All About Angola

Luanda. Angola. Africa

About Angola

Angola is located in south-central Africa and is known formally as the Republic of Angola. It is surrounded by Democratic Republic of Congo to the north, Zambia to the east, and Namibia on the south. The Atlantic Ocean sits on its west coast. Once of its provinces, Cabinda, borders the Republic of Congo as well as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Angola’s capital city is Luanda.

From the 16th century to 1975, Angola was an overseas territory of Portugal. An intense civil war took place after Angola’s independence between 1975 to 2002. In sub-Saharan Africa, Angola is the second largest oil and diamond producer. Despite this production, its infant mortality and life expectancy are some of world’s worst. The government signed a peace treaty with a faction of the FLEX, a guerrilla group in a northern Cabinda enclave, home to 65 percent of Angola’s oil production. The group is still active.


Early Migrations

The earliest known human inhabitants of the area were Khoisan hunter-gatherers. During the Bantu migrations, Bantu tribes largely replaced them, although Khoisan’s do remain in southern Angola in small numbers. Arriving from the north, Bantu tribes likely came from near the area of the modern Republic of Cameroon. When the Bantu encountered the Khoisans in what is now Angola, they easily dominated them. The Khoisans were less advanced then the Bantu. Bantu establishment, which took centuries, gave rise to groups with different ethnic characteristics.

These BaKongo kingdoms traded with other cities and peoples along the westerns and southwestern African coast, but did not trade across oceans. This contrasts with Zimbabwe’s Mutapa civilization’s trade with China, India, and civilizations in the Persian Gulf. Mutapa and BaKongo did engage in limited trade in copper and iron for food, salt, and textiles across the Kongo River.

Angola’s Colonial History and Portuguese Rule

The Portuguese invaded the area now known as Angola in the late 15th century. When Portugal established relations with the Kongo State in 1483, the Ndongo and Lunda kingdoms existed in the area. The Kongo state stretched from the south near the Kwanza River to the area now part of Gabon in the north. Angola became part of Portugal’s European trade link with India and Southeast Asia. In 1575, Paulo Dias de Novais, a Portuguese explorer founded Luanda as São Paulo de Loanda. The initial settlement consisted of one hundred settler families and four hundred soldiers.

An important Portuguese settlement, Benguela, was founded as a fort in 1587 and became a town in 1617. Other forts and trading settlements along the current day coast of Angola, relying on the slave trade, were established to trade raw materials for the items needed for survival. The African slave trade, particularly around Imbangala, provided slave labor to Europeans and their agents.

In exchange for slaves, Europeans would export manufactured goods to Africa. Most laves were traded to Portuguese merchants for use on agricultural plantations in Brazil, a trade which lasted until the mid-19th century.

A series of treaties and wars in the 16th century allowed Portugal to take control of the coastal area and form the Angola colony. While the Portuguese were involved in the Restoration War, the Dutch occupied Luanda from 1641 to 1648. During this time, they consolidated their rule against Portuguese resistance by allying with local tribes. Salvador de Sá retook Luanda for Portugal at the head of a fleet in 1648 and subsequently restored Portugal’s territory to its prior size by 1650. In 1649, treaties regulated Portugal’s relations with Kongo and the Njinga and Ndongo kingdoms in 1656. The last great Portuguese expansion occurred in 1671 with Pungo Andongo’s conquest. Excursion to conquer Kongo in 1670 and Matamba in 1681 both failed. Behind Benguela, Portugal began to expand its holdings in the 18th century and moved into other regions in the mid-19th century.

After the Berlin Conference in 1885, fixing the colony’s borders, British and Portuguese investments in mining began to develop the back country. Based on forced labor systems, railways and agriculture also developed. The Portuguese did not gain full control over the hinterland until the early 20th century. Portugal designated the area the Overseas Province of Angola in 1951. After nearly 500 years of Portuguese presence, independence called were met with mixed reactions. In the 1950s, political organizations formed and began to demand rights in international forums like the Non-Aligned Movement.

