12 December 2007 |

Former IDPs share the common challenge of recovery and reconstruction

Since April 2002, most of the four million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Angola have resettled, integrated or gone home following the signing of a ceasefire agreement between the governing MPLA and UNITA, which marked the end of 27 years of civil war. In November 2005 the government estimated that there were still some 62,000 IDPs in Angola. Since then, population movements and the level of integration of the displaced have not been monitored. In Cabinda, a strip of Angolan territory bordered by the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the initial circumstances that led to displacements still prevail, and although the Angolan army claims that the security situation is stable many displaced people are afraid to return home. As of December 2005 there were still close to 20,000 IDPs in Cabinda. There is no recent information available on their situation and numbers, but there are reports that the civilian population at large has been exposed to serious human rights violations, mainly by government forces.

In the rest of the country, the return and reintegration process has not always been organised in line with the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. The government has adopted standards for the return and resettlement of IDPs, but they do not provide for integration in the area of displacement, and the voluntary nature of the return and reintegration process has been frequently questioned. Only 15 per cent of people who returned moved through an organised process, while 70 per cent returned spontaneously, without any aid from local authorities or humanitarian organisations, to areas where conditions fall well below the standards outlined in the government’s policy. 

Upon return, many people found their homes and local public infrastructure destroyed and their belongings stolen. An estimated 400,000 IDPs opted to try to integrate in their area of refuge, and many people who had returned home reportedly went back again to urban areas.

Today, former IDPs – whether returned or not - generally have no specific needs beyond those of the non-displaced population, although the processes by which their displacement ended often failed to follow national and international standards. Although former IDPs face no particular discrimination in accessing justice and public and social services, many obstacles to their full recovery remain. Many children from displaced families remain outside the education system. Most former IDPs are among the poorest people living in slums in the suburbs of urban areas; they are generally without relevant skills or employment. In remote areas, the government must speed up the rehabilitation and reconstruction of public infrastructure and social services, especially in the province of Kuando Kubango which was formerly under the control of UNITA, and implement community development projects to provide adequate standards of housing and access to social services.

Methodology note

This short report is based on an IDMC fact-finding mission to Angola in October 2007. Interviews were conducted with: former internally displaced people and traditional and religious leaders in Huambo, Cacaca and the former IDP camp of Cantao Paula, in Huambo province, and in Nguti, Matala and Lubango in Huila province; UN agencies, local and international NGOs, including the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in the capital Luanda, and in Huambo and Huila provinces; central government officials in Luanda, and local officials in Matala in Huila province. Where necessary, the names of those interviewed are withheld.

This report uses the Framework for Durable Solutions established by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Internal Displacement (the RSG) to review the situation of people displaced by the war in Angola and see if they still have specific needs and vulnerabilities related to the fact that they were displaced. It looks at how the return and reintegration process was organised, and at the current conditions of former IDPs. Not all issues contained in the Framework are addressed because of the difficulty in accessing information. Furthermore, most information referred to in this report concerns the country’s main territory – “Angola proper” – and not the province of Cabinda between the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where there is a lack of access and information.


Displacement in Angola proper

Angola’s post-independence war (1974-1992) was a proxy Cold War battlefield in which the two major national groups, MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) and UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola), supported by the Soviet Union and the United States respectively, fought for control of the Angolan state. In 1992, UNITA rejected the results of multi-party elections won by MPLA, and war resumed until the signing of the Lusaka ceasefire protocol in 1994. 

However, the protocol failed to end the violence completely and UNITA and the MPLA government returned to full-scale war in 1998. UNITA, which had lost practically all international support, increasingly targeted the civilian population with killings, maiming and kidnappings which led to large-scale displacement. During military operations civilians were also forcibly displaced by government troops, mainly to prevent the population from supporting UNITA (MSF, 5 March 2002). Between 1998 and February 2002 alone, more than three million people fled from the countryside to the major urban areas where they found some level of security and better access to humanitarian assistance. The killing of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi by government troops in February 2002 was a turning point in Angola’s recent history. Less than two months later, the warring parties had signed a ceasefire agreement which still holds at the end of 2007, and UNITA turned into a political party.

