Angola is a republic on the west coast of Africa. The country borders the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the north, Zambia in the east and Namibia in the south. To the west lies the South Atlantic. The Cabinda enclave is separated from the rest of the area, north of the mouth of the Congo River. The country has around 28 million inhabitants, and the official language is Portuguese.
Angola consisted of several larger kingdoms in the Middle Ages. The best known of these, Congo, had its capital north in present-day Angola. The coast of this area was explored by the Portuguese between 1482 and 1484. In 1575, the Portuguese founded a colony where today’s capital Luanda is today. Massive settler colonialism first occurred from the 1880s. From 1951 until independence, Portugal regarded Angola as a so-called overseas province in a “multicultural” Portugal, an attempt to avoid international reactions to Portugal as colonial power.
An liberation war that started in 1961 secured Angola independence. However, the war continued after 1975 and the country experienced a devastating civil war which was only ended in 2002.
The name Angola is derived from N’gola, which is a chief title from Kimbundu, but which was understood by the Portuguese as the name of the country.
People and society
Angola had a population of nearly 26 million in 2017. The capital Luanda has a population of just under three million, but if you include the population in large surrounding slum cities, the population may be almost twice as high. Other urban centers include the two coastal cities of Lobito and Benguela, 500 kilometers south of Luanda, and the city of Huambo on the high plateau a little further inland, as well as Lubango in the south. The bulk of the population lives in and around Luanda, in the coastal belt and in the highlands. Large parts of southeast Angola are sparsely populated.
Angola has experienced a very rapid urbanization, partly as a result of the wars between 1960 and 2002. Until then, the entire country had a modest population development; both war, hunger and illness contributed to it.
In addition to Portuguese, six other languages are recognized as official in Angola. These are kikongo, chokwe, umbundu, kimbundu, nganguela and kwanyama. The kikongo speakers, bakongo, make up about 13 percent of the population, the kimbundo speakers, ambundu, make up 25 percent. The country’s largest ethnic group is the ovimbundu, who speak umbundu. These make up 36 per cent of the population.
The Portuguese introduced Catholicism in Angola. It is still the largest religion, but various Protestant churches have been on the rise since the 1960s. Elements of local religions ( ancestral belief and animism ) are still largely practiced side by side with Christianity. Islam has only recently spread, mainly among immigrants from West Africa.
State and politics
Since 1975 Angola has been governed by the liberation movement Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA). The country’s first president was Agostinho Neto, who proclaimed independence from Portugal on November 11, 1975. When Neto died in 1979, José Eduardo dos Santos took over as president, both for the MPLA and for the country. In 2017, MPLA’s João Lourenço was elected President of the Republic, and in 2018 he also took over as leader of the party.
Between 1975 and 1991, Angola was in practice a one-party state under the MPLA, and in the name a Socialist People’s Republic. After continuous civil war since independence, a peace agreement was signed between MPLA and UNITAin 1991. At the same time, Angola was given a new liberal constitution and a multi-party system, and the first multi-party elections were held in October 1992. Disagreements over the result of the election led to the war flared up again, and José Eduardo dos Santos continued as president and head of government, formally from 1997 as leader of a unity government with breakouts from UNITA. After the definitive peace agreement in 2002, dos Santos continued in power while negotiating a new constitution, which was finally adopted in 2010. In practice, most of the political power throughout the entire reign of dos Santos remained concentrated around the president and his closest allies in party, security apparatus and business.
The Constitution of 2010 abolished direct presidential elections and introduced an electoral system (unique to Angola) where the top of the party list that gets the most votes in the parliamentary elections becomes president. The MPLA has received the most votes in all the elections, and its implementation has been criticized by the opposition. Due to the MPLA’s dominant role in the state apparatus, as well as the economy and politics in general, Angola still has many elements of a party state. Parliament, the judiciary and state-owned media appear to be little independent of presidential and party power.
In the Luanda parliament, the former União Nacional para a Independent Total de Angola (UNITA) rebel movement is the largest opposition party, followed by the CASA-CE coalition, elected from 2012, and some smaller parties. Parliament has two chambers where delegates are elected both from the provinces and directly.
Administratively, Angola is divided into 18 provinces, each with one provincial capital. Each province is governed by a governor appointed by the president. Each province is in turn divided into a number of districts ( municípios ), led by a district administrator appointed by the governor. Local elections are not held in Angola, although the Constitution requires it. In addition to civil administration, the military is still an important institution in Angola, not least in the Cabinda enclave.
Angola is a member of the UN and most of the UN’s special organizations, including the World Bank, the African Union, the SADC and the Organization of Portuguese-speaking Countries (PALOP). Angola joined OPEC in 2007.
The San people were the first to settle in the area we know today as Angola, around 1500 years ago there came groups of Bantu- speakers from the north and east. These were Iron Age cultures, and their knowledge and skill in shaping iron objects eventually created more centralized societies. In the 13th century, the Kingdom of the Congo, which mostly stretched from areas of present-day Gabon in the north, to the River Kwanza in the south, a little south of today’s Luanda, arose. The Kingdom of the Congo was divided into several provinces and vassal states, which eventually became their own kingdoms.
