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Leon Kukkuk

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Letters to Gabriella: Angola's Last War for Peace, What the UN Did and Why
by Leon Kukkuk   

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· In Our Own Words: A Generation Defining Itself, Vol. 6
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Political Science

Publisher:  Florida Literary Foundation ISBN-10:  1891855670


Copyright:  April 07, 2003

Barnes &
Leon Kukkuk

An account of the Angolan civil war from the authors own first hand experiences as seen from the perspective of corruption within the United Nations system that was supposed to provide assistance.

 Why is War Thought? Why is War Fought?
This section, does not really belong here or anywhere else in this story but the author feels himself confronted with an issue important enough to justify in some way or another without, if it can be helped, going into unnecessarily long and complex explanations. To understand how to run development projects in or after a war, one has to understand what wars are all about. Yet it is not a line of argument that reduces neatly down to a few basic principles, but by dealing with only the most basic of issues we may come up with something reasonable. For anybody really interested in the nature of modern warfare the writing of Mary Kaldor is highly recommended and much of what follows is based on her ideas.
There is a tendency to look at modern wars through the lens of our experiences during the Second Word War. This was a war fought between various countries with armies numbering in the millions of men and with entire societies and economies subordinated to the war effort. The legitimacy of the governments during this war was not questioned. If there were any questions it had less to do with legitimacy as such but rather how this legitimacy was used. For seven years all the efforts of the most powerful countries in the world, with the exception perhaps of the USA to some extent, were directed purely towards the war effort. There was no connection between conflict and development. Conflict took precedence.
“Inter-state war is sometimes described as Clausewitzean war. The wars of classical modernity had a kind of extremist logic that is well analysed by Clausewitz. As war became more extreme and terrible, so the social contract was extended, reaching its logical end point during the Cold War period. Essentially, during this period, there were unprecedented gains in economic and social rights. But the risks were also dramatically extended. The price of these gains, during this period, was readiness to risk a nuclear war.”
Modern wars are different.
The end of superpower patronage to client movements worldwide created a power vacuum whose inevitable results included the spread of violence and the emergence of disparate groups, ostensibly fighting in the name of ideology, religion or ethnicity, but now seeking their finance through local taxes, plunder and pillage.
Modern wars are, almost without exception, fought in the name of identity, with the parties claiming power on the basis of labels. Political identity is defined in terms of exclusive labels which may be ethnic, linguistic, or religious and the wars themselves give meaning to the labels. Labels offer a new sense of security in a context where the political and economic certainties of previous decades have been undermined or have disappeared. They are mobilised for political purposes; they provide a new populist form of communitarian ideology, a way to maintain or capture power, that uses the language and forms of an earlier period. Clearly, these new ideologies do not spring from a vacuum but make use of pre-existing historical cleavages and the legacies of past wars. It is the case that the appeal to tradition and the nostalgia for some mythical or semi-mythical history gains strength in the social upheavals associated with the opening up to global pressures. But it is the deliberate manipulation of these sentiments, often assisted by Diaspora funding and speeded up through the electronic media, that is the immediate cause of conflict.
These wars are also globalised in another sense. Unlike inter-state wars, which were highly regulated and which has provided a model for statist forms of planning, these wars could be almost be described as the model for the contemporary informal economy, in which privatised violence and unregulated social relations feed on ach other. In these wars, physical destruction and unemployment is very high, the formal economy deteriorates and tax revenues plummet. The various parties finance themselves through loot and plunder and various forms of illegal trading; thus they are closely linked with and help to generate organised crime networks (Afghanistan and Columbia are prime examples). They also depend on support from neighbouring states, Diaspora groups, and humanitarian assistance.
An important characteristic of modern wars is complexity. This complexity is an important new dimension because in the vast majority of cases there are several and varied factions involved, as well as a number of external parties that may provide consultation, funding, technical support, direct military involvement and assistance. Third parties may escalate conflict by supporting contending parties, or de-escalate a fight through attempts at a peaceful or co-operative resolution. Any intervention changes the dimensions of the conflict and possible pay-offs for all the parties. Outside parties have their own interests and this affects their conduct in the conflict. If the outside party is sufficiently powerful, it may even impose its own terms on the contending parties.
Modern wars are no longer discrete in time and space. The various actors, states, remnants of states, para-military groups, liberation movements, etc. depend on continued violence for both political and economic reasons.
