Social Policy in Angola

The history of social policies in Angola

Over the centuries, the history of the Angolans has been marked by oppression, dependence, slavery, colonial exploitation, war and civil war. This martyrdom did not end until 2002.

The beginnings of Angola lay in the kingdom of Ndongo in the area of the rivers Kwanza, Lukala, Bengo and Dande, at the height of Luanda, founded in 1575. Ndongo was tributary to its powerful northern neighbour, the Congo Empire. From there, since the end of the 15th century, the Portuguese, in search of slaves for São Tomé, entered the empire inhabited by the Bantu tribes of the Mbundu (Kimbundu) and established intensive contacts with King Ngola Kiluanje Inene (1515-1556). The takeover of Brazil as a Portuguese colony (1500-1822) increased the need for slaves. An expedition led by the Jesuit Paulo Dias de Noveis in 1560 was to secure Portuguese influence in the country and access to more slaves. Since the Portuguese needed the help of the Ngola dynasty, they supported the latter in the process of their separation from the Congo Empire (1563) and intensified their efforts to establish colonial rule. They thus interrupted the normal development of the existing societies between the rivers Zaire and Cunene. With military expeditions, they gradually subdued the Ndongo Empire and marked the beginning of the pre-colonial era with the invasion of 1575. After the military defeat against Portugal in 1671, the Ndongo and Matamba empires ceased to exist as independent states. Sea and slave trade passed completely into Portuguese hands. With the foundation of Luanda, a port was available for the growing transport of slaves, from which around 12,000 slaves (up to 1578 a total of 50,000) were shipped in 1576. By the time the slave trade is finally banned, 10 million slaves are said to have suffered this fate through Portugal alone. On ships about 30 metres long, 500-6oo people were transported in very confined spaces under the most difficult conditions, and only half survived the ordeal unharmed. The owners branded the slaves. Huge profits flowed to Lisbon. Gold, silver, yields of the plantations in the colonies and the slave trade operated with papal permission made Portugal’s capital rich. Religious tolerance promoted business. Thus the first ship to bring slaves to America in Jamestown (Virginia) in August 1619 was filled with human goods from Angola. When the Dutch boarded a Portuguese slave ship in May 1658 and dragged it into their Cape colony, they sold the slaves from Angola for 50 to 100 guilders each.

After the loss of its colony Brazil (1822) Portugal intensified the colonization of the Angolan inland. With the prohibition of the slave trade (1836 and 1869), the exploitation of natural resources became more visible to the colonists. Forced labour by the indigenous population became the dominant feature in all Portuguese colonies. With the obligation to work for the colonial system for six months a year, cheap labor turned into contract workers who built railway lines in Angola for the benefit of the state or were exploited on private plantations, lured to the coffee and cocoa fields of São Tomé, and fobbed off at low wages. In the event of illness or death, the state provided the landowners with other temporary workers. The metropolis and colonial administration ensured that forced labor and deportation functioned in a legally regulated manner as the labor force became increasingly scarce. Between 1912 and 1928, the High Commissioners Norton de Matos and Vicente Ferreira were regarded as the main actors in the creation of the corresponding administrative, economic and social networks. The workers in the diamond mines, on the construction sites of the Benguela railway, in the oil sector and on the cotton fields formed a permanent reservoir of the cheapest workers. In addition, there was a form of exploitation in the form of numerous taxes. Small cotton producers had to sell their products at low prices. A network of corrupt chiefs and administrators secured the repressive Portuguese colonial system. The plundered population tried to evade this by fleeing or organized resistance. At the beginning of the 20th century, regional uprisings intensified because the Portuguese only now succeeded in subjugating and controlling the entire Angolan territory. It should be noted that the Angolans’ desire for freedom was never broken, and from 1575 onwards, the resistance organised under Ngola Kiluanje kia Ndambi was always associated with the names of kings and tribal leaders. Thus the history of Portuguese colonialism in Angola became that of the permanent anti-colonial resistance organised in the tribal associations.

After the Berlin (Congo) Conference of 1884/85 decided on the colonial division of Africa, Portugal and Belgium defined the borders between Angola and the Congo in 1891 and 1894.

