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  • Angola: a land of economic and social contrasts after ten years of peace

    By Mark | July 30, 2012

    Luís Samacumbi is Director of the Department of Social Assistance, Studies and Projects (DASEP) of the Evangelical Congregational Church of Angola, and a member of the Angola Political and Social Observatory.

    On April 4 2012 Angola celebrated the “Precious Decade” – a day of peace and national reconciliation. The celebration ceremony took place in the province where the war began and ended, Moxico, where despair turned to hope in 2002. It’s now ten years since peace came – how time flies!

    This article summarises what I have been able to read and gather from friends, colleagues and people who deal with the communities on a daily basis on what has changed in Angola, what should have changed and what future can be expected for Angola.

    There are different opinions and feelings about the ten years of peace in Angola. The Angolan Government says that between 2002 and 2012 nearly 12,000 km of paved roads and about 403 bridges, some with more than two-lanes, were built. This has facilitated the movement of people and trade. In the education sector 6.2 million students are enrolled in the public school system (in both primary and secondary schools), higher education has 150,000 students – a significant population if we consider that in 2002 there were only 20,000. The school and hospital network has expanded. From two universities, the Public and Catholic, we already have over two dozen. This has allowed more people to have access to education and health services. The number of internet users in Angola grew from 40,983 in 2005 to 1,000,000 in 2010.

    In a recent report Professor Paulo M. Buss, president of the World Federation of Public Health Associations, stated:

    “Angola is a land of economic and social contrasts. In the course of the decade 2000- 2010, a significant reduction of poverty was observed, i.e. the proportion of people living on less than US$1 per day, fell from 68% in 2001 to 36.6% in 2009 or almost 93% of target value for 2015, of 34% living in absolute poverty. However, if the national number is good, there are still large internal disparities. In the cities, the proportion will fall to 18.7% and reach 58.3% in rural areas (or more than three times the urban area). Although national wealth has grown an amazing average of 14.3% annually between 2002 and 2008, disparities between rich and poor, between urban and rural, between centre and periphery unfortunately have not been reduced, in contrast, they have expanded more. However, this growth has been battered by the economic and financial crisis that exploded in the central countries of global capitalism, reducing Angola’s growth to about 2.7% growth in 2009. Unemployment is nearing 20% of the workforce. These figures are alarming and project a lasting negative effect on the health situation. Infant and maternal mortality are still very high, even compared to countries of similar economic situation of Africa, as well as very low life expectancy at birth of Angolans. “

    The truth is that Angola has moved from a state of war to a state of peace and has managed to preserve the peace itself, which has contributed in significant improvement of social infrastructure and roads in the country, facilitating the reunion of the Angolan families. According to Political and Social Observatory of Angola (OPSA) the improvement of conditions for the movement of people and goods (better roads, greater provision of road and air transport) provide better opportunities for people from areas that were previously more isolated. The regions which are now best served by the road network had access to a larger amount of products and probably at a lower cost. Moreover, these regions and their producers should also be able to sell their products more easily. This is perhaps the most obvious aspect of a potential trickledown effect of economic growth on the poor.

    In addition, OPSA states the mass media behaviour showed their traditional difficulty in taking a truly public nature. With occasional exceptions, its tone continued to be excessively supportive of the government. The media not only favours disproportionately the news and analysis of actions and initiatives of the executive and the ruling party, but also omits facts considered negative by the power (such as strikes, for example) as if they had not happened, and points of view different from those advocated by the authorities. The space for criticism of the state is virtually nonexistent. This trend was particularly evident during the 2008 election.

    According to Jorge Cambinda, Tearfund’s regional advisor for Angola and Mozambique:

    “For many Angolans, the military mostly have been able to show great capacity to forgive and deal with differences over the period under review, while it has been noticed on the other hand, silencing the opposition (political, media), silencing of leaders of civil society, churches, and others by adopting less violent tactics, such as bribery and blackmail. There is also the easing of international pressure on the Government of Angola and the consequent formation of a State Party – Nation, which has led to weakness and irrelevance of political opposition and the consequent placement of ordinary citizens in direct collision course with the authorities”.

    The environment referred to above seems to have brought an increase in labour disputes. The close relationship between politics and private economic activity, coupled with weak institutions and judicial mediation and the weakened trade union movement, hampers prevention and constructive and fair resolution of labour disputes.

    For many Angolans, the discussion and subsequent adoption of the new Constitution and laws (land law) did not meet the aspirations of ordinary people and took away the dream of direct election of their President. Issues of ownership and land ownership have aggravated the vulnerability of poor families and disadvantaged people and there is social exclusion. There seems to be an increasing arrogance and no sense of accountability of those who hold power.

    The immense wealth of Angola has precipitated the search for a greater role in the international arena although there are many pressing domestic issues including true reconciliation. It has developed a national elite that can undermine the peace, inciting instead dislike and discomfort in those who feel excluded and whose willingness to participate is simply rejected and humiliated. More openness to foreign investment is being given without enabling Angolans to be expert investors, with the opportunity to participate. Decisions on who should or should not do business are taken on the basis of party loyalty, which creates barriers to participation, is not necessarily linked to development, and gives rise to opportunists who profit without accountability. While this state of affairs continues, peace will always be threatened. Alienated youth and intellectuals may become violent in expressing their frustrations and despair. I fear that Angola will be more a case of failure in Africa despite its potential.

    Those civil society activists including Christians who participated in the process of bringing peace, because peace was not brought only by force of arms, said “while the causes that moved Angola to enter the war are not removed – the injustices, discrimination, crime, embezzlement, nepotism, political blasphemy and so forth – a durable peace will never be achieved.”

    There remains hope for Angola because an increasing number of people are aware of what is happening, are discussing how best to help the country to be reunited with its true path to lasting peace, true reconciliation with people centred development to the fore. Let us be reminded that the past shapes, but does not determine the future.

     

    This article appeared in the summer 2012 editi0n of ACTSA News, which also featured a spotlight of Zimbabwe, news from southern Africa and the latest updates on ACTSA’s work. To receive ACTSA News you can join here.

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