Angola (12/01)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Republic of Angola (Republica de Angola)

Area: 1,246,700 sq. km. (481,400 sq. mi), about twice the size of Texas.
Cities: Capital--Luanda (pop. 3.8 million); Huambo (750,000); Benguela (600,000).
Terrain: A narrow, dry coastal strip extending from Luanda to Namibia; well-watered agricultural highlands; savanna in the far east and south; and rain forest in the north and Cabinda.
Climate: Tropical and tropical highland.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Angolan(s).
Population (2001 official est.): 13,300,000.
Annual population growth rate (2001 official est.): 2.9%.
Ethnic groups: Ovimbundu 37%, Kimbundu 25%, Bakongo 13%, mixed racial 2%, European 1%.
Religions: Roman Catholic 68%, various Protestant 20%; indigenous beliefs, 12% (2001 official est.)
Languages: Portuguese (official), Ovimbundu, Kimbundu, Bakongo, and others.
Education: Years compulsory--8. Enrollment--primary school, 42%; secondary, 20%, and post-secondary, 3%. Literacy (total population over 15 that can read and write, 1998 est.)--42% (male 56%, female 28%).
Health (2001 est.): Life expectancy--total population 42 years. Infant mortality rate (2001 est.)--193.72/1,000.
Work force (1997 est.): 5 million: Agriculture--85%; industry and commerce--15%; services--6%.

Type: Republic.
Independence: November 11, 1975. Government based on ordinances, decrees, and decisions issued by a president and his ministers or through legislation produced by the National Assembly and approved by the president.
Branches: Executive--Elected President (chief of state) and 25 appointed civilian ministers. Legislative--Elected National Assembly (230 seats). Judicial--Supreme Court (a Constitutional Court, provided in the Constitutional Law of 1992, has never been established).
Administrative subdivisions: Province, municipality, commune.
Political parties: 123 with legal status; in 1992, seven won seats in the National Assembly. Pro-government--Peoples' Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). Opposition--Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), Renewed, Social Renewal Party (PRS), National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA), Democratic Party for Progress of the National Alliance of Angola (PDP-ANA), Democratic Renewal Party (PRD), Youth, Workers, and Peasants Alliance Party (PAJOCA), and Liberal Democratic Party (PLD).
Suffrage: Universal age 18 and over.

Flag: Angola flag

GDP (2000 est. using purchasing power parity): $10.1 billion.
Annual real GDP growth rate (2000 est.): 4.9%.
Per capita GDP (2000 est. using purchasing power parity): $1,000.
Average inflation rate (2000 est.): 135%.
Natural resources: Petroleum, diamonds, iron ore, phosphates, bauxite, uranium, gold, granite.
Agriculture: Products--Bananas, sugarcane, coffee, sisal, corn, cotton, manioc, tobacco.
Industry: Types--cement, basic metal products, fish processing; food processing, brewing, tobacco products, sugar, textiles.
Trade: Exports (2000 est.)--$7.8 billion: crude oil (90%), diamonds. Major markets--U.S 54%, South Korea, Benelux China, Taiwan (1999 est.). Imports (2000 est.)--$2.5 billion, machinery, electrical equipment, vehicles and spare parts, medicines, food, textiles, military goods. Major sources--Portugal, South Korea, U.S., South Africa, France.

Angola is located on the South Atlantic Coast of West Africa between Namibia and the Republic of the Congo. It also is bordered by the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia to the east. The country is divided into an arid coastal strip stretching from Namibia to Luanda; a wet, interior highland; a dry savanna in the interior south and southeast; and rain forest in the north and in Cabinda. The Zambezi River and several tributaries of the Congo River have their sources in Angola. The coastal strip is tempered by the cool Benguela current, resulting in a climate similar to coastal Peru or Baja California. There is a short rainy season lasting from February to April. Summers are hot and dry, while winters are mild. The interior highlands have a mild climate with a rainy season from November through April followed by a cool dry season from May to October. Elevations generally range from 3,000 to 6,000 feet. The far north and Cabinda enjoy rain throughout much of the year.

Angola has three main ethnic groups, each speaking a Bantu language: Ovimbundu 37%, Kimbundu 25%, and Bakongo, 13%. Other groups include Chokwe (or Lunda), Ganguela, Nhaneca-Humbe, Ambo, Herero, and Xindunga. In addition, mixed racial (European and Africa) people amount to about 2%, with a small (1%) population of whites, mainly ethnically Portuguese. Portuguese make up the largest non-Angolan population, with at least 30,000 (though many native-born Angolans can claim Portuguese nationality under Portuguese law). Portuguese is both the official and predominant language.

