Peace, and war in Angola

Even as the government of Angola, mulls over a second draft of a legislation on land rights, aid and humanitarian organisations point out it could become a source of major future conflict. Tensions over land ownership are on the rise, as millions of Angolans return home after a devastating 27-year civil war. People return to discover that others are farming their land. In cities, properties the poor occupy are being eyed by both business and the government as a real-estate opportunity...

 
Published: Thursday 15 January 2004

Angolans returning after 27 ye (Credit: Act Angola)Even as the government of Angola, Africa, mulls over a second draft of a legislation on land rights, aid and humanitarian organisations point out it could become a source of major future conflict. Tensions over land ownership are on the rise, as millions of Angolans return home after a devastating 27-year civil war. People return to discover that others are farming their land. In cities, properties the poor occupy are being eyed by both business and the government as a real-estate opportunity. "There are not yet enough capabilities and resources to deal with this complexity," says Paolo Groppo, land tenure systems analysis officer of the fao's Rural Development Department. Indeed, organisations are calling on the government to hold fire on the bill until they can better gauge its impact in both poor rural communities and in city-centre and suburban slums.

The appropriation of land by Portuguese colonists in the years before independence in 1975 drove the discontent that sparked a liberation war. "Today the same thing is happening," says Fern Teodoro, director of World Learning, part of a coalition of non-governmental organisations called Rede Terre. Rede Terre has collected case studies on land issues in Huila province, in the south of the country, where it alleges prime agricultural ground is being taken away from the poor.

The irony is that such unrest in Angola appears to be a peacetime problem. Just as in Guatemala, South America. This became clear at a protest held by the National Coordinator of Peasant Organisations (cnoc) in Guatemala city on December 17, 2003. Indians and peasant farmers marched to demand that a 1996 treaty on land distribution be implemented.

One per cent of Guatemala's 11.2 million inhabitants own 86 per cent of the country's cultivable territory. Ninety-six per cent hold just 14 per cent of the land, and more than 5,00,000 peasant families live in extreme poverty because they do not have land to farm. "The upshot is a government that lacks the political will to resolve our needs," says Daniel Pascual, leader of cnoc. He accuses President Alvaro Portillo of double standards: "He tells us that he will comply with the peace treaty's terms, but has another discourse."

The 1996 treaty that ended 36 years of civil war contained an Economic and Agrarian Development Accord that called for the distribution of land. This has been shelved by the authorities and by the powerful and conservative Chamber of Agriculture, in the hands of large landowners. The fight for land was one of the central factors in the coup d'tat that overthrew president Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 and in the civil war from 1960 to 1996, claiming an estimated 200,000 lives.

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