On April 4, 2002, six weeks after the death of Jonas Savimbi, the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (UNITA) signed a ceasefire agreement with the Angolan government that brought an end to twenty years of brutal civil war. One year later, the Woodrow Wilson Center and the International Crisis Group joined in co-sponsoring a panel of experts on Angola to take stock of developments in Angola's first year of peace, and to gauge the prospects for Angola's ongoing reconstruction and development.

The panel was moderated by Ambassador Paul Hare, President Clinton's Special Envoy to the Angola Peace Process from 1993-1998 and, currently, Executive Director of the U.S.-Angola Chamber of Commerce. Panel participants included: Professor Ibrahim Gambari, United Nations Under-Secretary and Special Advisor on African Affairs to the Secretary-General and, until recently, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Angola; Walter H. Kansteiner, III, the current United States Assistant Secretary for Africa; John Prendergast, a former African Affairs Director at the National Security Council and now Co-Director of the International Crisis Group's Africa Program; and Witney Schneidman, formerly the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs for Southern Africa, and currently the President of Schneidman & Associated International

Overview: Cautious Optimism

All four featured speakers expressed relatively positive outlooks on Angola. Kansteiner and Gambari referenced, in particular, Angola's surprising post-war political stability, and Schneidman gave a cautiously optimistic overview of economic reforms that were in process. Prendergast, while more focused on Angola's potential fault lines, similarly concluded that, for the first time in decades, peace and stability in Angola are within reach.

In his introductory remarks, moderator Paul Hare characterized the past year in Angola as "amazing" and "unpredictable." The first "surprise," he noted, was the rapid signing of a peace agreement following the death of Jonas Savimbi. And the second "surprise" is the remarkable stability in the countryside, except in oil-rich Cabinda Province. Yet, Hare continued, notwithstanding increased oil production and high oil prices, the macroeconomic situation in Angola is exceedingly weak, with inflation near one hundred per cent and a 2002 fiscal debt twice that of 2001.

The ensuing discussion centered around four themes: Angola's notable political stability, together with the threats to that stability that are not yet being effectively addressed; the fragile economic situation; and the role of the international community.

Political Stability – but Threats Remain

Gambari credited Angola with achieving remarkable political stability. He said peace in Angola appears irreversible and war is unlikely to recur. He noted that one year after the agreement between UNITA and the government, there have been no violations of the ceasefire, UNITA has disarmed and transformed itself into a political party, and dialogue between UNITA and the government continues.

Hare and Kansteiner were similarly optimistic about the political situation, observing that post-war Angola has done better politically than most observers had expected, and that the most immediately severe challenges are in the economic realm. Kansteiner noted that one year ago, just after Savimbi's death, one might have expected a difficult political situation accompanied by general economic stability in ensuing years, but that today the scenario is just the opposite. Angola enjoys real political stability but is approaching economic crisis, the "real surprise" according to Kansteiner. He noted that when he met with UNITA officials nine months ago, while they were very open to discussing politics and their transition from a guerilla movement to a political party, what they really wanted to talk about was ways of getting into the private sector. Kansteiner took this as encouraging evidence that Angola is quickly becoming a more normal society.

Despite the general optimism on the political front, panelists identified several challenges that, if unresolved, could seriously impact on the security situation within Angola. Prendergast singled out the need to tackle the "insidious ghost of Jonas Savimbi," i.e., the need to insure that UNITA fighters and their families are effectively reintegrated in Angolan society. If this challenge is not dealt with properly and promptly, he argued, the warlordism and banditry that plague other parts of Africa could soon afflict Angola. Prendergast identified several issues threatening the process of DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration): disenchantment with reintegration among ex-combatants, limited government capacity, competing priorities, the psychological state of ex-combatants (he noted that there have already been horrible reprisals against ex-combatants), the willingness of communities to accept ex-combatants, and the willingness of UNITA to close camps that are still home to many of these ex-combatants. He added that while the government is now closing some gathering areas for ex-combatants, new resettlement areas are not ready, leaving the ex-combatants with nowhere to go and creating a potentially dangerous situation.

Gambari similarly emphasized the importance of socially integrating demobilized soldiers, citing a report that estimates that more than 105,000 ex-combatants and 300,000 of their family members need to be resettled. Gambari also drew attention to the plight of the more than four million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and more than 500,000 foreign refugees in Angola, all of whom need to be resettled. Kansteiner cited as somewhat encouraging a recent report indicating that roughly half of these IDPs are now back in their home villages.

All of the speakers stressed the importance of making occupational opportunities available to ex-combatants and IDPs. To this end, Kansteiner commended USAID's efforts to provide IDPs with the seeds and tools needed to work in agriculture. Prendergast similarly stressed the importance of agricultural training programs and other training initiatives designed to produce stable livelihoods. Prendergast added that land policy – "political dynamite" in other southern African states – is an issue that must also be addressed in Angola.

Gambari pointed to two further, related security concerns: first, Angola remains littered with mines left over from the war, and people cannot be resettled on land that is not de-mined; second, it is estimated that up to one-third of Angola's civilian population has access to small arms.

