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Last Updated: Friday, 11 November 2005, 15:30 GMT
Angola's slow journey out of strife

Angola is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its independence from Portugal, which took place on 11 November 1975 and was followed by more than 25 years of war. The BBC's Justin Pearce looks at the state of the nation three years after the 2002 peace accord.

Wealth and poverty

Self-built houses jostle for space with piles of garbage, open sewers, and stagnant pools where malarial mosquitoes thrive.

Children in truck
Two generations have known nothing but war

Some of these slums, in Luanda, Cabinda and Benguela, are close enough to the sea that their residents can see the oil tankers go by carrying millions of dollars worth of Angolan crude.

The poverty experienced by most Angolans was inevitably blamed on the war. While defence spending was high, it did not in reality account for all of the country's considerable oil income.

An IMF report in 2002 suggested that $4bn in Angola's oil money was unaccounted for over the previous five years.

Without the excuse of defence spending, the government is under more pressure than ever to reveal how much it is getting from oil and diamonds, and where that money is going.

Soaring global oil prices have raised the question of what Angola is doing with its extra income.

"Although some improvements have been noted over the past year, the government's record on corruption and transparency remains poor," was the opinion of a recent annual review of the Angolan diamond industry.

The slums look much as they did before.

Land

Golden in winter, green in summer, the fertile highlands of central Angola were a prize asset for Portuguese colonialists in the early 20th century. Angolans found themselves robbed of land and forcibly removed.

Children in fairground
Today's children won't have to smell gunpowder, hear the sound of gunfire, go through these things that hurt us so much
Roja Cawaia
Student

Decades of war forced millions more to leave their homes in the countryside. It became hard to know who owned what land - and the coming of peace has heralded new battles for the soil.

The government has drafted new land legislation, supposedly to clarify land rights.

But Development Workshop, an organisation that works on land issues, believes the new law "weakens small holders' and peasants' tenure rights... in favour of large commercial farmers with registered land titles".

This week, a court in the southern city of Lubango heard the case of peasant farmers who had laid charges of torture and illegal detention against commercial landowners who they say have arbitrarily fenced off pieces of land.

Going home

The population of a whole village tramping along dusty roads, the more fortunate ones carrying a few tools and cooking pots: scenes like this are becoming less common, as most of those who were in displaced people's camps have by now made it home, usually without any assistance.

Angola railway

But how are they to make a new life - particularly when displaced people include more than 100,000 demobilised soldiers?

"Most of the former soldiers are still living well below the poverty line and many are struggling to survive," warns the International Organisation for Migration. "Disgruntlement among the former soldiers across the country is on the rise."

"The war makes deep scars on some people and in my province - Bie - which was totally destroyed, people were badly affected, youths started to drink a lot," says student Roja Cawaia.

"It's only in these last three years of peace that people are starting to recompose themselves psychologically."

Politics

Elections, overdue since 1997, seem to hang somewhere in the future.

From independence until 1992 Angola was a one-party state ruled by the MPLA. Free campaigning was allowed in the run-up to the 1992 elections, which the MPLA won.

Angolan returnees
Returnees now face the challenge of rebuilding communities

Former rebel group Unita, too, maintained absolute political control in the areas it occupied both before and after the elections.

The government is now talking of elections around September next year.

If they do happen, the MPLA will win: the ruling party has money, it is organised and it keeps a tight grip on the administration.

Unita has more political clout now that it is purely a civilian movement. At least in Luanda, the opposition operates more freely then before.

This is not the case outside the capital - Unita has repeatedly complained of pro-MPLA officials preventing the party from operating in provincial towns.

Of the millions of people displaced in the war, many still lack the documents they need in order to be able to vote.

Media

In the 1990s, to be a journalist in Angola was to risk harassment, imprisonment or even death - the country has moved on since then, and it has certainly come a long way since the 1970s and 1980s when MPLA and Unita monopolised the press and radio in areas under their control.

Minibus in Angola
Travel is easier now though roads are still bad

Switch on a radio in Luanda today and chances are you will hear a caller on a fuzzy cell phone line haranguing the government.

The independent papers are worth reading if you can tease out the hard fact from the gossip.

Yet the government has blocked attempts by the best of the broadcasters, the Catholic Radio Ecclesia, to broadcast outside Luanda, and the independent papers are read mostly by a small wealthy elite in the capital.

Elsewhere, the government still controls what you hear and read.

Communications

"The fighting has stopped, you can travel all over the country by road and there is food to eat," says Luanda domestic worker Odeta Conceicao.

Farmer using plough in Angola
Conflicts over land have been deepened by wartime relocations
Far more people are travelling by road, now that they can do so without risk of being blown up or ambushed by Unita.

Road maintenance has not kept pace with the increase in traffic, and in parts of the country surfaces are now even worse than they were during the war.

Trains once again rumble along a 100km section of the Benguela Railway, from the Atlantic into the interior.

This is a showcase project of great symbolic importance - its closure in the 1980s was a sign that the conflict had reached a point of no return.

Meanwhile, billboards advertising mobile phones are advancing quickly into the interior.

Five years ago, cell phones functioned only in Luanda - now they are outstripping the shaky fixed-line telephone network.

But in a restricted business environment, phone costs remain higher than in most African countries.

Justin Pearce was the BBC correspondent in Angola from 2001 to 2003.


SEE ALSO:
Thirty years: What Angolans say
11 Nov 05 |  Africa
Angola's landmine legacy
29 Nov 04 |  Africa
Angola marks one year of peace
04 Apr 03 |  Africa
Country profile: Angola
03 Nov 05 |  Country profiles


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