Country profile: Angola

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Joana Ramiro writes about Angola’s recent history: Europeans taking over and Africans reinventing.


A bar in the southwestern Namibe province. ERIC LAFFORGUE/ALAMY

Angola’s earth, like the earth in a lot of Sub-Saharan Africa, is red. The wind blows around the red dust in cacimbo (the dry season). The mud in half of the capital of Luanda in the rainy season is red too. If you walk around all day, you become read – this is why the rich don’t walk around.

The colour of the earth hasn’t changed for a long time, but Angola has. It is now the third largest economy in southern Africa. The Chinese government have built a lot there in return for oil credit. Angola is the top three of African oil producers and has a lot of oil.

Many big countries with growing economies have interests here: China wants the petrol and wood; Brazil has the same former colonizer, language and a very old commercial relationship; and Russia now has good diplomatic relations – from when the USSR supported the national liberation movement in the 1970s.

The middle class is growing, but there is still a lot of poverty. Slums grow in Luanda beside shiny sky-scrapers and a beautiful new waterfront. There are often 2 systems for goods and services (including electricity and water supply) – when the government fails, local businesses help.

Many people said former president José Eduardo dos Santos encouraged corruption. He was president for 38 years, and gave a lot of top jobs to his family and friends. His daughter, Isabel dos Santos, was at one time the richest woman in Africa – until journalists discovered her dishonest business with petrol and finance in 2020. João Lourenço – now president – says he is against corruption, but there seems to be little change.


A market trader in Bairro Rangel, a working class district of Luanda. MAURITIUS IMAGES/ALAMY

Angola’s history includes a lot of European takeovers and African reinvention. The ports of Luanda and Lobito were very important for taking slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries. Portuguese and Dutch colonizers fought to get control over Angola for nearly 70 years – to try to control the good business routes. The Portuguese finally won, with some British support, and they changed the economy to focus on coffee, with former slaves working in forced labour. There was a lot of racial discrimination until independence in 1975.

Since 1975, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) has been in power (originally supported by the Soviet Union). But for 3 decades after independence, there was a civil war to challenge this party. UNITA, the opposite side in the civil war, is the main opposition but did not win the August 2022 elections. The two parties are perhaps more similar than they think.

But new social movements are often heavily controlled. A friend who returned to Angola after two decades living in Europe was talking to colleagues about problems at work. And her uncle later told her: ‘The walls have ears: be careful.’ The uncle had no connections to her employer or work. Someone in the office must have told someone at home, who knew someone else who knew her uncle. But his message was clear: Angola is a closed society, and if you complain, powerful people can get angry. And this is not good.


A Luanda shanty town between skyscrapers. FABIAN PLOCK/SHUTTERSTOCK

LEADER: President João Lourenço

ECONOMY: GNI per capita $2,140 (in 2020) (Namibia $4,500, UK $39,830).

Currency: Kwanza (1 AOA = $0.0023).

Main exports: Oil is about 95% of Angola’s exports and is one-third of the country’s GDP. Also diamonds and oil products.

POPULATION: 33 million. Annual population growth: 3.2%. People per square kilometre 26 (Namibia 3, UK 278).

HEALTH: Under-5 mortality rate: 72 per 1,000 live births (Namibia 40, UK 4). Maternal mortality per 100,000 live births: 241 (Namibia 195, UK 7). HIV: 1.8%. There is little public healthcare, but the private health care is growing in cities. Covid-19 vaccination is from COVAX.

ENVIRONMENT: There are rainy and dry seasons. The rains last longer in the north. Temperatures are usually higher on the coasts and lowlands. Deforestation and desertification have affected temperatures and length of seasons.

CULTURE: About 95% of Angolans belong to Bantu ethnic groups. The Ovimbundu (37%) and Ambundu (23%) are the majority of Angola’s population. Other important ethnic groups are mestiços (mixed African and European, 2%), Chinese (1.6%), and European (1%). Modern Angolan culture mixes the local with influence from European, Latin American and South American trends.

RELIGION: Roman Catholic 56.4%, Protestant Christian: 13%; Pentecostal: 10.4%; other Christian: 13.6%; African traditional religions: 4.4%; no religion: 1%. There is also a small migrant Sunni Muslim community.

LANGUAGE: Portuguese (official), plus Kimbundu, Umbundo, Kikongo and Chokwe (national languages).

HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INDEX: 0.581 (Namibia: 0.646; DRC: 0.480), rank 148 out of 189 countries.


The black rocks of Pungo Andongo in the north. MIGUEL ALMEIDA/SHUTTERSTOCK

Star ratings:

Income Distribution - 1 star - Inequality in Angola is still high (51.3 GINI index). Nearly half the population lives on less than $2 a day. 49% of the urban population live in musseques (informal settlements).

Literacy - 3 stars - Angola’s literacy rate is low - 66% - and mostly male (males 80%, females 53%). But youth literacy is77% (young males 85%, young females 71%), showing progress.

Life Expectancy - 3 stars - 62 years in 2022 according to UN projections - not including the impact of Covid-19 (Namibia: 64). This is an improvement on 48 in 2002.

Position of Women - 3 stars - Women are 30% of the Angolan parliament and women have many important positions in politics, industry and culture. But violence is still high - 25% of Angolan women aged 15-49 report abuse by a former or current partner. The percentage of women married before 18 is also high at 30%.

Freedom - 1 star - Angola is ‘Not Free’ in Freedom House’s latest report. It scores 10/40 in political rights and 20/60 in civil liberties. Police and security forces often control protests with violence. Angola is 99th of 180 in Reporters Without Borders’ annual press freedom ranking.

Sexual Minorities - 2 stars - Homosexuality stopped being criminal in 2019. But LGBTQI+ groups in Angola say they still face prejudice, discrimination and barriers to accessing education, healthcare, justice and jobs.

Politics - 2 stars - Angola is 122nd in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s global democracy index. Former President José Eduardo dos Santos was in power for 38 years until 2017. His successor, João Lourenço, belongs to the same party, MPLA.


(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)