The Republic of Angola is situated in south-central Africa. The country is bounded by the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the northeast, Zambia to the east, Namibia to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. It has an area of 1,246,700 square kilometers and its capital city is Luanda. It is divided into 18 provinces, but one of them, Cabinda, is an enclave, separated from the rest of the country by the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The topography varies from arid coastal areas and dry savannas in the interior south to rain forests in the north and a wet interior highland. On the plateau, heavy rainfall causes periodic flooding. Overuse and degradation of water resources have led to inadequate supplies of potable water. Other current environmental issues are deforestation of the tropical rain forest, overuse of pastures, soil erosion, and desertification, which results in a loss of biodiversity.
Angola had approximately 12,127,071 inhabitants in 2006. There were around 90 ethnic groups in the country, and although Portuguese was the official language, Bantu and other African languages were spoken by a high percentage of the population. Although Roman Catholicism remained the dominant religion, there were evangelist and indigenous religions that were very strong.
Angola’s socioeconomic conditions rank in the bottom 10 in the world. Health conditions are inadequate because of years of insurgency. There is a high prevalence of HIV, vector-borne diseases like malaria, and other waterborne diseases. Although the agricultural sector was formerly the mainstay of the economy, it contributed only a small percentage of GDP, because of the disruption caused by civil war. The products derived from this sector are bananas, sugarcane, coffee, sisal, corn, cotton, manioc (tapioca), tobacco, vegetables, and plantains. It also has forest products and fish. Food must be imported in large quantities.
Angola is one of Africa’s major oil producers. The oil industry is the most important sector of the economy and it constitutes the majority of the country’s exports. Angola has minerals: diamonds, iron, uranium, phosphates, feldspar, bauxite, and gold. But Angola is classified as one of the world’s poorest countries despite abundant natural resources. The reasons lie in the history of this country, which has suffered a 27-year civil war that was caused not only by ethnic factors but also by disputes over natural resources.
Angola was a Portuguese colony. In the 1960s liberation movements such as Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA) began to call for independence. In 1961 the native Angolans rose in a revolt that was repressed. In 1964 a group inside of the FNLA separated and created the National Union for Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). During the mid-1960s and 1970s there were a series of guerrilla actions, which finished with the negotiation for independence in 1975.
But the post-independence period was distinguished by instability. The MPLA declared itself the government of the country so soon after independence that a civil war broke out between MPLA, UNITA, and FNLA, exacerbated by foreign intervention during the cold war. Angola, like many African countries, became involved in the struggle between the superpowers and many African political leaders resorted to U.S. or Soviet aid. The MPLA government received large amounts of aid from Cuba and the Soviet Union, while the United States supported first the FNLA and then UNITA.
In 1976 the FNLA was defeated by Cuban troops, leaving the competition for government control and access to natural resources to MPLA and UNITA. By the end of the cold war era, in 1991, a cease-fire was signed between the government and UNITA and both agreed to make Angola a multiparty state and called for elections. In 1992 the MPLA was elected to lead the nation but UNITA disagreed and charged MPLA with fraud. This situation caused tensions and the war continued until 1994, when negotiations began, helped by South Africa and the United Nations (UN). The war finished in 2002 when Jonas Savimbi, the president of UNITA, was killed in battle.
As a result of the civil war, up to 1.5 million lives were lost and 4 million people were displaced. Since the war Angola has been slowly rebuilding, increasing foreign exchange and implementing reforms recommended by the International Monetary Fund.
- Abbot, Peter, and Manuel Rodrigues. Modern African Wars (2): Angola and Mocamgique 1961–1974. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 1988;
- Campbell, Horace. Militarism, Warfare, and the Search for Peace in Angola. In The Uncertain Promise of Southern Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001;
- Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Klare, Michael T. “The New Geography of Conflict.” Foreign Affairs (May/June 2001);
- Klare, Michael T. Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict. New York: Henry Holt, 2001.
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