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Publication Details

Reference
Wilson, Zoe  (2004) Case Study: The Human Rights Committee in Uige, Angola. Centre for Civil Society : 1-17.

Summary
This case study critiques the conceptual architecture of a peacebuilding project called the Human Rights Committee (HRC). In light of chapter seven, the case study takes a closer and more specific look at how well, in this case, the UN’s dominant discourse ‘fit’ with conditions on the ground, and to what potential effect. To this end, the chapter compares three general snapshots. We look at the formal and informal landscape of Uige in April 2001. We also consider the conceptual architecture of the Human Rights Committee. How well did the three ‘fit’? Are the same propensities identified in chapter seven evident?
After the introduction, the case study proceeds in six parts. First, there is a brief description of the HRC and how various implementers viewed it. Second, there is a general portrait of the capital city of Uige in the context of Angola’s thirty-year civil war and resultant massive internal displacement. Third, is a sketch of the ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ political and civic landscapes of Uige. The fourth section describes how the HRC valued and interacted with both the ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ political dimensions of
Uige. The fifth section explores the extent to which the Committee resembled the top-down, externally driven state-building exercise premised on universal rather than vetted knowledge. It concludes with comments on the potential implications of this paradigm of intervention for the rural smallholders of Uige.

Introduction

The peacebuilding operation in Angola – and the HRC specifically - is representative of the post-Cold War merger of security and development (Duffield 2001), in which the prevention and resolution of conflict is married to developmental concepts such as liberal governance, democracy and human rights. Both ‘security’ and ‘development’, however, remain unsettled practices of global relations, and the focus of intense critique. Many of these relate, in one way or another, to the charge that both mainstream security and development studies tend to operate on the basis of problematic assumptions about the way the world really is and how it really operates. (Krause and Williams (eds.); 1996; Dalby 1999; Grovogui 1996; Mohamed Salih 2001; Parpart 1995; Vale 2003). A key feature of these assumptions is the way traditional paradigms of security and development privilege elite and expert knowledge, while excluding and marginalizing the opinions and preferences of those whose poverty has become the raison d’ętre of the humanitarian industries (Abrahamsen 2001; Ferguson 1990; Parpart 1995). To the extent that this is true, peacebuilding efforts may, in fact, hinder the self-help efforts of recipients to manage their own resources and enrich their local landscapes (Brock-Due 2000; Duffield 2001; Mohamed Salih 2001; Vale 2003).
This is especially true for Africa, where we see conflict and development explicitly married in the UN discourse. Here, then, approaches to peacebuilding are not fundamentally different from approaches to development, and vice versa. In this light, this chapter explores the ways in which the dominant discourse described in the previous chapters can be expressed at the project level, and more specifically, how many of the propensities identified in the previous chapter might come to be instantiated in people’s lives.
Relying on field research carried out in Luanda and the northern Angolan province of Uige in April 2001, this chapter explores a UN initiative called the Human Rights Committee (HRC). The case study illuminates the tensions and contradictions engendered by attempting to thread a rights-based governance architecture into communities faced with a weak and/predatory state apparatus. Since the HRC project was embryonic, this chapter cannot comment at length on how the project was received or how it actually played out. Rather, the research interrogates the assumptions inherent in the HRC’s architecture and ‘regulatory norms’. Thus, this chapter takes the analyses of Angola, Botswana, Namibia and Tanzania found in chapter seven to a more specific and detailed level. In the final analysis, this chapter adds further density to the thesis that the governance agenda may tend to create space for authoritarian and elitist tendencies to emerge.

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