Equality and democracy in question as Angola recovers from decades of conflict


The west African state of Angola goes to the polls on August 31st. In the first of two articles, BILL CORCORANexamines the prospects for this country rich in natural resources

LAST APRIL marked the 10th anniversary of the end of Angola’s civil war. Much has changed since a 2002 peace deal ended the African nation’s 27-year conflict.

Two political parties have emerged from the groups engaged in the confrontation that erupted shortly after the war of independence with Portugal ended in 1975. These two parties will be the main contenders in Angola’s second national election since peace was secured.

Since the end of the civil war, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the former communist liberation movement that won the civil war, has remained Angola’s ruling party.

It came to power in the late 1970s and was involved in ongoing hostilities with another former liberation movement, Unita – Angola’s main opposition party today – until the death in 2002 of its leader, Jonas Savimbi, paved the way for peace negotiations.

The resulting peace deal was the first turning point on Angola’s road to recovery, as it ended a conflict that left hundreds of thousands of people dead, millions more displaced and the country’s infrastructure virtually destroyed.

However, it has been Angola’s soaring oil production rate since 2000 that has been the catalyst for its current booming economy.

According to the 2011 BP Statistical Energy Survey, Angola had proven oil reserves of 13.5 billion barrels at the end of 2010, making it one of the largest oil producers in Africa.

Natural gas has also been found in abundance, and plans are being made to tap this resource, too.

As a result, foreign investors are queuing up to gain entry to a country undergoing a huge reconstruction programme bankrolled by oil revenues and Chinese loans, and an economy forecast to grow by 12 per cent this year.

Large-scale infrastructural projects under way include roads, airports, bridges, hospitals, schools and even entire urban areas.

Angola’s diplomatic profile and influence has also grown regionally. The country’s president, José Eduardo dos Santos, chairs the intergovernmental Southern African Development Community.

Despite these successes, the legacy from decades of war remains acutely visible.

Nearly 2.4 million people out of Angola’s 18 million population still live in areas riddled with landmines, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Basic services are still hard to access in many areas and education levels are low because a whole generation of Angolans did not study during the war.

In the oil-rich enclave of Cabinda, a separatist uprising is still under way.

In addition, many analysts say real democracy remains elusive in Angola, as opposition to the MPLA government remains weak and oppressed by the ruling regime.

Senior researcher with South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies Gwinyayi Dzinesa says that despite Angola’s progress, little of its resource wealth has trickled down to the general population, which remains largely impoverished.

“The majority of people do not have access to electricity and 13.7 million people rely on traditional biomass to make fires to cook daily meals.

“The child mortality rate is 161 per 1,000 for children under five and development in rural areas is minimal. There are a lot of inequalities and the cost of living is very high,” Dzinesa adds.

This has prompted widespread discontent with the MPLA, but the party argues it is making good progress given that it is rebuilding a country devastated by decades of war.

The growing discontent among the masses is also fuelled by the emergence of the MPLA-linked elite, who many believe are illegally benefiting from the country’s natural resources. Indeed, the MPLA and Dos Santos stand accused of widespread corruption.

It is said that bribery is a way of life if one wants to do business in Angola.

According to the 2011 Global Corruption Perceptions Index released by anti-graft watchdog Transparency International last December, Angola stands at number 168 on the corruption list out of 182 countries.

In January, an International Monetary Fund report revealed that $32 billion was missing from the state budget.

Angolan anti-corruption campaigner Rafael Marques has started publishing investigations through a website called Maka Angola.

He accuses senior government officials and even Dos Santos’s children of taking bribes in return for influence.

“Angola really needs to address the corruption issue,” Dzinesa concludes. “It goes right to the heart of the state and has set in motion a wave of anti-government protests that threaten to destabilise the country and the postwar gains that have been made.”

Tomorrow: can the election be free and fair?