Angola - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

Read about Angola: language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate ...



Angola (country), country in southwestern Africa, bordering the Atlantic Ocean. Until 1975 it was ruled by Portugal and was sometimes called Portuguese West Africa. Angola became independent in 1975 after almost 15 years of war waged by Angolans against Portuguese rule. A civil war between rival Angolan factions broke out soon after independence and continued until the early 2000s.

The name Angola was derived from the word ngola, the title once given to rulers of the Mbutu people in northern Angola. Today, the country is officially the Republic of Angola. Luanda is the capital and largest city. Portuguese remains Angola’s official language and is widely spoken in cities, although most Portuguese settlers have left the country. Most Angolans also speak one of the Bantu languages.

Angola is potentially one of the richest African countries, although poverty is widespread. The country has petroleum resources, as well as hydroelectric potential, fertile farmland, and diamonds and other mineral resources. However, the war for independence devastated Angola’s economy, and the civil war that followed independence diverted much of the country’s petroleum revenues. Prospects for peace and economic development improved after a ceasefire was signed in 2002, ending fighting in the civil war.


Angola is roughly rectangular in shape. It is the seventh largest country in Africa, covering an area greater than France and Spain combined. Angola is bordered on the north and east by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire), on the east by Zambia, on the south by Namibia, and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean. Also part of Angola is the territory of Cabinda, a small enclave located on the Atlantic coast north of the mouth of the Congo River and separated from the rest of Angola by a small strip of territory belonging to the DRC.

Natural Regions in Angola

Lowland plains lie along Angola’s Atlantic coast. They range in width from 50 to 150 km (about 30 to 90 mi). The major geographic feature of Angola is a vast high plateau, which rises east of the plains through a series of terraces. The plateau covers approximately two-thirds of the country and has an average elevation of 1,000 to 1,520 m (3,300 to 5,000 ft). Higher elevations are reached in the mountains of the plateau’s central section, which culminate in Mount Môco, the country’s highest point. The plateau descends to lowlands in the east. To the south the plateau becomes barren desert.

Rivers and Lakes in Angola

Most of Angola’s rivers rise in the central mountains. Of the many rivers that drain to the Atlantic Ocean, the Cuanza and Cunene are the most important. Other major streams include the Kwango River, which drains north to the Congo River system, and the Kwando and Cubango Rivers, both of which drain generally southeast to the Okavango Delta in Botswana. As the land drops from the plateau, many rapids and waterfalls plunge downward in the rivers. Angola has no sizable lakes.

Climate in Angola

Angola has a tropical climate, with a dry season that lasts from September to April. Summers are hot and dry, and winters are mild. The climate varies according to altitude; the plateau has a cooler and wetter climate than the coast. However, the cool Benguela Current offshore moderates the temperatures of the coastal region. It also reduces the precipitation along the coast, especially in the south. Annual rainfall at Luanda, on the coast, is about 330 mm (about 13 in) and only 50 mm (about 2 in) at Namibe, which borders the Namib Desert in the south. In the cooler central plateau, rainfall decreases from 1,500 mm (about 60 in) in the north to 750 mm (about 30 in) in the south.

Mineral Resources in Angola

Angola is rich in mineral resources, and further geological exploration is likely to add to the list of known mineral reserves. Among the most notable resources are petroleum, diamonds, iron ore, manganese, copper, uranium, phosphates, and salt. Angola became a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in 2007.

Plant and Animal Life in Angola

Vegetation varies with the climate. Thick tropical rain forests are found in the north and in the Cabinda exclave. To the south the rain forests give way to savanna, lands of mixed trees and grasses, which in turn grade into grasslands on the south and east. Palm trees grow on much of the coast, and sparse desert vegetation grows south of Namibe. Forests cover a total of 47.4 percent (2005) of the country’s total area. Valuable tropical woods are found on the plateau, north of the Cuanza River.

Wildlife is as diverse as the vegetation and includes many of the larger African mammals, such as elephants, rhinoceroses, giraffes, hippopotamuses, zebras, antelope, lions, and gorillas. Also found are crocodiles and various birds and insects. Poachers have destroyed much of the once-large elephant population of southeastern Angola, primarily to gain ivory for export.