Social structures are likely to be created which, given the values of those involved and the inability of the society to produce either more of the material or positional goods in dispute, lead to frequent, repetitive and often intense conflicts across permanent cleavages within the social structure, as parties pursue goal incompatibilities that paradoxically arise from the same social structure or set of values.
Cease-fires and agreements are truces, breathing spaces, which do not address the underlying causes or mend social relations. The, often transnational, networks of politicians, security forces, legal and illegal trading groups, constitute a new distorted social formation, which has a tendency to spread through refugees and displaced persons, identity based networks often crossing continents, as well as criminal links.
At the root of much of today’s continuing unrest are the inequitable sharing of resources, both within national boundaries and globally, and the absence of inclusive and responsive political structures that has to a very large extent to do with the fact that national governments have become more outward looking – towards the IMF and the World Bank, as well as to political and strategic pressure from superpowers – rather than focussing predominantly on their own populations.
Modern wars can thus be described as an extreme manifestation of the erosion of the autonomy of the nation-state under the impact of globalisation. In contrast to the two world wars, in which states were able to mobilise resources and extend administrative capacities, these wars could be described as implosions of the state. Democracy at a national level is weakened by the erosion of the autonomy of the state and the undermining of the state’s capacity to respond to democratic demands. It is the collapse not just of democracy but also of the consensus on which state rule is based under the impact of globalisation.”
This is however a gross simplification of the root causes of war. Many other conditions have to be met for the abovementioned inequalities to explode into full-blown conflict. Still avoiding complexity, above all, one may say that modern wars are considered to be fought for two reasons: Greed or Grievance.
At it most basic the following minimum conditions are required for any conflict:
It must have a leader. The role that individual leaders play in the escalation of violence is undeniable.
It must have money to pay for the war.
The movement must be sufficiently large to generate the sort of casualties to qualify as a war.
It must have a (perceived) publicly acceptable reason for the war to present to the international community, whatever the real reason may be.
There must occur a moment of passage where individual interests becomes collective decisions and ultimately action.
There must be sufficient opportunity aside from economic and grievance opportunity. In other words the issues must become politicised and the only avenue to express them must be collective politicised violence.
There must be appropriate and sufficient geographical space in which to fight the war.
Many conflicts, as has been seen in Angola, Sudan, Somalia and the Balkans do not result in a more representative and accountable government but only in more and more conflict. Even where a peace agreement brings an end to violence, authorities remain confronted by unstable societies, a tendency for recrimination, and reconstruction demands that overwhelm their most energetic efforts.
The conflicts are called “wars” because of their political character although they could also be described as massive violations of human rights (repression against civilians) and organised crime (violence for private gain). They are about access to state power. They are violent struggles to gain access to or control of the state. As the state becomes privatised, in other words, as it shifts from being the main organisation for the regulation of society towards an instrument for the extraction of resources by the ruler and privileged networks, so access to state power becomes a matter of inclusion or exclusion, even, in the latter case, of survival.
Violence is itself a form of political mobilisation. It is mainly directed against civilians and not at another army. The aim is to capture territory through political control rather than through military success. And political control is maintained through terror, through expulsion or elimination of those who challenge political control, especially those with a different label. Population displacement, massacres, widespread atrocities are not just side effects of war; they are a deliberate strategy for political control. The tactic is to sow the fear and hate on which exclusive identity claims rest.” Conflicts see the denial of the elementary human rights of civilian populations and the use of food and humanitarian assistance as political weapons. In fact, the superpowers and associated donor governments acquiesced in and sometimes underwrote such policies.
Development in conflict thus requires historical perspective and, along with it, not only realism and modesty on the part of its proponents, but also a certain vision.
It follows from the argument about the character of modern wars that efforts aimed at conflict prevention or management should focus on a reversal of the uncivilising process, on the reconstruction of relations based on agreed rules and public authority. The foundation of any peace strategy has to be the restoration of legitimate authority. It has to counterpoise the strategy of fear and hate with a strategy of hearts and minds. This kind of restoration of legitimate authority cannot mean a reversion to statist politics; it must imply multi-layered authority: global, regional, national and local.