At the peak of the internal displacement crisis in Angola, the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) was estimated to be 4.1 million (UN November 2001, p.10). Since then, there has been massive population movement and in April 2005, the government and the United Nations carried out a joint IDP assessment which found that more than 91,000 people remained displaced in Angola (Correspondence from UN-TCU, 29 August 2005). In November 2005 the government estimated that there were still some 62,000 IDPs in various provinces: as well as the 19,566 in Cabinda province, the government counted 16,817 in Huila province, 19,000 in Moxico, 4,500 in Kuando Kubango and 1,776 in Kwanza Sul (Correspondence from UN-TCU, 21 November 2005). According to the government, all IDPs have since then returned, resettled or reintegrated, but since the end of 2005 there has been no monitoring of population movements, and the level of reintegration of the former internally displaced population has not been assessed (Interview with the Vice-Minister of MINARS, 11 October 2007).

The conflict in Cabinda

Only in Cabinda, an oil-rich Angolan strip of land situated on the coast between the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo, do the initial circumstances that led to displacement still prevail. The Angolan armed forces claim that the security situation in the province is stable, but despite the current political dialogue between the government and some separatist armed groups, there are indications that many displaced people are still afraid to return home (Reuters, 1 August 2006; IRIN, 3 October 2006; Correspondence from UN-TCU, 29 August 2005).

The end of the civil war in Angola proper marked the beginning of a large-scale military campaign against these separatist rebels in Cabinda. Shortly after the 2002 ceasefire agreement, the government redeployed a large number of troops to Cabinda, and while the army seemed to have succeeded in dispersing the rebels, the humanitarian impact of the offensive has been enormous. 

Since June 2005, the province has seen a new build-up of government troops, and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders has raised concerns over the ongoing human rights violations caused by the proximity of the army to civilian populations (UN, 21 February 2005; IRIN, 6 Jul 2005). Combatants, and particularly government forces, have reportedly committed widespread serious human rights abuses against the civilian population, including summary execution, rape, torture, secret detention, ill-treatment, forced disappearance, and destruction and pillaging of property. The UN working group on arbitrary detention also raised concerns over impunity and widespread corruption in the judicial system following a visit to Cabinda and Angola proper (UN, 27 September 2007; Reuters, 28 September 2007). 

In November 2005 the government estimated that there were 19,566 people displaced in Cabinda. The majority of them have been taken in by families or friends living in towns. Others have moved from their villages in the forest to settle along the main road at Piadinge in Buco Zau district (HRW, 23 December 2004, p.9; Correspondence from UN-TCU, 29 August 2005). As of November 2007, there is little ongoing monitoring and reporting on the protection of civilians and IDPs in Cabinda.

The return process

In January 2001, the government adopted the “Norms for the Resettlement of the Internally Displaced” (the Norms) prepared under the leadership of the Ministry of Social Welfare (MINARS) to address the internal displacement crisis. The Norms gave provincial governments overall responsibility for planning and organising displaced people’s return to their areas of origin or settlement in other parts of the country, through the sub-groups on displaced persons and refugees of the provincial humanitarian coordination groups. Representatives of the provincial government, UN agencies, NGOs and other international organisations were represented in these coordination groups.

IDP participation

The displaced people’s participation in the planning and the organisation of return and settlement processes has not always been guaranteed. According to the Vice-Minister of MINARS, the IDPs were informed and consulted, and they participated in the provincial government plans for their return or settlement in other parts of the country. The Vice-Minister said that provincial and municipal authorities were also involved in the whole process. In some municipalities, like Cacaca in Huambo province, the “sobas” (traditional leaders) and other representatives of the displaced people confirmed that they were invited by the government to join them in assessing the security situation in the areas of return, and that they were given the choice to return or to remain in their area of refuge. 

However in many other cases, the people displaced were not able to take an informed decision about their preferred area of residence because they were forced to return to their areas of origin. In many cases, traditional leaders among the IDPs or MPLA party committees ordered them to go back home, without allowing family members to visit the return sites beforehand (ISS, 5 February 2004, p. 6; HRW, January 2003). 