Environmental Issues in Angola

Population pressure and inadequate infrastructure have led to many environmental difficulties in Angola. Clean drinking water is scarce, especially in the rural areas. Because food production has not kept pace with the country’s rapid population growth, much of the nation’s food supply is now imported. Poor agricultural practices have led to widespread soil erosion and desertification. Siltation of rivers and dams is a serious related problem. Deforestation, especially to supply the international tropical timber market, is rapidly decimating the limited tropical wet forests in the north and threatening biodiversity. A protected area system of parks and nature reserves exists but lacks funding. Only about 12.1 percent (2007) of the land is significantly protected, and logging, poaching, and agricultural encroachment are continuing threats.


The population of Angola is made up of more than 90 ethnic groups. Despite this diversity, five groups represent more than 90 percent of the population: Ovimbunda (37 percent); Mbundu (25 percent); Bakongo, or Kongo (15 percent); Lunda-Chokwe (8 percent); and Nganguela (6 percent). Before Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975, it had approximately 400,000 Portuguese settlers. The vast majority of the Portuguese community has since departed for Portugal.

Population Characteristics of Angola

The 2008 estimated population of Angola, including Cabinda, was 12,531,357. The population distribution, however, was uneven, with about 70 percent of the population concentrated in the north and along the coast. The rate of population increase was 2.1 percent annually in 2008. The population is overwhelmingly rural; only 37 percent of the people live in urban areas.

The war for independence and the civil war following independence took their toll on Angola’s population. Many people died of hunger. Others became refugees in other countries during the war for independence. Although many returned afterwards, others became exiles. The civil war displaced many Angolans, especially in the countryside. Many of them fled to the cities, which soon became overcrowded.

Principal Cities of Angola

Luanda, the capital, has a population (2003 estimate) of 2.6 million. Other major cities are Huambo, Benguela, the port of Lobito, and Lubango. Luanda is a major shipping port and the chief governmental, commercial, and banking center. Lobito is the terminus of the Benguela Railroad and a chief shipping port. Namibe and Benguela are fishing centers. Huambo, Malange, and Lubango serve as governmental, agricultural, and transport centers for the interior. The cities grew rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s as a result of the civil war waged in the countryside.

Language and Religion in Angola

Portuguese is the official language. More than 90 percent of the population speaks Bantu languages, the most important of which are Kimbundu, Umbundu, and Kikongo (see African Languages: The Niger-Congo Family). The Ovimbunda people, the country’s largest ethnic group, speak Umbundu. They are concentrated in the central plateau. The Mbundu people, who speak Kimbundu, live mainly in Luanda and its neighboring region. The Bakongo people speak Kikongo. Portuguese is spoken in Angola’s cities.

Before independence an estimated 2.2 million Roman Catholics, including most of the 400,000 Portuguese, lived in Angola, as well as a smaller number of Protestants. At the beginning of the 21st century more than three-fourths of the population professed Christian beliefs. Most Angolans also practiced traditional African religions.

Education in Angola

In principle, education is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 9 in the 2000 school year. By 1990 the literacy rate had been increased to 42 percent. The rate for men (56 percent) has been consistently higher than that for women. Schooling in African languages has also increased. A lack of teachers and effects of the long-running civil conflict have hindered further educational gains.

Until the late 1990s Angola had only one university: Agostinho Neto University, which was founded in 1963 and named for Angola’s first president after independence. Headquartered in Luanda, the university also has branches in other cities. The Catholic University of Angola was established in 1997 and the Jean Piaget University of Angola in 1998; both are in Luanda.

Culture of Angola

There are rich traditions of sculpture, dance, music, and theater in Angola’s indigenous cultures. A statue called The Thinker, by an anonymous Chokwe sculptor, is much reproduced and has become a widely recognized symbol of national culture. Luanda has a Museum of Anthropology, a Museum of Natural History, and a Slave Museum. Modern Angolan popular music is closely tied with Caribbean and Brazilian musical traditions, and there has been much influence back and forth across the Atlantic.

Traditional literature in Angola’s African languages was collected beginning in the 19th century. In the late 19th century Angolan newspapers published articles in both Portuguese and Kimbundu. In 1901 a manifesto entitled “The Voice of Angola Crying in the Wilderness” protested against Portuguese colonialism. The later development of Angolan nationalism was closely related to literary expression. The country’s first president, Agostinho Neto, was only one of many poets well known in Angola.

Under Portuguese rule Angolan writers sympathetic to the nationalist movement were often censored, exiled, or imprisoned. Most literature was published overseas or distributed secretly. After independence the Angolan Writers Union, founded while war was raging in 1975, sponsored publication of previously censored and new writing, including poems, short stories, and novels.


