In this thesis I examined the ways in which rural people in Huíla province, Angola, have dealt with crises and adapted their livelihoods accordingly. These responses and adaptations to crises are then juxtaposed against the variety of interventions by state and aid agencies which affect rural livelihoods in broad terms. The Angolan population has lived through a long history of conflict, starting with an independence war against Portugal since 1961, and evolving into a civil war from the start of independence in 1975 lasting until 2002. Throughout this violent history, humanitarian actors made a significant range of interventions with the intention to alleviate the suffering of the country’s population and help them rebuild their lives and livelihoods after the end of the war in 2002. In this thesis I analysed these interventions, especially related to the recovery of rural livelihoods, to understand the assumptions underlying them, as well as their outcomes.
The core question that guided the research underlying this thesis was the following: How are people’s livelihoods affected in times of crisis, and how do aid interventions influence the livelihood options that people have in Huíla province, Angola? In my analysis I used the concept of a humanitarian arena in order to 1) acknowledge the diversity of actors that shape the outcomes of aid processes, 2) move away from normative explanations of aid and rather focus on its everyday practices, and 3) focus on the negotiations, experiences and agency of the actors at the interface at which processes of aid are shaped. This builds on an actor-oriented approach which calls attention to agency, actors and interfaces to explain that planned development is rarely a linear process but rather a site of struggles and negotiations amongst a variety of actors. The fieldwork underlying this thesis was done in six villages with different experiences of conflict, aid, and livelihoods.
I look at the concept of livelihoods as comprising the assets and activities that people employ to make a living, and the access to these (Ellis 2000a, 10). I deviate from the policy construct of a livelihoods approach, which tends to define livelihoods by a restricted focus on the various capitals. Rather, I have looked at livelihoods as being more flexible in nature in which the disappearance of some assets can be dealt with by strengthening others. Livelihoods are fluid and flexible, and certainly have to be so in situations of crisis and conflict. Aid in this thesis is seen as one of the many strategies that people rely on for their survival in times of crisis. Humanitarian aid is analysed in this thesis and in particular its changing practice due to the more protracted nature of the crisis situations it operates in. This has demanded the incorporation of rehabilitation and development approaches, translated in a stronger engagement with the state, and a shift from a focus on individuals to society. I question the practices of Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development (LRRD) approaches when it is uncertain whether intervention objectives can be attained or processes have to be abandoned. This thesis sheds light on the consequences of such unfinished LRRD processes.
This research has analysed the everyday realities and outcomes of post-war recovery and reconstruction practices by aid agencies and the Angolan state. It shows how aid programmes that focus on resettlement of conflict-affected populations and rebuilding of rural livelihoods can have unintended consequences when little attention is given to follow up of these activities that were assumed to lead to development. At the same time, the research shows how state post-war reconstruction efforts by the state largely bypass rural areas, or at worst even lead to renewed displacement from land and livelihoods. Therefore, the title of this thesis reiterates that livelihoods in conflict and post-conflict situations continuously move between crisis and normality, yet that this phenomenon is not necessarily linked to war itself. Also, the use of the word normality underscores the underlying assumptions on which aid interventions are designed in processes of livelihood recovery: a return to normality. One can question what ‘normal’ livelihoods are in the Angolan context of long-term instability. Also, who defines normality? As shown in this thesis, aid actors have had quite uniform and fixed assumptions and interpretations about what ‘normal’ rural livelihoods should look like, reflected in the one-size-fits-all interventions that consequently took place.