Almost half of Angola's population is younger than 14 years old - and none of them can remember life without war. Civil war has been the norm in Angola since its independence from Portugal in 1975. With the exception of brief cease fires and fleeting peace accords, the country's two main factions - the ruling Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the opposing National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) have been in bitter conflict for over 20 years - leaving millions dead or displaced, and the economy in shambles.
The irony is that Angola has the potential to be one of the richest countries in Africa. But it is this unexplored wealth of gold, diamonds and oil that fuels the fighting. UNITA, for example, has been able to purchase airplanes, guns and other arms through the sale of the diamonds that litter the eastern half of the country. And every major international oil company has representatives in Luanda, the capital, eager to pay for the rights to explore Angola's Atlantic coast. In the latest round of bidding, which ended in May, Exxon, BP-Amoco and Elf each paid the government $300 million just for the right to explore virgin areas of the seabed.
All this money goes straight to fighting the war. After one too many failed peace accords, the ruling MPLA now insists that it will never negotiate with UNITA again, preferring instead to fight to the end. As a result, Angola is bankrupt and its people are some of the poorest in the world.
And since the end of 1998, the fighting has gotten worse. As recently as early August - just a few weeks ago - Malanje, Angola's second largest town, once described as "pleasant" by the Lonely Planet guidebooks, was declared "a humanitarian disaster area," due to the influx of over 200,000 people - displaced from their homes, facing starvation and surrounded by fighting between army soldiers and the UNITA rebels. These people are mostly farmers who have been forced off their land and into the cities - where they survive on humanitarian aid. When military forces launch campaigns against the city, humanitarian agencies are forced to evacuate - leaving the people with nothing to survive on.
So, do you see why we decided Angola was not the place to visit right now?
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