In December 2020, Christian Aid will be exiting from Angola, after 37 years. Our exit review captures key insights and learning from the Angola programme.
Angola’s turbulent history includes the war of independence (1961–1974), civil war (1975–2002) and President Dos Santos’ authoritarian regime (1979–2017).
Decades of conflict and corruption mean that Angola’s infrastructure and basic services are extremely poor. Despite the country’s oil wealth, half the population live in poverty.
Most recently, there has been some fragile progress in opening civic space, under President Lourenço. Angolan human rights organizations laid much of the groundwork for this, having campaigned for years to force human rights issues onto the agenda.
The first Angolan human rights organisations only began emerging in the 1990s and 2000s. Prior to this, there were few organised groups outside the state, except for churches. From the start, civil society organisations have faced an extremely challenging and repressive operating environment. While they have progressively strengthened, they remain fragile.
Efforts to increase civil society space are hampered by the fact that power in Angola is heavily centralised. It is the only southern African nation that has not introduced a system of elected local government, and the presidency controls most political, military, judiciary and economic institutions.
Working in partnership
The civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 2002, created a humanitarian crisis and left one-third of Angola’s population displaced. In 1983 Christian Aid began to support church partners and faith-based organisations to deliver emergency relief, peacebuilding and community development activities.
Following the civil war, we supported partners’ resettlement work, as thousands of displaced people began returning home. Given our post-war focus on strengthening civil society, from 2003 we also began working with fledgling human rights organisations. This dual approach, working with both faith groups and human rights groups – and facilitating links between them – continued until the programme ended in 2020.
Faith-based organisations had the reach, legitimacy and influence to speak out about values and effectively challenge harmful norms around issues such as gender-based violence, transforming attitudes and behaviour. They were also able to reach remote rural areas.
Human rights partners had less direct reach and were largely confined to urban areas. However, they were more outspoken and progressive, raising awareness of citizens’ rights and publicly denouncing human rights abuses – even at high personal and organisational cost. They helped to define the boundaries that the state should not cross.
Supporting women entrepreneurs
Our partner IECA established micro-credit groups to help women entrepreneurs in rural areas to set up and grow their own businesses. Rosa Domingos used her loan to build a bread oven and set up a village bakery. The micro-credit groups are now financially independent and self-sustaining.
Insights and learning
Our exit learning review, Christian Aid Angola: thirty-seven years of strengthening civil society for justice and peace, highlights five key points.
- Christian Aid invested in strengthening Angolan organisations, rather than only funding individual projects. This support was both financial (see below) and organisational, and was much valued by our Angolan partners. It included supporting partner-led initiatives to build networks, facilitating links with international donors and allies, providing international visibility at moments of danger, coaching and mentoring leaders (especially women) and training partners in skills such as financial management, proposal writing and a range of strategic and programmatic tools. Where possible, more experienced partners, or those with specific expertise, delivered this training for less experienced partners.
- Core funding and small project funds were critical for partners. This funding enabled partners to respond flexibly to evolving situations and to use scarce funds strategically to support critical initiatives. Christian Aid’s flexible funding support was particularly important during times of hardship or transitions, such as during funding shortages, conflicts with the government, involvement in judiciary processes, or changes in leadership.
- Working with both churches and human rights groups enabled ‘the best of both worlds’ and generated increased impact, with each group playing a vital, complementary role. There are now stronger links within and between these two groups. This is evidenced by successful joint actions, such as the defence of water rights for remote pastoralist communities. However, facilitating collaboration between different types of organisation was sometimes challenging, due to differing perspectives and different ways of engaging with powerholders.
- Christian Aid regularly reviewed and adapted its strategies to ensure they were aligned with its Theory of Change, and supported partners to do likewise, sharing tools and methods which enabled them to analyse and adapt to their context, and focus activities where they would have the most positive impact. Some of these adaptations proved challenging. For example, after the war, some rural partners found it challenging to move on from traditional ‘seeds and tools’ projects to incorporate sustainability, including climate resilience, into their programmes.
- At the point of exit, Christian Aid’s partners were at variable points of sustainability. Some have strong structures and diverse funding streams, while others are more fragile. This partly reflects the extreme challenges that Angolan civil society groups face, but it also raises questions about when Christian Aid should exit a partnership and how it accompanies partners working in challenging contexts on their path to sustainability.
Successful joint actions
In drought-prone Gambos county, a community roadblock prevents landowners' lorries from taking water from their spring, as part of a government-sanctioned project to divert water to large private farms. An alliance of Christian Aid partners provided legal, advocacy and visibility support to strengthen the community's protest and, eventually, the water project was cancelled.