Most importantly, such an approach has to start by building a new form of cosmopolitan politics to counter the politics of exclusion. At a local level, cosmopolitan politics can include both political movements and parties that are secular and non-nationalist or religious, as well as moderate identity based parties that respect and cherish different identities. Cosmopolitan or democratic politics is usually associated with civil society; in particular NGOs and independent media, but it also may have political representation in parliaments or even governments.
The legitimacy of political institutions is intimately linked to the physical protection of citizens. Modern wars can be viewed as protection-failures. How and whether this protection is provided will shape the future of political institutions.
Social formations that depend on violence are always vulnerable, fragile and close to exhaustion. It is very difficult to sustain forms of political mobilisation that depend solely or predominantly on violence. Sustainable power depends on legitimacy, not on violence. Herein lies the possibility for a cosmopolitan, in other words, a non-exclusive, alternative.
What is needed is a transnational alliance that includes both local actors and those engaged in a variety of international activities committed to a cosmopolitan approach.
In nearly all conflict zones, it is possible to identify individuals, groups or even local communities that try to act in inclusive democratic ways. Precisely because these are wars which are not total in character and in which participation is low, in which the distinction between war and peace is eroding, there are often what might be called zones of civility that struggle to escape the polarisation imposed by the logic of war and provide space for cosmopolitan politics. Examples include Tuzla in Bosnia Herzegovina, Northwest Somaliland as well as many other places. Pro-democracy groups are not, contrary to popular perception, confined to non-violent resistance. Self-defence groups or reformist forces like the RPF in Rwanda or even elements in the KLA may be counted among these cosmopolitan or democratic political groupings.
Strengthening cosmopolitan politics is much more important than trying to reconcile opposing exclusivist groups, even though conflict resolution efforts at a societal level may be important in changing political perspectives. Negotiations among warring parties help to legitimise those who support exclusive approaches to politics and may result in impossible compromises involving various types of partition and power sharing that entrench identity politics. There may be a case for negotiations to stabilise the violence and create space for alternative cosmopolitan groupings but how this is done and with what aim should be understood as part of a common cosmopolitan strategy.
Secondly, a cosmopolitan approach requires respect for cosmopolitan law. This is international law that applies to individuals and not to states.
Thirdly, a cosmopolitan approach requires global justice that respects economic and social rights even in conflict zones. Indeed, if cosmopolitan politics is to counter the populist appeal of exclusive identity politics, it has to be able to address every day concerns.
In the modern wars, it is possible to find cosmopolitans who risk their lives to save others. Can their experience offer a moral basis for future forms of cosmopolitan governance?
The global context is crucial to understanding this new political economy of war: globalised arms markets, transnational ethnicities and internationalised Western-global interventions are all integral to new wars.
It is about the breakdown of legitimacy, and a new cosmopolitan politics is needed to reconstruct this legitimacy in the war zones. Cosmopolitanism is a set of principles and a positive political vision, tied to the rule of law. Cosmopolitans are to be found within the local communities at the heart of the violence - particularly in “islands of civility” where identity politics has not taken full hold - as well as within the International community. Cosmopolitanism does not mean negotiating truces between warring ethno-nationalists but building up pluralist democratic politics.
Kaldor re-focuses the categories through which we think about the international or Western role in war zones. It is not a question of intervention or non-intervention, humanitarian or otherwise: in the globalised new wars, thinking based on “inside” and “outside” has less meaning. It should be, she argues, a question of cosmopolitan law-enforcement rather than peacekeeping or peace-enforcement, and of reconstruction - understood in terms of political legitimacy as much as economic rebuilding - rather than humanitarian assistance, necessary as that may be, it should be confined to phases of real emergency and phased out as soon as possible afterwards.
Kaldor offers us an understanding of some of the most troubling of all contemporary phenomena - the deeply destructive, genocidal forms of violence which accompanied not only the break-ups of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union but also the fragmentation of many states, especially in Africa, since the end of the Cold War.
In the developments of the Cold War period - nuclear weapons, the permanent state of war without actual fighting (except by proxy), the alliances with their pooling of state monopolies of violence, the development of transnational civil society - there was an “erosion of the distinctions between public and private, military and civil, internal and external” as well as of war and peace.
