In-depth: Kuito - A legacy of war

ANGOLA: Introduction

Photo: IRIN
Standing in ruins among equally battered buildings on Kuito's main Joaquim Capango street, is what used to be the city's biggest church
Kuito, 1 June 2001 (IRIN) - Kuito, the battered capital of Bie Province, is no stranger to suffering, its people no strangers to death. More than 158,000 people forc ed to flee their homes because of war and poverty live in camps around the city and rely on donated food rations to survive. More than 22,000 others try to eke out a living while the 26-year conflict between the MPLA government and UNITA rebels rages on around them.

Kuito lies in Angola's panalto, the fertile central highlands region that was once the country's breadbasket. The area is ethnically Ovimbundu, the group from which UNITA rebels draw the bulk of their support. The Bie plateau has long been among the most densely populated parts of the country.

Throughout Angola's civil war, the rural population has suffered: either directly, by being caught in the middle of the fighting and forced to flee their homes, or indirectly as a result of a lack of development that has left them further impoverished. But in 1993, the war came to Kuito with devastating effect. For 18 months the city was divided down the middle between government troops and UNITA. Residents and displaced alike were forced to scavenge for food in what became known as "Angola's Stalingrad".

In 1998, with the final collapse of the shaky 1994 Lusaka peace accord - largely as a result of UNITA non-compliance - Angola was back at war.

After a string of military setbacks, in which UNITA was again able to lay siege to key government towns, government forces managed to secure a narrow perimeter around the provincial capitals. But in Kuito, as with most of Angola's cities, the humanitarian lifeline remains its airstrip. The potholed runway is the only means by which supplies can reach those in need.

IRIN recently visted Kuito to examine the plight of the residents and displaced in the city, who daily confront the legacy of Africa's longest-running war.

Facing the reality of war

KUITO, June (IRIN) - A potholed airstrip is about the only lifeline the residents of Angola's central highland city of Kuito have to the outside world. Everything its one million residents need to survive has to be airlifted in because the country's ongoing civil war has destroyed the roads or rendered them unsafe for civilians and aid workers alike. Yet two years after a deal was struck to fix Kuito's landing strip, it still remains in a severe state of disrepair.

[Full report]

Still living off the earth

KUITO, June (IRIN) - Estevao Culivela is 60 years old and says he still works as hard as he did when he was younger. He hails from the outskirts of Kuito, in Angola's central highlands, where he grew fresh vegetables to feed his family and to sell to others in the town. Today he and his family live in the eastern Kuito suburb of Catemo and he works as a builder to support his wife, two sons and four daughters. Culivela and a friend operate their little business on the roadside, where scores of their newly-baked bricks lie in neat rows in the sun. Their work is back-breaking.

[Full report]

Bearing the brunt of war

KUITO, June (IRIN) - Ten-year-old Costa Sapalo wants peace and a family more than anything in the world - not new sneakers to replace his torn ones or long pants to beat off the cold. Costa is one of 120 children who live in an orphanage simply called 'the lodge' in Kuito, the capital of Angola's Bie Province. The province's governor, Luis Paulino dos Santos, describes the central highlands province as the heart of Angola. It is even shaped so.

[Full report]
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