Angola’s boom economy leaves many behind, 10 years after war

April 3, 2012
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A crude oil pipeline project/XINHUA
LUANDA, Apr 3 – Luanda’s ever-expanding skyline and its newly renovated bay-side promenade, complete with manicured lawns and imported palm trees, are proud emblems of Angola’s post-war recovery.

The country has come a long way in the 10 years since the end of its three-decade civil war which killed and displaced millions, destroyed nearly all infrastructure and left an exhausted, fractured and divided population.

Oil exports have spurred this economy to outgrow even China at times, and billions of dollars have been poured into repairing roads, railways and airports, and building new schools, hospitals and universities.

And national prestige is on the rise, with Angola having played host to the pope, the Africa Cup of Nations football championship, and currently heading the 15-nation Southern African Development Community.

But despite all the gains, most Angolans still live in grinding poverty with no access to clean water. Twenty percent of children die before age five.

“The Angolan people live below the misery line,” said Makuta Nkondo, a lawmaker for former rebel group Unita, which ceded defeat to the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) on April 4, 2002, following the killing of their leader Jonas Savimbi two months earlier.

“Things may be bad here in the capital, but go into the interior, and you’ll find Angolans who do not know of the words ‘drinking water’,” he added.

Nkondo blamed corruption among the political elite whom he said were hoarding their country’s resources at the expense of development.

“All the members of the government are rich and this is a scandalous…when the people don’t have water, electricity, health services, or education,” he said.

Elias Isaac, of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), which campaigns for transparency in oil revenues, said vanity projects like the new bay-front designed for the elite, squandered resources.

“Many people would say probably that 10 years is not a long period for major, major changes to take place, but with the amount of money this country is making, there have been plenty of opportunities,” he said.

Basic health care has improved, said UNICEF representative Koen Vanormelingen, with a government committed to improving child and maternal mortality.

“There are major investments being made and this shows the will is there,” he told AFP.

“They have done the easy part, building the infrastructure. Now going forward they must focus on improving the human resources and training doctors and teachers.”

Angola has also achieved macro-economic stability and was lauded by the International Monetary Fund for its sound policies to encourage investment in small businesses, create jobs and fight poverty.

“Angola is definitely at a crossroads. It says all the right things but now it needs to prove it is committed to these policies and actually deliver,” one Western diplomat said.

For Enoque Vasco, peacetime Angola has brought many benefits. Born in the central highlands city of Huambo, Vasco and his family were caught up in some of the country’s worst fighting and fled for their lives to Luanda.

Since then, he has qualified as an optician and built a home on the outskirts of Luanda, and touches an income that can just about support his family.

“Some places are very beautiful… but if you go just a few hundred metres from these beautiful areas, then you have people living in shacks, in inhumane conditions, and that is shameful,” the 33-year-old said.

“The country is developing economically but in practice we are not seeing a lot of things and we have a lot of youth who are unemployed and that makes me fearful for the future.”

The huge wealth gap and slow delivery of public services have in the last year triggered a handful of street protests calling for President Jose Eduardo dos Santos’s resignation.

After nearly 33 years in power, he’s the second-longest serving leader in Africa.

Few in number and quickly dispersed by police, these protests are no Arab Spring, but they mark a change in Angola where few dare criticise the authorities.

In response, the government uses its grip on the media – state and private – to accuse the protestors of trying to re-start the war.

Over the coming weeks there will be ceremonies, seminars and street parties to celebrate the peace that the ruling MPLA misses no opportunity to take credit for.

Many Angolans though, especially those from Unita, who have been forced to renounce their party and roots to integrate and get jobs, will celebrate with a heavy heart.

“I think reconciliation comes from equality among all people, recognition of human rights, and the equal distribution of the wealth of the nation,” Vasco said.

“But when you see this great gap between the rich and the poor, I think it’s a bit difficult to talk about reconciliation.”

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