Ambitious Angola takes to world stage
Ambitious Angola takes to world stage
Dealing with Savimbi’s Ghost: The Security and Humanitarian Challenges in Angola
Dealing with Savimbi’s Ghost: The Security and Humanitarian Challenges in Angola
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Op-Ed / Africa

Ambitious Angola takes to world stage

Is Angola about to become a global player? Luanda’s recent diplomatic charm offensive means the country is running unopposed for one of three African nonpermanent seats on the United Nations Security Council for 2015 and 2016.

Angola is no stranger to projecting power and influence. It has expanded its financial interests well beyond the African continent into Asia, Latin America and Europe.

It is intent on developing regional and international influence and is poised to become a key interlocutor on a range of African issues. But this will bring with it potentially heavy responsibilities.

Much of the council’s work is focused on Africa. Despite many positive trends on the continent, it faces threats to peace and security: civil wars in the Central African Republic (CAR), Libya, Sudan and South Sudan; insurgencies in Somalia, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Mali; the growing threat of Muslim and Christian extremism in several countries; terrorism; piracy; and the spread of Ebola in West Africa.

Responses to these crises must be anchored as much in improved governance and political inclusion as in military action.

These crises will test Luanda’s limits and experience in post-conflict transformation. Over the past decade, the continent has demonstrated a commitment to tackling its problems, and Angola is intent on stepping up to the plate.

But it must provide leadership and financial, logistical and diplomatic responsibility.

Angola’s engagement with the world had long been rooted in “statist” imperatives – prioritising national over human security – and characterised by opaque bi-lateral deals where the asymmetries of influence always tilted towards Luanda. This has shifted.

Ascension to the Security Council and working with, and commenting on, key international issues will result in greater scrutiny of how well Angola supports international norms and standards.

These are largely uncharted waters for the government of President José Eduardo dos Santos.

Angola is placing itself at the centre of the peacekeeping and interventionist debate in Africa. It is calling for bolder and more decisive action in managing crises.

It will assume its seat at a time when the crises in the CAR and Mali have exposed the challenges faced by regional powers and organisations, and when the division of labour between the UN and African Union, and between regional bodies, is being widely debated. Angola’s ability to bridge the divide could help to define its claim to African leadership.

Its shift in foreign policy began in 2010 with a security sector reform mission to Guinea Bissau.

It was the first time since the late 1990s that Luanda had deployed troops in a foreign country. It wasn’t to help change the political landscape of neighbouring countries, as was the case in Congo Brazzaville and the DRC, but to assist in building wider reforms to stabilise Guinea Bissau.

In 2013, Angola’s Foreign Minister Georges Chicoti supported the call at the AU for strengthening Africa’s rapid response capacity, in terms of both the African Standby Force and the proposed interim structure, the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises.

Equipping Africa with a rapid intervention force remains a critical challenge.

Luanda has one of the better-trained and equipped armed forces on the continent. After Algeria, it has the largest military budget in Africa, estimated at $6.1-billion in 2013. Angola also has the capacity to airlift troops and materials quickly, which would radically change the readiness of regional initiatives to intervene.

As chair of the International Conference on the Great Lakes region, Angola is already involved in decisive action in the eastern DRC. More recently, it deployed 1 800 troops as part of the UN mission in the CAR.

But Angola’s battle-hardened troops, trained and equipped by Russia, Cuba and Israel, will need to understand how to operate in a multilateral framework and respond within the limits of an internationally recognised security mandate. This will be a steep learning curve.

A seat on the Security Council will give Angola an opportunity to learn how best to work strategically with the five permanent members. A key battleground in the Cold War, Angola knows well the workings of international realpolitik. It will assume its seat at a difficult time for the council, which remains divided on major crises, particularly the Ukraine and Syria. Navigating the divisions will test Luanda’s ability to balance contradictory interests and positions.

