29 May 2016 10:50am
THE INVINCIBLE SPIRIT OF ANGOLA'S PEOPLE
By Paulus Shiku
(NAMPA FEATURES SERVICE)
LUANDA, 29 MAY (NAMPA) - Efforts to restore roads and buildings destroyed by war in Angolas capital city Luanda are evident after 14 years of independence and the southern African nation is making progress in establishing order.
Angola became independent from coloniser Portugal in November 1975, which ended Angolas war of independence but a civil war caused by a power struggle between two former liberation movements, the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) erupted immediately.
The MPLA and UNITA had different roots in the Angolan social fabric and mutually incompatible leaderships, despite their shared aim of ending colonial rule.
By the time the MPLA achieved victory in February 2002 when UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi died on the battlefield, more than 500 000 people had perished and over one million had been internally displaced.
The war ravaged Angola's infrastructure and severely damaged the nation's public administration, economic enterprises and religious institutions, but this is all in the process of transforming into something better for the people of independent Angola.
A visit to the coastal city of Luanda gives an idea of how hard the government is trying to restore normalcy in the country as many roads, traffic lights and buildings are in place and better looking compared to before.
Progress has been made but not to a level comparable to Namibia where a few potholes make national headlines, maintenance of buildings is regarded an important portion of any budget and a traffic light not working for one afternoon has residents venting on social media.
The spirit of Angola, interpreted by many as careless, bombastic and uncoordinated, reflects differently and though the people.
Angola is in transition to perfection, like a gallon of crude oil being refined to produce many usable components, such as alongside busy roads with hundreds of cars passing by every minute, workers are seen replacing an old sewerage system that is notorious for narrow pipes that dont accommodate toilet tissue. Namibians at first found visiting Angolans habit of putting used toilet tissue in the bin disturbing but more exposure to the reality of their neighbour clarified many aspects of Angola that are now better than a few years ago.
Things are better these days, our government is trying. As you can see, most of our roads are marked. It was never like this, we used to just regulate ourselves when driving as there were few traffic lights or road signs, an taxi driver told Nampa on the way to the Port of Luanda (Porto de Luanda); a port that in 2015 handled about 1 600 barrels of oil per day but as a natural resource that tends to only benefit some.
The gap between the rich and poor in Angola is still wide as the homeless, some of them disabled and women with babies, are seen almost everywhere asking for money.
Those with money, and lots of it, pass by in expensive cars found mostly in the United States of America or elsewhere in the world where consumerism and a lavish lifestyle is something all pursue.
Police officers and soldiers are deployed all over the city to maintain order and their omnipresence could be viewed as a quell to the possible fear felt by those who have it all, as those who dont, evidently outnumber them and could initiate another civil war. Does this tighten the air and have the hearts of the rich racing because of anxiety? No, probably not at all! In fact, they probably couldnt care less while driving a huge sport utility vehicle (SUV) with a V8 engine that is loud and powerful enough to reduce a person to the status of an insect.
Along the coast, luxurious skyscrapers and what used to be a zoo go to waste due to abandonment, clearly the aftermath of war, but Luandas former name of São Paulo da Assunção de Loanda makes a lot of sense when the cosmopolitan vibe of Brazils Sao Paulo is felt and seen. Happiness and the celebration of life through the adornment, appreciation and movement of your own body is a culture shared with sister Brazil. The spirit of the people speaks louder than ravaged infrastructure.
At the beach, a group of seemingly underage girls and boys are jovial while drinking the popular alcoholic crème beverage, Amarula; a friendly taste test proved so. The war torn buildings are definitely not an eyesore when other things are more important. Angolans are known in Namibia for being very vocal, loud and expressive through their body, which is completely the opposite of Namibias Germanic heritage of an introverted approach to communication.
One of the girls on the beach in Luanda danced seductively in front of reporters and tourists, freely posing for pictures and throwing her hips left, right and centre. She of course spoke Portuguese and was not understood by many of the media.
Understood by many as uncoordinated that is clearly not the case. It is more about the spirit of Angola embracing every moment of freedom and using it towards your pleasure, as you may be anywhere on the Atlantic shore and fish where you like; not like in Namibia where some areas along the coast are off limits and you need a permit to fish.
Just up the boardwalk and all over the Luanda beach are locals queuing to buy fish, fresh from the Atlantic Ocean and clearly the way of making ends meet for many.
The economic situation of brandishing the prominent US Dollar has dissipated with the introduction of the Angolan Kwanza and an increase to international oil supply, which has dropped the price of a barrel and had oil producing states dig deeper for other sources of revenue.
The drop in oil prices has pushed inflation and increased the prices of consumables to the level of almost everything being a luxury - even a soft drink.
Locals admit that life was good for those with money but now, it is tough for all as those who owned more than three cars have sold or parked them in the garage because refuelling the left-hand driven guzzlers is too expensive.
Angola does not refine its crude oil and only exports it to other countries like the USA that sells the refined products back to the producer.
At fuel outlets in Angola, a litre of petrol currently costs 160 Angolan Kwanza (about N.dollars 15.21), an increase from 60 Kwanza (about N.dollars 5.70) before 2015. Diesel prices increased from 40 Kwanza (about N.dollars 3.80) to 135 Kwanza (about N.dollars 12.83) per litre.
As such, traffic volumes in Luanda have declined, meaning people can drive a little faster and arrive on time, or just buy a motorbike that consumes less fuel and is able to manoeuvre its way through traffic. The lavish lifestyle associated with oil and the US Dollar is now marinated by even less Angolans, or maybe put on hold in the hope of an increase in state revenue from oil.
As the sun sets and the Angolan skyline of broken buildings and swaying palm streets all become golden, the capital city Luanda is brighter each night as more and more streetlights are installed each day to have every night remind the vibrant people of Angola that no matter what, there is always a reason to celebrate being alive after years of war and death.
Luanda is a city to visit, but only if you can afford it.