape of a possible settlement is relativelyclear", but what is missing is a process to bring it about. The government has been taking advantage of the fragmentation of the separatist movement, but here too the lesson needs to be learnt that military victory is unlikely to create the conditions for a just and sustainable peace. One important step the government should take, the report says, is to engage the Catholic Church as a mediator -rather than alienate it. It is ironic that all the parties to the civil war – the MPLA, Unita and, initially, the FNLA – fought in the name of democracy. So says Filomeno Vieira-Lopes, one of the authors of the report who is involved in a broad range of civil society initiatives. One of the biggest problems for Angola is that the forces that genuinely championed democracy were those that emergedoutside the conflict. Because the three national liberation movements each claimed to speak and act exclusively for the whole nation, they actually suppressed the political pluralism that is essential in a country like Angola, with a population amalgamated from many cultures and traditions. In fact, this exclusivity is a common problem for national liberation movements, which then struggle to adapt to(and are reluctant to promote) a pluralist political system, with non-partisan state institutions. Furthermore, organizations that have long been structured hierarchically to fight a war find it difficult to become open to internal debate and democracy themselves. There are lessons here, the report observes, for countries such as Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is clear in Angola...
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