BBC: Angola’s Recovery from Civil War

The WFP run feeding centres in areas that used to produce most of Angola's food

Francisca Segunda has come to a United Nations feeding centre in Huambo because her one year old son, Domingos, is suffering from malnutrition. She lives in Huambo and sells meat to make money, but sometimes there’s no meat to sell and no-one to buy it and she goes without food. That makes it hard to breastfeed her baby too.


Huambo used to be the breadbasket of Angola, but now it struggles to feed itself. In the firing line throughout Angola’s long civil war, it was particularly badly hit in the early 1990’s and it still bears the scars to prove it.


Many buildings lie empty or derelict. The once-thriving agricultural sector here came to a halt during the war and its renaissance has been thwarted by the presence of mines in the surrounding fields and the flight of a large part of its population.


Some of those who fled to neighbouring Zambia are starting to trickle back. But most haven’t yet experienced a full harvest of their subsistence crops.

Rebel leader Jonas Savimbi's house in Huambo shows scars from fierce fighting


Huambo, however, is only one half of Angola’s story. It’s lush green vegetation and quiet streets are in stark contrast to the capital, Luanda, which is now home to around 5 million people, over half of whom fled there from places like Huambo during the fighting.


The city’s roads are clogged with cars and the slums, called musseques, stretch for miles beyond Luanda’s traditional perimeters. People who owned conventional houses built extra homes in their yards to accommodate family members who fled here. They now rent these tiny houses out to a population desperate for accommodation.


“Luanda is the dream for people in Angola,” says Candida a 26-year-old who lives in the capital. She pays $150 a month to rent out a room in an apartment building in the centre of town. It used to be the elevator lobby for the other apartments, but Candida likes to think of it as a studio. “There’s nothing in the provinces to go back to. No schools, no jobs,” she tells me. Luanda, by contrast, is the centre of the country’s thriving oil industry; the place where business is done, decision are made and bribes change hands.


Whilst people here don’t talk readily about the war and Luanda was mostly untouched by the fighting, the huge displacement of the population is the most obvious sign that Angola is still a country in recovery. There are promises that the infrastructure will be rebuilt. President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has hinted that elections, due to take place this year, could be postponed to allow more roads and bridges to be built. But whilst the oil companies construct new office blocks in downtown Luanda, there’s little sign of the same level of activity outside the capital.


Construction in Luanda

It’s clear that a privileged elite are benefiting from Angola’s natural riches, but the bounty is not trickling down to the poorest people. A recent report by the International Monetary Fund noted that “rapidly rising production and revenues from the oil sector have been the main driving forces behind the improvements in overall economic activity…nevertheless, poverty remains widespread.”


It’s this poverty, or the fear of it, that leads to much of the petty corruption in Angola. Park your car on the street and there’ll be two or three young men asking for a gazoza, a small bribe, to make sure no-one steals it. This is how they make a living. But the corruption reaches all levels of society. The anti-corruption NGO Transparency International rated it one of the ten most corrupt countries in the world in 2005 noting that like many countries with oil resources it faces “inexplicable poverty and deprivation”. However, people here are willing to turn a blind eye to corruption, because after 27 years of war, its preferable to more fighting.


There’s also an ambivalence about the pending presidential and parliamentary elections. Memories are long and the last elections in 1992 sparked some of the worst fighting of the civil war. Added to this is the fact that there’s little doubt in many people’s minds who will win. “If I see dos Santos’ name on the ballot paper,” one young man in Luanda tells me, “then I won’t vote. There’s no point. We know who will win.” It’s true that many people see no alternative to Dos Santos. “If we had someone new in power,” says Candida, “they would just use the opportunity to take everything they could for themselves. At least, with dos Santos, we know where we stand.”