Angola is this month celebrating 48 years of independence. But Africa’s second largest oil producer after Nigeria didn’t always look peaceful. In fact, officials admit they have only enjoyed proper peace since 2002 when a civil war ended.
Samwel Abilio Sianga, the Angolan Ambassador to Kenya said on Saturday the country’s turn-around from a war-ravaged place to an oil producing giant has brought them plenty of lessons.
“War is not a good thing. Because during the war, we lost lives. We had separated families; we had destroyed our country, and we could not communicate with one another. That is because bridges were destroyed, no hospitals, power supply, everything,” he told Nation.africa during the embassy celebrations to mark Independence Day in Nairobi.
“We have learnt all those lessons, and we think that a country cannot develop with war. You develop a country with peace.”
That experience, he said, has informed the country’s President João Lourenço to be an active mediator on regional scene: He is now the African Union lead mediator to the conflicts in the Great Lakes Region, technically the conflicts in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
“President Lorenco knows the price of war. If neighbours are in peace, it means our country is also in peace so you will avoid even the burden of war immigrant,” the envoy said.
Angola’s post-colonial history followed the pattern set by the Portuguese in their colonies in Africa: They left the scene without preparing those countries for independence.
In 1975, Angola’s independence celebrations were sort of farcical. The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita), and the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) each movement declared its own independence.
MPLA declared itself the government of the country in the capital Luanda with the support from many African nations, Unita celebrated its independence in Huambo province while FNLA also claimed to be the genuine government of the country in Zaire province.
MPLA has governed the country since. But Angola had plunged into civil war, soon after. In 1992, Unita did not acknowledge the poll results meant to end the war. New violence continued until 2002, destroying with it the country’s expansive cotton-growing industry and the coffee farming prowess.
Angolans, however, say they want to look ahead by learning from other countries such as Kenya.
“It is time now to have a south-south cooperation. Most of us have been colonised by Europeans and we have since developed some skills that we can share. Angola has been producing oil for many years and we have developed some capacities that we can share,” Mr Sianga told Nation.Africa.
“We notice the diversification of the economy in Kenya; agriculture and tourism that Angola can learn. Depending on a single product for exportation is quite risky when it comes to oil. When oil prices go up, everybody is happy, you have a problem.”
“We are still on the road; I would not say that we have completely diversified…but this is the direction that Angola needs to take.”
The diversification is something most oil-dependent countries have been talking about lately. Angola’s $135 billion economy sources most of its income from oil. In 2022, it earned $39.94 billion, accounting for 95 percent of its export income. But it knows the money won’t flow forever.
Since 2018, they have tried tourism, farming, fishing and other service industries.
On Friday, Angola opened the Dr António Agostinho Neto International Airport, a new facility that cost $2 billion to build and controversy over the families that had to be relocated. But Luanda wants it to be the gateway to the neighbourhood with most African countries getting visas on arrival.
The new airport, located in Bom Jesus district, Icolo e Bengo municipality, 42 kilometres from the city centre of Luanda is expected to receive 15 million passengers.
According to authorities, domestic passenger transport will begin in February and international transport in the third quartre of 2024. For now, it will only receive cargo flights.
During his State of the Nation address in October, President João Lourenço said Angola’s all Angolans must protect the peace.
“The current and future generations have a duty to their homeland to defend, protect and perpetuate this legacy, building a reconciled homeland, an unavoidable prerequisite for building an Angola for all,” he said in an annual ritual.
Some observers agree.
“It is good that we have achieved lasting peace so that Angola is a sovereign country, and the gains of peace and independence are visible to everyone,” said João Vieira Dias, a prof of political science in Luanda.
“Today there is free movement of people and goods and the number of foreigners looking for new opportunities in Angola is growing spontaneously.”
However, critics exist too. The Angola and Sao Tome and Principe Catholic Bishops say Angola should learn from its past; war, the financial crisis in 2008 and from the crisis in the oil-producing countries in 2014.
“It is improving the way of governing to achieve lasting well-being for all," they said in a bulletin ahead of the independence celebrations.
In their Pastoral Note on the Social Situation in Angola, the bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Angola and Sao Tome (CEAST) said on Thursday that the current crisis is fueling the despair of Angolan families but urged them not to lose hope.
“The greatest temptation is despair, resignation and giving up," they argued. “Those who suffered the brutality of the colonial system saw their hopes reborn on that day (11 November 1975) with the possibility of achieving self-determination and the consequent creation of a new state capable of providing the best for their children.”
Pedro Sapalalo who was 25 when Angola became independent in 1975 admits the war dragged Angola’s journey to prosperity. Now living in Windhoek, Namibia, he says he was attracted to the neighbouring country because the quality of life there was better to Angola’s war-ravaged status. He is now 75 but says his country can rebuild.