|6 June 2001
ANGOLA: Focus on church's role in new path to peace
An end to military combat and
political hostilities, and a return to the negotiating table - this is what the
church hopes to achieve in Angola by the end of the year. A tall order? Maybe
so, but Reverend Daniel Ntoni-Nzinga believes it is not impossible, even though
two peace agreements have come to naught in the past decade.
church has emerged as a powerful and uniting civic force in Angola over the
past year and is spearheading a campaign to end the 26-year-old civil war which
has torn the country apart. In an open letter to the church last month, UNITA
leader Jonas Savimbi asked the church to help end the conflict through
mediation between his rebel movement and the ruling MPLA government.
about the same time, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos changed his hardline
stance, stating publicly that he would talk to Savimbi if UNITA laid down its
weapons and honoured a 1994 peace agreement. Angolans themselves, through a
wide range of civic organisations, have asked the church to help find a
solution and the international community has finally acknowledged that it is
Angolans that have to create their own peace. This has thrust the church to the
forefront of peace efforts in Angola - a church that has in the past two years
been vocal and often critical of government and UNITA policies alike.
Ntoni-Nzinga is executive secretary of the Inter-Ecclesial Committee
for Peace in Angola (COIEPA), which is heading the civic peace initiative.
Outlining the church's hopes for yet another "peace process", he told IRIN
there were various factors which indicated this third attempt could work and
should be taken seriously.
A new path
"Firstly, by the
end of the year I would like this process to be at the point where we are
capable of projecting a deadline for the end of formal military and political
confrontations. Maybe by next year we can go back to normal life, in the sense
that we can all feel part of the process we are in," he said. To get there,
however, civil society and all other "actors" would have to reach a point where
they had a "common understanding of the nation we want, not only through
understanding the causes of the tragedy we have, but also the vision to put an
end to it once and for all".
"In the formal sense, in political terms,
we would like to see political and social forces saying this is what we want,
the country we want, the nation we want to be ... If we work hard this year, I
can see that by 2002 we can be engaging each other at a level where we are
consolidating the peace. But off course the soonest we can develop what I would
call a break with violence, especially military violence, the better. This
should not wait for the end of the year, because this in itself will create the
atmosphere we need to talk and to develop, because there is so much mistrust
among Angolans," he said.
The mistrust was there at Angola's
independence in 1975. The cold war years and apartheid South Africa helped fuel
the conflict. Peace overtures that finally began in 1989, under international
pressure for a political settlement, led to the Bicesse Accord in 1991 and
multiparty elections in 1992. But the agreement collapsed when UNITA refused to
accept the MPLA's electoral victory and returned to the bush. After two years
of bitter fighting that cost thousands more lives, the government and UNITA
went back to the drawing board. Under the auspices of the United Nations, the
Lusaka Peace Protocol was signed in 1994. It also failed to stick, however,
because the warring parties - mainly UNITA - failed to honour key aspects of
the protocol, and the government went on the offensive. The United Nations was
also criticised for its inability to act when the protocol was contravened.
But the political, military and
social climate in Angola has changed. The international community, tired of
broken promises, constant humanitarian crises and abject poverty, has begun to
put pressure on the warring parties to look for peaceful solutions. The United
Nations has placed sanctions on UNITA in the hope that these will prevent
Savimbi from selling Angolan diamonds to buy weapons. Donors and international
human rights groups have been putting pressure on Luanda to become more
transparent about its oil revenues, to deal with high levels of corruption in
government and to allocate more money to poverty alleviation. The European
Union recently joined the chorus for calls to create a sense of urgency about
peace. In a recent statement it urged the Angolan government to start creating
the conditions for elections and asked Savimbi to comply with the Lusaka Accord
so that peace talks could resume. On the battlefield the two armies' fortunes
continue to fluctuate, with no decisive victory in sight for either.
More importantly, the church has assumed a role that no other civic group has
dared in Angola's long history of war and has ideas of its own. Wary of getting
embroiled in matters political and viewed in some quarters as colonial puppets,
the church began to review its role in 1999 when it became evident that the war
had reached a point of no return, Ntoni-Nzinga said. The years of 1998 and 1999
were characterised by heavy fighting between government and rebel forces, which
displaced hundreds of thousands of people and further ruined what was left of
the country's infrastructure.
The church, the only institution with
access to all of Angola's communities, witnessed this suffering, said
Ntoni-Nzinga, and realised last year that the time to act had come. The signing
of a peace manifesto drafted by a group of civic leaders - including
Ntoni-Nzinga - in April 1999 set the ball rolling. "A sense of hope was
consolidated in the minds of people, that in the end something can be achieved.
