Unita soldiers stuck in quartering camps

When former Unita soldier Pedro da Silva disembarked from an army truck at Kituma, he thought it was going to be an overnight stop. That was in January and he is still there.

“We thought that when we arrived here we would be demobilised and everyone would get what he needed. We arrived here and are already here for nearly two months — now they are telling us that demobilisation will only happen later. They should have told us that before. Nobody was bothered about us, out here — and people are in a serious situation.”

Kituma is a collection of one-roomed mud-brick houses on the outskirts of Uige city, overlooking the intensely green hills of northern Angola. Although Kituma was originally built to accommodate civilians fleeing from Unita advances during the civil war, most of its residents are now ex-Unita soldiers and their families — more than 1000 in total. All of them have left the quartering areas where they were instructed to gather in terms of the peace agreement signed on April 4 last year; all were expecting to move on to their original home villages within a day or two.

Almost a year after the peace agreement was signed, places like Kituma are a reminder of how much remains to be done to implement the terms of the accord, which were hammered out by government and Unita military officials after Unita leader Jonas Savimbi died in battle. According to the plan, each Unita family was supposed to receive a “resettlement kit” — agricultural tools and household items to help them make a new start — and return to their home villages no later than last September.

But far from the quartering areas emptying after September, the population kept on growing, peaking at 464000 late last year. The peace accord provided for 55000 Unita soldiers, plus their family members — that number had doubled by the end of the year, as more and more stragglers arrived from the bush in the hope of assistance.

So far, only about 100000 people have left the quartering areas, some going home, but others ending up in transit centres as the government failed to provide transport for them to complete the journey home. The kits have become a point of contention, as no one wants to leave the quartering area without one.

“We are here without the kits we were promised,” fumed one ex-soldier. “We should have stayed in the quartering areas. People left behind the vegetable gardens and maize fields they had been cultivating in the quartering areas — we don’t have that here in the city.”

In the quartering area of Uamba, about 150km east of Uige, most people want to leave, but are determined to stay put until the promised kits arrive. Of the 12000 people living at Uamba, barely 500 people have left.

“We want to know if the government can give us something that will serve our needs, or if it’s denying this to us all,” former guerrilla Santos Bernado said.

The prospect of tens of thousands of frustrated soldiers, many of them believed still to have access to weapons, has led to fears that the country could see a new wave of instability.

Unita’s foreign affairs secretary, Alcides Sakala agreed that there was a risk: “The war is over in this country, but if people leave their areas without any perspective, I think the levels of criminality in this country will increase. We may have the end of the armed conflict, but [no] stability throughout the country.”

Sakala expressed concern that the demobilisation process had been moving “very slowly” and without proper coordination.

“We feel there is not enough political will on the government side to tackle this issue with responsibility. More than giving food to these people, which is obviously important, we need to discuss a framework so that when these people go back to their villages they can have a perspective on what they are going to do.”

Social Services Minister João Batista Kussumua has dismissed as “speculation” allegations made by humanitarian staff that the kits were arriving only at a rate of 500 a week.

“I don’t think the distribution is going to take long,” the minister told journalists in Luanda. “We started the process at the end of January. Out of 125000 kits we have already delivered 72000 — so I think the process is under way.”

But one UN official suggested that the figures cited by the minister referred to the number of kits delivered to the provincial capitals, where they might remain in storage hundreds of kilometres from the people who need them.

Not all of this is the fault of the ministry. Diplomats and some UN officials have blamed the lack of action up until the end of last year on the fact that the contract for the supply of the kits was originally awarded to a man with close links to the presidency. Kussumua is widely seen as someone who has the will to get the job done, but who is working with a desperately under-resourced department.

Recent visitors to Uamba included a group of people in worn-out clothes who looked no better off than the Unita men. They were not refugees, but civil servants from the Social Services Department.

They slept on the cement floor of an abandoned house, copied statistics into tattered ledgers, and when the time came for them to leave, they had no choice but to hitch a lift on an army truck back to their homes in Uige.

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