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Angola - People

The government estimates the population to be approximately 20 million as of 2012. Recent estimates of Angola's population have ranged from 13 million to 18 million. There has been no census since the early 1970s; the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) anticipated that the next census will take place in 2013. The country's population is concentrated in urban areas such as Luanda, Huambo, Lubango, and Benguela and in the central plateau region. The bulk of the country supports population densities less than 10 inhabitants per km2. This population distribution is a result of the protracted conflict, during which the agricultural sector collapsed and massive movements of people from rural areas to urban centers turned Angola into one of the most urbanized countries in Africa.

Angola's human rights situation has improved since the end of the civil war. Both the Angolan Armed Forces and UNITA guerrillas committed atrocities, largely against civilians, during that period. Apart from thousands of deaths, the population in the countryside was displaced by the fighting several times over. At the end of the war, the scale of the humanitarian crisis became apparent as access to the countryside was opened up. Some 4 million were displaced, 500,000 UNITA combatants and their families had to be resettled, while neighbouring countries hosted over 350,000 refugees.

Twenty-seven percent of the households in Angola are headed by women. Of these households, over half of these women are illiterate. The percentage of women aged 15 and older who are able to read a letter or newspaper (54%) is much lower than that of the men (82%). The International Medical Corps Angola/Reproductive Health for Refugees Consortium (IMC/RHR) survey in Huambo also showed a significant difference in the level of education between the sexes. For example, men attended an average of 4.47 years of school, while women attended an average of only 2.64 years.

Angola MapAngola has three main ethnic groups, each speaking a Bantu language: Umbundu 37%, Kimbundu 25%, and Kikongo 13%. Other groups include Chokwe, Lunda, Ganguela, Nhaneca-Humbe, Ambo, Herero, and Xindunga. In addition, mixed racial (European and African) people account for about 2%, with a small (1%) population of whites. Portuguese make up the largest non-Angolan population, with at least 30,000 (though many native-born Angolans can claim Portuguese nationality under Portuguese law). Portuguese is both the official and predominant language.

Although Portuguese was Angola's official language, the great majority of Angolans (more than 95 percent of the total population) used languages of the Bantu family--some closely related, others remotely so--that were spoken by most Africans living south of the equator and by substantial numbers north of it.

Angola's remaining indigenous peoples fell into two disparate categories. A small number, all in southern Angola, spoke so-called Click languages (after a variety of sounds characteristic of them) and differed physically from local African populations. These Click speakers shared characteristics, such as small stature and lighter skin color, linking them to the hunting and gathering bands of southern Africa sometimes referred to by Europeans as Bushmen. The second category consisted of mestisos, largely urban and living in western Angola. Most spoke Portuguese, although some were also acquainted with African languages, and a few may have used such a language exclusively.

Bantu languages have been categorized by scholars into a number of sets of related tongues. Some of the languages in any set may be more or less mutually intelligible, especially in the areas where speakers of a dialect of one language have had sustained contact with speakers of a dialect of another language. Given the mobility and interpenetration of communities of Bantu speakers over the centuries, transitional languages--for example, those that share characteristics of two tongues--developed in areas between these communities. Frequently, the languages of a set, particularly those with many widely distributed speakers, would be divided into several dialects. In principle, dialects of the same language are considered mutually intelligible, although they are not always so in fact.

Language alone does not define an ethnic group. On the one hand, a set of communities lacking mutually intelligible dialects may for one reason or another come to share a sense of identity in any given historical period. On the other hand, groups sharing a common language or mutually intelligible ones do not necessarily constitute a single group. Thus the Suku--most of them in Zaire but some in Angola -- had a language mutually intelligible with at least some dialects of the Bakongo. However, their historical experience, including a period of domination by Lunda speakers, made the Suku a separate group.

Although common language and culture do not automatically make a common identity, they provide a framework within which such an identity can be forged, given other historical experience. Insofar as common culture implies a set of common perceptions of the way the world works, it permits individuals and groups sharing it to communicate more easily with one another than with those who lack that culture. However, most Angolan groups had, as part of that common culture, the experience and expectation of political fragmentation and intergroup rivalry. That is, because one community shared language and culture with another, political unity or even neutrality did not follow, nor did either community assume that it should. With the exception of the Bakongo and the Lunda, no group had experienced a political cohesion that transcended smaller political units (chiefdoms or, at best, small kingdoms). In the Bakongo case, the early Kongo Kingdom, encompassing most Kikongospeaking communities, had given way by the eighteenth century to politically fragmented entities. In the Lunda case, the empire had been so far-flung and internal conflict had become so great by the nineteenth century that political cohesion was limited.

