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Angolan anniversary

April 4, 2012

On April 4, 2002 one of the bloodiest civil wars in Africa came to an end in Angola. Since then the country's economy has been booming. But what have ordinary civilians gained from the peace and prosperity?

Angolan Armed forces chief General Armando da Cruz Neto and UNITA chief-of-staff General Abreu Muengo Ukwachitembo "Kamorteiro" exchange the signed peace accord at the National Assembly in Luanda, Thursday 04 April 2002.
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/dpaweb

War raged for over 40 years in Angola. It started in 1961 against the Portuguese colonial power, then from 1975 the fighting was between the three independence movements MPLA, UNITA and FNLA. The armies of Cuba and South Africa were also involved. In this way, the civil war also became symbolic for a conflict between political ideals.

If you ask Angolans to list the tangible results of peace in their country, they will often give you a surprisingly mundane answer. The president of the Angolan opposition party Bloco Democratico, Justino Pinto de Andrade, is also an economics professor. "Today we can move around the country without major difficulty. Some streets have been rebuilt, in other places we have new ones," he said. "We can use streets that were previously impassable."

Skyline of buildings and harbor in Luanda, the capital of Angola
In the capital Luanda infrastructure investment has been substantialImage: picture-alliance/Alan Gignoux/imagestate/Impact Photos

The streets are also free of landmines. And, aside from the enclave of Cabinda in the north of the country, where various factions of the independence movement FLEC continue to fight against government forces, no-one needs to fear being caught in gunfights.

But for Abílio Kamalata Numa from UNITA, one of the warring factions from the days of the civil war and now the biggest opposition party in Angola, there are downsides to the current situation.

Abilio Kamalata Numa, UNITA member, at a press conference.
Abilio Kamalata Numa is one of the few UNITA leaders who fought in the civil warImage: DW/Nelson Sul d'Angola

"Peace where you can't raise your voice is not really peace, it's fear," he said. "Neither freedom of opinion nor freedom of expression can truly be exercised at the moment and both of these are guaranteed in our constitution. In this area, President José Eduardo dos Santos has taken Angola backwards."

National reconciliation still missing

Jose Patrocínio from the human rights movement OMUNGA in Benguela in southern Angola said a national reconciliation program is missing following the declaration of peace in 2002. "Our political intolerance remains. We have not forgotten the hatred that is stored in our hearts. There was no process of peace-making and no planning for the transition."

In the last few months Angolans have taken to the streets demanding the removal of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has been in power for 32 years. It is mostly young Angolans who are now demanding the resignation of a leader who was never actually elected in the first place. Security forces have been brutal in breaking up the demonstrations.

A young protester at a demonstration against Jose Eduardo dos Santos in Benguela, Angola
Demonstrations against Jose Eduardo dos Santos are becoming more prevalentImage: DW

One of the leaders of the protests is rapper MCK. The young musician says that very little of the prosperity from the oil boom has reached the people. "With the acceleration of the economy, we have seen about a dozen people become richer. A small group has got wealthier and wealthier, while the majority has suffered."

With growth rates of more than 20 percent in 2005 and 2007, Angola has one of the fastest developing economies worldwide. MCK says that not all of society is benefitting: "The only thing that really has developed is the infrastructure, you could call it concrete growth."

Angola now investing in Portugal

The wealth of the group surrounding President dos Santos has grown rapidly, despite the fact that his party was formerly communist. The MPLA party now invests heavily in Portugal, the former colonial power. The president's daughter, Isabel dos Santos, has shares in Portuguese banks and telecommunications companies worth hundreds of millions of euros.

Angola's President José Eduardo dos Santos looks on during a banquet hosted by his Portuguese counterpart Anibal Cavaco Silva in Lisbon in 2009.
Angola's President dos Santos is one of the wealthiest men in AfricaImage: dapd

The source for the wealth of the president's family is mainly oil exports. After Nigeria, Angola is the second biggest producer of oil in Africa. But where the income goes remains a mystery. Human Rights Watch says that receipts for over 24 billion euros ($31.5 billion) in oil payments are missing.

"The money is not invested in production facilities, not in the factories, not in schools nor hospitals," said Portugal-based Angolan journalist Orlando Castro. "A lot of these 10 years have been wasted."

Child mortality remains high

Reliable data about poverty levels in Angola is hard to find. Generally, the standard of living for ordinary Angolans is improving. But it remains the case that every sixth child dies before the age of five. The majority of people in rural areas continue to live in abject poverty.

Economy secretary Norberto Garcia from the governing party MPLA, said the problems aren't as easy to solve as one might think, "As long as we have a high rate of illiteracy, around 35 percent, the distribution of the country's wealth will remain uneven."

Women and children sit around waiting for food distribution in a refugee camp at San Joao, near Huambo, in 1999.
During the war refugee camps existed across AngolaImage: picture-alliance / dpa

Wasted potential, missing billions

The country has massive economic potential with its stock of oil and diamonds. According to the UN Development Program (UNDP), Angola is currently at a stage of development similar to Madagascar, even though the country's GDP is five times higher. According to the UNDP, Angola had a GDP in 2009 of $5,278 per head per year, Madagascar's was just $912.

"We have to reduce our reliance on crude oil," said economics professor Justino Pinto de Andrade. "We still haven't achieved that, our reliance is still far too high."

A five-platform complex pumps crude off the coast of Cabinda, Angola's most prolific oil field.
Cabinda is one of Angola's most profitable oil fieldsImage: AP

Ten years after the end of the war Angola still has two major challenges ahead. The country has to diversify its economy and ensure freedom and democracy for its citizens.

Author: Johannes Beck / al
Editor: Susan Houlton