As 'quiet' Angola turns 40; here are 7 revealing facts about the country

Islam not recognised, and it has helped keep its former colonial afloat from time to time.

ANGOLA turn 40 years old on November 11, marking the end of 400 years of Portuguese rule and a protracted liberation war which ended in 1975. 

Sadly, having achieved independence the nation quickly plunged into civil war (1975 - 2002), giving the country a “basket case” label for several decades, and keeping it off the tourism and investment radar. 

Though it since has transformed into an oil-rich and largely peaceful nation after the war, the authoritarian nature of its rule has kept it very quiet, meaning major strides, actions and events fly a little lower under the “Africa” radar. 

We know that, along with Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, its president José Eduardo dos Santos is Africa’s longest ruling presidents. But there is more beyond that. Here we take a look at seven facts about Angola that we may have heard in passing, but speak volumes about the southern African nation: 

Reverse colonialism

Over the past decade, Angola had one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, a wealth which even extended to bailing out its former colonial ruler. The African nation pumped its petrodollars into Portugal which had been ordered to privatise struggling state-owned firms under a €80 billion ($86 billion) International Monetary Fund bailout. One example was the sale of Portuguese banking entity, Banco Português de Negócios, to Angola’s Banco BIC for €40 million ($43 million) in 2011. 

This year alone Angola’s direct investment in Portugal reached 41.5 million Euros (about $44.5 million), despite plunging oil prices, this was greatly helped by inflows of oil money that still come in, which over the years made Lisbon a playground for Angola’s upwardly-mobile middle class. 

Islam is not allowed

The government of Angola requires religious groups to petition for legal status with the Ministries of Justice and Culture. To get legal status however they need to abide by the Law on Religion, passed in 2004, which requires that a group should have more than 100,000 members and be present in 12 of the 18 provinces. 

This has made it hard for the estimated 70 - 80,000 Muslims, mostly migrants from West Africa and Lebanon, to practice freely and the government - which has disputed claims of being anti-Islam - is known to have closed mosques, schools, or community centres.

Expensive Luanda

For years now Luanda, Angola’s capital city, has been infamous for its high prices. This year Angola once again topped the annual survey by consultancy Mercer, remaining the world’s most expensive city for expatriates (and therefore harder for ordinary Angolans). The city has held the number one spot for the past three years because of the high rents (can be $10,000 a month!), imported goods and security. 

These high prices are a result of a civil war which put a stop to industry, infrastructural development and local agricultural production, huge dependency on imports which are controlled by a few elite Angolan business people and their political cronies, and inflated rent price due to an influx of expats after the war ended. What it masks is the extreme poverty levels in the country with about 44% of the population living below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day. 

Has an enclave!

Angola is the only country on the African continent whose territory includes an enclave - a separate entity! This entity is called “Cabinda”, bordered by the Republic of the Congo to the north and northeast and is separated from Angola by part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the south and southeast.

Like many other things it keeps under wraps, the Angolan government is downplaying the significance of the region’s self-determination movement, including the guerrilla and political movement fighting for the independence of the province - the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC). A group the government says is no longer operative though this is disputed by the Republic of Cabinda. 

Rare antelope

Angola is the only country in which the Critically Endangered giant sable antelope lives. The antelope is confined to central Angola, where it is primarily located in the Luando Reserve and Cangandala National Park. With the onset of civil war in Angola (1975 - 2002), most of the protected areas in which the giant sable antelope was found were evacuated, and have been left unattended and unprotected for more than 25 years leading to a decline in their population of 90%. Total numbers surviving are estimated at 200-400 individuals. 

Despite this rarity and potential for tourism generation, Angola is quite closed off to visitors. It has a harsh visa regime and inflicts strict currency restrictions upon entry and exit.

Powerful military

Despite being at peace for the last 13 years, and cutting its budget by a quarter due to a 40% plunge in oil prices, Angola is the second largest military spender in Africa, topped only by Algeria. It is the top defence spender in sub-Saharan Africa after surpassing South Africa in 2013 rankings. This is only set to get larger. Angola’s military and defence expenditure will increase from the current $6.8 billion to $13 billion by 2019 due to modernisation demands. 

According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the country currently has an active armed forces of about 107,000 - the problem is, there’s no real clear idea of what they will be used for aside from acting as a peace broker in the rebel-threatened eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Perhaps alluding to the facade of peace and stability that the country presents to the world. 

Cultural export!

Despite all the attempts to keep things quiet, one thing cannot be reigned in: Over the centuries, Angolans combined their own music and dance traditions with influences from Europe and, most notably, Brazil. As a result, today, Angola has begun exporting its musical and dance styles, which can be seen in the popularity of kizomba in clubs and dance halls from Lisbon to Los Angeles. 

One of the most popular styles of music is “Semba” which originated from the slums in the 1960s. Urban Angolans had began to take advantage of reforms in colonial policy and began to improve their daily lives, which included the creation of new cultural spaces. The production of semba was at the forefront of this process. Today the music is as alive and popular as it ever was, with new artists emerging every year. In fact, any conversation about contemporary Angolan music must always begin with semba. It has also achieved international popularity, particularly in Lusophone countries and across West Africa.

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