The Case of Angola
ALNAP Global Study on Beneficiary Consultation and Participation
This study examines humanitarian practice in Huambo Province, Angola, encompassing inland cities, rural areas that have remained relatively accessible throughout the conflict and newly accessible areas heavily affected by fighting between 1999 and early 2002.
The Case of Angola - Executive Summary
Participation of affected populations has become a central tenet of policy for a number of humanitarian agencies. The 1994 Code of Conduct for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief commits signatory agencies `to involve programme beneficiaries in the management of relief aid'. Despite policy level commitments, there remains wide variation in practice. It is against this background that the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP) commissioned the `Global Study on Consultation with and Participation by Affected Populations in the Planning, Managing, Monitoring and Evaluation of Humanitarian Action' with the core objectives of:
- assessing current consultation and participation practice in a range of emergency contexts;
- identifying examples of good practice;
- identifying gaps or inadequacies in current practice and contributing factors; and,
- improving understanding of participation and consultation practice.
A series of six country case studies aims to test the hypothesis that active consultation with and participation by crisis-affected populations in measures to assist them is, according to aid recipients and other key stakeholders, both feasible and beneficial. Angola is the fifth of the case studies. Humanitarian programmes were defined broadly and included emergency programmes (that stress rapid action) as well as programmes that aimed to respond to ongoing crises with longer timeframes.
Participation and consultation were defined in the Angola study as processes in which affected populations and humanitarian actors work together to understand and strengthen preferred ways of meeting survival needs in times of stress.
Conflict in Angola lasted from 1961 to 2002, interspersed with a few periods of peace. Each phase of war in Angola has led to its own waves of displaced people and refugees. There have been periods of acute crisis in Angola (such as October 1992 to November 1994, and late 1998 to 2000). During the intervening years, normally described by Angolans as `not war but not peace', there were short-term acute crises in certain areas. But generally the crisis was a long-running, structural one with various dimensions. Vulnerability was caused by the collapse of the economy, poor services and weakened institutions.
International humanitarian aid to Angola was very limited before 1990, but has grown rapidly since. The long-running nature of the crisis, and its various dimensions, has led to a variety of different humanitarian agencies operating in Angola; they have differing perceptions of their relations with the affected populations. These range from agencies that perceive consultation and participation in an instrumental way (that is as possibly useful in the realisation of humanitarian actions) to those who see the main objective of humanitarian programmes as increasing people's capacity to take decisions that affect their lives. Agencies with different mandates and perceptions often work in the same area. While there is a consensus that humanitarian intervention in Angola has saved many lives, there is also debate. One criticism centres on the form of humanitarian action during acute crises and its top-down nature. A second is that interventions designed for short-term crises continued for more than 10 years. A third criticism is that the prolonged humanitarian interventions encouraged dependency, and damaged coping mechanism and community institutions. The latter two criticisms are much more common than the former.
Interviews with humanitarian actors in Angola during the Case Study suggest that there have been three different approaches to humanitarian activity in Angola. The first, a pure emergency approach, aims to respond to acute crises through actions that directly save lives. The second aims to respond to an ongoing crisis through actions that save lives more indirectly, supporting household and community coping strategies, protection of vulnerable groups and peace building. The third approach stresses sustainability, the development of community capacities and the development of citizenship. Examples of participation and consultation in Angola are described for each approach.
Few examples were found, during the fieldwork, of participation and consultation during acute crises. In such situations, the emphasis seems to have been on `delivery' through standardised programmes. Humanitarian agencies oriented to emergency actions seemed unaware of, and uncomfortable with, the discourse of participation and consultation which they felt would have hindered quick action without adding any value. Some interviewees however, both inside and outside emergency agencies, felt that these perceptions ought to be challenged and that many of the reasons for the low level of participation and consultation related to agency practices and culture and not to the context. One interesting example that supports the feasibility of participatory approaches in emergencies is the planning of emergency interventions in remote, newly accessible areas in the north of Huambo province undertaken by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). An ICRC team spends a week discussing needs in an area with various sections of the affected population, who then assist in improving access roads and buildings. Participation is in planning and through provision of labour.