In 1482, when the Portuguese first landed in what is now northern Angola, they encountered the Kingdom of the Congo, which stretched from modern Gabon in the north to the Kwanza River in the south. Mbanza Congo, the capital, had a population of 50,000 people. South of this were various important states, of which the Kingdom of Ndongo, ruled by the Ngola (King), was most significant. Modern Angola derives its name from the king of Ndongo. The Portuguese gradually took control of the coastal strip throughout the 16th century by a series of treaties and wars. The Dutch occupied Luanda from 1641-48, providing a boost for anti-Portuguese states. In 1648, Brazilian-based Portuguese forces re-took Luanda and initiated a process of military conquest of the Congo and Ndongo states that ended with Portuguese victory in 1671. Full Portuguese administrative control of the interior did not occur until the beginning of the 20th century.

Portugal's primary interest in Angola quickly turned to slavery. The slaving system began early in the 16th century with the purchase from African chiefs of people to work on sugar plantations in Sao Tome, Principe, and Brazil. Many scholars agree that by the 19th century, Angola was the largest source of slaves not only for Brazil, but for the Americas, including the United States. By the end of the 19th century, a massive forced labor system had replaced formal slavery and would continue until outlawed in 1961. It was this forced labor that provided the basis for development of a plantation economy and, by the mid-20th century, a major mining sector. Forced labor combined with British financing to construct three railroads from the coast to the interior, the most important of which was the transcontinental Benguela railroad that linked the port of Lobito with the copper zones of the Belgian Congo and what is now Zambia.

Colonial economic development did not translate into social development for native Angolans. The Portuguese regime encouraged white immigration, especially after 1950, which intensified racial antagonisms. As decolonization progressed elsewhere in Africa, Portugal, under the Salazar and Caetano dictatorships, rejected independence and treated its African colonies as overseas provinces. Consequently, three independence movements emerged: the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), with a base among Kimbundos and the mixed-race intelligentsia of Luanda, and links to communist parties in Portugal and the East Bloc; the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA), with an ethnic base in the Bakongo region of the north and links to the United States and the Mobutu regime in Kinshasa; and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), led by Jonas Malheiro Savimbi with an ethnic and regional base in the Ovimbundo heartland in the center of the country.

From the early 1960s, elements of these movements fought against the Portuguese. A 1974 coup d'etat in Portugal established a military government that promptly ceased the war and agreed to hand over power to a coalition of the three movements. The coalition quickly broke down and turned into a civil war. By late 1975, Cuban forces had intervened on behalf of the MPLA and South African troops for UNITA, effectively internationalizing the Angolan conflict. In control of Luanda and the coastal strip (and increasingly lucrative oil fields), the MPLA declared independence on November 11, 1975, the day the Portuguese abandoned the capital. Augustinho Neto became the first president, followed by Jose Eduardo dos Santos in 1979.

Civil war between UNITA and the MPLA continued until 1989. For much of this time, UNITA controlled vast swaths of the interior and was backed by U.S. resources and South African troops. Similarly, tens of thousands of Cuban troops remained in support of the MPLA, often fighting South Africans on the front lines. A U.S.-brokered agreement resulted in withdrawal of foreign troops in 1989 and led to the Bicesse Accord in 1991, which spelled out an electoral process for a democratic Angola under the supervision of the United Nations. When UNITA's Jonas Savimbi failed to win the first round of the presidential election in 1992 (he won 40% to Dos Santos's 49%, which meant a runoff), he called the election fraudulent and returned to war. Another peace accord was brokered in Lusaka, Zambia, signed in 1994. This agreement, too, collapsed in 1998 when Savimbi renewed the war for a second time, claiming the MPLA was not fulfilling its obligations. The UN Security Council voted on August 28, 1997, to impose sanctions on UNITA. The Angolan military launched a massive offensive in 1999 which destroyed UNITA's conventional capacity and recaptured all major cities previously held by Savimbi's forces. Savimbi then declared a return to guerrilla tactics, which continue to keep much of the country in turmoil. The prospect is for continued low-level guerrilla warfare that will keep much of the country insecure.

The president governs Angola, assisted by a 25 ministers, all appointed by him. The central government administers the country through 18 provinces, whose governors are appointed by the president. A National Assembly has 230 members elected in 1992. They represent parties whose weight is determined by a formula that takes into account national tickets and provincial voting. The ruling MPLA controls 57% of the seats.

