August 30, 2002

World Leaders Turn a Blind Eye to Angola

Angolans are paying dearly for the peace that five months ago was hailed as key to regional stability. Three million people face starvation in a country whose oil and diamond riches fuelled the civil war for 25 years. Those exploiting these resources, mostly offshore, did so despite the war. They can thus continue doing so no matter the hardship in the rest of the country.

Aid workers say it is the total defeat of Unita that allows the world to turn a blind eye to Angola's suffering. "If there was any prospect of Unita rising again, the country would be crawling with blue helmets," said an NGO worker.

Humanitarian aid is the only thing working. A quarter of all Angolans get something from the UN and 1,5-million people -- 10% of the population and the second-highest number of people next to Afghanistan -- are totally reliant on food aid. This will now be brought under political control. The first order of business, even before establishment of the proposed UN Mission in Angola (Unma), is a call by Secretary General Kofi Annan for $141-million "to cover the life-saving emergency needs of a highly vulnerable people".

Assistance provided to Angola is the most expensive on the UN's list. It costs 10 times more to keep a starving child alive than to feed a hungry one. Everything has to be imported and flown around the inaccessible country, which is the size of South Africa. Angola is producing barely a third of its annual food requirement and 80% of the population is malnourished.

Those canvassing for international aid have their work cut out. Donors are disinclined to pour money into a country that provides 8% of United States oil requirements. Forty-five percent of the gross domestic product comes from oil that comprises 90% of the country's exports. Output, now at 930 000 barrels a day, could increase to 1,5-million barrels a day by 2006. Diamonds earn the equivalent of a 200 000 barrels-a-day oilfield, but mining has become problematic.

De Beers is suing Angola in The Hague and London for $300-million - 20 months of income from this resource - for breach of contract. It is hardly surprising then that only 12% of the country's last appeal for $241-million has been received.

Humanitarian aid was previously taken care of by the US and Europe in exchange for oil exploration and exploitation rights. They paid $400-million a year to salve their colonial and Cold War consciences and keep pumping. In 2000 another deal was struck. The Western powers would enforce sanctions against Unita leader Jonas Savimbi. The sanctions worked - one of the few cases in history where they did. By the time they surrendered, Unita generals were asking for nothing more than food.

Humanitarian aid was halved - even though 70% of this still comes from Europe and the US. As much as it celebrated peace in Angola, the international community had clearly tired of African wars. Mozambique got $1-billion when it stopped fighting. Barely $80-million has trickled into Angola since the peace accord was signed in April.

The hardship currently being experienced is a direct result of the scorched-earth policy of the military. More than 4,5-million people were either scattered or force-marched into controlled areas. This displacement by an army intent on leaving no trace of the enemy continued even after Savimbi's death. Officially the government says it is now doing a critical analysis of greatest need.

In reality the NGOs doing the work and getting paid for it by the US and Europe are told to feed the 85 000 Unita soldiers first, their 300 000 family members second and only then send food to the provincial capitals and towns. Then last in line are those scattered in the bush - the people in greatest need.

More than 500 000 people are planting crops before their three-month rations run out. They were given equipment with which to do this. Their daily ration is 1 300 calories - less than half that fed to displaced Kosovans. Unlike other refugees they get no educational, health or livelihood assistance. There is also no de-mining operation in a country that has lost 85 000 people to landmines. Instead a policy of "signalisation" -- identifying minefields and putting up warning signs -- is followed.

Angola doesn't have to be like this. President José Eduardo dos Santos, known to liberally skim from the $3-billion annual oil revenue, no longer has the excuse that the money goes to weapon acquisitions. After 23 years in power Dos Santos has promised not to stand for the next election - but has not said when this will be.

It is in the disciplined and relatively uncorrupted military that Angolans see their salvation. But this poses challenges to the region and the continent where Angola clearly sees itself as a primary player. Its trump cards are non-membership of the Oil and Petroleum Exporting Countries and a bravado regarding international loans. Angolans believe their willingness to take the consequences of defaulting gives them a perverse strength. This is not something the donor nations like to hear. (MAIL&GUARDIAN)


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