Written by Esmael Silva
Angola will be celebrating, on 11 November 2020, its 45 years as an independent nation, a landmark that has enabled Angolans to record advances in the domains of health, education, housing, water and power, but, otherwise, setbacks in the struggle for development.
Over this period, the country that faced 27 years of a bloody war, has managed to reach a national health coverage (infrastructures and medical aid), by training physicians, nurses and other health personnel, locally and abroad.
According to official data, the National Public Health System currently has almost 100,000 specialists, a number still insufficient to handle around 30 million inhabitants, with more than 24,000 professionals, including doctors, nurses and diagnose technicians.
Although still far from being ideal, modern diagnostic methods and access to medical services in various specialities are now available to the population in public and privately-run hospitals.
Between 1990 and 2016, the infant mortality rate dropped from 221 to 68 per thousand births.
The big challenge facing this sector is the elimination of malaria, which necessarily implies a multisectoral involvement for prevention rather than cure, capable of allowing the elimination of any focus of germination of the plasmodium.
After all, malaria is the main cause of death in Angola. In 2019 alone, for example, more than 8,000 people died from this disease.
The challenge in education, 45 years after independence, is to bring all children into the education system and improve teaching and learning, so that the quality of universities grows and Angolans graduate in way that enables them to face the challenges for sustainable development.
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Gradually, this premise is being achieved. This year, for example, before the spread of Covid-19, it was estimated that more than two million new students would enter schools in the country.
Currently, more than 5,000 new schools are under construction, out of the 6,371 needed to bring together 1,3 million children who are outside the education system.
One of the biggest social problems in Angola, resulting from poverty, is housing, especially in the country’s capital, as during the time of widespread war across the country, the only relatively safe city was Luanda, which led to more than half of the population being confined in this city.
This phenomenon caused the uninterrupted emergence of new, non-urban neighbourhoods, which disrupted the great capital city.
Fortunately, housing projects were timidly designed and implemented, new cities appeared throughout the country, as a result of public investment, with a public-private partnership and other kinds of private initiatives.
Pre and post-independence Angola
It is evident and natural that all this work pleases many, but also that it is criticised by many others.
The most radical criticism says that “nothing” has been done over the 45 years and that the benefits of freedom have been delivered to a small group of Angolans, even making comparisons about which of the two periods was better (before and post-independence).
It is true that in the colonial days, a good number of people had access to education, health, housing and decent employment.
However, these same people were part of a privileged group, an elite composed mostly of whites, mixed race people and, in a very smaller scale, indigenous blacks, then called “assimilated”.
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These are some of the traces that show how unbalanced the colonial system was.
In the book “Social Structure of the Colonial Society”, published in Revista Angolana de Sociologia, Angolan academic Paulo de Carvalho emphasises that “even after the assimilated status was abolished (1961), the colour of the skin was still remained a factor of social differentiation.
Likewise, he says, other subjective factors remained that led to the establishment of the difference between “civilized” and “indigenous”.
If you use numbers, you realise that university education in colonial Angola had 4,176 enrolled students, but two years after independence, the figure dropped to 1,100.
Apparently, this gap shows the ineptitude of the new authorities to run the country. However, the truth was quite different.
These people have achieved all this, thanks to the free access to general and universal education, including a new generation of young leaders, managers and academics who are an evidence of this.
Until October this year, Angola had 3,502 technicians registered with the order of engineers, 1,428 with the order of architects and 5,100 national doctors.
Taking into account that the average time span for the training of a doctor is six to seven years and five years for an engineer, the number of graduates produced in these 45 years of independence is acceptable.
On the other hand, there is also an elite of politicians, young oppositionists, who have introduced a new paradigm of pressure, which will, in one way or another, bring development to democracy. These, too, are the product of the same free education system in post-independence Angola.
Based on this, without further details, once can conclude that independence brought more gains than losses for the majority of the Angolan population.
It is also true that much more could have been done, but, objective factors (war and corruption), and others, delayed further deeds.
Check, then, what has grown the most in the last 45 years: The Health Network. The health sector gradually evolved after independence, and today it has reached a stage that offers services, from the simplest to the most complex ones, in the public, public-private and private sectors.
Currently, dialysis and oncology services are provided, cardio-surgeries are performed, in addition to other services.
The healthcare network of the National Health Service consists of nearly 2,000 units, including eight central hospitals, 32 provincial or general hospitals, 228 municipal hospitals and medical centres and 1,453 health centre.
Healthcare in Angola is complemented by the private sector, which has 319 registered clinics across the country.
University education, except for the António Agostinho Neto University (UAN), with some colleges inherited from the colonial era, more higher education institutions emerged in Angola’s 45 years of independence, including seven public universities, 10 public higher institutes, three public polytechnic institutes and nine higher military institutions.
Out of this number, there are also nine privately-owned universities, three private higher institutes and four higher private polytechnic institutes.
Even with this number of higher education institutions in Angola, the qualitative level, according to universal standards, is still not the best.
A reform of the entire education system is being implemented at lower levels, with the aim to improve teaching and learning.
With the flight of trained personnel (Portuguese and Angolans), the first years of independence were not the best.
Angola did not have the right staff to handle the new governance system, which, due to multiple factors, proved to be utopian.
In addition, Angolans lost more time in a war between brothers than in building an environment of peace leading to development.
Between war and peace, modest works with some impact emerged.
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Cubans built several buildings in Golfe, Golfe II, Nelito Soares and Maculusso neighbourhoods, in Luanda, namely the “500” house project, built to accommodate people crippled during the war, and Vila Chinesa, in an effort that has led to the acceleration of the urban development, which, after reaching definite peace, began with the Urbanização Nova Vida.
Then came the Luanda satellite cities of Kilamba, Sequele, Vida Pacifica, KM44, Zango 5, Zango (or Zango Oito Mil), all in Luanda province.
Capari also emerged in Luanda’s Bengo beighbouring, Tchibodo and 4 de Abril, in northern Cabinda province, Mussungue, in Dundo, northeastern Lunda Norte province, Quilemba, in southern Huíla, Baía Farta in Lobito and Luhongo (both in central Benguela), and Praia Amélia and 5 de Abril in the province of Namibe (southwest).
These infrastructures are mainly inhabited by middle-class employees.
In addition to the above mentioned projects, privately built high standard condominiums emerged, with the same dynamics, since the costs of a villa or apartments in these places are above US$100k (around Akz 70M, at the current exchange rate).
Despite all efforts, the housing problem persists in Angola, largely because of the disorganisation and corruption.
Even so, it can be stressed that it was worth the sacrifice of those who fought for Angola’s independence. Nothing can replace freedom.