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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 April 2006, 05:57 GMT 06:57 UK
War-scarred Angola seeks a future
Angola is marking four years since the government and the Unita rebels signed a peace agreement, ending 27 years of almost continuous war. The BBC's Sarah Grainger looks at the mood in the country.

Child at feeding centre
Many children still rely on aid agencies for their food
Francisca Segunda came to a United Nations feeding centre in Huambo because her one-year-old son, Domingos, was suffering from malnutrition.

She lives in Huambo and sells meat to make money, but sometimes there is no meat to sell and no-one to buy it and she goes without food. That makes it hard to breast-feed her baby too.

The area around Huambo used to be the breadbasket of Angola, but now it struggles to feed itself, having been in the firing line throughout Angola's civil war.

The once-thriving agricultural sector here came to a halt during the war and its renaissance has been thwarted by the presence of mines in the surrounding fields and the flight of a large part of its population.

People are glad that peace has come to stay, yet most have not yet experienced a full harvest of their subsistence crops.

Packed city

Huambo, however, is only one half of Angola's story. Its lush green vegetation and quiet streets are in stark contrast to the capital, Luanda, which is now home to around 4m people, over half of whom fled there from places like Huambo during the fighting.

Ex-rebel leader Jonas Savimbi's house is now a refugee camp

The city's roads are clogged with cars and the slums, called musseques, stretch for miles beyond Luanda's former city limits.

People who owned conventional houses built extra homes in their yards to accommodate family members who fled here. They now rent these tiny houses out to a population desperate for accommodation.

"Luanda is the dream for people in Angola," says Candida, a 26-year-old who lives in the capital.

She pays $150 a month to rent out a room in a block of flats in the centre of town. It used to be the lift lobby for the other flats, but Candida likes to think of it as a studio.

"There's nothing in the provinces to go back to. No schools, no jobs," she tells me.

Luanda, by contrast, is the centre of the country's thriving oil industry: the place where business is done, decisions are made and bribes change hands.

Election delay

While people in the capital don't talk readily about the war and Luanda was mostly untouched by the fighting, the huge displacement of the population is the most obvious sign that Angola is still a country in recovery.

If we had someone new in power they would just use the opportunity to take everything they could for themselves

There are promises that the infrastructure will be rebuilt. President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has hinted that elections, which were promised for 2003 but delayed from year to year, could be postponed again to allow more roads and bridges to be built.

But while the oil companies construct new office blocks in downtown Luanda, there is little sign of the same level of activity outside the capital.

It is clear that a privileged elite is benefiting from Angola's natural riches, but the bounty is not trickling down to the poorest people.

A recent report by the International Monetary Fund noted that "Rapidly rising production and revenues from the oil sector have been the main driving forces behind the improvements in overall economic activity - nevertheless, poverty remains widespread."

It is this poverty, or the fear of it, that leads to much of the petty corruption in Angola.

Park your car on the street and there will be two or three young men asking for a "gazoza" - a small bribe - to make sure no-one steals it.

This is how they make a living. But the corruption reaches all levels of society.

'Inexplicable poverty'

Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International rated Angola one of the 10 most corrupt countries in the world in 2005, noting that like many countries with oil resources it faces "inexplicable poverty and deprivation".

Building site in Luanda
There is some money in Luanda but it does not reach most people

However, people here are willing to turn a blind eye to corruption, because after 27 years of war, it is preferable to more fighting.

In any case, most Angolans seem to be ambivalent about a delay in the electoral process.

Memories are long, and the last elections in 1992 sparked some of the worst fighting of the civil war.

Moreover, there is little doubt in many people's minds who will win.

"If I see Dos Santos' name on the ballot paper," one young man in Luanda tells me, "then I won't vote. There's no point. We know who will win."

Many people see no alternative to President Dos Santos.

"If we had someone new in power," says Candida, "they would just use the opportunity to take everything they could for themselves. At least, with Dos Santos, we know where we stand."

In pictures: Angola's carnival
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Timeline: Angola
08 Dec 05 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Angola
28 Jan 06 |  Country profiles

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