The immigration of Portuguese settlers, the establishment of the first industrial plants, and the levying of the Imposto de Cabeça (poll tax) increasingly forced the Angolan population to work for wages, which, by aggravating their plight, increased their will to resist and their national consciousness. This was opposed by the fascist dictatorship established in Portugal in 1932. The economically weak country was unable to bring about economic and political changes in its colonies and attempted to stop development with repressive measures. The Angolan liberation struggle was made more difficult because more than 90% of the population lived in rural areas and had only a low level of education, which above all hindered the illegal resistance organization.

In 1956 the MPLA (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola) was founded under the leadership of Dr. António Agostinho Neto. In 1961, it began the armed struggle against the colonial regime, which had maintained discrimination despite the official abolition of indigenous status: the “civilized” (white and assimilated) received the Bilhete de Identidade, which equated them with Portuguese citizens, while the masses of the population received the Cartão de Identidade, which contained information that allowed restrictive possibilities on the part of the state. Already in 1951 the autonomy status had changed by the transformation into a Portuguese overseas province.

Two further liberation movements entered the struggle: In 1962, the FNLA (Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola; National Liberation Front of Angola), led by Holden Roberto, invoked the traditions of the Bakongo Bantu Group, and finally in 1966 the UNITA (União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola; National Union for the Complete Independence of Angola), headed by Jonas Savimbi, whose ethnic base was the 2 million Ovimbundu people from the central highlands. With the fall of the Caetano government in the Carnation Revolution of 1974 in Portugal, the way was cleared for a ceasefire in Angola. In January 1975, the three liberation movements and Portugal signed a treaty in Alvor, which marked the day of Angolan independence on 11 November 1975. FNLA and UNITA, with the support of the South African apartheid regime and the USA, tried to liquidate the MPLA by military means even before the declaration of independence. With Angola’s release into independence, a destructive civil war lasting many years began. In October 1975, South African troops invaded 700 km of Angolan territory. President Agostinho Neto asked Cuba for military assistance. The South Africans were stopped 250 km south of Luanda and expelled from Angola by the end of March 1976. Still on 11 November 1975 a military advance of the FNLA had failed with Kifangondo (20 km north of Luanda). While the FNLA went down badly equipped and organized in the turmoil of the civil war, the USA armed with dollar millions the UNITA to a guerrilla army. Since the MPLA presented itself as an opponent of apartheid, gave help to the liberation movement for Namibia, the SWAPO, and declared itself a Marxist-Leninist party in 1977, South African troops again advanced into Angolan territory in 1981, as well as in 1983, where 5000 soldiers penetrated up to 250 km deep into the country and killed 418 SWAPO members. According to the Angolan foreign minister at the March 1983 solidarity conference in Lisbon, 10,000 Angolans died between 1975 and 1983 as a result of the aggression, and the material damage caused amounted to $7.5 billion. The Soviet Union supported the ideologically socialist-oriented MPLA with weapons and Cuba increased its troops in Angola to 50,000 men. The war in Angola had become a mirror image of the west-east conflict of the time, and the representatives of the parties to the conflict were bloody in their differences on the backs of the Angolan population. In 1989 a ceasefire was signed between the MPLA and UNITA, which resulted in an agreement on the withdrawal of Cuban troops.

After the peace agreement in May 1991, which also provided for elections under UN supervision, the Angolans had hope that the civil war would end. However, the election victory of the MPLA with its president José dos Santos prompted Savimbi to continue in 1993. The rage of UNITA cost more than 1000 people their lives every day and three million fled to cities that could not cope with the growth. Of the 18 provincial capitals, five were conquered and six besieged. With the occupation of the diamond fields in the Cuanza Basin in the province of Lunda Norte, UNITA received 40 million dollars in revenues, while the government lost about 250 million dollars in foreign exchange revenues. The UN’s seven resolutions against UNITA also called for sanctions against the movement and condemned its warfare.

UNITA also broke a renewed peace that had been signed in Lusaka (Zambia) in 1994. In 1998 the pressure of the changed world public after 1990 led to the internal division of UNITA, whose militant part under Savimbi still let the weapons speak. Jonas Savimbi was killed in action in 2002. The armistice that followed ended a 27-year civil war preceded by 14 years of liberation. Peace at last. But after all the suffering of the Angolan people, after hundreds of thousands of deaths and expulsions, another evil revealed itself. In the course of the war some 16 million landmines had been buried on Angolan territory. Angola is considered the country with the highest number of people injured by mines. To this day, it has inadequate agricultural production because farmers cannot enter their fields without running the risk of stepping on a mine. Millions of mines have been detected and removed. But it is estimated that 1.4 million of them are still stored in the earth. Every year around 300 victims are reported to have stepped on one of the 79 types of mines found to date.

