ANGOLA: Govt should take lead in recovery effort - Monday, November 10, 2003
JOHANNESBURG, 10 November (IRIN) - As Angola makes the transition from a humanitarian emergency towards reconstruction and development, experts have called on the government to take the lead in the country's recovery.
Earlier this month government representatives, NGOs, donor countries and key UN agencies met in Switzerland to discuss ways of building new partnerships as the oil-rich country moves towards a development agenda.
Participants at the meeting said donors would continue their support in key strategic areas, but international assitance would be dependent on increased efforts by the government, particularly towards greater transparency.
There were also fears that deepening economic disparity between the small number of wealthy people and the poor majority could lead to "ruptures" within society.
John Rocha from Angola 2000 told IRIN that a recent survey conducted by the NGO had shown Angolans had high expectations of a peace dividend from the government with the end of the country's three decades of civil war in 2002.
"It is no secret that a tiny elite have most of the wealth in the country. People are prepared to wait for some change in their daily lives but the government has to start delivering. If people do not see changes in the future there really is no telling what their reaction may be," Rocha said.
Delegates in Geneva however highlighted the complexity of the current situation in Angola, noting that the government would have to deal with the continuing humanitarian emergency, including returning refugees, uncleared land mines and severely damaged infrastructure, while at the same time moving towards reconstruction.
"The range of economic, social and administrative issues that confront the government after decades of war represents a tremendous undertaking," a conference report said.
It noted that despite an improvement in the overall humanitarian situation, there remained a "significant" number of people dependent on assistance for their survival.
The meeting also drew attention to the plight of thousands of refugees trickling back into Angola since the peace deal between UNITA and the government was signed. The authorities were urged to comply with the legislation designed to regulate the resettlement process (the Norms for the Resettlement of Internally Displaced Populations).
Civic organisations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), have remarked on inadequate conditions in areas of return. "Those who have returned have often encountered abysmal conditions, such as food shortages, poor hygiene, lack of infrastructure, limited access to social services, such as health services, and landmine infestation," HRW warned.
The recovery process would also be strengthened by a broader engagement with civil society. Delegates pointed to the current debate over the proposed land law as an example of such consultation, and looked forward to a similar round of discussions on the draft Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper.
"A continued public airing of plans will be invaluable in setting expectations against which policy and implementation can be judged, paving the way toward the normal give-and-take of democratic governance," the conference report noted some participants as observing.
Rocha agreed that broader consultation was necessary for a successful recovery.
"It is absolutely necessary that civil society be included in all issue pertaining to policy. But it is equally important that local communities are consulted. This would go a long way to ensuring that ordinary Angolans feel as if they have ownership of the reconstruction process," he told IRIN.
The Geneva meeting also highlighted the "healthy" relationship between the United Nations and the government, developed during the war period, and noted that the world body would assist during the recovery period.
Next year the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) expects to phase out is operations, leaving the local authorities to assume many of the functions currently undertaken by specialised UN agencies.
As the UN presence shifts its focus, one of the key challenges facing the country is the development of local capacity. The meeting agreed that it would take some time for the transfer of responsibilities because of the government's shortfall in capacity.
The government is expected to take the lead in fostering an economic environment that encourages private enterprise. Employment and economic activity in the urban centres was still largely informal, and it was suggested that such traders be afforded access to economic and legal services in order to "transform" their lives. There should also be speedier access to visas, work permits and operating licences, delegates said.
Another key priority was vulnerable groups, especially the rural and urban poor, who should be given access to vital resources such as land, water and basic services. It was argued that improved access would enable many of the poorer sections of the population to participate more fully in the reconstruction of their communities.
In respect of the partnership agenda, donors were expected to have broad consultations with authorities, and demonstrate increased sensitivity to the specific circumstances of a post-conflict environment.