Angola continues to have one of the fastest growing economies on the planet.
After four decades of conflict, Angola was a basket case. 1.5m were killed and more than 4m forced to flee their homes. A whole generation missed their education. Infrastructure, political institutions and social services had to be rebuilt, often from scratch.
The pace of development since peace returned has been staggering. Roads, ports, railways, hotels, shopping centres, hospitals, universities—even whole new towns—are rising up out of the bush. The capital, Luanda, has changed out of all recognition. None of this would be possible without Angola’s vast oil reserves, estimated at 13 billion barrels. Today, the country pumps 1.9m barrels a day, making Angola sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest producer after Nigeria – it is poised to be number one. Oil accounts for more than half of the country’s GDP, 80% of the government’s revenues and 90% of export earnings. Angola has overtaken Saudi Arabia and Iran to become China’s biggest supplier of oil.
All this though has yet to improve ordinary Angolan lives very much. On paper, GDP has more than doubled since 2002. But the UN’s human development index put Angola near the bottom in almost every category: life expectancy is 46 years; infant mortality is 180 per 1,000 live births (against less than ten in America and Europe); one-third of adults are illiterate. While the new elite lives sumptuously, two-thirds of the 17m Angolans survive on less than $2 a day.
The gap between rich and poor is most evident in Luanda which has earned the dubious title of the world’s most expensive city. The rubbish-strewn streets, potholed and still usually made of mud, are jammed with traffic. Electricity is patchy. There are few skilled locals. Corruption and nepotism are pervasive. Angola is near the bottom of the corruption-perceptions index published by Transparency International.
José Eduardo dos Santos, Angola’s autocratic leader for the past 30 years, has pledged to reduce corruption. A promise few take seriously considering his family has been some of the prime beneficiaries of Angola’s massive oil revenues.