Angola: Four years of recovery

It is four years since the Angolan conflict came to an end with the signing of a peace agreement on April 4th 2002.
Angola became an independent nation on November 11 1975, upon the withdrawal of the Portuguese colonial power. With the granting of independence, instead of working together to build a nation, the nationalist movements MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) and UNITA (National Union for Total Independence of Angola) turned their guns on each other and fought a long and bloody civil war. Estimates on the numbers killed in the various cycles of conflict range from 500,000 to 1 million.

Since the agreement in 2002, which followed the killing of the UNITA rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, mostly good news has been making the headlines. Government economic growth forecasts for 2006 are put at 26%, one of the highest in the world, driven by a booming oil sector expected to produce 1.5 million barrels per day, second only to Nigeria on the continent.

The diamond industry, the fourth largest in the world, is also expanding rapidly with the discovery of new deposits. Flights to Angola are full to capacity, and hotel reservations in the capital Luanda need to be booked months in advance. All over Luanda, new impressive and fashionable buildings are springing up to service the banking, oil and business sectors.

Further good news is that 4 million people internally displaced by the war have been resettled; UNITA's army of over 100,000 soldiers has been disbanded and approximately 400,000 refugees from neighbouring countries have returned home.

While these processes were not without their problems, the Angolan government and international organisations have done well to achieve so much in just 4 years. Many returnees however are finding their farms occupied by influential figures holding the deeds to large expanses of land. This is a potential source of conflict in the future.

This data, however, needs to be interpreted against a background of extreme social hardship for the majority of Angolans. According to government figures, 68% of the population lives in poverty, 28% in extreme poverty. Poverty reduction indicators rather than economic growth or oil production figures will be the key measure of success in post war Angola.

The UN 2005 Human Development Index places Angola at 160 of 177 countries in terms o f the quality of life, a reflection of how much social investment is required for minimum human development expectations to be met. Transparency International's 2005 'corruption perception index' lists Angola 151 of 158 countries surveyed. To most analysts on Angola there is a direct relationship between both ratings, underlining the importance of linking increased state revenue to greater transparency and effective governance.

While confidence in a lasting peace is high in Angola, long-term stability requires that the needs of those living in poverty are prioritised and addressed. Economic growth needs to be translated into tangible benefits such as better health and education, agricultural development, increased employment, road rebuilding, etc.

The future is brighter for Angolans than at any time in the recent past. While the war has ended, the social and development challenges are immense and must be addressed to ensure a sustainable peace and dignity for all Angolans.