Voluntary nature of return

Although the Norms promote voluntary return and resettlement through involving all interested parties and beneficiaries in the planning and management of the relocation, and despite the training given to provincial officials in its implementation, there were many reports of abuses associated with the return and resettlement processes which brought into question their voluntary nature. On various occasions, MINARS ordered displaced groups to end their dependency on external assistance and return home, which explains why the return process was frequently carried out in a great rush. Several reports confirmed that in many cases, IDPs were forced to return to their areas of origin. Entire villages residing in camps were induced to relocate through misleading information about assistance entitlements in areas of arrival, or threats to suspend assistance in the camps. In May 2002, for example, the local authorities of Trumba in Bié province forced the entire displaced population to return to their area of origin without proper assistance. In the Cruzeiro camp, Huambo Province, threats to suspend assistance were given to approximately 15,000 IDPs resisting return to Samboto commune. Forced returns were also recorded in Huambo, Lunda Sul, and Kuando Kubango provinces. (Interviews in Luanda, Huambo, 10, 15 October 2007; UNHCHR, 1 July 2004; ISS, 5 February 2004, p. 6; HRW, January 2003).

Many Angolans returned spontaneously because they urgently wanted to return to their villages due to the extremely difficult conditions in their areas of refuge. Indeed, many of them returned because of hunger and death of family members due to limited access to healthcare and food (Interviews with former IDPs in Cacaca in Huambo province, 15 October 2007). Some of those who remained in areas of refuge have been going back to their area of origin to work their land during the raining season and to harvest. In Matala, it is estimated that 60 per cent of IDPs returned to their areas of origin; 40 per cent opted to settle in Matala, out of which some 35 per cent regularly visit their villages of origin, more than 100 kilometres away, to work the land (Interviews with NRC, local authorities in Lubango and Matala, 17, 18 October 2007).


Assistance provided to returning IDPs was sufficient to cover only a limited part of their needs. The government failed to ensure the full implementation of objectives of the Norms, as provincial authorities had limited capacity and were either absent or inoperative in many of the peripheral municipalities affected. Indeed only 15 per cent of IDPs who returned did so through an organised resettlement process (ISS, 5 February 2004, p 9), and some 70 per cent resettled spontaneously without any aid from local authorities or humanitarian organisations, even in areas where conditions fell well below standards outlined in the Norms (OCHA, 18 November 2003). Other IDPs were taken only half way home, or were simply not provided with transportation. In Huila province, 2,500 returning IDPs were abandoned without assistance in Cherequera village on their way from Matala to Cutenda (ISS, 5 February 2004, p.6). In Cacaca and Nguti villages, people reported having returned by foot with no transportation assistance (Interviews with former IDPs in Cacaca and Nguti, 15, 17 October 2007).

Given the fact that the assistance available was limited, priority was given to those who decided to return or resettle rather than to those who chose to integrate within host communities. However, some of those who decided to integrate were allowed to continue to work the land previously provided to them by the government when they arrived in their area of displacement (Interviews with NRC, local authorities in Lubango and Matala, 17, 18 October 2007). 

The food and tools received by some of those who decided to return or resettle were generally in limited quantity and not accompanied with other types of assistance as provided for in the Norms. Consequently, people did not receive food and tools to meet their needs for more than a very short period of time. Indeed after a few days many of them sold most of the things that they had received to be able to feed themselves, and others returned to urban areas because there were no social services available and they decided not to face the challenge of returning to rural life (Interview with former IDPs in Huambo and Huila provinces, 15-18 October 2007).

Humanitarian access

During and immediately after the emergency years of the war, the government granted national and international NGOs and other humanitarian organisations unrestricted access to displaced groups in order to provide them assistance. Access became more controlled in December 2002, when the government passed rules designed to boost efficiency and coordination as the country was moving to a reconstruction and development phase after 27 years of civil war (UN OCHA, 20 February 2004).


Conditions on return or settlement and/or in host communities

Many people returned to their area of origin to find their homes destroyed and their belongings stolen. Schools, health clinics, water pumps, roads, bridges and sanitation systems, where they had been available before displacements, were often destroyed. Consequently, many of those who initially returned to their areas of origin came back to their areas of refuge, and an estimated 400,000 IDPs opted to try to develop their livelihoods in these areas. Some former IDPs had found and worked available land near to their camp, while others married members of local communities. Those living near to provincial capitals were more hopeful of finding informal employment in the cities. (Interviews in Huambo and Huila provinces, 15-18 October 2007; IRIN, 31 March 2006; APC, 17 August 2004; Angola Peace Monitor, 14 January 2004; UN OCHA, 10 December 2003).

