The Angolan civil war from 1975-2002 caused the deaths of half a million people and left the country in shambles. Roads and railways, hospitals and schools were bombed to pieces. The population was left in a limbo with no roads to travel on, and no one to transport them from a to b. When the peace settlement finally was signed in 2002, Angolan authorities had to begin from scratch rebuilding the country’s infrastructure.
-The first stage was to rebuild the country’s main roads and bridges. In terms of economic growth, there is no doubt that these first investments in transport infrastructure have had a positive impact, and the decision to focus one-sidedly on the main roads was a matter of necessity. Yet, there was a lack of long term planning. As Angola is moving to a new stage, we now need to make sure that the investments in infrastructure promote development and that the process of rebuilding is sustainable, says Regina Santos, researcher at the Centro de Estudos e Investigação Cientifica da Universidade Católica de Angola (CEIC), and Ana Duarte, researcher at the Lusíada University in Lobito. They are currently involved in a research project on infrastructure and development in Angola, in cooperation with Elling Tjønneland, senior researcher at the Chr. Michelsen Institute.
Rubbing off on other sectors
Between 2002 and 2009, the Angolan government invested 30.4 billion dollars on infrastructure projects. Yet, there has been challenges. The lack of long term planning has had spreading effects. Also, studies from the CMI-CEIC cooperation show a great potential for more value for money in many construction projects. Low transparency facilitates corruption.
The investments funded by Angolan oil revenues as well as by export credits and loans from China, Brazil and others, are continuing. Secondary roads, hospitals and schools are now on the agenda.
One of the biggest projects is the rehabilitation and modernisation of the Lobito corridor, a transport corridor comprising a port, railways, roads and an airport. It runs from Lobito and Benguela on the Atlantic Ocean all the way through the country and to DR Congo and Zambia. In colonial times, the Benguela railway was an important transport route for the Angola as well as for the mining belts in DR Congo and Zambia. With Chinese assistance the railway is now fully rehabilitated all the way to the border with DR Congo. The Angolan government is now planning for the completion of the main and secondary roads that are part of what is now termed the Lobito corridor.
Prompt completion is crucial for further economic growth and development in the rural parts of Angola. An estimated 40 percent of the population lives in the catchment area of the Lobito corridor. They depend on the railway and roads in the area to get to work, and local producers depend on transport network to get their products to nearby markets. The corridor is important to improve livelihoods of small farmers and rural communities.
-We are now at a stage where it is imperative to use the transport sector actively to create growth in other sectors. One of them is agriculture. Angola has a huge potential in agriculture that has not been explored. Individual farmers as well as the agricultural sector as a whole depend on proper infrastructure and a well-functioning transport sector, says Ana Duarte.
Crucial to regional development
Rehabilitation and extension of the Lobito corridor may also be crucial for Zambia and DR Congo, Angola’s landlocked neigbours in the east. Today they depend on exporting their copped and other mining products through the ports in East Africa. After completion, the Benguela railway corridor will enable exports through the much shorter route to the Lobito port.
The rehabilitation and modernisation of the Lobito Corridor is welcomed and encouraged by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the regional organization for cooperation in Southern Africa. The railway and the roads are seen as important elements in linking markets and communities, trade, mobility of labour, and ultimately to achieve regional economic growth.
The researchers argue that the efforts rebuilding and strengthening the infrastructure not only in Angola, but in the entire region, may be an investment that pays off.
-All the literature in the field argues that infrastructure is crucial for future development in the region. Communications and transport is of direct importance to economic growth, says Ana Duarte.