The other thing is that the peace process in the country has been vacillating
because there was never the capacity for internal mediation." Then in 2000,
after further requests from a range of civic groups, said Ntoni-Nzinga, COIEPA
was created and decided to take its new role seriously.
Even so, the
road ahead seems fraught with difficulties. The peace the church and civil
society envisage is not the same as the peace Angola's two main forces
contemplate. "It is true and clear that everyone wants peace. This in itself is
a source of tension. The peace we are talking about goes far beyond the
silencing of guns. It has become clear that previous peace agreements have
failed because they were mainly interpreted as silencing the guns. How and who
holds the guns was the major problem because the very people who held the guns
were the ones who had to silence them, which still gave them the prerogative to
use the guns again," said Ntoni-Nzinga.
"The peace we have to talk is
the transformation of the tragedy of the war situation into a situation of
peace. That means we have to bring in some new balance in terms of social and
economic relationships. Angolans have to be given back their dignity. Many have
been on the run for more than 25 years and know only war."
dismissed recent government talk of holding elections in 2002, saying that
while the church could not stop an election, the country might live to regret
it, particularly because elections in 1992 had failed to bring peace.
"Elections are just an instrument to consolidate peace, not to bring peace
itself. Choosing leadership is not a condition for living together. Living
together with a shared vision is a condition for choosing leadership. That is
the tension right now and we have to face it, and that is the position the
church has taken," he told IRIN.
If the church indeed ended up
mediating in Africa's longest-running war, the belligerents could be in for a
tough time. Ntoni-Nzinga is unequivocal about how he thinks the process should
Dealing with UNITA and MPLA
To start with, he
says, it is time to stop dehumanising Savimbi. "We have to do everything
possible to avoid demonising him. He is a human being like everyone else. He
has feelings and emotions. Specifically the church, and that is the pastoral
role of the church, has to make him feel he is still wanted in the country.
What has happened so far is the opposite. Savimbi has to come in, rather than
be brought in. It has to be made possible for him to come in. It has not been
easy. The letter he wrote to the church, 'we say thank you it's a good step but
can we move from there now and try to ensure that further conversations are not
only about finger-pointing'. We need to encourage him to project how to put an
end to this (war). From the church's point of view, this must be done for
Savimbi as much as for the hundreds of thousands of Angolans who look to him as
their leader. If we ignore him, we are ignoring them too."
to show him that it is not the MPLA but the people of Angola who are suffering
- the very people who suffered most under colonial rule are now still paying
the heaviest cost for our independence," he added.
Referring to dos
Santos' MPLA government, he said: "Very often our leadership in government
forget they have been there for 25 years. They need to try to understand that
the people will not always look at them in the same way they did in 1975. I am
convinced there are many leaders in the government today who have no fresh
initiatives. There is a kind of tiredness. They have to accept that the
collective memory needs new injection. Without that we will become so
conservative and defensive, we won't be able to see anything else," he said.
Ntoni-Nzinga also said that both sides abused children in the war. "There are
kidnappings, forced recruitments and families are constantly broken up by those
engaged in war," he said. Acknowledging that the task facing Angolans was
daunting, Ntoni-Nzinga said there were no easy solutions, that it would take
more than half a century for Angolans to come to terms with their history and
to heal their scars. However, he added: "I am very happy. I see it very clearly
in my mind that the time has come for a change. The train of peace has moved.
It is on the move and whoever wants to live in Angola, whoever wants to govern
Angola, has to join the train or stay out forever. It will no longer be the
same Angola because it is evident to everyone that war no longer has the
support of the Angolan people."
Explaining his optimism, he pointed to
the fact that open debate is allowed in Angola today, when it was not allowed
two years ago. Also, he said, while the government's US $20-million Peace and
Reconciliation Fund which was created for those who denounce war and hand in
their arms was inadequate - and perhaps misguided - its existence was a
positive sign. It meant the government wanted to take the process forward, he
said, adding that the fund could be used to ensure that communities directly
affected by the war were assisted. This would go a long way towards rebuilding
a society that all Angolans felt part of, and towards restoring people to their
homes, families and land, he added.
The tough talk has international
observers feeling hopeful too. A senior UN source told IRIN the church's
mediation in Angola's conflict would be most welcome. He said the United
Nations had made mistakes in the past, and would be happy for a neutral and
widely-accepted local mediator to take the process forward. "We can then
provide whatever it is that is needed and hope that when the time comes again
for the UN to act decisively, it will," the source said.
according to other observers - most of whom say it is still too early to tell
whether Savimbi and dos Santos will abandon their hopes for a military victory
- the lure of Angola's natural resources may still prove too strong for peace.