In Cantao Paula in the commune of Caála in Huambo province, many displaced people have so far chosen to remain in the former IDP camp instead of returning to their villages of origin, partly because of the trauma of having lost family members in their villages during the war. Some say they may consider returning if they are given assistance to return to their village of origin. Others are waiting to see a peaceful outcome to the upcoming elections before deciding to return, considering the return to war which followed the 1992 elections (Interviews with former IDPs in the former IDP camp of Cantao Paula, 15 October 2007).

The risk from mines has hampered access to villages of origin in the remote areas of the provinces such as Kuando Kubango. Some areas are still inaccessible to the returnees for farm work. Despite ongoing development programmes and government demining efforts, Angola remains one of the most heavily-mined countries in the world, with landmines contaminating almost 2,000 communities with an impact on around 2.4 million people. Moxico province contains 38 per cent of the country’s highly impacted sites and has a general prevalence rate of twice the national average (MAG, 27 August 2007; UN, 27 April 2005; IRIN, 24 October 2005).

Physical security

After the end of the war, in a number of municipalities, political tensions arose between returnees and resident populations. Former IDPs were harassed, intimidated, attacked and persecuted in their area of return when they were suspected of being supporters of the opposing political party. In 2004, in riots against a returned UNITA general and UNITA supporters in Moxico province, 80 houses were destroyed, and the violence prompted around 2,000 UNITA supporters to leave. Similar incidents were reported in other provinces (UNHCHR, 1 September 2004; IRIN, 4 August 2004; OCHA, 1 July 2004). In 2005, political intolerance between non-displaced communities and formerly displaced communities was reported in Mavinga in Kuando Kubango province. There was fear among the local ethnic Nganguelas residents, who were now in the minority, that the formerly-displaced majority ethnic Ovimbundu communities could turn against them to overturn the current balance of power. In March 2005, 29 people were injured as a result of intense clashes between these communities. Political violence was also reported in other areas of the Kuando Kubango province (UN, 27 April 2005, p.4).

Isolated cases have been reported of retaliations by those who lost family during the war, against people who allegedly betrayed them.

Access to police, courts and other protection mechanisms

Former IDPs do not report discrimination in access to police, courts and other protection mechanisms, where they are available. The difficulty which is shared by all the population is the limited infrastructure and state institutions available. As of September 2007, only 14 out of 165 municipalities have municipal courts and there is still a shortage of qualified judges in the country (UN, 27 September 2007).

Traditional mechanisms for conflict resolution and mitigation, and churches have played an important role in resolving potential tensions and conflicts between communities in remote areas, whereas there has been little focus on reconciliation from the government side (Interviews with national Human Rights NGOs, former IDPs, church leaders in Luanda and Huambo and Huila provinces, 15-19 October 2007).

Access to documentation

According to various interviews held in Huambo and Huila provinces, former IDPs have access to public services and administration as much as the local residents and are subject to the same rules as the rest of the population. Nevertheless, given the fact that most former IDPs are among the poorest, it is more difficult for them to pay to access documentations including identity cards and birth and marriage certificates. However, former IDPs were allowed to register to receive their voting cards even without identity cards; they only needed to present a witness attesting that they were Angolan (Interviews, Luanda, Huambo and Huila provinces, 8-18 October 2007).

Access to land

Overall, former IDPs in rural areas face the same problems as other residents in exercising their land rights. Except for land problems resulting from colonialism, former IDPs who returned to their areas of origin have not faced major problems recovering their lands and those who decided to integrate in their area of displacement can still work the land awarded to them by the local authorities when they arrived (Interviews with NRC, local authorities in Lubango and Matala, 17 and 18 October 2007). In November 2004, the Government adopted a new land law. However, given the fact that this land law does not provide for the right to restitution, there is concern that former IDPs (and especially women) who in the future may want to reclaim ownership of land in their area of origin will be unable to assert their property rights. Thus they will have no formal means of compensation to support their livelihood in the areas where they chose to stay or to resettle (Paul Prettitore, October 2007, unpublished study). 

In the capital Luanda, where there is lack of clarity over land possession and ownership, many poor and vulnerable people, including former displaced people who decided to remain there, have been forcibly evicted by the government (HRW, May 2007).