Principal Government Officials
President--Jose Eduardo dos Santos
Minister of External Affairs--Joao Bernardo de Miranda
Minister of the Interior--Fernando da Piedad Dias dos Santos "Nando"
Minister of Finance--Julio Marcelino Vieira Bessa
Minister of Defense--Kundi Payhama
Minister of Petroleum--Jose Maria Botelho de Vasconcelos
Minister of Planning--Ana Dias Lourenco
Ambassador to the United States--Josefina Perpetua Pitra Diakite

Angola maintains an embassy in the United States at 2100-2108 16th St., NW, Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202-785-1156, fax 202-785-1258, web:

Angola changed from a one-party Marxist-Leninist system ruled by the MPLA to a formal multiparty democracy following the 1992 elections. President dos Santos won the first round election with more than 49% of the vote to Jonas Savimbi's 40%. A runoff never has taken place. The subsequent renewal of civil war and collapse of the Lusaka Protocol have left much of this process stillborn, but democratic forms exist, notably the National Assembly.

Currently, political power is concentrated in the Presidency. The executive branch of the government is composed of the President, the Prime Minister--a position vacant since 1999--and Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers, composed of all government ministers and vice ministers, meets regularly to discuss policy issues. Governors of the 18 provinces are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the president. The Constitutional Law of 1992 establishes the broad outlines of government structure and delineates the rights and duties of citizens. The legal system is based on Portuguese and customary law but is weak and fragmented. Courts operate in only 12 of more than 140 municipalities. A Supreme Court serves as the appellate tribunal; a Constitutional Court with powers of judicial review has never been constituted despite statutory authorization.

The 26-year long civil war has ravaged the country's political and social institutions. The UN estimates of 1.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), while generally the accepted figure for war-affected people is 4 million. Daily conditions of life throughout the country and specifically Luanda (population approximately 4 million) mirror the collapse of administrative infrastructure as well as many social institutions. The ongoing grave economic situation largely prevents any government support for social institutions. Hospitals are without medicines or basic equipment, schools are without books, and public employees often lack the basic supplies for their day-to-day work.

The president has announced the government's intention to hold elections as soon as conditions permit, likely in late 2002 or 2003. These elections would be the first since 1992 and would serve to elect both a new president and a new National Assembly.

Angola is the fastest-growing economy in Africa, largely due to a major oil boom, but it also ranks in the bottom 10 of socioeconomic conditions in the world. Aside from the oil sector and diamonds, it is in economic disarray because of 26 years of nearly continuous warfare. Despite abundant natural resources, output per capita remains among the world's lowest. Subsistence agriculture and dependence on humanitarian food assistance sustain the large majority of the population. Little industry exists.

By contrast, the rapidly expanding petroleum industry now producing up to 800,000 barrels per day, behind only Nigeria in Africa, accounts for more than 60% of GNP and 90% of government revenues. Oil production remains largely offshore and has few linkages with other sectors of the economy. Block Zero, located of the enclave of Cabinda, provides the majority of Angola's crude oil production. There, ChevronTexaco, through its subsidiary Cabinda Gulf Oil Company, is the operator with a 39.2% share, with SONANGOL (the Angolan state oil company), TotalFinaElf, and ENI-Agip splitting up the rest. ChevronTexaco also operates Angola's first producing deepwater section, Block 14, which started pumping in January 2000. The U.S. takes more than half of Angola's production, by far the largest importer. Exports to Asian countries have grown rapidly in recent years, however, especially China. Significant discoveries have been made on deepwater Blocks 15, 17, 18, and 24, with ExxonMobil, BP. Statoil, Norsk Hydro, and Agip having major interests. TotalFinaElf operates Angola's one refinery (in Luanda) as a joint venture with SONANGOL; plans for a second refinery in Lobito are moving forward.

In the last decade of the colonial period, Angola was a major African food exporter but now is forced to import almost all its food. Because of severe wartime conditions, including extensive planting of landmines throughout the countryside, agricultural activities have been brought to a near standstill. Some efforts to recover have gone forward, however, notably in fisheries. Coffee production, though a fraction of its pre-1975 level, is sufficient for domestic needs and some exports. In sharp contrast to a bleak picture of devastation and bare subsistence is expanding oil production, now almost half of GDP and 90% of exports, at 800,000 barrels a day. Diamonds make up most of the remaining exports--and have provided much of the revenue for Jonas Savimbi's UNITA rebellion through illicit trade. Other rich resources await development: gold, forest products, fisheries, iron ore, coffee, and countless fruits.

