Competition for resources brings rising political tension

Recent tensions between Angola's ruling MPLA party supporters and members of the opposition, UNITA, were more about competition for resources than political differences, a senior analyst said on Tuesday.

Martinho Chachiua, Angola programme officer at the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa, told IRIN that while the number of reports of violence between the country's two main parties had increased in recent months, the conflict centred around access to limited resources, such as water and fertile land.

"The current tensions between the MPLA and UNITA are largely confined to the provinces, where there has been very little development. Therefore, it is almost a foregone conclusion that UNITA supporters, who are returning to their homes, are going to encounter animosity from local communities," Chachiua explained.

Although Angola is Africa's second largest oil producer, 27-years of cvil war turned the clock back on the country's development - especially in the rural areas - where a lack of social services exacerbates people's poverty.

According to UNITA's secretary for public administration, Alcides Sakala, the opposition party has written to the provincial governor of Moxico complaining about an incident in April, when MPLA militants allegedly ransacked UNITA's headquarters in the eastern town of Lumbala Nguimbo.

"This was not the first time such an incident occurred. We have asked the central authorities to make sure that their local representatives speak to their supporters on the ground to convince them of the need for tolerance," Sakala said.

A meeting with the authorities last week had raised hopes that "more would be done" to curb acrimony between activists of rival political forces in the region, which was badly affected by the civil war that finally ended in 2002.

"We agreed that further dialogue is needed to address this problem, especially since we are preparing for the elections next year. UNITA also impressed upon the government that it was important for local MPLA leaders to be told not incite their supporters by saying negative things about UNITA and other opposition groups," he told IRIN.

However, Chachiua warned that politicians would be well-advised not to interpret isolated incidents of conflict as being wholly politically motivated.

"Yes, it is important to make sure that communities are made aware that ... [they should] respect opposing political views, but the government and UNITA must [also] look at social conditions on the ground in the areas affected by these tensions - communities are battling to cope with very little, which means that they will compete for resources," Chachiua commented.

He pointed to the slow reintegration of former UNITA soldiers into society, noting that there were signs of growing frustration among ex-combatants.

"Although efforts have been made to provided the ex-fighters with skills and tools, so that they can make a living when they return to their communities, more needs to be done to deal with the bitterness some communities feel towards these soldiers," Chachiua urged.

Earlier this year Human Rights Watch warned that the failure of the government to fully implement the demobilisation and reintegration programme might increase the risk of conflict between former combatants and local communities.

Angola's civil war finally came to an end when government forces trapped and killed UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi in February 2002. His remaining forces came out of the bush and laid down their weapons, and were promised government assistance to restart their lives as civilians.