Interviewees from humanitarian organisations often mentioned consultation as a way to improve vulnerability assessment, which is important in an unstable social, political and security environment. In Angola, humanitarian information systems have improved greatly over the last 10 years. The Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM) unit of the World Food Programme (WFP) produces an analysis of food insecurity every six months in 11 of the 18 provinces of Angola. However, there is some recognition by those involved that this analysis is based largely on the impressions and opinions of their key informants _ non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and government officials _ and incorporates little information about the survival strategies and perceived needs of the affected populations. Save the Children (UK) has tried to incorporate these elements through household food security assessments in Huambo and Kuito cities in 2000 and 2001, but such assessments are expensive to carry out.
Most questioning of humanitarian action in Angola has been about the fact that humanitarian agencies continued in `emergency mode' for longer than necessary and did not take into account the patchwork of different situations in different parts of the country. Humanitarian agencies tended to classify Angola as an acute emergency even though this was not the case in many parts of the country. The long-running Angolan crisis created a wider range of problems, but these tended to be neglected. Temporary solutions were applied over an extended timescale and so became inappropriate responses. There are, however, some examples of situations where consultation has proved effective in identifying hidden problems and innovative solutions.
One example is of people in Huambo province who were displaced by a new phase of war in 1998 and lived in appalling conditions in old buildings for more than a year. When it became clear that insecurity was likely to continue, large camps for displaced people were opened. However some agencies decided to consult more deeply and found that IDPs (internally displaced persons) wanted to live alongside their original community in conditions that resembled their villages, and to have access to land. Humanitarian agencies thus helped them to build temporary `new villages', which was judged to be a successful experience in relation to the larger IDP camps. The humanitarian agencies' main regret was that they did not do this earlier. Another example is the work of certain agencies focusing on children that, through consultation, pinpointed problems of adjustment to school by IDP children and devised solutions.
Although there has been a limited culture of participation and consultation in Angola, there is a strong minority current of opinion in Angola that considers that both humanitarian and development efforts should focus on participation and consultation. Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), the local NGO, has the most thought-out philosophy regarding participation and consultation in a long-term, structural crisis such as Angola. ADRA is critical of humanitarian action that has intervened for long periods without giving opportunities for consultation and participation. It feels that humanitarian actors, because of their presence at the community level in many areas of the country, have an important role in rebuilding citizen_state reciprocity.
ADRA has experimented with a participatory method of community development involving mutual learning between ADRA teams and affected populations, so that the latter achieve a certain level of autonomy, affirmation of citizenship and improved living conditions. This involves the recovery of community forms of organisation, while introducing modernising elements, and supporting the (weak) local government structures to relate to communities.
ADRA's view is that this approach implies people's own social organisations being involved in the distribution of food-aid and other relief items, where possible. Some other humanitarian actors report that they leave a considerable amount of responsibility for IDP camp organisation and aid distribution to IDP's elected representatives. This is a position strongly contested by some of the emergency-oriented humanitarian organisations, who argue that distributions through social organisations encourage corruption.
This disagreement illustrates the fact that participation and consultation require an understanding by humanitarian agencies of local social organisation in each particular context. In Angola, participation is not deeply embedded in social life, as it is in Andean countries, for example. Forced displacement has accentuated the disintegration of community organisations that began in the colonial era. There may be no ready-made social organisations to plug into. However personnel of humanitarian organisations who move frequently from one emergency to another may not appreciate such differences in social organisation.
Some humanitarian organisations have looked at experiences of community participation in food-aid distribution in Tanzania. These experiences have been in a context of peace and stability. Implementation of such an approach might be more difficult in Angola, where these conditions are rarely met. But where humanitarian agencies have worked with local communities and other conditions can be created, the approach may be appropriate.
Thus, in conclusion, Angola has been perceived by many humanitarian agencies and donors as an emergency that required top-down, pre-defined interventions. There have been few approaches that are consultative and participatory, as humanitarian agencies have considered these inappropriate. However there is also a strong current of opinion that humanitarian agencies should have consulted affected populations much more quickly after the peak of acute crises, because when people were eventually consulted it resulted in programmes with completely different approaches. Furthermore critics argue that humanitarian action should have had a wider scope, strengthening the fabric of a disintegrating society, including the promotion of more generalised participation and consultation. Despite the lives saved by humanitarian action, mortality rates in Angola are exceptionally high due to widespread poverty, inequality and poor health services. In a long-running crisis, humanitarian agencies should not ignore the wider causes of vulnerability.
Agencies that have been in Angola for a longer time have a better potential for using participation in humanitarian action, as they can develop the human resources, and the local knowledge and perspectives. But this is a necessary, not a sufficient, condition. There are humanitarian agencies that have been operating in Angola for a long time but have not developed that approach. Those agencies that have development experience have a better potential for using participation in humanitarian action, though in practice it has often been `crowded out' by the emergency culture.