There is a lack of money and prostheses to treat the victims.

Statistical data


Parliamentary elections on 5 September 2008
Eligible voters: 8.3 million
Parliament: 220 seats
Proportion of women: 81 (26% of MEPs)

MPLA (received 81% of the votes): 191 MPs (77 of whom were women)
UNITA: 16 deputies (of whom 4 are women)
Other 13 parties: 13 deputies


There is compulsory schooling for children from 7 to 14 years of age.
Primary level (Ensino de Base) Classes 1 to 4
About 50% of students repeat a class. Only 6% of pupils in an age group attend secondary school.

People and languages:

90% of the population are Bantus.

In 1975, some 300,000 Portuguese had left the country, which now lacked qualified personnel in all areas.

ethnic groupspread Percentage of total population
Ovimbunducentral highlands37%
MbunduLuanda to centre25%
BakongoNorthwest; Cabinda13%
ChokweNortheast to south; east8%
GanguelaSoutheast and center 
Nhanyeka-HumbeSouthwest (Huila) 
Ambo (Ovambo)south 

In the south (provinces Cunene and Cuando-Cubango) there are small associations of indigenous people (Khoisan). Europeans (mostly of Portuguese descent) make up about 2% of the population.

A total of 41 languages and dialects can be found on Angolan territory.

Portuguese is the official and lingua franca.

The above percentages are the four most important regional languages.

Current policy in the social sector

The Angolan social situation was marked by the civil war, which constantly produced a large number of war refugees and orphans, whose situation was not improved by the economic and financial recovery programme (Programa de saneamento económico e financeiro; SEF) launched between 1988 and 1992 and the reprivatisation of the economy.

Today, Angola has one of the fastest growing economies in the world and an extreme inequality of social groups.

A minority benefits from the huge revenues from the oil sector. Angola produces up to 2 million barrels a day, which ranks 8th in the world. In 2007, 18.8 billion dollars from oil exports (mainly to the USA and China) flowed into the state coffers, supplemented by 1.3 billion dollars from diamond sales. The mass of the population has hardly any share in this. The number of illiterates over the age of 15 is 71%, the unemployment rate fluctuates between 65% and 80%, and life expectancy is 42 years. Three quarters of the population live below the poverty line (2 dollars a day) and 47% have no access to clean drinking water. Every fourth child dies before reaching the age of five. This puts Angola in the sad position of the world leaders. From the countryside to the cities, refugees and returning displaced persons live in poor huts (musseques) that they have built themselves. Women keep their families alive by street vending. Opportunities to earn money in other areas are hampered by corruption (bribery payments). According to estimates, the civil war cost the lives of about one million people and turned four million into victims of the war or refugees.

There is no social security system in Angola.

Malaria (28%) and cholera epidemics top the list of causes of death.

The high proportion of women in parliament is positively striking (see point 2).


P. Raul Ruiz de Asúa Altuna; CULTURA TRADICIONAL BANTO; Secretariado Arquidiocesano de Pastoral; Luanda 1985

Pedro Ramos de Almeida; História do Colonialismo Português em África; Editorial Estampa; Lisboa 1978

Rolf Hofmeier (Herausgeber),Institut für Afrika-Kunde; Afrika Jahrbücher 1993-1999; Politik, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft in Afrika südlich der Sahara; Leske + Budrich, Opladen 1994-2000

História de Angola; Ministério da Educação, Luanda 1976

Paul Collier; Gefährliche Wahl. Wie Demokratisierung in den ärmsten Ländern der Erde gelingen kann; Siedler 2009

Rainer Grajek: „Angola“, In: „Handbuch Sozialpolitiken der Welt“, Prof. Dr. Markus Porsche-Ludwig, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Gieler, Prof. Dr. Jürgen Bellers (Herausgeber), LIT Verlag 2013, S. 82 – 87

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Last Updated on 2021-05-21