Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Post-war generation emerges as Angola heads to the polls

By Teo Kermeliotis, for CNN
August 30, 2012 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Angola has embarked on a major reconstruction program following the end of a 27-year vicious civil war in 2002. The oil-rich country holds general elections Friday. Angola has embarked on a major reconstruction program following the end of a 27-year vicious civil war in 2002. The oil-rich country holds general elections Friday.
Angola's construction boom
President Jose Eduardo dos Santos
Support for MPLA
UNITA demonstration
Opposition leader Isaias Samakuva
2008 elections
Oil boom
Oil boom
Rich-poor divide
Rich-poor divide
Living in Luanda
"The Architect of Peace"
Vicious conflict
Vicious conflict
Vicious conflict
  • Angola is heading to the polls Friday for its second peacetime elections
  • A new generation of post-war youth will vote for the first time
  • Incumbent President Jose Eduardo dos Santos is expected to win
  • The oil-rich country's economy is booming but inequality remains

(CNN) -- With construction cranes and steel skyscrapers dominating the skyline of Luanda, the capital of Angola, it is hard to overlook how far the southwestern African country has come since the end of its brutal civil war in 2002.

Over the last decade, the oil-rich nation has emerged from the wreckage of a 27-year vicious conflict to become today one of the major economic players in the continent.

As the country, sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest economy, heads to the polls Friday for its second peacetime elections, a new generation of post-war youth, many of whom have no direct memories of conflict, will cast their ballots for the first time.

"There's a new generation coming, emerging in the scene," says Markus Weimer, coordinator of the Angola Forum at Chatham House. "New generation, new ideas and new demands on the government which is very interesting and that is one of the reasons why these elections are so important."

New constitution

Friday's elections will only be Angola's third poll since the lusophone country gained independence from Portugal in 1975 -- elections in 1992 were abandoned midway and led to an outbreak of further violence, while the 2008 parliamentary vote was won by the ruling MPLA party with a landslide 82%.

Under the terms of a new constitution approved in 2010, the leader of the party that wins Friday's parliamentary vote will automatically become Angola's president.

"This is the first time since 1992 that the President will have a democratic mandate," says Weimer.

Watch: Angola's growth

Nine political parties and coalitions, including MPLA's civil war enemy UNITA, are running on Friday's elections, when more than nine million voters will go to the polls to elect the 220 members of the National Assembly.

Analysts expect MPLA to win again with a sizeable majority, allowing incumbent President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who's been in power since 1979, to have five more years in office.

Opinion: Is oil-rich Angola a development success?

This is the first time since 1992 that the President will have a democratic mandate.
Markus Weimer, Chatham House

They note, however, that the ruling party's margin of victory will be smaller than in 2008.

"I think that the last elections where MPLA won the 82% of the vote is unlikely to be repeated," says Weimer. "That was a 'freak' sort of result that had many historical and social reasons -- the war, demographics, etc. -- but I think this is now going to drop."

Electoral process

In 2008, UNITA accused MPLA of rigging the elections after gaining 10% of the vote. The opposition party has also been complaining about irregularities since the start of the current election campaign, arguing that the MPLA controls the state media and undermines the electoral process.

While both the Southern African Development Community and the African Union have sent a team of election observers in Angola, the European Union has decided not to deploy a mission in the country -- in contrast to the 2008 poll.

"That could be a serious deficit," says Weimer, adding that "legitimacy is the most crucial issue" of Friday's vote. He notes that the ruling party has the most to lose if the poll is seen as illegitimate, both within the country and abroad.

"If these elections are fine and everything goes smoothly, then it will send a signal to the world that Angola is not just a country that is run by one person, but actually institutions than can provide stability," says Weimer.

Economic boom

The long-serving Dos Santos, who turned 70 on Tuesday, has maintained peace and political stability in the country since 2002, presiding over Angola's post-war economic growth and rebuilding efforts.

Greased by growing oil revenues and China's credit lines of billions of dollars, Angola's economy rocketed by an average annual growth of 17% from 2004 to 2008 before falling to single-digit figures after the 2008 crisis.

Watch: Angola's economic potential

Whatever the Angolan economy does, it needs to create jobs, it needs to sustain itself beyond oil.
Paula Cristina Roque, Angola expert

Angola is the second-biggest oil producer in Africa, turning out more than 1.9 million barrels per day, and boasts an expanding investment portfolio in its former colonial master, Portugal, and other parts of Africa.

Tasked with rebuilding the country after decades of fighting, the government has pumped vast sums in recent years to repair a shattered infrastructure as well as build hospitals, universities and sports centers. Currently, it also allocates over 30% of its budget to social spending.

Sharing the oil wealth?

But despite the heady financial data and the progress made since 2002, Angola still remains one of the most unequal societies in the world. The country, which has a population of some 18 million people, ranks 148th out of 187 countries in the U.N.'s Human Development Index.

This year the economy is expected to expand by 8.2% but critics say the billions of dollars from oil revenues have failed to close the stark gap between a tiny wealthy elite and the millions of poor living without access to electricity, water supply and sanitation.