Standards of living

The standards of living of most Angolans, including former IDPs, have improved steadily since the ceasefire agreement of 2002. The government’s national policy frameworks drawn up for the immediate post-conflict period were defined in its 2004-2007 draft poverty reduction strategy paper and the 2005-2008 United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF). The UNDAF aimed to contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals including inter alia eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, and combating diseases. While emergency agencies have closed down their operations, and aid agencies have progressively adapted their assistance from humanitarian assistance to long term development programmes (IOM, First quarter 2007, p.4; WFP, 23 February 2006, p.3), the progress made has not yet reached the level expected. 

Despite this shift in priorities, and its wealth of oil, diamonds and water resources, its potential in agriculture and its remarkable levels of economic growth, Angola is plagued by notable insufficiencies and many challenges lie ahead during the period of ensuring the full recovery of former IDPs. Even with the high global oil prices and increasing oil output that has made it one of the fastest growing countries in the world, Angola is still ranked 161st by the 2006 Human Development Index and the reconstruction process is proving very slow especially in remote areas of return and originally controlled by UNITA such as Kuando Kubango province. Among the major obstacles to the rehabilitation and development of the country are the limited number of schools, water pumps and health centres with competent health workers, the lack of livelihood opportunities and the slow introduction of state institutions and public services into remote areas. Despite some improvements, deplorable road conditions, broken bridges and the remaining mines all hamper the access to farm land (Interviews with former IDPs in Nguti, Huila province, 18 October 2007; IRIN, 27 Jul 2005; Reuters, 15 September 2005; OCHA, 1 July 2004). 

Most IDPs who never returned to the countryside stayed in the peripheries of Luanda or provincial towns. With few relevant skills or educational qualifications, they struggle to access jobs and adequate housing in these urban areas. Many of them work in the informal economy and live in slums. In Luanda, where 35 per cent of Angolans and huge numbers of former IDPs live, the proportion of households living below the extreme poverty line increased from 12 per cent in 1995 to 25 per cent in 2004 (WFP, 23 February 2006, p.6).

Nonetheless, in Luanda and other areas, many former displaced persons no longer envisage returning because their area of refuge is closer to some social services which are not available in their village of origin. In the province of Huambo, displacement has brought people closer to services that have helped improve their standard of living such as schools and hospitals and to new economic opportunities. 

However it should be stressed that many children, including those formerly displaced, remain without education in urban and rural areas because educational facilities are limited or non-existent within many communities. For instance in Mungo in the Huambo province, there are some 11,000 children who do not go to school. Compared to other Southern African Development Community countries Angola continues to spend a low percentage of its national expenditure on education and health (2005-2008 UNDAF, p.7; Interviews with religious leaders and former IDPs, Huambo, 15-16 October 2007).

The access to potable water is a major issue in some urban and rural areas, because there are not enough pumps to cover the needs and broken pumps have still not been repaired.

International development assistance has become increasingly scarce. Donor nations have been reluctant to contribute and increase the amount of aid, in part because they expect the Angolan government to be able to provide for its people from its large oil revenues. Accusations of embezzlement and corruption have been frequent, but the government is increasingly being recognised as having improved its record on how it uses its oil revenues (Reuters, 15 September 2004).

With the closure of the UN OCHA/Transitional Coordination Unit office at the end of 2005 and the transfer of the full responsibility for the design and implementation of the IDP strategy response to MINARS, UN agencies have shifted their activities from the delivery of humanitarian assistance and social services to support the strengthening of the governance.

Consequently, since 2005, UN agencies have stopped monitoring the movements of the displaced people within the country.


By and large, the processes to find durable solutions for the people displaced in Angola proper did not abide by the principles contained in the Norms for the Resettlement of the Internally Displaced. In many cases, the principle of voluntariness was not respected, as people were forced to return to areas where access to essential services was not yet adequate.

Former IDPs do not face specific discrimination and their living conditions are broadly the same as those of the non-displaced population. However, many former IDPs are among the poorest population groups and remain excluded from services and from mechanisms to protect their rights.

The resilience and coping capacities of former IDPs and affected communities, which were strained during the conflict, will still need to be built up over a prolonged period.

The government needs to speed up the rehabilitation and reconstruction of public infrastructure and social services in urban and in remote areas, in particular those formerly controlled by UNITA, and the implementation of community development projects with adequate standards of housing and access to social services.