Constraints to participation and consultation in humanitarian action, however, include:
- high turnover rate of staff;
- an emergency delivery culture in certain agencies;
- a weak participatory culture even in agencies with dual mandates;
- a lack of focus;
- the lack of skills and capacity in participatory approaches;
- donor preference for short-term emergency programmes even in a long-term crisis;
- a lack of long-term commitment from donors;
- requests from donors for funding proposals at short notice;
- a limited knowledge of the context;
- a diverse and rapidly-changing context.
The use of more participatory approaches in humanitarian action presents many challenges. The following recommendations attempt to address these challenges.
Humanitarian agencies need to devote more time to understanding the contexts in which they are operating. Humanitarian agencies should attempt to understand better the nature of the crises, the other humanitarian organisations working in the same area, the local structures of government and organised civil society, and the informal civil society and social structure.
Humanitarian agencies need to devote more time to thinking through the Code of Conduct for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief and its implications. This requires the agencies to make an organisational commitment to exploring ways of operationalising the more challenging parts of the code.
Organisations with a purely emergency mandate should not necessarily try to be involved in developmental projects, as they do not have the necessary long-term presence or the experience in such areas, and their high turnover of staff does not permit them to build contextual knowledge.
Where it is difficult to be consultative and participatory, such as in a short-term acute crisis, humanitarian agencies should at least seek to improve their transparency by providing clearer information about their approach and activities.
Humanitarian agencies should be alert for opportunities to move away from pre-defined relief interventions and towards involving affected populations, building accountability, building on and strengthening local capacities and reducing future vulnerabilities, especially when the peak of a crisis passes. Humanitarian agencies should also be alert to the need to move away from pre-defined relief interventions when a crisis continues for some time and temporary responses may no longer be seen as adequate by the affected populations.
Humanitarian agencies should develop the new skills that are implied by participatory approaches, in qualitative analysis and in negotiation and facilitation, which are under-developed in many organisations especially those oriented to immediate relief actions.
Organisations with an emergency mandate should improve their understanding of the approaches of other agencies and avoid `crowding them out'. They need to avoid competitive relations and make sure that specific agency agendas (such as publicity, profile and agency bias) do not hinder coordination. Rapid-response emergency teams from agency HQs create particular tensions between agencies, and even within agencies.
Humanitarian organisations should consider how to improve coordination between agencies, and move beyond the present `emergency coordination'. Humanitarian agencies themselves need to consider how to create more effective coordination, without relying on a UN body and how to widen the scope of coordination.
To follow a participatory approach effectively, humanitarian agencies need to build a participatory culture in the organisation. Both emergency and development agencies expressed concern that their participatory approaches in development work did not carry over into emergency work, as they are not sufficiently rooted in the organisation and exist partly at the rhetorical level. For local personnel (and even international personnel) to be comfortable about applying participatory approaches in new, and challenging, situations, they require support as well as training in listening, reflection and analysis.
Humanitarian agencies need to find ways to improve continuity, and avoid burn-out so that key personnel can stay longer and also monitor and understand the context in which they are operating. While development agencies claim that their longer-term presence in Angola through development work allows them to respond more effectively to emergencies, there is still a high staff turnover that negatively affects institutional memory.
Humanitarian agencies have a tendency to operate in `panic mode' in acute crises, allowing staff burn-out and insufficient monitoring and understanding of the context. Consideration should therefore be given to suggestions that there should be someone, or a unit of people, outside the agencies in such situations with the specific mandate of better understanding and monitoring the context. This would allow humanitarian organisations to get on with emergency work, though it raises the question of what point of contact could be created to allow the researcher's work to cross-fertilise with that of the agencies.
Donors need to consider whether their policies and practices are useful in long-term crises.
Humanitarian agencies need to consider advocacy towards donor organisations who set the agenda and who, for various reasons, tend to prefer pure emergency relief programmes. Where there is some interest on the part of donors, humanitarian agencies should begin discussions and build partnerships with them.
There should be more evaluations of humanitarian operations that consult the intended beneficiaries and affected populations. It would be useful to do evaluations of this kind, as a post-hoc consultation, even if consultation of the affected population is difficult during emergency operations. Beneficiary assessments or other forms of `continuous client consultation' proposed by the World Bank, might be useful to learn for the future if not for current operations.