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Who needs politics?

Day to day survival is the chief concern of most Angolans, rather than the current debate among politicians over the date of the country's next general elections.
Source: IRIN

Low levels of government expenditure on health and education, and escalating unemployment have made many Angolans apprehensive about politics and politicians, analysts told IRIN.

Esa George, 24, an assistant in a tile shop in the capital, Luanda, named corruption, non-delivery of social services and "no jobs" as reasons for her political apathy. Piles of rotting garbage lie heaped on either side of the road outside her employer's shop.

Laura Simba, 21, earns her living as a waitress. In a "good month", she can take home up to US $100. She "has no faith in politics" and does not really care whether the elections are held in 2005, as demanded by the opposition, or in 2006 as the government insists. "I am not interested and will not vote," she told IRIN.

"That is our life," commented an Angolan who did not want to be named, gesturing first towards the uncollected garbage that even lined the beachfront, and then at a nearby banner declaring the government's intention to get the city clean in the next six months.

Justino Pinto de Andrade, director of the economics faculty at the Luanda-based Catholic University of Angola, told IRIN that Angolans battling with the problems of water and sanitation, lack of proper roads and schools had "no confidence, nor any expectations of delivery", which was why there was a lack of interest in political debate.

"Of the almost US $6.5 billion that Angola earns in oil and diamond revenue every year, the Angolans see nothing," he said. "A lot of the revenue goes towards importing every single essential commodity - we produce nothing besides oil and diamonds. There is no industry in Angola, hence, few jobs."

"People want delivery and are interested in debates that advocate that," explained Raphael Marques of the Luanda-based NGO, Open Society.

According to the Centre for Strategic Studies, a think-tank in Luanda, low government investment in health and education, poverty and unemployment were the four major challenges facing Angola today.

Of these, the lack of proper health delivery was the "most serious problem". The government spent only about two percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) on health, according to recent statistics. There were only five to seven doctors and 110 nurses and technicians for every 100,000 Angolans, while only 62 hospitals, 205 health centres and 866 health posts were serving a population of just over 13 million.

Besides the lack of health personnel, there was a "constant shortage of drugs and surgical dressings, with difficulties in accessing urgent medical assistance [because of a lack of proper roads and public transport]", the centre noted.

Three decades of war, which ended in 2002, destroyed infrastructure and retarded development in Angola.

At least 130,000 Angolan children do not attend school, either because there are none near their area of residence, or a lack of qualified teachers, said an analyst with the centre. Recent statistics indicated that government expenditure on education had dropped from 3.9 percent in 1990 to 2.7 percent in 2000.

"One should not forget that schools ... were also a target during the war. Even today in Luanda, it is depressing to see children carrying with them a large empty milk can to use as a chair at school," the analyst commented.

Prior to the civil war, Angola had a thriving industry in the coastal provinces of Luanda and Benguela, in neighbouring Huambo and in Huila to the south, said De Andrade. "We used to export sugar and fish, now we import sugar."

The vast majority of urban Angolans are informal traders. Young people line the streets of Luanda, peddling anything from household essentials, watches, batteries, tiles and light fittings, vegetables and fruit to the occupants of the slow-moving vehicles caught up in the city's constant traffic jams.

Younger Angolans ferry containers of water - for a price - to residents suffering the effects of the city's overburdened water system. "Like in any other country, people are constantly moving from the rural areas to the cities in search of work, hence there is tremendous pressure on the delivery system," explained the analyst.

Corruption, known as "soft drink", was not Angola's "most serious" problem, he said. It existed "mainly in the public sector" and was created "largely by an excessive bureaucracy, lack of legislation to penalise it, of proper procedures for procurement and public tenders, low wages and respect for 'things' from the state".

However, there are Angolans such as Pedro Kawanga, who earns $150 a month as a receptionist and has "hope" in the system. "I think if I vote, I can bring a change - not the MPLA [the ruling party] or UNITA [the opposition], but maybe the FNLA [one of Angola's original independence parties]."

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