Angola’s economy has suffered severe setbacks since independence. A shortage of skilled workers after the departure of the Portuguese and devastation from the long-running civil war have hampered economic growth. An upsurge in fighting during the 1990s severely disrupted agricultural production, leading to famine conditions in many parts of Angola and a dependence on food relief from international organizations.

Only the petroleum industry has prospered in Angola since independence. Petroleum and diamonds bring in most of the country’s revenues. In 2007 Angola became a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Despite abundant natural resources, warfare, corruption, and mismanagement have left the economy in disarray.

National Output and Labor in Angola

At the beginning of the 21st century, some 75 percent of Angola’s labor force was engaged in agriculture, most of it at a subsistence level. Per capita output was among the lowest in the world. In 2006 gross domestic product (GDP), a measure of the value of all goods and services produced, was $45.2 billion, or about $2,727.70 per person.

Agriculture of Angola

Cultivated fields and plantations constitute only 2.9 percent of Angola’s total area. The leading export crop, coffee, is grown in the northern part of the country; annual output has dropped from about 15,000 metric tons in the late 1980s to 1,860 tons in 2006. The leading subsistence crop is cassava, or manioc. Other major crops include sugarcane, fruits such as bananas, and corn. Also important are vegetables, cotton, palm products, and sisal. Livestock raising, mostly in the south, remains a subsistence activity and suffers from the presence of the tsetse fly. The tsetse fly carries disease to cattle as well as to humans.

Forestry and Fishing in Angola

Angola has rich tropical forest resources in Cabinda and the northwest, where valuable trees such as ebony, rosewood, and African sandalwood grow. Softwoods in the interior are used for fuel and for paper manufacture.

Because of the cool Benguela Current, the waters off the coast of Angola are particularly rich in marine life. Fishing has traditionally been an important activity, with mackerel and sardines the primary catch. Namibe and Lobito are the principal fishing ports.

Mining in Angola

Petroleum accounts for 90 percent of national exports by value. Most production is from the offshore fields of Cabinda, which were first exploited in the 1960s. The total output of crude petroleum in 2004 was 330 million barrels. Diamonds remain the second most important mineral. Iron ore, formerly the third most important mineral, has not been produced commercially since 1975 because the mines were partially destroyed during the civil war. Angola has considerable deposits of iron, copper, and other minerals. Production of salt and natural gas has continued, despite the disruption of the war.

Manufacturing in Angola

The development of Angola’s industrial sector has been limited. The principal manufactured products are beverages and processed foods, such as refined sugar, fish meal, flour, soft drinks, and beer. Other products include textiles, cement, glass, and chemicals. Petroleum refineries are located in Cabinda and at Luanda.

Energy in Angola

Angola has great hydroelectric potential in the numerous streams that descend from the central plateau. Hydroelectric plants have been constructed on the Cuanza, Cunene, Dande, and Catumbela rivers. These plants generate about two-thirds of the country’s electricity. At present Angola’s power production potential exceeds its needs.

Currency and Banking of Angola

The basic unit of currency is the new kwanza. The new kwanza replaced the kwanza in 1990 and was continually devalued in the 1990s as the Angolan economy suffered from civil unrest. The National Bank of Angola is the central bank and bank of issue and functions as the state treasury. All commercial and foreign banks were nationalized in 1975; however in 1991 the government gradually began reducing its stake in them.

Foreign Trade in Angola

In 2000 imports totaled $2.4 billion and exports $6.6 billion. The country’s chief imports are textiles, foodstuffs, heavy machinery, and iron and steel. Petroleum is by far the largest export in value. Diamonds are the next largest. Since Angola’s independence, the United States has replaced Portugal as the country’s leading destination for exports. Portugal remains the leading source for imports, followed by the United States and South Africa.

Transportation in Angola

Angola’s road system consists of about 51,429 km (31,956 mi) of roads, of which about one-tenth are paved. The road network is inadequate for a country of Angola’s size and is supplemented by a relatively well-developed internal air service, provided by the country’s national airline. The civil war left the roads in disrepair, and in the year 2000 the government announced a major project to repair the country’s roads and bridges.

Angola’s railroad tracks primarily connect the interior with the coast, but the civil war damaged the system and shut down several of the train lines. The Benguela Railroad, which linked mineral-rich Zambia and the Katanga Region of the DRC with the Atlantic port of Lobito, had been the principal rail line in Angola. Because of guerrilla activity, it was closed to international traffic from 1975 to 1980 and has since operated sporadically. The country’s chief ports are the cities of Lobito, Luanda, and Namibe.