A further threat to Angolan long-term security, Prendergast argued, is posed by the situation in Cabinda, the province rich in oil and entirely surrounded by Congo-Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Atlantic Ocean. A struggle between rebels and government forces is ongoing, and there was an upsurge in reports of human rights violations in the province towards the end of last year. Prendergast said few analysts think the government can win an outright victory against the rebels, in part due to the difficult terrain, and that factions on both sides remain stubbornly committed to their ultimate goal – independence for the rebels or total control for the government. However, there is now a moment of opportunity that needs to be seized by the Angolan government. While the Government has now opened talks with certain of the rebels, it appears that the Government is doing so on a selective basis in an effort to divide the rebels. What is required is a coherent and inclusive process and a structured dialogue. If these are put in place, the chances of ending the current standoff are good.

In an intervention from the audience, the Angolan Ambassador to the United States stressed the Government's willingness to pursue a negotiated settlement of the conflict over Cabinda, and took exception to the suggestion that the government was only dealing with some rebels who were living in exile. Hare added that, in any event, it is unlikely that the Cabinda conflict will threaten broader Angolan stability: if no settlement were immediately realizable, the conflict will continue as a low-intensity affair.

Fragile Economic Situation

Turning to the economic situation, Schneidman and Kansteiner were both cautiously optimistic. While recognizing that some analysts were still quite negative in their assessments, and that two-thirds of Angolan oil revenues were effectively mortgaged through the year 2010, Schneidman said he thinks it is important to acknowledge the process of economic reform that is under way in Luanda. This process is reflected in the execution of an oil diagnostic, an attempt to generate an accurate depiction of Angolan oil revenues in 2001 that is close to completion. Another positive sign is the World Bank's recent commitment to two Angolan projects totaling $50 million. Other positive developments noted by Schneidman and Kansteiner included:

  • the country's new investment code, which had recently passed the parliament -- a sound code that promotes foreign direct investment, with the issue now being its effective implementation;
  • a significant restructuring of the national budget, with resources previously directed at defense now being channeled into education and other social sectors;
  • ongoing talks with the IMF on a new Staff Monitoring Program; and
  • the increasing transparency of the government's fiscal transactions.

Perhaps most encouraging, Schneidman suggested, is the quality of the economic team that the Government has now put in place. Expressing a similar sentiment, Kansteiner said these individuals "get it."

The acceleration of Angola's economic development is imperative – but there is much that needs to be done by both Angolans and international financial institutions. Schneidman said that Angola's debt needs to be rescheduled through negotiations with the London and Paris clubs and that standby agreements with the IMF would also be beneficial. He said that the Angolan government must eliminate all extra-budgetary expenditures and needs to continue to make progress in its transparency. He also suggested that Angola should attempt to qualify for inclusion in the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

Kansteiner emphasized the importance of capital market formation, telling the story of an entrepreneur in Luanda wanting to build new restaurants but facing 29% interest rates. He discussed a specific initiative that the United States is pursuing in cooperation with the American oil industry: the establishment of a new banking institution designed to assist prospective Angolan entrepreneurs with more reasonably priced investment capital. He also cited OPIC's work with housing mortgage guarantees in Angola. Prendergast added that it is in the Angolan government's economic self-interest to prioritize the building of social service and health networks. A couple of the speakers touched on lingering concerns regarding the destination of oil revenues for which there remains no effective accounting.

Role of the International Community

The panel paid particular attention to the role of the international community in Angola's rebuilding process, especially to the role of the United States and United Nations. Queried about the impact on the Angolan-American bilateral relationship of Angola's current UN Security Council seat, Kansteiner said that even if Angola did not occupy that seat during the Iraq crisis, the U.S. would still be paying close attention to Angola.

Gambari elaborated on the role of the UN before and after the ceasefire agreement. That role has been dynamic throughout, and has included peacemaking, peacekeeping and rebuilding. Two instruments, sanctions and the Secretary General's good offices, were used to bring the conflict to an end. Since then, the UN has been providing humanitarian assistance, encouraging dialogue on political and economic reform, and promoting civil society development. Gambari said that though the war is over, UN involvement in Angola is not finished, as oversight of the UN mission has passed to the resident coordinator. He hoped that the United States would not take a minimalist view in structuring the evolving UN mission in Angola. Finally, Gambari stressed that Angola must now take the lead in all activities – including demobilization and political and economic development. Once they assume the initiative, the international community will provide the necessary support.

Gambari touched upon two important upcoming events: elections and a donor conference. Elections were last held in 1992, and at present there is no specific timetable for the next round. However, Gambari speculated, they will likely occur in 2005. He emphasized that elections are critical to the government's legitimacy but cautioned that a new voter register and constitution must be established before elections can occur. Nor is there a date yet established for a donor conference. The conference will be held in Brussels and, while the Angolan government wants to hold it as soon as possible, it recognizes the need to prepare adequately so that the conference yields tangible results. Japan, he said, is one new player that is very interested in engaging with Angola.

In her intervention from the audience, the Angolan Ambassador observed that while Angola's war was "civil," it had occurred in the context of the Cold War and was fuelled and funded by external actors, including the United States and Soviet Union. This history imposed some obligation on the international community to now be forthcoming with funding for reconstruction and development.

John Temin, Rapporteur