For Angola, now the hard part

Following a cease-fire signed earlier this month, Angola is beginning to reintegrate former rebels.

Perhaps the most visible sign that peace has come to Angola are the trucks that have again begun winding between the country's far-flung towns and cities, along roads rarely passable during 27 years of civil war.

Filled with flour, clothing, and other goods for market, and precariously topped with refugees hoping to return home from exile in Angola's coastal cities, these rattling, smoke-belching trucks are linking the scattered pieces of this vast country together.

As Angola begins the slow process of rebuilding, one crucial test of the new peace will be whether the government is able to control these remote spaces, home to the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), the rebel group that has been fighting for control of Angola since 1975.

The price of failure, diplomats, and analysts say, is that Angola could become a "failed state," like Somalia, where trucks can no longer pass, and the rule of law exists only in theory.

Angola's government and international observers agree that a successful demobilization of UNITA soldiers, which has already begun and is expected to last for the next 6 to 9 months, will largely determine whether this most recent peace will last. This is the fourth cease-fire in a decade.

With the death in February of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi, killed by the Angolan military, few think UNITA will ever rise up again as a full-fledged rebel movement. The danger is that disgruntled soldiers will return to the bush, taking by force what they need to stay alive.

"The government must be very careful that those in the armed forces are reintegrated into society and not left without jobs," says Noberto dos Santos, general-secretary of information for the ruling People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). "We're going to need the help of the United Nations, because the government has no capacity to put them all to work. Many have no education. They have been living the way of the gun."

More than 50,000 armed UNITA soldiers and their families are believed to be still in the bush. The government has plans to create 26 "quartering areas," where UNITA soldiers can go to be fed, clothed, and disarmed.

Another challenge Angola faces is corruption among its leadership. International observers say the nation's large oil wealth has largely been siphoned off by the country's elite, including President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who is one of the wealthiest men in Africa.

National elections, which are expected to occur in two years, as well as a successful transition by UNITA from a military force to a political party, may put pressure on the MPLA to be more responsive to the needs of the people.

But uniting UNITA may prove to be a difficult task. Over the past 10 years, the party has fractured, with some of its leadership joining the country's parliament, while others continued the war. Additionally, a few renegade UNITA leaders who fell out with Savimbi and created UNITA Renovada (UNITA renewed) now want to reunify with UNITA, but are considered traitorous by those who went back to the bush.

The modern UNITA also has little ideologically to unify it. Angola's civil war began as a cold-war conflict between the Marxist MPLA and the US-backed UNITA. But the MPLA has long since abandoned its socialist policies, and the thing that held UNITA together was Savimbi.

"After the death of Mr. Savimbi, we have no leader," admits Jaka Jamba, a UNITA member parliamentarian and the vice president of the Angolan parliament. "Personally, I think that with the death of Mr. Savimbi, we may not have a big challenger in terms of the president. What we have to do is launch a strong legislative campaign." Mr. Jamba says a major need is for improving Angola's education sector.

Rebuilding Angola's economy will also be a difficult task. The war has dislocated one-third of the country's people and destroyed its transportation and communication sectors. Much of the richest farmland is filled with landmines, and unemployment in the capital, Luanda, is at 70 percent.

The United Nations says post-war reconstruction will be an expensive proposition, but foreign donors are not anxious to pour money into Angola. From the donors' perspective, oil-rich Angola is a wealthy country, especially when compared to other needy countries like Afghanistan.

Justino Pinto de Andrade, director of the faculty of economics at the Catholic University of Angola, says that in order for economic recovery to be successful, the government must pour its energies into building a few industries, such as the commercial farming sector. "The tendency will be to want to promote all things at once," he says. "But the government must be very selective and chose the industries that will best improve the economy."

Despite the challenges, international observers say that Angola may finally have peace, the essential precondition for everything else.

"It is fair to say that the prospects for lasting peace in Angola are brighter now than ever before, and certainly better than during the previous peace agreements...." said UN Undersecretary-General Ibrahim Gambari, after visiting Angola last week.

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