“This transition from war to peace is a complex process marked by the need to stabilize the economy; de-militarise the country; reintegrate dislocated populations; protect the most vulnerable war victims; ensure human rights and justice for all; restore human and social capital; manage scarce natural resources to mitigate the environmental impact of war; and rehabilitate the productive assets and basic infrastructure. All of these processes depend upon the presence of a willing and capable government, a supportive and active civil society, and cooperative and receptive regional and international communities.”
Conflicts demonstrate strongly how important is the need for attention to historical inequities and human rights abuses. Conceptually speaking, effective development can help avoid conflicts, provide a sense of participation in fragile political economies, and reinforce negotiated arrangements to end warfare.
Unfortunately, development activities often lack the requisite urgency or priority needed to prevent conflict but, properly presented and managed, it can contribute towards ending conflict. It may be vulnerable to the social upheaval, which accompanies conflicts. Once conflict recedes, development may prove hard to restart and is often overmatched by the need. Relief, reconstruction, and development are no longer “steady state” phenomena, discrete points on a fixed continuum measured by emergency food commodities, infra-structural inputs, and per capita GNP. Techniques and institutions for doing so effectively will take some time to catch up.
“Donor fatigue,” whether it is the result of a perceived lack of progress in development or recurrent humanitarian emergencies is now well known. One of the major tragedies of the early post Cold War era has been that superpowers, donor governments, and multilateral institutions, clearly implicated in the creation of massive need, have largely turned their backs on the consequences of the wars that they had so enthusiastically supported. Their slowness to address the simple issue of land mines, for example, clearly indicates an unwillingness to meet the far larger and more expensive cost of economic and social reconstruction.
If connections between conflict and development are illuminated by recent experience, discussion should also benefit from a positive evolution in the understanding of the fundamental concepts involved.
The notion that relief is a state of “deferred” or “interrupted” development, situated on the near end of the much discussed relief to development continuum need to be challenged. The earlier view of development as an economic process that cannot take place unless peace prevails in a nation is now passé. Moreover, development has sometimes shown itself to be a cause of conflict rather than simply a casualty. Positive developments notwithstanding, the international development assistance enterprise remains largely becalmed, caught in a lose-lose situation. On the one hand, governments are redirecting development resources to the more attention getting emergencies, even though recurrent crises may themselves be the harbingers of failed development.
“In effect, then, the “new wars” and “complex political emergencies” of the immediate post-cold-war period had the important effect of demonstrating that, where stability and security were urgent objectives of relief/development, the prevailing intellectual framework for development is significantly inadequate. Development theorists and policy makers therefore face the quite urgent challenge of re-considering the relationship between state and society, and devising policy initiatives to engage their mutual imbrications. And within the mainstream, they had to do so without disturbing the non-negotiable development framework of the international capitalist economy.”
What is particularly strange about this insistence on democratic capitalism is the way that it concentrates on the procedural aspects of it; on elections, on representative institutions, on the participation in governance issues of all sorts of things such as churches, something called civil society and grassroots movements. The underlying values, on which democracy is supposed to be based, are frequently ignored. The irony is that if one can promote these values, then the system through which it is applied becomes almost irrelevant.
“These divergent dynamics of disempowerment and (re)empowerment are particularly complicated in cases where patterns of global integration themselves provide the forces that break down states. “in many developing countries, unequal patterns of development, in terms of investment as well as access to its opportunities, have been a major source of societal cleavage. The process of globalisation integrates markets and values, thus facilitating growth, yet it is also a source of increasing exclusion and marginalization, widening the gap between rich and poor within and among societies, and exacerbating the conditions that can give rise to violent conflict. This argument comes close to suggesting that the structure of global markets promotes civil wars! Indeed, a 2000 World Bank report on the Economic Causes of Civil Conflict argued that the greatest predictor of civil war is economic structure: countries that earn around a quarter of their annual GDP from export of unprocessed commodities face a far higher likelihood of civil war than countries with more diversified economies. The report suggested in fact that the main grievances articulated by rebel organizations- “inequality, political repression, and ethnic and religious divisions”-provide no explanatory power in predicting rebellion when they are measured objectively. By contrast, economic characteristics- “dependence on primary commodity exports, low average incomes, slow growth, and large Diasporas” - are all significant and powerful predictors of civil war. Consequently, the report suggested, conflict prevention can best be achieved through a range of political and economic management initiatives.

