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Latest update : 2008-09-04

Angola became the top oil producer of Africa and is now among the fastest growing economies in the world. A miracle the government says it's responsible for. Meanwhile, the population remains in poverty.

Patrons of the upmarket restaurants on Angola's Ilha de Luanda dine on crayfish and carpaccio, refreshed by the breeze off the lagoon, the only thing that separates them from the nearby slum.
Here on this exclusive strip of land facing Luanda, the country's elite can turn their backs on the stress and congestion of the teeming capital.
The swanky facilities are designed for an unspoiled view of white sands and blue water, and high-paying guests here can be oblivious to the poverty afflicting Africa's fastest growing economy.
"These people eat amongst themselves, they don't share with the poor people," says 25-year-old Joaninha Maria Jose, who also runs a "restaurant" on the strip.
Her eatery consists of a few tables and plastic chairs scattered around a stove used to prepare meals. Her clients are not members of the country's new, petrodollar-fuelled rich.
"All they know how to do is play with their money, to get cars, to show off," she scoffed.
Producing some two million barrels of oil a day, Angola overtook Nigeria as sub-Saharan Africa's largest oil producer in 2008, experiencing two-digit growth rates with the increased oil and production.
The surge in petrodollars, especially since the end of the civil war in 2002 has led to the emergence of extreme wealth which has concentrated in the capital, Luanda.
However, two thirds of the population still live on less than two dollars a day, and ahead of the country's first election in 16 years on Friday, it is unclear how these millions of have-nots will vote.
"In the past, the population accepted (their poverty) because there was the war and the state was not able to provide administration in the whole country," said Paula Roque, Angola expert with the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies.
"After six years of peace, they see that their lives haven't improved significantly."
In Luanda, where five million people live in a city designed for 500,000, "the people who live in poverty are confronted daily with the extravagances of the ruling elite" such as their cars and luxurious homes.
"The wealth gap is so visible in Luanda," Roque told AFP.
According to Roque, this division means the election outcome could defy popular belief that the omnipresence of the ruling MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) leaves them untouchable.
"That is why there will be an element of surprise. We don't know if these people will vote for the opposition or if they will abstain," she explained.
Predictions are complicated by the absence of electoral surveys and the reluctance of the population, still traumatized by the war, to openly discuss politics.
MPLA spokesman in Luanda Fragata de Morais admits that the capital "poses a problem".
"It's difficult to provide water, electricity and health care to everybody. But the people are not angry with the rich, on the contrary they represent hope that there is a way out."
Back on Ilha de Luanda, 37-year-old Manual Jesus Marcos, disagrees.
"When I see these people passing that have so much money while I have nothing, it pains me. And I am not the only one who thinks this way," he warned.
A former soldier, Marcos fought for the MPLA during the bloody 27-year civil conflict, but was forced out of active service by an injury. He now lives in a shack which floods when the tide comes in.
"I was in the army and in the police and now I have nothing. The government should take care of the poor people here. I feel humiliated," he said.

Date created : 2008-09-03