An economic reform effort was launched in 1998. In April 2000, Angola started an International Monetary Fund (IMF) Staff-Monitored Program (SMP). The program formally lapsed in June 2001, but the IMF remains engaged. In this context, the Government of Angola has succeeded in unifying exchange rates and has raised fuel, electricity, and water rates. The Commercial Code, telecommunications law, and Foreign Investment Code are being modernized. A privatization effort, prepared with World Bank assistance, has begun with the BCI bank. Nevertheless, a legacy of fiscal mismanagement and corruption persists.

Angola is the third-largest trading partner of the United States in Sub-Saharan Africa, largely because of its petroleum exports. The U.S. imports about 4% of its oil from Angola, a share which should continue to increase. By the same token, U.S. companies account for more than half the investment in Angola, with Chevron-Texaco leading the way. The U.S. exports industrial goods and services--primarily oilfield equipment, mining equipment, chemicals, aircraft, and food--to Angola, while principally importing petroleum.

Angola's military is called the FAA, the Portuguese acronym for Angolan Armed Forces, headed by a Chief of Staff who reports to the Minister of Defense. There are three divisions--the Army, Navy, Air Force. Total manpower is about 110,000. The army is by far the largest of the services with about 100,000 men and women. The navy numbers about 3,000 and operates several small patrol craft and barges. Air force personnel total about 7,000; its equipment includes Russian-manufactured fighters and transport planes. A small number of FAA personnel are stationed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa) and the Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville).

From 1975 to 1989, Angola was aligned with the Soviet Union and Cuba. Since then, it has focused on improving relationships with Western countries, cultivating links with other Portuguese-speaking countries, and asserting its own national interests in Central Africa through military and diplomatic intervention. In 1993, it established formal diplomatic relations with the United States. It has entered the Southern African Development Community as a vehicle for improving ties with its largely anglophone neighbors to the south. Zimbabwe and Namibia joined Angola in its military intervention in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Angolan troops remain in support of the Joseph Kabila government. It also has intervened in the Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville) to support the existing government in that country.

Since 1998, Angola has successfully worked with the UN Security Council to impose and carry out sanctions on UNITA. More recently, it has extended those efforts to controls on conflict diamonds, the primary source of revenue for UNITA. At the same time, Angola has promoted the revival of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP) as a forum for cultural exchange and expanding ties with Portugal and Brazil in particular.

The United States established diplomatic relations with the Government of Angola in 1993, after an interim period of 2 years. Previous to 1989, U.S.-Angolan relations were defined by the Cold War. The U.S. supported Jonas Savimbi's UNITA against the pro-Soviet and Cuban MPLA government in Luanda. Since 1992, the relationship has grown deeper, characterized by Angola's role as a major energy source and recognition by the U.S. of Angola's regional importance.

The U.S. Mission in Angola consists of three agencies--The Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Department of Defense. In addition, a variety of federal agencies maintain relationships with the Angolan Government, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Agriculture, and the Center for Disease Control. IN FY 2001, mission programs amounted to roughly $89 million: a $55,402,000-USAID program, of which $43,540,000 went to humanitarian assistance while the rest went to, agriculture, health, and democracy and governance; $30 million in Department of Agriculture 416B products; $3.5 million State Department demining program; and $92,000 in State Department small projects funds.

At the same time, the energy-based U.S. trading relationship continues to expand and spark other ties. One offshoot has been the development of a Sister City relationship between Lafayette, La., and Cabinda. The Catholic University of Luanda has close links with a number of American institutions and has received support from Citizens' Energy of Boston. SONANGOL has a longstanding program of educating its professionals in U.S. universities, complimenting ChevronTexaco's policy of U.S. training for its own growing pool of Angolan professionals. Long before oil was discovered, American missionary efforts from the early 19th century planted the roots of several Protestant churches in the interior, which also provided much of the schooling that was available in rural colonial Angola; those historical links now are being revived with exchanges in both directions.

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Christopher Dell
Deputy Chief of Mission--Todd Greentree
USAID Director--Robert Hellyer
Defense Attache--Lt. Col. Kelly Langdorf, USA

The U.S. embassy is located at Luanda (E), Rua Houari Boumedienne No. 32, Miramar, Luanda, Angola.  International mail:  Caixa Postal 6484, Luanda, Angola; Pouch:  Department of State, 2550 Luanda Place, Washington, DC  20521-2550; telephone: (244)(2)445-481, 447-028; fax: (244)(2)446-924, 447-813