Portugal refused to give in to the demands of nationals for independence. In 1961, armed conflicts began when nationalist guerillas attacked civilians in northeastern Angola. The struggle, eventually named the Colonial War, the nationalists groups were the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) formed in 1956, the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) formed in 1961 and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) started in 1966. The fighting and the 1974 coup d’état in Lisbon, overthrowing Marcelo Caetano’s regime, eventually earned Angola its independence on November 11, 1975.

The coup led the new Portuguese rulers to institute democratic change at home and recognize colonial independence. As a result, Portuguese citizens left its African territories en masse. These destitute refugees, known as retornados, numbered over 1 million.
Independence and Civil War

A civil war broke out in Angola after independence in 1975, lasting several decades and claiming millions in lives and refugees. Negotiations in Portugal in 1974, itself experiencing turmoil at the time, led to a transitional government being established by Angola’s three main guerilla groups in January of 1975.

A mere two months later, the MPLA, FNLA, and UNITA began fighting. This led to the country’s division into zones under each group’s control. The war became a proxy war in the Cold War after the world’s superpowers were drawn into the conflict. The FNLA and UNITA received support from the United States, Brazil, Portugal, and South Africa. Cuba and the Soviet Union supported the MPLA.

Partial Cease-Fire

Jonas Savimbi, UNITA’s leader, was killed in combat on February 22, 2002 by government forces. This led to a cease-fire where UNITA gave up its weapons and became a major opposition party. Angola’s President Dos Santos has yet to institute democratic processes despite the beginnings of political stability.

Angola now has serious national problems, including a humanitarian crises brought about by the war, the presence of minefields, and continued guerilla fighting in Cabinda, a northern exclave. Most Angolan’s situations still remains desperate dispute the return of most refugees. This makes the government’s development challenging.


Virtus Unita Fortior, meaning “Virtue is stronger when united” in Latin, is Angola’s motto. The President, Prime Minister (currently Paulo Kassoma), and the Council of Ministers make up the government’s executive branch. The President has had significant political power for decades. The Council of Ministers is composed of all government ministers and meets regularly on policy issues.

The President appoints the 18 provincial governors. The 1992 Constitutional law established the government’s structure and set forth duties and rights of citizens. The legal system, based on Portugal’s customary law, is fragmented and weak. Courts are only operational in 12 of Angola’s 140 municipalities. The Supreme Court acts as a court of appeals. A statute authorized a Constitutional Court and gave it judicial review powers, but it has never been instituted.

On September 5, 2008, parliamentary elections resulted in the MPLA winning 81 percent of the votes. UNITA was the next closest with 10 percent. The elections, the first since 1992, were considered unfair and only partially free due to many irregularities.


The Chief of Staff, reporting to the Minister of Defense, heads Angola’s military, known as the Angolan Armed Forces (AAF). The AAF is divided into three parts, the navy, known as the Marinha de Guerra (MGA), the army or Exército, and the Força Aérea Nacional (FAN), the national air force. The military’s total manpower is 110,000, with the largest being the army with 100,000. The 3,000 member navy uses small patrol boats and barges. The air force’s manpower totals 7,000 with its equipment mostly in the form of Russian transports, bombers, and fighters. Brazilian and Czech manufactured trainers and a small number of western aircraft are also in service.


Angola’s national police departments are Inspection of Economic Activities, Investigation, Traffic and Transport, Criminal Investigation, Taxation and Frontier Supervision, Riot Police, Rapid Intervention Force, and Public Order.

The National Police are setting up an air wing to provide helicopter support, criminal investigation capabilities, and a forensic unit. The police forces have personnel as follows: (1) 6,000 in the National Police, (2) 2,500 in the Taxation and Frontier Supervision force, (3) 182 criminal investigators, (4) 100 financial crimes police, and (5) 90 Economic Activity Inspectors. The National Police are reorganizing administratively, procuring new equipment, building new police stations and forensic laboratories, and improving training programs.