Civil war is far less likely to be ended by a negotiated agreement than wars between countries. During the 1980´s conflict resolution studies were focused on how to mediate civil wars under the illusion that all you needed to do was get an agreement and the war would end. By a huge magnitude, more people died after the peace accords in Angola and Rwanda than during the civil wars that preceded them. Negotiating a second peace agreement after one has failed is often more costly in time, money and lives. The brutally depressing fact is that for most of the parties in most of these conflicts, war is a safer bet than peace. War is often safer because it has a familiar pattern; it imposes order, stifles dissent, generates profits, provides employment, security and a sense of belonging and provides a pathway to personal advance.”
Peace, on the other hand, is a leap into the unknown. It involves bargaining concessions, contingent exchanges of promises that can come undone. Most of all peace involves loss of political control and cohesion. It tends to dissolve the glue that cements wartime coalitions together.
To be effective as peacemakers and keepers, the international governments and private organizations involved must be more skilful and consistent in the signals they send. Too often, the peace agreements are vague, which makes implementation more difficult. Bureaucratic turf wars among the peacemaking organizations also don’t help. The United States, for example, has eight different agencies involved in peacekeeping missions.
“Sometimes factors that facilitated the agreement are problems for implementation,” says Margaret Anstee , who had been the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to the Angolan peace implementation. The 1991 Angolan agreement was brokered by the United States, Russia and Portugal without any UN involvement, but the United Nations was designated to enforce it.
“The brokers negotiated “winner-take-all” elections, like those held for congressional districts in the United States. Both major factions assumed they would win the September 1992 elections, and when one, UNITA, lost with 40 percent of the vote, it went back to war. “You might say the operation was successful but the patient died,” Anstee says, because the Western brokers did not take into account that in many Third World countries “control of the government is the prize - there isn’t anything else.”
When Angola’s UNITA rebels went back to war, the UN Security Council took a year to apply sanctions, which were not effective initially. An estimated 300 000 Angolans died in the year following the election. A second brokered peace soon got in trouble as well, and the Security Council had to issue new sanctions against UNITA.
“From the beginning, we need to think about an integrated operation of peace-building,” says Anstee. “That means involvement in reconstruction and restoring the possibility of economic and social development, establishing democratic institutions and providing training for a neutral police force.”
“we use the term governance to denote the command mechanism of a social system and its actions that endeavour to provide security, prosperity, coherence, order and continuity to the system...taken broadly, the concept of governance should not be restricted to the national and international systems but should be used in relation to regional, provincial and local governments as well as other social systems such as education and the military, to private enterprises and even to the microcosm of the family.”
One would expect those responsible for a conflict to be at the very minimum ambivalent about efforts to respond to the consequent humanitarian emergencies. After all, if entire populations are the enemy, protecting them is contrary to the ostensible objectives of the perpetrator of their suffering. Moreover, since meeting the needs and defending the rights of victims requires relations between international actors and insurgent groups, state parties to civil conflict understandably fear that such ties legitimise their non-state adversaries. Whenever international assistance is given within the context of a conflict, whether negative and violent or positive conflict, in other words for a just cause, it becomes a contributing factor to that conflict and thus part of the conflict itself. Although aid agencies often seek to be neutral or non-partisan, the impact of their assistance is never neutral and can play an important role in abating or aggravating a conflict. It can, if properly implemented reduce tensions and increase people’s capacities to disengage from fighting and find alternative options to resolve a conflict. Any assistance almost always does some of both, worsening a conflict in some ways and supporting a resolution in others.

Professional Reviews

If you hate the UN, this book is for you
If you believe, as I, that the United Nations is a bloated, corrupt, inept, inefficient, and arrogant organization then this book is for you. The author spent several years in Huambo, Angola working on a development project under the auspices of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). UNDP could not account for money spent, who it went to or for what purpose. Meanwhile, the author and his staff struggled without salaries, supplies, and guidance while still making a meaningful contribution. Plus, Huambo was in the middle of a civil war. I'd give the book 5 stars, but Kukkuk really delves into the contracts, booklets, and correspondence as he struggles to save his project. It can get to be too much, but then again, he suffered through the time period. The book has an excellent account about the Angolan civil war, but the main focus of the text is the author's unbelievable struggle with UNDP. For a program designed to help the less fortunate, UNDP in Angola, at least, does nothing but worry about glossy reports, avoiding responsibility, and waiting for pay day and the chance to go on holiday paid for by the UN. A stunning indictment of the arrogance and condescending attitude shown not only to the people they are suppose to serve, but the host government as well.

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