March 22, 2012

Poor left behind despite of boom

In April Angola commemorates the 10th anniversary of the end of its three-decade civil war. Thanks to oil, which accounts for about 90% of Angola's exports, the economy has grown at a stellar rate since then. This year its gross domestic product is forecast to swell by 12%. The bombed-out roads and railway tracks are being demined and rebuilt. There are new airports, schools and hospitals, and the government has made an ambitious promise to build a million homes to replace the sprawling slums in which disease and crime are rife.

But some say too much emphasis has been given to physical transformation whereas deeper questions of reconciliation and social development have been overlooked. Justin Pearce, a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, said: "In many ways Angola looks remarkably peaceful now, considering the violence of the past, but this is not due to any deliberate process of reconciliation. "The general message that comes from the government is that, now that the war is over, everything else will look after itself."

Angolan analyst Paula Roque, from Oxford University, accepts that a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission would not have worked in the Angolan context because of the complexity of the conflict, but she regrets the focus on economic rather than social development. "Progress has been measured by double-digit growth and massive infrastructure investment projects, but not in relation to reducing poverty," she said. "It makes no sense that Angola should continue with the level of poverty we are seeing when there is so much money coming from oil. In 10 years of peace the government has not delivered a peace dividend -- certainly not one that's been inclusive."

Angola ranks 148 out of 187 on the United Nations human development index. According to the government's own statistics, 90% of people live in "inappropriate conditions" and nearly two-thirds are without access to clean water. Maternal and child mortality rates are among the highest in Africa. Although figures have improved since 2002, 20% of youngsters still do not make it to their fifth birthday. Poor sanitation and weak health systems give rise to regular cholera outbreaks and Angola is now one of the few places in the world with polio, which returned two years ago. The new schools and hospitals struggle to operate because of a lack of medical professionals and corruption is rife in the poorly performing and highly bureaucratic public sector.

The government acknowledges there is still work to be done. José Eduardo dos Santos Angola's president for 32 years and now Africa's second longest-serving statesman -- has used recent public speeches to urge people to be patient and understand what was being done to improve their lives. The deputy chief whip of the MPLA, Carlos Alberto Ferreira Pinto, said: "Naturally there is poverty, but there is poverty in the West too. In many European countries there are poor people and in the United States as well. We lived through 27 consecutive years of war -- a war that destroyed almost the whole country -- and 10 years is not enough time to eradicate poverty, but you should note that the indices of development are improving all the time." (Mail & Guardian)


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