 Administrative Divisions

Angola is administratively divided into 18 provinces (províncias) and 163 municipalities.

The provinces are Bengo, Benguela, Bié, Cabinda, Cuando Cubango, Cuanza Nortem, Cuanza Sul, Cunene, Huambo, Huila, Luanda, Luanda Norte, Luanda Sul, Malanje, Moxico, Namibe, Uíge, and Zaire.

Cabinda Province

The Northern Angolan province of Cabinda, with an area of 7,283 km (2,812 sq mi), is separated from the rest of Angola by a strip of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) 60 km (37 mi) wide along the lower Congo River. The Congo Republic borders the province to the north and the DRC borders it to the east and south. The province’s chief population center is the town of Cabinda.

A 1995 census showed Cabinda’s population at 600,000, but this estimate is unreliable. Largely a tropical forest, Cabinda produces coffee, cocoa, hardwoods, palm oil, and rubber. Oil is its best known product, giving it the nickname the “Kuwait of Africa.” The province’s considerable offshore production accounts for almost half of Angola’s total output. Most of this was discovered after 1968, while under Portuguese rule, by the Cabinda Gulf Oil Company (CABGOC).

Since independence from Portugal, Cabinda has been the focus of a separatist group opposing the Angolan government. The group, known as the FLEC-FAC, declared a Federal Republic of Cabinda under a president, N’Zita Henriques Tiago. The Cabrindan movement for independence is often fragmented into fractions, which the Angolan government encourages and exploits.

Transport in Angola

Angola has 2,761 km of railways split into three systems: 76,626 km (47,613 mi) of highways with 19,156 km (11,903 mi) paved, 1,295 km of navigable waterways, 243 airports with 32 paved, and eight major sea ports.

A four by four vehicle is typically needed for travel outside of Angola’s cities and towns. There is a reasonable amount of road infrastructure, but time and the civil war have left many with severe potholes and covered in broken asphalt. Alternate tracks have developed to avoid the worst parts of the road. Divers must careful to lookout for road signs indicating landmines are present in the area.

The government is contracting to restore many roads, including that between Lubango and Namibe. This road was completed with European Union funding. The improvements will likely take decades despite the movement in the right direction.


Angola is the 20th largest country in the world at 1,246,620 sq km (481,321 sq mi) after Niger. Mali is comparable in size. Angola is nearly five times the U.K.’s size and twice the size of the U.S. state of Texas.

As discussed, Namibia borders Angola to the south, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north east, and Zambia to the east. Cabinda borders the Republic of the Congo to the north. Luanda, the capital, sits in the country’s northwest on the Atlantic Ocean.


In the coastal areas, Angola’s average temperature is 60 °F (16 °C) in winter and 70 °F (21 °C) in summer. The two seasons are the dry season from May to October and the rainy season from November to April.


Angola has transformed its economy after its civil war to become the fastest growing African economy. It is also one of the world’s fastest growing. Eximbank in China approved a $2 billion credit line in 2004 to be used for infrastructure improvement. The IMF has a limited influence as well.

Oil production is almost entirely driving growth. In late 2005, production surpassed 1.4 million barrels per day. This is expected to grow to two million barrels per day. Sonangol Group, owned by the Angolan government, has consolidated control of the oil production. OPEC admitted Angola as a member in December of 2006. Some estimates show Angola as the largest oil supplier to China. The rapid economic growth was 18 percent in 2005, 26 percent in 2006, and 17.6 percent in 2007. The 2002 peace settlement led to 4 million displaced citizens returning, increasing agricultural production. The country’s capital and economic center is Luanda.

The country still faces economic and social problems from its fight for independence and the civil war. Poverty is still rampant despite the increase in oil revenue. Angola was rated one of the ten most corrupt countries in 2005 by Transparency International, but the country’s rank has steadily improved since then. Despite the capital being the most developed economic city in the country, its slums, called musseques, extend miles beyond the Luanda’s city limits.

