Luis Samacumbi serves as Director of the Department of Social Assistance, Studies and Projects (DASEP) of the Evangelical Congregational Church of Angola (IECA), a Global Ministries Partner. Donna Dudley, Global Ministries Missionary works as the Program Assistant for DASEP. Several IECA projects are listed as opportunities for special giving through Global Ministries.
Feb. 6, 2008
The future lies in humble sacrifice not in guns or mines Luis Samacumbi, of the Evangelical Congregational Church of Angola (which has about 850,000 followers), has recently completed a visit to Britain on behalf of Christian Aid. Luis is involved with development projects in the southern town of Mavinga, Cuando Cubango province.
The Angola Peace Monitor talked to Luis about the impact of peace in rural areas.
Can you tell us about your background? Where were you brought up and how were you affected by the war?
I was born in 1971 in the village of Nazareth on the border between Kwanza Sul and Huambo provinces. Perhaps that is the reason why I sometimes experience a crisis of identity - Angola being a society where class and the place of birth make an important difference.
War divided my family. For 15 years my father, Adolfo Sangueve and my mother, Juliana Nassoma were separated by the civil war. I served the government army, the Angolan Liberation Armed Forces (FAPLA) as a Tank Commander from 1985 up to 1992. My older brother was abducted by UNITA when he was 14 years old and we did not see each other until we were reunited 30 years later in 2004.
He lost a leg after treading on a land mine. When we met again we realized that during the war we had both fought at the same battle at the same time. Our story is a poignant reminder of how conflict tears families apart.
I strongly believe that we will only build a better Angola when we learn that each one of us is just holder of a part of the truth, a part of history, and a part of the past and the future.
What development projects are your church involved in?
My Church is involved in various community development projects in rural areas including literacy classes, midwifery, community organization, food security, beekeeping, land mine awareness and women's vocational training. We are also involved in raising awareness of the danger of HIV/AIDS. We use methods that challenge top down interventions and allow people to choose their own priorities.
Since the end of the war in 2002 how have things changed in rural areas?
The Angolan population is finally enjoying peace. There is a great sense that peace has come to last. People are really tired of war and peace-building activities are taking place everywhere. Huge numbers of families in the villages are no longer starving.
There is freedom of circulation for people and goods, although the economy in the rural areas has yet to recover from the war and Angola remains one of the world's poorest countries. The majority of the population - especially those living far away from the main cities - does not share the benefits of the oil wealth. Most Angolans practice subsistence agriculture, and a lack of infrastructure is one of the largest impediments to economic growth as you go further to countryside.
Last year I had several adventures travelling by road from Luanda to Benguela, from Lubango to Namibe, from Luanda to Huambo, from Huila to Huambo. I saw that bridges and paved roads connecting provincial capitals are being repaired, shortening driving times. But most roads connecting small towns and villages remain dirt tracks (picadas). These are often impassable during the rainy season.
Travelling to remote areas can be extremely dangerous, as Angola remains one of the world's most heavily mined countries. Many people are willing to return to their original villages to rebuild their lives, but poor social provision prevents them. Most schools remain derelict due to the war. And as far as children in the rural areas are concerned, a nutritious diet, decent healthcare and education are obstacles to a better future. Malaria is a major cause of the high mortality rate for children.
The most vulnerable families in Mavinga and other rural areas usually depend on growing crops for their survival. But they have limited access to land for cultivation and other agricultural inputs. Frequently they are excluded from the decisions that affect their lives. Yet in the midst of all this darkness a hopeful beacon shines: the future lies in humble sacrifice and not in guns and mines.
What are people's main priorities?
As I travel around the country, especially to villages, I am always confronted by a huge number of children along the road. When you pass you often hear them asking for bread. They assume that whoever comes from the city brings bread. This metaphor emphasizes the fact that their two top priorities are food security and education. Angola is a country of young people with half of its population under 16.
There are still great challenges and hard work for national reconstruction and a more inclusive democracy. A peaceful and democratized Angola seems to be the great hope for the forthcoming years. I can see in the broken villages of Angola people longing for peace.
Mavinga is sometimes described as a remote part of Angola. Does it feel remote? Are people's hopes and problems similar to those living in Luanda?
During the colonial era Mavinga was called the "lands of the end of the world," and it is not easy to reach the area. The quietness, the presence of big wild animals and singing of birds on one hand, and the lack access to products such soap and sugar on the other makes it feel remote. Things are very different from Luanda. There is no clean drinking water, no petrol station or bank.
Their hospitality, the sense of belonging, the willingness to work toward a better future, children's remarkable capacity for forgiveness, their appetite for education, their resilience and sheer determination to make a better life for themselves makes people living in Mavinga different from those in Luanda.
Luanda is overcrowded due to the huge influx of people during the war, but there has been no growth in services and infrastructure. There are few formal employment opportunities, and people have to put up with poor housing, roads, drainage and sewage systems. There is rubbish and stagnant water on the streets
There seems to be satisfaction that the electoral registration process was eventually a success. What was the registration process like in Mavinga?
In general I can affirm that the process of electoral registration was a success. The fear in peoples' minds at the beginning of the process has given way to optimism. There is no doubt that the strong engagement by the churches and civil society in mobilization and education during registration contributed greatly to the decrease in fear that reigned in the heart of the population.
Furthermore the strong engagement of the government and non-governmental institutions encouraged more than 8 million of Angolans to register for the forthcoming elections.
Mavinga received registration brigades transported by airplanes. In my view the process had a better and very different ending compared to the one that I personally observed in 1992.
For many Angolans elections are synonyms of disturbance and war. The majority of the population wants to vote. However, without a clear definition of the quality of the electoral process and the guarantee that those criteria are accomplished, some elections can cause more problems than they solve.
International lessons on elections in post-conflict situations demonstrate that the quality of democracy gets better when there exists competition and pluralism in the political sphere. Legitimating the "new" political order, the possibility to choose representatives at the local, provincial and national level, is an unequivocal sign that the causes that led to the conflict have been eliminated and that there is a genuine move from bullets to votes.
There is a need to create a culture of peace and tolerance during the elections, so we need an agreement on acceptable conduct. Verbal violence in the media could be a problem. So could sensationalism and tendentious coverage by an insufficiently responsible independent media. It is important that press coverage of the elections is subject to a Code of Conduct to promote justness.
Are there examples in Africa that you think Angola's political parties could learn from?
The experiences of South Africa in the post apartheid era as well as the recent show of internal democracy in the ANC could be encouraging examples. In Mozambique our brother country has given us amazing examples of how to transform inhabitants into citizens. This transformation process is very important in the current context of Angola. However, the construction and consolidation of peace is not a linear process. There are no straightforward recipes to follow. We need to research to know at each step the right direction that we should tread
From the Angola Peace Monitor via AfricaFiles
Reposted with permission