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Poverty in Angola | Race-Talk | 279

Poverty in Angola

Filed under: Featured,Global Poverty |


By Patricia Cunningham II, PhD candidate, The Ohio State University and Jonathan Fish Finance and Economics Major, at The Ohio State University,

GLOBAL POVERTY: Visiting Angola

Angola’s tremulous history is blistered with civil uprisings but most of the scars come from colonialism.  Before it was colonized by Portugal in 1655 Angola was not exploited for its extensive natural resources, notably minerals and oil.  It was a land rich in culture, traditions, and multiple languages.  Now Angola is trying to create new ontologies after its independence in 1975.  The challenge lies in rebuilding a country that is no longer knowledgeable about its past and only has the tools of the oppressors to make meaning of the present and plan for the future.

Colonialism has done the most to do the least for Angola.  During colonialism Portugal had the economic, linguistic, political, and social control of this large nation. The country was arbitrarily divided into regions and statehoods so that the control could be consolidated around the resources and agriculture.  Despite achieving independence in 1961, food had to be imported and the disruption has lead to corruption.  This importation of basic needs signifies the lack of sustainability the country has. Neo-colonialism resulted, in the people having political control but the market and economic system is still under the tyranny of the colonizer.


It would be very difficult for Angola to disengage from the world economy because of its reliance on imports. We cannot take back the effects of colonialism, nor its response to that treatment, over the past 100 years.  The importation of cars, technology, and food- which was unheard of in pre-colonial Africa-is needed for daily survival. There were no famines in Africa prior to colonialism (because they produced their own food). The integration of Angola into the world economy has been a “benchmarking affect” from colonialism that is not unlike other colonized or imperialized nations.  However, there are many social effects as well and not all of them causing a deficit (Birmingham, 1959).

The occupation streamlined some things and corroded others.  Colonialism brought the introduction of formal education literacy expansion, urbanization, and hospitals, but it did not simultaneously provide the requisite support and infrastructure. Birth rates have increased and the death rates have dropped in many African nations as a result of the colonialism period.  However, the resulting population boom has created access issues – many people do not have access to clean water in many regions.  This is not to say that these effects could not have occurred with out colonialism, but Angola’s history is certainly closely connected to its current realities (Marker, 2003).

There was something else that colonialism created: a new form of political crisis. In disrupting pre-colonial political systems that worked for the folks in the region now referred to as Angola and imposing foreign models, colonialism created political ambivalence. European interests, mapped onto the continent of Africa, resulted in throwing diverse people together without consideration for established borders. Ethnic conflicts were created that have, over time, destabilized the continent. Angola, like other nation-states that were artificially constructed with no knowledge of what was occurring with the people, there was had no one representing them at the table where these decisions were made (Seborer, 1974).

The transportation and communication infrastructure that was provided by the colonizers was not only inadequate, but was also very unevenly distributed in nearly all the colonies. The roads and railways were built in areas with the potential for cash crops and with mineral deposits. They were actually meant to facilitate the exploitation of Angolan resources and not to promote the accessibility and the development of the entire region in the economy nor community.  The emphasis on western education as the preferred framework underscored the devaluing of the Angolan communities.  The spread of western education as a hegemonic model was mainly due to the action of the Christian missionaries. By the 1930s, there were very few areas in West Africa where elementary education was not common. By 1940, universities also became common in almost all the colonies except in the Portuguese and Belgium colonies, including Angola.  The value placed on the colonizers language and not on the languages of the people citizens suggested that the native linguistical system had no value. Language is part of shaping the culture and political history of a country (Duffy, 1959).



Angola struggled for independence from 1961 to 1974. However, independence did not lead to peace, multiple factions fought in a civil war that lasted from 1975 to 2002 for control of the government, which was really a fight for control of the valuable natural resources. . Angola has only been a peaceful nation for nine years, and as a result has not had much time to develop as a post-colonial nation.

