Despite years of peace, challenges remain

Angola's 27-year civil war may have ended more than three years ago, but the need for peace-building initiatives is stronger than ever, according to humanitarian workers.

Peace is an ongoing process, they argue; the guns may have fallen silent, but peacetime has brought with it a host of other potentially conflict-creating problems.

From disarming the civilian population to reintegrating returnees and educating people about elections and democracy, the need for peace-building efforts is clear.

"Peace is a long-term process ... It's about human rights, social justice and democratic processes," said Mick Comerford, a consultant to Development Workshop (DW), an NGO focusing on economic and human settlement development projects, but which also devotes much of its time to peace-building.

Eunice Inacio, who is responsible for peace-building at DW, says working towards peace is even more demanding than working towards a cessation of hostilities.

"When DW first started its peace-building initiative in the late 1990s, the aim was to support civil society and church-based organisations ... and get the warring parties to talk and ultimately to reach a ceasefire. The target was obvious," she said.

"The task now is even bigger. Angola is going through a time of great political and social change: this means that new challenges to peace-building and national reconciliation are emerging within the country - to address this type of complex peace-building is difficult," she added.

Deciding which of the scores of issues to tackle first was a challenge in itself.

Near the top of the list was the reintegration of around 97,000 disarmed former UNITA soldiers, previously a rebel group, now the official opposition party.

The return of these ex-combatants to a community often served as a painful reminder of atrocities committed during the conflict, and raised the sensitive issue of how possible perpetrators should be treated when they came home.

"You hear stories of tension and bitterness towards demobilised soldiers. Communities are expected to receive them as brothers, but perhaps these soldiers killed family members," said Comerford. "There is a risk that you end up with villages with ghettos of demobilised soldiers."

Although ex-soldiers might face hostility from the local community, they also had to learn to deal with their own emotions and frustrations: without warfare to fill their days, they often felt lost and abandoned.

"In peacetime, conflict changes but it doesn't end; it's normal to see an escalation in violence after the end of a war - banditry, domestic violence - because other issues emerge, often focusing on frustration and male identity. During wartime, their roles were clear. How can these people cope in peacetime? They have lost their identity," Comerford said.

Another top priority was the reintegration of people who fled the fighting. According to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), as of December 2004 more than three-quarters of the estimated 400,000 refugees had come back to Angola.

They were in desperate need of assistance - food rations, non-food items, seeds and tools - to help them build a new life, because they often returned with little more than the clothes on their backs and what they could carry.

Sometimes that did not sit easily with those who had stayed put and resented the people who, under the banner of programmes for ex-combatants or returnees, were perceived to be getting more help.

Much of Angola was left in ruins after the civil war; figures in the government's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) say around 68 percent of the population live on less than US $1.70 a day.

Few Angolans were not struggling to rebuild their lives, and access to land had become another potential source of conflict. "Many return to their homes to find their lands and houses occupied by others, but frequently have no documentation to prove legal ownership of land and property," Inacio pointed out.

There were ongoing discussions on disarming the civilian population, which held the dangerous potential of peacetime conflict, and was essential if Angolans were to live without fear of violence.

Angola's first elections since 1992 - widely expected to be held next year - meant discussions about democratic processes were also crucial.

"Democracy is a word which many don't understand or don't even know, and when you say 'elections' they think that means war. There is a deep fear of elections after what happened in 1992, when war broke out again even stronger than before," said Hilde Kusche-Uebber, another consultant to DW who is writing a 'Peace Manual' - a trainer's guide to promoting peace and reconciliation.

For Inacio, who has devoted years to peace-building, it was about making opportunities available.

"We have to address all those issues that could potentially lead a country to renewed conflict," he noted. "Peace is the same as providing access to services, health education shelter and employment. All these activities fell to one side during the war years, but the lack of these services now could lead to local conflicts."

DW manages the Programa de Construcao de Paz, or PCP, an initiative aimed at promoting lasting peace by giving local communities and leaders the tools to resolve or prevent discord.

PCP is a coalition of seven leading religious and secular Angolan organisations that trains "peace promoters" who venture into far-flung corners of the provinces, often on foot or on bicycles, to spread pro-peace messages.

They seek out actual or potential sources of conflict and help communities to either manage or avoid it. There are currently around 200 PCP-backed projects in 14 of Angola's 18 provinces.

DW's civic education programme, which began in 2003 with a view to assisting former soldiers and their families, is in the process of being expanded to include education about elections and democracy in view of the approaching national ballot.