Angola: the end of an era
The ICRC has worked continuously in Angola since 1975. The conflict that ravaged the country having ended seven years ago, it is about to close its delegation in Luanda but will continue to monitor the situation from the regional delegation in Pretoria. Maryse Limoner, head of delegation, describes the humanitarian situation today, explains the ICRC’s plans for the future in the country and shares a few lasting memories.
How would you describe the current humanitarian situation in Angola?
Since the end of the conflict in 2002, the situation has gradually improved. For example, it is satisfying to note that the legislative elections held in September 2008 – the first since 1992 – were calm. But the conflict that ravaged the country for almost 30 years has left deep scars.
Demining operations are being carried out but their progress is slow. In their work to prevent mine-related risks, the ICRC and the Angola Red Cross cooperate with demining companies and indicate what areas need to be tackled as a priority in the light of the people’s most urgent needs. Today, seven years after the end of hostilities, some roads remain mine-infested and some regions inaccessible. Some Angolans risk life and limb to fetch water or work their fields. One of the tragic consequences of the war is that dozens of people continue to be injured in mine blasts every year.
The health system has improved somewhat and several new hospitals have been built. But during the decades of war very few senior staff were trained and the system suffers from a serious lack of qualified personnel.
Another dramatic consequence of the war is the suffering of the thousands of people who still do not know what happened to relatives who went missing during the conflict.
The ICRC is cutting back in Angola but will continue to monitor the situation from Pretoria, in South Africa. How will it do this?
Since 2002, the ICRC has been slowly adapting its activities and structure to needs. We closed the Kuito office in 2006 and the offices in Luena, Lubango and Huambo in 2008.
Restoring family links in Angola since 2002
- 2,000 tracing requests were resolved
- 750 people were reunited with relatives from whom they had become separated
- 433,000 Red Cross Messages were exchanged
In June 2008, the ICRC wound up its physical rehabilitation activities and handed its programme over to the Angolan Health Ministry. It had been providing support to three orthopaedic centres that were already run by the Health Ministry. Since the first one opened in Huambo in 1979, the three centres have produced 32,000 artificial limbs, allowing thousands of amputees to walk again and resume an active life.
In July 2009, the ICRC will close its delegation in Luanda. It will continue to observe the situation in Angola from Pretoria. We will be particularly alert to the humanitarian situation in the Cabinda enclave, the scene of a persistent low-intensity conflict. We will also continue to visit people being held in connection with the conflict.
The Angola Red Cross has announced that it intends to pursue all the programmes to restore family links and prevent mine accidents that we have been conducting jointly for some time now. A small structure answering to the delegation in Pretoria will be maintained in Luanda. Through it, the ICRC will maintain its support for the Angola Red Cross.
What memories of your years in Angola would you like to share? Are there any stories you recall in particular?
Two stories come to mind of the many I experienced. About ten years ago – I was in charge of the ICRC’s orthopaedic programmes in Angola at the time – Daniel, a boy of about 15, whose two legs had been amputated was fitted with prostheses at the Bomba Alta orthopaedic centre, in Huambo. When he left, he could walk, but only very awkwardly.
A year later, Daniel had outgrown his prostheses and came back to the centre. I was impressed at the progress he’d made. He moved so easily, he was so coordinated, he even played in a football match we’d organized as part of the campaign for anti-personnel landmine victims. It gave me enormous pleasure to watch this boy play with such skill and ease.
The other story I remember started a long time ago but only ended recently. In 1994, a woman fled the fighting in the company of her four-year-old son, Viemba, and her mother. Unfortunately she stepped on a mine and was killed. After the accident, Viemba and his grandmother were separated and lost all trace of each other.
The little boy was placed with a guardian. At the end of the war, the guardian filed a tracing request with the Red Cross to find his ward’s family. Viemba’s picture was posted in different parts of the country and the grandmother finally recognized her grandson. In 2007, we reunited the family; it was incredibly moving. The grandmother was overjoyed, but also relieved because she had felt responsible for losing her grandson. Viemba found not only his grandmother, but also the brothers and sisters who had fled with her and of whom he had had no news since 1994.