Angola

Angola: A reality check in Angola

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It was a hot sunny day in Luanda, the Angolan capital. The sun was shining from a cloudless sky and midday temperatures reached the upper 30s amidst a pretty high degree of humidity.
The peninsula forming a natural harbour is a small stretch of land hardly wider than 300m, but several kilometers long. This Sunday afternoon it was packed with thousands of locals who enjoyed a swim in the warm waters of the Atlantic or simply a walk on the beaches on both sides of the densely built-up peninsula. Hundreds of cars caused a traffic jam on the small circular road while restaurants and bars were filled by seemingly affluent customers.

Young and old, glamorous and less glamorous men and women with cellphones in their hands were clearly enjoying fun in the sun. At no stage did a foreigner get the impression that this almost surrealistic scene is to be found in the same country that is internationally known as the worst place for a child to grow up. It too was the same country that, up to a year ago, was inaccessible in four-fifths of its territory.

Though more than 3 decades of war and civil strive have finally come to an end in Angola, it brought along a legacy to the vast majority of Angolans, a legacy so brutal and hopeless that one wonders whether the affluent folk on the peninsula were indeed living in Angola. The realities of a past marked by acts of brutality against civilians are sharply contrasted here with a present that seems to have largely forgotten; a present that seems to pay very little attention to the people who have lost almost everything.

It was in the morning, just hours earlier that we had left Luanda to visit the suburb of Viana to walk through GIKA, a tented camp for Internally Displaced People (refugees), three quarters of an hours drive from Luanda's city center. One hundred and ten families or nearly one thousand people are living here in extreme poverty and hopelessness. They fled their inland homes in 1993 after a previous truce between MPLA and UNITA had faltered and war had massively flared up again.

In the first few years they received some help in the form of food supplies and clothes by government and the UN, but the help dried up completely 4 to 5 years ago. The 110 families now survive on odd jobs in the city and the retailing of charcoal, soft-drinks and beer.

Fransisco Lousino is head of a household here in GIKA, a man who spend the better part of his life fighting as a soldier. Now that a truce between the warring MPLA and UNITA has finally become reality, Fransisco asks himself what the fighting was actually all about.

He and the other men in Gika have turned to bitterness and to speak with Fransisco almost tells the entire story. As we are about to leave, a man who lost a food in a landmine incident and is speech impaired due to the same incident some 10 years ago, joins us.

"There are two good things here in GIKA," as we finally walk back to our car ?" there is 24 hour electricity a day and the graveyard is around the corner, we don't have to pay for the transport of a body," once again underlining the cruel reality of life in Angola.