The nine years of peace have not always been smooth. In 2006, a small group of separatists called the Cabinda Enclave Liberation Front (FLEC), sought independence for the area of Cabinda, which is notable because it has oil. Angola responded to FLEC militarily, and prevented Cabinda from seceding. Once again, Angola was forced to live in the shadow of its economic realities which were first exploited by Portugal.

In the following year, Angola and its neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo, finally ended a border dispute. However, the final decision on the resolution was tasked to experts in Portugal and Belgium, the colonizers of the two disputing nations respectively. Just as would have been the case in the 19th century, the decision making power over African politics and lives was passed to the Europeans. Escaping colonialism has not been an easy task.


As a nation less than a decade removed from the end of a war that began in the colonial era, Angola is still struggling to deal with the remnants of its past. Angola’s plethora of natural resources that made it such a desirable colony is also preventing the implementation of effective political and economic controls.

Angola’s most valuable resource is oil, which accounts for 50% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 80% of the government’s income (CountryWatch, 2011). However, the income from the oil does not reach the average Angolan. The oil companies are predominantly foreign owned, and only the elite experience the wealth. While a select few live in luxury, two-thirds of Angolans live on US$2or less per day (IRIN, 2006). The severe income disparity prevents the average citizen from competing in the global market, or even the national market.

The typical Angolan also suffers from a corrupt and inefficient government. Citizens do not have much of a say in their government: the President is only up for reelection in 2022, and the last true elections were in 1992. Despite having a national budget of about US $40 billion, only 9% of Angolans in Luanda, the capital, have access to running water. UNICEF and other organizations have worked to bring running water to more citizens, but have faced obstacles such as $200,000 fees to turn on taps and a broken infrastructure to do so. As a whole, Angola was ranked tenth worst in the world for corruption by Transparency International (Economist, 2011). The result of such corruption is that Angola is unable to adequately combat its problems, whether they be new or the result of colonialism.

One direct result of colonialism exacerbated by the current governmental system is the lack of sufficient agriculture. Angola was self-sufficient before the Portuguese colonized it and took advantage of its natural resources. Angola does have the arable land necessary to provide enough food for its citizens, but colonialism shifted the nation to a cash-cow for the colonizers. Today, Angola is a net-importer of food. Furthermore, it lacks the necessary infrastructure to make shipping food from rural areas to urban areas or abroad cheap. Food production is limited because of a lack of quality communication systems, roads, and bridges, along with poor food production and storage techniques (UNDP, 2006).

The combination of all of these factors, in conjunction with a relatively short amount of time to prove that it can sustain itself as a peaceful and stable nation, Angola has largely been shunned by investors. The main foreign investors are oil companies seeking to profit from Angola’s natural resources. Since the oil industry has done little more than to make a select few rich thus far, the average Angolan is still essentially living as under colonialism. The inequitable relationship between the foreign investors and Angola has prevented the nation from truly moving beyond its colonial history into a period of renewed success and prosperity.

CONCLUSION: Where to Next?

Angola’s past and present realities highlight the complexity of fighting global poverty. Many, but not all, nations with the worst poverty are struggling not only with an ineffective government and a multitude of problems brought on by unwise policies, but also with a history of colonialism. Though Angola is no longer directly under Portuguese rule, it still is a victim of a hegemonic structure that is detrimental to the average citizen.

The end goal is for Angolans to benefit from their own resources. The government does a poor job of using its power and budget to improve the average citizen’s life, and most Angolans never see the revenue from their diamonds or oil. The distribution of power, and therefore wealth, was created by colonialism and has been continued in the 21st century.

It is important to note that the answer to Angola’s problems is not to further impose western ideas regarding governance, economic policy, and social norms. Rather, the combatants of global poverty should seek to formulate unique strategies tailored to Angolan values and aspirations. The corruption, adopted from their colonizers has to be broken through, providing transparency and connecting citizens to be a part of the process of political, economic, and social responsibility.