Portuguese explorer Diogo Cão arrived on the coast of present-day Angola in 1484. His task was to open the coast after the Portuguese had found the mouth of the Congo two years earlier. The Portuguese were eager to establish relations with the Kingdom of the Congo, which was a little inland, and established trading posts along the coast. During the 16th century, several forts were established south along the coast, including in present-day Luanda and Benguela. In 1575, the coastline gained colony status.
Further inland there existed several larger kingdoms, some of them vassal states under the Congo. Eventually a market for slave trade between the Portuguese and these kingdoms arose. The Portuguese colonized Brazil at the same time as they established trading posts on the West African coast, and eventually there was a need for labor in the new colony in America. Therefore, slaves became an important commodity between the African kingdoms and the Portuguese along the coast. The lucrative trade along the African coast brought Portugal into conflict with the Netherlands, as the Netherlands also made contact with kingdoms in the interior of present-day Angola.
Demand for slaves continued to increase, and throughout the 1600s, the area was characterized by war and slavery. This weakened the old kingdoms, and both Congo and Ndongo (in 1671) eventually swore allegiance to the Portuguese king. The slave trade was banned in 1834, but human trafficking continued for most of the century.
It is uncertain how many people were transported from the coast of Angola to America during the slave trade for about three centuries, but it is estimated that Portuguese ships alone carried 4.6 million slaves from West Africa, most from Angola ports.
Portugal was awarded the area of present-day Angola at the Berlin Conference in 1884, where Africa was divided between European powers. But it was not until the 1900s that Portugal began to take control of the hinterland and the high plains. After World War I and bad years in Portugal, the authorities opened up for a large-scale immigration. The Portuguese were granted land and plantations, and a kind of plantation economy grew in the highlands, based on coffee and cotton.
Portuguese immigration was not popular with the Angolans, and during the same period a nationalist movement emerged, which during the 1960s took up arms. In the early 1970s there were three armed liberation movements in Angola, Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA), União Nacional para a independet ê ncia Total de Angola (UNITA) and the Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola (National Liberation Front of Angola). At independence in 1975, MPLA controlled Luanda, and wars quickly erupted between the movements. In the 1980s, there was a civil war in Angola. On the one hand, the MPLA received support from Cuba and the Soviet Union, while UNITA on the other received support from South Africa and the United States.
Throughout the 1990s, several unsuccessful attempts were made to end the war in Angola. It was only peace when UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi was killed in 2002. It is uncertain how many people died in the Angolan wars, but estimates range between 500,000 and 800,000. In addition, 2.5 million people fled their homes.
Economy and business
Angola is Africa’s second largest oil exporter, after Nigeria. Oil was found in the north of Angola and in the enclave Cabinda in the 1950s. The agricultural sector was more or less deserted during the civil war, and the country became entirely dependent on increased oil revenues. The dependence on oil makes the country very vulnerable to fluctuations in oil prices, and falling oil prices mean cuts in the country’s state budgets. Much of the oil revenue has been spent trying to get the country back on its feet after the war.
In addition to the oil, Angola has large deposits of diamonds. Since 2002, to varying degrees, we have succeeded in focusing on industry and agriculture again. This is partly because oil has a very dominant position in the economy, and that it is difficult to develop other sectors. Corruption is also widespread, making it difficult to start a business.
Knowledge and culture
Like other sectors, the education sector was in ruins after the war, but there is a large public education system and several private universities in Angola today.
Angola has several well-known authors. The country’s first president Agostinho Neto (1922-1979) was also a poet and published several collections of poems. Also active in the liberation struggle was Artur Carlos Maurício Pestana dos Santos (born 1941), known by the pen name Pepetela. His best known novel Mayombe (1980) is about a group of guerrilla warriors in Cabinda. In recent years, José Eduardo Agualusa (born 1960) has distinguished himself with several novels drawn from Angola’s history, including the slave trade and the queen of Ndongo, Nzinga. Agualusa lives in Portugal today and has received many literary awards both there and in Brazil.
Music is the most famous part of Angolan culture. Angola is closely associated with Brazil, the slaves brought religion, music and dance across the Atlantic. Both music styles such as samba and martial arts capoeira have roots in Angola. The Brazilian carnival also features elements from Angola. Later, music genres such as semba and kizomba, both from Angola, have hit Brazil.
Angola and Norway
Norway established relations with Angola in the early 1980s. At that time, the focus was on aid and relief. Among other things, Norway provided early support to the energy sector in the country, especially through long-standing advice to the country’s petroleum ministry.
Norwegian People’s Aid, Norwegian Church Aid and the Norwegian Refugee Council have had a long-standing commitment to Angola.
Today, Angola is Norway’s most important trading partner in Africa. Equinor has its largest overseas operation in the country. In 2018, Equinor produced about 200,000 barrels of oil per day in Angola, equivalent to 11 percent of total production on the Norwegian continental shelf, and twice as much as Brazil’s production, which was Equinor’s second largest foreign production.
The oil-rich areas off the coast of Angola are also important for the Norwegian supplier industry. Aker Solutions, FMC, Odfjell Drilling and a number of other Norwegian companies have had billion contracts around the oil industry in Angola.
Angola is represented in Norway by an ambassador living in Stockholm, while Norway is represented in Angola by the embassy in Luanda.