Angola needs to strengthen social protection

With the ending of the war in 2002, Angola has recorded tremendous progress in relation to poverty reduction, reduction of maternal and child mortality, children enrollment in the educational system and an increase in access to drinking water. However, large pockets of the population still remain in poverty and without adequate access to basic services and could benefit from more inclusive development policies. Income inequality is a major driver of poverty in Angola. With a Gini coefficient estimated at 0.54, Angola ranks as the fifth most unequal country in Africa.

The reduction of poverty, particularly of extreme poverty, continues to be a priority for the Angolan State and the development stakeholders in the country. The “Estratégia de Combate à Pobreza – ECP” as last revised in 2005 is still the main strategy document which orientates the main areas of intervention for government and stakeholders. A proposal for a new National Social Assistance Policy (PNAS) waits since 2014 for approval by the Council of Ministers. The challenge remains that of providing adequate human and financial resources and operational guidelines for the implementation of key policies and programmes to reduce poverty and build a more cohesive society.

The oil price crash since 2014 has had devastating effects in Angola, leading to a substantial impact on budget balances. A portion of the potential revenue forgone can be traced to an inefficient social policy. The Government responded with a new National Social Assistance Policy (NSAP), including the gradual elimination of most fuel subsidies and an extension of the social protection program cash transfer programme “Cartão Kikuia”. The World Bank prepares a “Subsidy Reform and Extension of Social Protection Program” to support this.

The Cartão Kikuia program aims to provide a non-cash transfer for the acquisition of food products, agricultural inputs and other basic goods. It is focused on vulnerable families, especially headed by women. Main instrument is a card that in theory allows each beneficiary to purchase essential goods in the local “Kikuia Store”, most of them available only in Luanda. In contrast to Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, Cartão Kikuia faces severe design and implementation challenges, partially due to limited public sector capacities and resources. The clear advantage of cash transfers is that the Government does not need to get involved in the supply side of local markets. Instead, it can focus its administrative efforts on reaching the poorest population. In-kind transfers require a more complex infrastructure that increases the demand for Government administration and centralization. The Cartão Kikuia program is designed with the Government playing the dominant role in its implementation. In the current context, it is questionable whether the Government has the capacity to implement the program efficiently.

Angola suffers from very high rural poverty. In rural areas, one in two people are living below the poverty line. The Central Highlands were most affected by the war. The majority of inhabitants have been displaced at least once. Women and children are particularly vulnerable, especially those living in the most excluded rural areas. Mass migration to the cities has brought significant stress on physical infrastructure and led to rapid degradation of urban settlements and the complete collapse of social services.

Luanda, the most expensive city in the world, has some of the highest poverty rates with 68 percent of Angolans below the poverty line. The city has some of the highest infant mortality and lowest life expectancy rates in the world. Child and maternal mortality rates are also dangerously high. About 70 percent of Angola’s citizens live in Luanda’s immense informal settlements called “musseques”, where public services function to a very limited degree and the infrastructure that does exist has deteriorated due to negligence, lack of maintenance and lack of sufficient qualified staff.

Civil society needs to grow in capacity to articulate demands for poverty reduction and to enhance dialogue and engagement with local government. Poverty reduction cannot be achieved without significant changes in the profound inequalities that exist in Angola and without bringing in the many groups that are currently socially excluded. Social structures do exist, including traditional women’s’ savings groups (kixikilas), churches and faith-based organisations and Residents’ Committees, which represent government at the lowest level (comuna). Local authorities have limited capacity. There is limited participation of citizens in decisions that effect their lives.