Angola's economy is growing thanks to oil exports but the country still faces a long period of post-war reconstruction.
Angola has a dry coastal plain which is at its broadest in the north where it extends up to 200 kilometres inland. From this plain the territory rises through a number of escarpments to highlands that reach 2,600 metres. Beyond the highlands is a vast plateau that covers around two-thirds of the country. The population is concentrated in and around the highlands.
The largest ethnic group are the Ovimbundu, who are to be found mostly in the central highlands as well as in the coastal towns. The second largest are the Mbundu, who live more along the coast and in the north and north-west; they tend to be the most urbanized and many speak only Portuguese. The third group, the Bakongo, are also to be found in the north, as well as in neighbouring countries.
Decades of civil war until 2002 devastated a potentially rich country. At least half a million people were killed in the fighting.
The health system is still in a poor state and many hospitals lack the most basic equipment. Many of the services are provided by aid organizations. Added to this is the largely unmeasured devastation caused by HIV and AIDS.
The war also destroyed much of the education system, but it is now being rebuilt and around two-thirds of children are now enrolled in school.
Most people struggle to survive from subsistence agriculture. The land in the fertile highlands allows for ample food crops of cassava, beans, maize, millet, and sorghum. The war destroyed agriculture, particularly the commercial farms, and although food production is rising the country remains heavily dependent on food aid. Around one-third of children are malnourished.
The north-west of Angola used also to be a major coffee producer. The output of this and other cash crops like sisal and cotton has yet to recover.
Though agriculture was devastated by the war, two other areas of economic activity were less affected: oil extraction, which funds the government; and diamond mining, which funded the rebel UNITA army.
Oil was first produced offshore in 1955 and Angola has become Sub-Saharan Africa's largest exporter after Nigeria. In 2003, total reserves were over 13 billion barrels. Output has been growing and by 2012 should be around 2.2 million barrels per day. Oil accounts for 60% of GDP and more than 90% of exports. At present most of the associated gas is flared off but there are now a number of projects for liquifying and exporting.
Oil riches siphoned off into private pockets
The national oil company Sonangol has joint ventures with many companies, including Chevron. Sonangol's accounts, however, are very opaque, and it is an important part of the system of ‘parallel finance’ which in recent years has siphoned off around $4.2 billion into private pockets.
Angola is also the world's fifth largest diamond producer. These alluvial deposits are spread over large areas. Since the war hampered geological surveys, there are probably many more deposits to be discovered. This trade too is largely controlled by the army and government officials.