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Country Profile: Angola


new internationalist
issue 175 - September 1987


Map of Angola One of the most striking things about Angola is its small population - largely the result of 400 years of Portuguese domination during most of which the principal export was slaves for its plantations in Brazil. After the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) was founded in 1956, the struggle against the occupying Portuguese gathered momentum. Other groups were also involved: the FNLA (National Front for the Liberation of Angola), based on the Kongo tribe in the North and later UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) whose main support came from the Ovimbundu people in the South and East. These groups also fought against each other for the succession of power after the defeat of the Portuguese, of whom about 350,000 were living in Angola in the early 1970s. They were farmers and entrepreneurs and also occupied nearly all skilled and semiskilled jobs.

Independence came in 1975, following the Portuguese revolution the previous year. What had been a genuine civil war then hotted up as UNITA was backed by South Africa and the MPLA called in Cuban troops. Today, the US is also involved - providing arms to UNITA and aid channelled through Zaire. And despite Washington's anti-MPLA rhetoric, Angola is one of its biggest customers in Africa with trade between the two countries worth $1.5 billion in 1985.

Nearly all the European settlers left after independence, taking not only their capital but also their expertise. The immediate result in the capital, Luanda, and other towns was chaos as industry and infrastructure collapsed for lack of managers, engineers and spare parts. It has taken a generation to produce Angolans with the relevant know how.

Although potentially rich in oil, diamonds and coffee, Angola remains poor. The war economy eats up 40 per cent of government expenditure and means that people lack food and clothing.

The booming oil business is one bright spot on the economic horizon, earning 90 per cent of the country's foreign income in 1985. But falling prices last year resulted in the government (despite its Marxist orientation) voluntarily adopting IMF-type measures, with a reform plan that includes more freedom for private traders, easing price controls and devaluing the currency.

The war is at stalemate, but the main railway line from Benguela on the coast to the copper mines of Zaire is now said to be operating again. It is a crucial means of bypassing South African ports.

Angola's oil wealth makes it a significant regional power and a healthy Angola would help southern Africa remove itself from South African domination. With so much at stake, the strife that has lasted for 26 years seems certain to continue.

By Rafael Rel with additional information from Gemini News Service

Leader: President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos

Economy: GNP: per capita $470 (US $15,390)
Monetary unit: Kwanza
Main exports: crude oil, diamonds, coffee, sisal, fish products. Before 1975 Angola was one of the world's largest producers of coffee and diamonds. The small but once profitable diamond industry has dropped from its peak in 1980, crippled by UNITA attacks, smuggling and equipment problems. The best stones have probably already been sold off. Oil production is largely in foreign hands, with 150 foreign companies operating in the country, including US Chevron/Gulf, US Texaco, Petrofina of Belgium and French, British and Brazilian firms Oil production began in 1968 and in 1985 was responsible for 90 per cent of foreign income.

People: 8.8 million (US 234 million)

Health: Infant mortality 143 per 1,000 live births (US If per 1,000)
% of population with access to drinking water 28 total; 90 urban; 12 rural.
% of population with access to health services: 30.

Culture: Marxist-Leninist with Portuguese-Catholic and indigenous influences on religion and way of life.
Language: Portuguese (official) with Kimbundu, Kikongo, Umbundu and others
Educational enrolment: 146 males to 121 females at primary level.

Sources: State of the Worlds Children, 1987, Gemini News Service

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General poverty with high salaries for expatriate experts.

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Government depends on USSR/Cuba for military, economic and social aid; on Gulf oil and others for oil production

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[image, unknown] Marxist single party but non-aligned stance internation-ally.

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Apparently risen from below 10% in 1977 to 35% males, 19% females in 1983.

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Restricted by civil war and economic factors.

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43 years
(US 74 years)

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New Internationalist issue 175 magazine cover This article is from the September 1987 issue of New Internationalist.
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