Angola's Elusive Peace: The Collapse of the Lusaka Accord

Article excerpt

In December 1998, Angola's Fragile Peace once again gave way to all out war between UNITA and the governing MPLA.(f.1) The Lusaka Protocol, signed in November 1994, became just another temporary respite from Angola's long history of violent conflict. Since independence in 1975, peace has been almost unknown to most Angolans. What began as a pre-independence rivalry between three nationalist movements evolved into a civil war between two of them. Only twice since then has an uneasy peace interrupted the violence: for a brief period in 1991-2 and from November 1994 to December 1998.

Why has peace been so elusive in Angola? In particular, why did the most recent effort -- which involved thousands of United Nations troops and well over one billion dollars -- end in failure? This article addresses the question of why one should be concerned about recent events in Angola; provides a brief historical background to the conflict; attempts to explain why Angola slips so easily back into war and, in particular, why the most recent Lusaka Protocol again failed to end the cycle of violence; and, finally, examines possible courses of action for Angolans and for the international community.

Why Angola Matters

During the cold war, both the United States and the Soviet Union saw geopolitical value in Angola. Both provided advisers and billions of dollars in military aid to their respective local clients, UNITA and the MPLA. Moreover, they looked to other actors to help protect their interests in Angola. 'The Americans hired the South Africans, and the Soviets hired the Cubans' one long-time diplomat in Luanda noted in an interview. With the end of the cold war, however, there are other nonstrategic and non-ideological justifications for paying attention to Angola.

The first is Angola's increasing -- and largely avoidable -- humanitarian crisis. The return to war has exacerbated an already difficult internal refugee problem. By January 1999, after just one month of fighting, an estimated 250,000 Angolans had been forced from their homes. The number rose to 800,000 by May and to an estimated 1 million by June -- almost one-tenth of Angola's population. As they have come under siege, individual cities such as Malanje in the northern half of Angola and Kuito in central Angola have had to cope with an additional 200,000 and 70,000 people respectively. The war forced many families who rely on agriculture to miss the short planting season in February and disrupted the subsequent harvest season in April and May. The war has also obstructed or interrupted aid flights and convoys by organizations such as the World Food Programme and CA at a time when some donors have failed to live up to promises of relief aid to the region. Maria Flynn, a United Nations official, told Reuters news agency in June that 'we have a combination of no food, inadequate transportation and a growing number of beneficiaries. If that is not a recipe for disaster, I don't know what is.'(f.2)

Even more ominous, the war in Angola is only one dimension of a much larger regional conflict. An 'arc of conflict' extends from Angola through the two Congos, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia.(f.3) UNITA activities and the Angolan government's accusations against other African states in the region and threats of military action against those co-operating with the UNITA rebels threaten to widen the circle of states being destabilized by violent conflict and humanitarian disaster.

Although the apparent invisibility of the crisis is hardly surprising, given the usual media coverage of wars in Africa, it is ironic in light of the economic value of Angola. African leaders have on occasion been dismissed as exaggerating their countries' position in the world, but Angola's economic significance can hardly be overstated.

Angola's wealth can be found in, among other things, its enormous supply of oil and diamonds. Current production of about 750,000 barrels of oil per day is expected to double in the next decade. …