Under a constitution promulgated in 1975 and subsequently amended, Angola was, until the early 1990s, a single-party republic governed by the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola-Labor Party (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola-Partido de Trabalho), generally referred to as the MPLA. Legislative powers were nominally exercised by the indirectly elected National People’s Assembly, but the MPLA was the government’s major policymaking body, and its chairman served as president of the republic.

Under a 1991 peace accord between the MPLA and the guerrilla organization opposing the government, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola, or UNITA), Angola held its first multiparty elections for president and for a new 220-seat parliament in 1992. Jose Eduardo dos Santos, the MPLA incumbent, was reelected president. The MPLA took 129 of the legislature’s seats, while UNITA took 70. However, UNITA rejected the results of the election, and a scheduled runoff was delayed indefinitely. UNITA resumed its war against the government until 1994, when another peace agreement outlined a power-sharing arrangement between the two parties. After several delays, MPLA and members of UNITA formed a coalition government in April 1997. The peace agreement collapsed in 1999. After another ceasefire agreement was reached in 2002, a government commission was appointed to draw up a new constitution. By then, the MPLA appeared to be firmly in control.

Local Government of Angola

Angola is divided into 18 provinces, each governed by a commissioner appointed by the president. These provinces are further divided into councils and communes. During the civil war, UNITA had control over large areas of Angola. After the creation of a coalition government in 1997, control over these parts of the country began to be transferred back to the government. The government controlled most of the country by the early 2000s.

Political Parties of Angola

The country’s dominant political party originated in 1956 as the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). In 1977 it was reorganized as a Marxist-Leninist Party and renamed the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola-Labor Party; in April 1991 it formally renounced its Marxist orientation. Its rival, founded in 1966, is UNITA, which waged guerrilla warfare against the MPLA beginning in 1975, when Angola became independent. Numerous smaller parties also exist, including the Angolan Democratic Forum, the Democratic Renewal Party, the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola, or FNLA), and the Angola Youth, Worker, Peasant Alliance Party.


Practically all that is known of the early history of Angola is that the Stone Age hunters and gatherers of the region were displaced by metalworking Bantu as early as the 7th century AD. The country was on the migration routes of peoples from the north and east, which resulted in considerable mixture of populations. Thus, the culture of the Lunda, on the Kasai River in the east, affected the Chokwe to the extent that they are now known as the Lunda-Chokwe; similarly, the Bakongo, at the time of their migration into northern Angola, put their stamp on the preexisting local chiefdoms.

Advent of Europeans

When the Portuguese arrived in 1483, seeking the legendary kingdom of Prester John, as well as precious metals, they found the realm of the Bakongo well established. The ruler of the state welcomed the newcomers, and in 1491 Portuguese traders and missionaries bearing gifts were sent to the court of Manikongo (“king”) Nzinga Nkuwu, who converted to Christianity. Also converting was the succeeding manikongo, Afonso I, who also accepted Portuguese guidance in the administration of his realm. The Portuguese, however, were more interested in profit from a booming trade in slaves than in either missionary work or spreading European civilization. The slave traffic, aided by local chiefs, gradually undermined the authority of the manikongo, and 25 years after Afonso’s death the state succumbed to the onslaught of the Jaga, a fierce group of nomads from the east.

Native Resistance

The Portuguese, meanwhile, had extended their reach southward to the area around and south of present Luanda, over which they soon claimed colonial authority. It was the title of the local ruler, ngola, of the Mbundu people that became the name of the country. Portugal appointed royal governors who tried to impose their will on the population, but foreign rule was stubbornly resisted. Prolonged warfare ensued, while slave raids helped to keep the country in continuous turmoil. In addition, the Jaga people overran the area after they had devastated the Bakongo, and in the middle of the 17th century, Luanda, founded by the Portuguese in 1575, was temporarily taken by the Dutch. Practically no European settlement was attempted during this time, owing to the much greater profits to be made in the slave trade. By 1845 there were still only 1,800 Europeans in all of Angola. The slave trade went on almost uninterrupted throughout the 19th century. By the end of that time an estimated 3 million people had been taken and sold off across the Atlantic to North and South America.

Portugal did not gain full control over the country’s interior until the early 20th century. After that it was governed under the so-called regime do indigenato, an ugly system of economic exploitation, educational neglect, and political repression that remained in force until 1961. In 1951 Angola’s official status was changed from colony to overseas province; soon after, a policy of accelerated European settlement was adopted—the futile attempt of the colonial power to stave off the inevitable. During the 1950s a nationalist movement grew rapidly, and in 1961 a guerrilla war against the Portuguese was initiated.