Very often, the name by which a people has come to be known was given them by outsiders. For example, the name "Mbundu" was first used by the Bakongo. Until such naming, and sometimes long after, the various communities or sections of a set sharing a language and culture were likely to call themselves by other terms, and even when they came to use the all-encompassing name, they tended to reserve it for a limited number of situations. In virtually all colonial territories, Angola included, the naming process and the tendency to treat the named people as a discrete entity distinct from all others became pervasive.

The process was carried out by the colonial authorities--sometimes with the help of scholars and missionaries--as part of the effort to understand, deal with, and control local populations. Among other things, the Portuguese tended to treat smaller, essentially autonomous groups as parts of larger entities. As time went on, these populations, particularly the more educated among them, seized upon these names and the communities presumably covered by them as a basis for organizing to improve their status and later for nationalist agitation. Among the first to do so were mestisos in the Luanda area. Although most spoke Portuguese and had a Portuguese male ancestor in their genealogies, the mestisos often spoke Kimbundu as a home language. It is they who, in time, initiated the development of a common Mbundu identity.

In general, then, the development of ethnic consciousness in a group encompassing a large number of communities reflected shifts from the identification of individuals with small-scale units to at least partial identification with larger entities and from relatively porous boundaries between such entities to less permeable ones. But the fact that these larger groups were the precipitates of relatively recent historical conditions suggests that they were not permanently fixed. Changes in these conditions could lead to the dissolution of the boundaries and to group formation on bases other than ethnicity.

In any case, ethnic identities are rarely exclusive; identification with other entities, new or old, also occurs in certain situations because not all sections of a large ethnic group have identical interests. It remained likely that earlier identities would be appealed to in some situations or that new cleavages would surface in others. For example, descent groups or local communities were often involved in competitive relations in the precolonial or colonial eras, and the conditions similar to those giving rise to such competition might still prevail in some areas. In other contexts, younger members of an ethnic group may consider their interests to be different from those of their elders, or a split between urban and rural sections of an ethnic entity may become salient.

In Angola, the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, especially in the late 1980s, had significant repercussions on ethnic identification. For example, many of those forced to abandon rural areas and traditional ethnic communities for urban dwellings no longer engaged in agricultural activities and the small town life that defined their communities. Instead, they were forced to become urban laborers in ethnically mixed surroundings. Many were compelled by their new circumstances to learn new languages and give up traditional life-styles in order to survive in their new environment.

The maternal mortality rate in Angola is one of the highest in the world, with 1,850 deaths per 100,000 live births.1 Prenatal care is not easily available and many women lack access to emergency obstetric services. The utilization of family planning services is low. Contraceptive prevalence is low, estimated to be 1.8%.1 Infant mortality rate is very high and estimated at 195 per 1,000 births.1 All of this data varies geographically between urban and rural areas. Only 8% of Angolan women (aged 15 to 49) have adequate knowledge of HIV/AIDS transmission and prevention, and nearly one-third of all Angolan women have never heard of HIV/AIDS. In 1999, 19% of sex workers in Luanda tested HIV-positive. Two years later, that number had jumped to 32.8%.

With an annual population growth rate in Angola approaching 3%, the estimated population in Angola in mid-2003 was 13.1 million.11 The population is young, with nearly half of the population under 15 years of age (49%); the median age of the population in 2000 was 15.9 years. Women of reproductive age, between 15 and 49 years old, account for 42.7% of the population. Life expectancy is higher for women (46.6 years) than for men (43.9 years).

The age structure of a population affects a nation's key socioeconomic issues. Countries with young populations (high percentage under age 15) need to invest more in schools, while countries with older populations (high percentage ages 65 and over) need to invest more in the health sector. The age structure can also be used to help predict potential political issues. For example, the rapid growth of a young adult population unable to find employment can lead to unrest.

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Page last modified: 22-08-2013 18:26:35 ZULU