Accepted paper:

Beyond resources: accounting for UNITA cohesion in the Angolan civil war


Ana Raquel Ferrão (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid )

Paper short abstract:

Underplayed when not outrightly denied in the literature is the significant cohesion UNITA exhibited till the end of the Angolan civil war. Based on fieldwork amongst ex-combatants, the paper tries to account for this cohesion.

Paper long abstract:

UNITA is one of the prototypical resource-motivated, opportunistic type of rebellion inhabiting the popular imaginary about African conflicts and also much of the conflict analysis literature. Underplayed when not outrightly denied is the significant cohesion the movement exhibited till the end of the Angolan civil war. The paper tries to account for this cohesion. Based on fieldwork amongst ex -UNITA combatants, I bring to the fore the topic of suffering as the loci of their narratives about their participation in the war. These challenge simplistic assumptions about material incentives as the basis for loyalty (or lack of it). Differently from the alternative focus on the grievances pre-dating the war and its root causes, I concentrate instead on the dynamics generated by the war itself. In particular, I argue the combatants' experience of suffering during the war generated new solidarities that can help us account for the movement's resilience. Through the interviews we explore how this experience was ultimately social and shaped out of the clash of competing representations of suffering in which the war itself translated. Besides the more commonly underlined "internal" mechanisms for generating loyalty, the paper then proposes a relational approach that brings the government to bear on rebel cohesion.

panel P035
Angola in the aftermath of civil war: overcoming the impacts of protracted violence