War and Independence

The nationalists, however, were split into three rival groups: the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola, or FNLA), the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola, or MPLA), and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola, or UNITA). All three had armed forces in the field, but none made much headway until the revolution in Portugal in April 1974 (see Portugal: History). After that, the whole Portuguese colonial empire began to fall apart.

The new regime in Portugal, tired of the continuing colonial wars, agreed to a transfer of power, and on November 11, 1975, Angola became independent. Two governments claimed to represent the new nation, one formed by the MPLA in Luanda, the other by UNITA and FNLA in Huambo. The ensuing civil war assumed international overtones: The MPLA was armed by the USSR and aided by Cuban troops, while some Western powers and South Africa allied themselves with the FNLA/UNITA coalition and its leader, Jonas Savimbi. By early 1976 the MPLA had gained the upper hand, and its government, with MPLA leader Agostinho Neto as president, was gradually recognized throughout the world.

Neto died in 1979, and leadership of the nation was assumed by José Eduardo dos Santos. Although the FNLA surrendered to the government in 1984, UNITA continued to wage guerrilla warfare against the MPLA, with military support from South Africa and the United States. South Africa was also battling the Angolan government over control of Namibia. In August 1988 a peace agreement was reached between Angola, South Africa, and Cuba that granted independence to Namibia and ended Cuban and South African military involvement in the Angolan civil war. The U.S. government continued to send aid to UNITA, but also pushed forward diplomatic efforts to end the conflict. In March 1991 the two sides signed a peace accord providing for a cease-fire and the legalization of all political parties by May. President dos Santos called for multiparty elections to be held in September 1992, and a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping force maintained order.

Tensions and small skirmishes arose just before the election, however. When the MPLA emerged with the majority of seats in parliament (129 of 220) and dos Santos received 49.6 percent of the vote, Savimbi rejected the results as fraudulent, refused to participate in the runoff election, and resumed the war at an even deadlier level. In 1993 the United States and other foreign powers officially ended their support of the warring factions. Daily relief flights by the UN World Food Program were required to avert mass starvation throughout the country, as most of Angola’s resources went toward weapons and other war costs. By the end of 1994 an estimated 3.6 million Angolans were war refugees, and 500,000 people had been killed.

The Lusaka Protocol

In 1994 UNITA leaders and government representatives signed a peace accord in Lusaka, Zambia, that became known as the Lusaka Protocol. In 1995 a UN mediator succeeded in bringing dos Santos and Savimbi to Lusaka to meet face to face. There they signed the accord, which called for a cease-fire, the demobilization and integration into the Angolan army of UNITA troops, and the creation of a coalition government. The UN undertook the task of enforcing the agreement, the third since war broke out in 1975, by agreeing to send 7,000 peacekeeping troops to Angola in 1995. The demobilization of UNITA troops progressed slowly.

In 1996 the government and UNITA agreed to merge their armies and create a unified government. After numerous delays, a unified government was inaugurated in 1997, with dos Santos remaining as president and UNITA becoming the largest opposition group in parliament. However, Savimbi, who was to assume the official position of leader of the opposition, refused to go to Luanda, citing a lack of security. Tension rose again, as the government criticized Savimbi for not complying with the terms of the Lusaka Protocol.

Fighting between government and UNITA armies resumed in 1998, displacing hundreds of thousands of Angolans. In early 1999 the UN terminated its peacekeeping mission in Angola, criticizing both Savimbi and dos Santos for lack of commitment to the peace process. Fighting continued until early 2002, when Savimbi was killed in an ambush by government troops. The government subsequently suspended military operations and entered into peace talks with the remaining UNITA leadership. Weeks after Savimbi’s death in 2002 the two sides signed a peace agreement, pledging to work together to demobilize UNITA’s tens of thousands of fighters.

Parliamentary Elections

Angola held its first parliamentary elections in 16 years in 2008. The MPLA won a landslide victory, taking about 80 percent of the vote and winning more than two-thirds of the seats in parliament. Unlike in 1992, when UNITA refused to accept the results of that parliamentary election and instead began a guerrilla war, the leadership of UNITA this time accepted the results, although it mildly protested some election procedures. Election observers from the European Union (EU) said the election failed to meet international standards because of the MPLA’s control of the media. However, most Western observers believed it was a sign of progress that there was no violence or threats of rejecting the election outcome. With a two-thirds majority, MPLA legislators were expected to pass a new constitution.

© The Globe Encyclopedia. All rights reserved. Distributed by ASThemesWorld