Next to the sleek skyscrapers and luxury apartments in Luanda, which was last year named as the world's most expensive city for expats, ramshackle shantytowns and crowded slums spread for miles toward every direction, housing millions of people living on less than $2 a day.

"The MPLA and this government has not developed the country. It's made lots of projects and has pulled in a lot of investments but nothing has actually trickled down," says Paula Cristina Roque, an Angola expert at Oxford University.

"We haven't seen peace dividends of the nature that we need to see to actually cut back the poverty levels in the country," she adds.

Corruption further exacerbates discontent among the population, with Angola ranked 168th out of 183 countries on Transparency International's 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Calls for economy diversification

Last year, Angola's mining sector, dominated by oil, accounted for nearly half of the country's GDP.

But, with the petroleum sector providing jobs for 1% of the population, many have long been calling for the country to take more bold steps to diversify its economy to create jobs and help people lift out of poverty -- unemployment has been averaging an estimated 26% in the last five years.

"Whatever the Angolan economy does, it needs to create jobs, it needs to sustain itself beyond oil," says Roque.

"They absolutely need to diversify and very quickly."

New generation

Amid such a background, a number of small but consistent demonstrations have taken place in Angola since last year, revealing a growing frustration over the economic hardship still experienced by many in the country.

Over the last few months, civil war veterans have taken to the streets to demand overdue subsidy payments while parts of disgruntled youth and civil rights activists have also staged rallies to voice their concerns over the lack of jobs and opportunities.

Roque says the injection of a dynamic post-war youth into Angolan politics could shape the country's politics on Friday and beyond.

"People are no longer willing to give them [the government] a blind mandate," she says. "They're actually now wanting more accountability and we've started seeing that in every way...The fear barrier has been lifted in Angola."

Part of complete coverage on
Marketplace Africa
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1100 GMT (1900 HKT)
Fish from the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho are served in top Tokyo sushi spots.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 1323 GMT (2123 HKT)
The world-famous waterfall is inspiring a local tourism boom as an increasing number of people is visiting Zimbabwe.
November 11, 2014 -- Updated 1007 GMT (1807 HKT)
Seychelles needed more than pristine beaches and choral reefs to boost its once troubled tourism industry.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
A general view of the Hout Bay harbour covered in mist is seen on May 8, 2010 from the Chapman's peak road on the outskirts of Cape Town. Chapman's peak road is the coastal link between Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope. When following the African coastline from the equator the Cape of Good Hope marks the psychologically important point where one begins to travel more eastward than southward, thus the first rounding of the cape in 1488 by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias was a major milestone in the attempts by the Portuguese to establish direct trade relations with the Far East. He called the cape Cabo Tormentoso. As one of the great capes of the South Atlantic Ocean, the Cape of Good Hope has been of special significance to sailors for many years and is widely referred to by them simply as 'the Cape'. It is a major milestone on the clipper route followed by clipper ships to the Far East and Australia, and still followed by several offshore yacht races. AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Abandoned workshops and empty warehouses are getting a new lease of life in Cape Town.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1037 GMT (1837 HKT)
Inside a glove factory on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, busy laborers turn patches of leather into these fashionable garments.
October 9, 2014 -- Updated 1050 GMT (1850 HKT)
The Somali capital now has its first-ever ATM bank machine -- and it dispenses U.S. dollars.
October 9, 2014 -- Updated 0911 GMT (1711 HKT)
Waves lap at the ships as they pull into the Port of Ngqura, but no swell is stopping the local economy booming.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 1524 GMT (2324 HKT)
In Uganda, a group of landmine victims are using banana fiber to create rope, profit and community.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1337 GMT (2137 HKT)
What does it mean to be Nigerian? That's the question on the lips of many in Nigeria as new national identity cards are being rolled out.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1105 GMT (1905 HKT)
 General view of an oil offshore platform owned by Total Fina Elf in the surroundings waters of the Angolan coast 15 October 2003. The 11 members of the OPEC oil cartel have agreed to slash output by a million barrels a day, the OPEC president said 11 October 2006, in a move aimed at shoring up sliding world crude prices.
Six of the top 10 global oil and gas discoveries last year were made in Africa -- but can these finds transform the continent?
February 20, 2014 -- Updated 1121 GMT (1921 HKT)
A South African app allows buyers to pay for goods using their phone, without having to worry about carrying cash or credit cards.
December 13, 2013 -- Updated 0027 GMT (0827 HKT)
African astronomers want world-class observatories to inspire young scientists and build a tech economy.
February 19, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
A Zambian computer tablet -- known as the ZEduPad -- is trying to open up the country's information highway.
January 9, 2014 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
South Africa may be the dominant force in Africa's wine economy, but other countries are making inroads in the industry.
October 10, 2013 -- Updated 0927 GMT (1727 HKT)
Eko Atlantic city design concept
A lack of infrastructure has hindered Africa's development, but a series of megaprojects could change that.
Each week Marketplace Africa covers the continent's macro trends and interviews a major player from the region's business community.