Twenty years ago, one of the longest, most brutal and deadliest wars of the last century ended in Angola. In 27 years, this conflict left nearly 1 million people dead and displaced 4 million. It has also left the country in ruins: In 2002, 60 percent of Angolans did not have access to drinking water and 30 percent of children died before the age of five. Has the West African country recovered from these dark years? We find out in this report by Clément Bonnerot, Dombaxi Sebastiao, Evan Claver and Juliette Dubois.
Angola's civil war began as its colonial master Portugal left in 1975, leaving rival independence movements to battle it out. In the midst of the Cold War, the West African country became the battleground of a proxy conflict between the communist bloc and that of the United States and its allies. On one side was Agostinho Neto's MPLA, supported by the USSR and Cuba, and on the other was Jonas Savimbi's UNITA, supported by South Africa, the US and the UK.
The initial stages of the war saw victories for the MPLA, which took over the capital and established a de facto government. But fighting intensified in the mid-to-late 1980s, culminating in the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988 in which nearly 10,000 soldiers died, with both sides claiming victory.
Afterwards, a ceasefire was held until 1992, when UN-supervised elections took place. The MPLA won, but Savimbi declared fraud and refused the results, and the fighting resumed. It did not end until 10 years later, when Savimbi was killed by government troops in 2002.
Precious oil resources
Since then, the country (which is still ruled by the MPLA) has been struggling to recover completely. Although most of the infrastructure damaged by the war has been rebuilt, the scars of the conflict are still present, especially in Luena and Huambo, where former combatants and victims feel neglected.
Luanda, the capital, has benefitted from the economic boom of the 2000s and the increase in oil prices, from which the country derives 70 percent of its revenue. A member of OPEC for some 15 years, Angola was ranked 16th among top oil-producing countries in 2019. With its skyscrapers and renovated waterfront, the capital projects the image of a prosperous and modern Angola. Yet this contrasts starkly with the reality of the majority of the country's inhabitants, half of whom live on less than two dollars a day.
Angola also remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world, despite President João Lourenço's promises to fight corruption. In Transparency International's 2021 ranking, Angola is ranked 136th (despite moving up 29 places since the previous report).
A new generation, embodied notably by political activist Hitler Samussuku, is rising up to fight for democracy and social justice. For them, peace does not mean simply laying down arms – it still needs to be constructed.