Prior to its independence, the country was a major exporter of coffee, sisal, and bananas. The nearly three decades of civil war destroyed agriculture by covering the land with landmines. Angola now depends on food imports from Portugal and South Africa. Family and subsistence level farming is 90 percent of the country’s agriculture. Poverty is rampant among these small farmers.


Angola’s population totals 31,455,556 in 2019. Ethnically this is 37 percent Ovimbundu, Mbundu with 25 percent, Bakongo at 13 percent, mestiços (mixed European and native African) 2 percent, 1 percent European and 22 percent other groups. A majority is formed by Mbundu and Ovimbundu.


80 percent of the population speaks Portuguese, and 20 percent speak it as a second language. Portuguese dominated local Kimbundu and Bantu languages even after independence. Many marriages only shared Portuguese as a common language due to the civil war.


Angola’s major religion is Christianity, with an estimated 93.5 percent of the country practicing Catholicism. 4.7 percent practice indigenous religions, .6 percent Muslim, .9 Agnostic, and .2 percent nonreligious. Other estimates show only 53 percent of Angolan’s as Christians with the remaining practicing indigenous religions. Most show Catholic as the predominant Christian faith.

In a scale determine a country’s level of persecution and regulation of religion, with 0 representing low level and 10 the highest, Angola achieved 4.0 in social regulation of religion, .8 in government religious regulation, 0 on government religions favoritism, and 0 on religious persecution.

Of the Protestant denominations, the largest are Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, and Assemblies of God. The Kimbanguist Church is the largest syncretic group. Its followers believe Joseph Kimbangu, a mid-20th century Congolese pastor, was a prophet. Part of the rural population follows animism or other indigenous religions. A small Islamic community is based on West African migrants.

Prior to independence in 1975, foreign missionaries were active. The Portuguese expelled many Protestant missionaries believing they incited sentiment for independence. Since the early 1990’s, missionaries have been able to return, but security consideration have presented difficulty inland.

Protestant denominations tend to be more active in proselytizing. These groups provide help to the poor by providing medical care, education, crop seeds and animals for the farms.


Deficient niacin was found to be a large Angolan problem in a 2007 study. Common diseases include malaria, cholera, rabies, and African hemorrhagic fevers. Tuberculosis and HIV also have high prevalence rates. Insect carried diseases like Dengue, filariasis, leishmaniasis, and onchocerciasis are common. The infant mortality rate is one of the world’ highest and Angolans have the second lowest life expectancy.


Angola has compulsory free education for eight years. Due to a lack of buildings and teachers, a certain percentage of children do not attend school. Often, students must pay additional fees for books and supplies.

The school enrollment rate was 61 percent in 1998 and 74 percent in 1999. These numbers are based on registration rates and may not reflect the actual attendance. Rural and urban schools continue to have disparate enrollment. One study showed 71.2 percent of children ages seven to 14 were attending, with a reportedly higher percentage of boys than girls. Nearly half of all schools were looted or destroyed during the civil war, which has led to current overcrowding.

20,000 new teachers were hired by the Ministry of Education in 2005. Teachers are typically inadequately trained, overworked, and underpaid. There have also been reports of teachers demanding bribes from students. Other factors, including poor health, lack of resources, and the presence of landmines hurt attendance. The system is still underfunded despite recent budget increases.

67.4 percent of the population over 15 years of age can read and write Portuguese. In 2001, 82.9 percent of males and 54.2 of females are literate. Bilateral agreements allow students to be admitted at higher learning institutes in Portugal, Brazil, and Cuba, but these are generally students from urban areas.


Angola shared cultural aspects with Portugal including its Roman Catholic religion and language. Bantu is the native culture, which has mixed with Portuguese. Ethnic communities have diverse cultural traits, languages, and traditions including the Ovimbundu, Bakongo, Chokwe, Mdbundu, and others.

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