12 March 2015
- From the section Africa
One of Africa’s major oil producers, Angola is nonetheless one of the world’s poorest countries.
It is striving to tackle the physical, social and political legacy of a 27-year civil war that ravaged the country after independence.
The governing Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the rebel group Unita were bitter rivals even before the country gained independence from Portugal in 1975.
The Soviet Union and Cuba supported the then-Marxist MPLA, while the US and white-ruled South Africa backed Unita as a bulwark against Soviet influence in Africa.
After 16 years of fighting that killed up to 300,000 people, a peace deal led to elections. But Unita rejected the outcome and resumed the war, in which hundreds of thousands more were killed. Another peace accord was signed in 1994 and the UN sent in peacekeepers.
But the fighting steadily worsened again and in 1999 the peacekeepers withdrew, leaving behind a country rich in natural resources but littered with landmines and the ruins of war.
The connection between the civil war and the unregulated diamond trade – or “blood diamonds” – was a source of international concern. The UN froze bank accounts used in the gem trade.
The death of Unita leader Jonas Savimbi in a gunfight with government forces in February 2002 raised the prospect of peace and the army and rebels signed a ceasefire in April to end the conflict. The government has overseen a transition to democracy, although Unita continues to complain that the opposition faces intimidation and lack of transparency at elections.
Angola is gradually rebuilding its infrastructure, retrieving weapons from its heavily-armed civilian population and resettling tens of thousands of refugees who fled the fighting. Landmines and impassable roads have cut off large parts of the country. Many Angolans rely on food aid.
But oil exports and foreign loans have spurred economic growth and have fuelled a reconstruction boom. There have been allegations – denied by the government – that oil revenues have been squandered through corruption and mismanagement.
Much of Angola’s oil wealth lies in Cabinda province, where a decades-long separatist conflict simmers. The government has sent thousands of troops to subdue the rebellion in the enclave, which has no border with the rest of Angola. Human rights groups have alleged abuses against civilians.