Its closest ally historically is Russia, and Moscow is a trusted adviser to Luanda. So it will probably side with Russia on key international issues. Beijing is a key economic partner, as seen in its collaboration with the China International Fund.

One can also expect Angola to co-ordinate efforts alongside American support to African states in their attempts to combat extremism and terrorism on the continent. It can work with the United States, the United Kingdom and France on a range of fronts that will help to improve its relations with the West. This, in turn, will increase its influence in the international community to promote its own interests.

Angola’s recent efforts to lobby on a global scale have shown that Luanda performs best and benefits most when it is committed to securing agreement in diverse regions and bridging contradictory interests and policy agendas. For the next two years Angola will have the international stage on which to project the capacity and power it has consolidated in the last decade.

But having the platform and resources is not enough. Angola will have to use its term on the Security Council to help to deliver commitments to peace and security at a time when “African solutions to African problems” are no less problem-free.

Report 58 / Africa

Dealing with Savimbi’s Ghost: The Security and Humanitarian Challenges in Angola

Emerging slowly from decades of civil war, Angola stands at a crossroads between a spectacular recovery or further cycles of instability and crisis. The government that won the fighting must now move on a number of fronts – with international support – to win the peace.

Executive Summary

Emerging slowly from decades of civil war, Angola stands at a crossroads between a spectacular recovery or further cycles of instability and crisis. The government that won the fighting must now move on a number of fronts – with international support – to win the peace.

Although there are critical longer term political and economic issues (to be considered in a subsequent report), several immediate security and humanitarian challenges must be addressed to avoid laying the foundations for a return to conflict. The late rebel leader Jonas Savimbi’s ghost, the legacy of a war that killed a million people and uprooted a third of the population, will haunt the country for years. Millions who are either internally displaced or refugees in neighbouring countries must be resettled in their areas of origin. 105,000 fighters of the former rebel organisation UNITA – each with an average of six civilian dependents – must be reintegrated into civilian life on an urgent basis. The removal of millions of mines laid over the past half-century has to be accelerated.

If the government addresses these challenges responsibly and is helped by the international community, Angola can stabilise. If it ignores or minimises them, at best banditry and organised crime will intensify insecurity in the provinces; at worst, resentments will build, intersect with remnants of potential organised and armed resistance, and form the nucleus for future instability.

Reintegrating the UNITA rank-and-file back into civilian life is first priority. There are reports of their increasing disenchantment, as government promises of support do not materialise and camp conditions remain poor. The related problems – security, economic, psychosocial, capacity and political – are enormous. How they are met will be a major determinant of whether or not, five years down the line, the country has succeeded in building peace.

The scope of population flows in Angola has few equals. Approximately two million of a total displaced population of over three million have been, are, or soon will be on the move, most seeking to go home. These massive movements ensure the continuation of at least a low-grade humanitarian emergency. Indeed, a year after the death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi and the de facto end of the war, mortality rates remain at emergency levels. The rainy season, landmines, and the regional food crisis limit access for aid agencies and mean the situation could worsen considerably over the several months before the next harvest. Already, aid officials in five different provinces have reported acute levels of malnutrition.

Landmine infestation – among the worst encountered in any post-conflict situation globally – is the biggest challenge to resettlement. Injuries have increased particularly on the Planalto, the central highlands. This is happening as the hungry season is at its height and the rains have reached their peak. Nascent commercial traffic has been inhibited by the incidents, which, if they do not decrease, and especially if it is determined that new mines are being laid, will seriously affect aid agency operations. This would both impact deliveries to current populations – which in a number of provinces are highly dependent on such deliveries – and prevent assessments for post-harvest aid.

In the context of forthcoming democratisation efforts, the government needs to recognise that it is in its strategic self-interest to become more responsive and accountable. A good start would be to redirect some of its oil money to social services and public investment in order to build wider support for its policies. State building should be understood as a conflict prevention strategy, and service delivery as a peace consolidation strategy.

Luanda/Brussels, 26 February 2003

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.