Angola is one of Africa’s major oil producers, but ironically it’s also one of the world’s poorest nations. Over a quarter of a century of civil war has ravaged the country since its independence from Portugal in 1975.
Angola was a tragic victim of the Cold War. The Soviet Union and Cuba supported the MPLA, with the USSR providing weapons and advisers and Cuba providing troops. The USA joined forces with apartheid South Africa to back UNITA. The goals was to thwart growing Soviet influence on the Africa continent. Both countries supplied advisers, weapons and monetary aid.
Sixteen years of fighting killed over 300,000 people, but finally a peace accord led to elections. Unfortunately UNITA, having lost the election, rejected the outcome and fighting resumed. Hundreds of thousands more were killed before another peace accord was signed in 1994. This time the UN sent in peacekeepers.
The fighting never stopped, but rather worsened. In 1999 the peacekeepers withdrew. What was left behind was a country that, although rich in natural resources, was bankrupt, with a devastated infrastructure, and a countryside littered with landmines.
A further blow was levied by the UN when it froze bank accounts used in the gem trade. The civil war being funded in part through the unregulated diamond trade was a source of international condemnation. In response the UN acted to curtail the flow of “blood diamonds” to world markets.
Jonas Savimbi, leader of UNITA was killed in a gunfight with government forces in February 2002. With Savibmi gone, the army and rebels signed a ceasefire in April that ended the conflict.
Since the ceasefire, Angola has been slowly rebuilding its infrastructure. The biggest challenges the nation still faces are locating landmines and rendering them harmless, retrieving weapons from its heavily armed civilian population, and resettling the many thousands of refugees who were displaced during the fighting. Unfortunately, landmines still make many roads impassable, effectively rendering large area of the country unsafe for refugee resettlement. Since many Angolans who remained in rural areas rely on food aid, the situation with the roads being mined means their circumstances too remain desperate.
Oil exports have increased, but allegations that oil revenues are being squandered through corruption and mismanagement are constantly being raised. The government denies the allegations, and looking at the big picture the denials may have merit.
Much of Angola’s oil reserves are in Cabinda province, where decades of fighting with separatist has been ongoing. The Angolan province of Cabinda is an enclave, totally detached from the rest of Angola. The Angola government has sent thousands of troops to subdue the rebellion, costing the country millions of dollars and thousands more lives lost.
With the cost of quelling an ongoing civil war, and much of the country’s oil reserves unable to be tapped because of the struggle, the full potential of Angola as an oil producer has yet to be reached. Perhaps when, if, the entire country is at peace the situation will change. Then all of Angola’s resources can be focused on rebuilding, rather than squandered on warfare. Then, perhaps, Angola can take it’s place beside Botswana, becoming another African nation among the ranks of the World’s fastest growing economies.
Tourism is not a healthy industry in Angola, but it is not dead either.
Obviously a road network and countryside littered with live landmines is a deterrent to tourism. So is a dilapidated tourist infrastructure, a heavily armed populace, and an ongoing separatist civil war. So are the country’s visa rules and regulations.
Virtually all visitors to Angola, with the exception of Namibians, are required to have a visa prior to arrival. It’s not possible to obtain a visa upon arrival. To get a visa a potential visitor must have a passport that is valid for six months past the departure dated, and it must contain at least 2 completely blank pages. Travelers also need an international vaccination certificate indicating a yellow fever inoculation within the last ten years. Visitors are also required to have a letter of invitation from a private individual, organization or company agreeing to take responsibility for the visitor during their stay.
It is possible to obtain a visa from countries to the north of Angola. However, they are often issued as a 5 day transit visa. If travelling by road, this will only give visitors enough time to make it to Luanda where it takes up to four days to get another five day transit visa. Visitors intending to enter Angola from the Democratic Republic of Congo usually need an Angolan visa before entering DR Congo.
Most national travel advisories recommend that their citizens do not travel to Angola unless it is absolutely necessary. It is also recommended that no one travel inside Angola without the assistance of “qualified personnel”. Such advisories are more sensational then the reality justifies.
Travel in Angola isn’t nearly as dangerous as travel advisories suggest it is. Taking simple precautions is all that is needed to be safe during a visit to Angola…
- Traveling after dark and alone is never a good idea, but then it rarely is anywhere.
- When touring the country by car, travel in a convoy of cars of the same make and model is recommended. Then, if the need for spare parts arises, there may be an opportunity to make repairs and get underway again. There are very few garages outside Angola’s urban centres.
- Carry a satellite telephone to have on hand in the case of a breakdown or other emergency. Iridium satellite phones have global coverage, making them the best choice. Thuraya satellite phones have coverage in most of Angola, but coverage is spotty in the southern parts of the country.
- Dining out in Angola is generally expensive, with many of the less expensive restaurants having poor hygienic conditions. If you can’t afford to stay and eat in the world-class hotels found in Luanda, such as the Tropico Hotel, the Alvalade Hotel, Le President Meridien Hotel, the Continental Hotel, and the Palm Beach Hotel, it’s recommended to prepare your own food.
- Travelers should only drink mineral water. In an emergency drink boiled water. The water in Angola is untreated, so tap water is not safe to drink.
- Malaria is endemic to Angola, so travelers need to avoid mosquito bites by using insect repellent and sleeping under repellent-impregnated mosquito nets.
- There is also a risk of being bitten by tse-tse flies in Angola. Tse-tse fly bites can cause sleeping sickness, a symptom of which is insomnia rather than feeling sleepy. The sleepiness is a result of having insomnia, not directly a result of being bitten. The same precautions to avoid mosquito bites is recommended for avoiding tse-tse fly bites. Consult a doctor immediately if, while visiting or having visited Angola, difficulty in sleeping occurs.
- AIDS and HIV is prevalent among adults of both genders in Angola. The need for appropriate precautions to be taken is obvious.
When traveling within the city of Luanda…
- Stay in your car with the doors locked if you’re stranded beyond the reach of security personnel, which are stationed at all hotels and restaurants. Flag down a police car or call your hotel for assistance.
- Avoid using your camera in the presence of uniformed police officers. Photographing police or military personnel is punishable by very stiff fines, but it could result in a more forceful reaction.
- Taking photographs of military or security installations, including government buildings is to be avoided. The photographer is likely to be arrested and punishment is often a costly fine.
- The red and white HALO Trust posts denote mine fields. However, avoid any area surrounded by any red or red and white stones, fencing, or other makeshift markers.
Angola is divided into eighteen provinces:
Only Cabinda, the enclave province, is recommended to avoid completely. Using the common sense safety precautions listed above the rest are reasonably safe to visit.
Note: It was forbidden to take Angolan currency, the Kwanza, out of the country. However, as of February 2012, up to 50,000 Kwanzas can legally be taken out of the country.
If you have visited Angola, please share your experience with other travelers by adding a review in the comment section below. Thank you!