Sérgio Dundão

Angola is not less ethnically, culturally and socially diverse than any other African state. Yet there has been little information about the exact composition of the population, as the last census in the country was held in 1970 during the colonial war, thus producing dubious results. During the month of May a census fever swept through the country, as the first general population and housing census was held since colonial rule.

The first census in Angola was held in 1770. The main purpose of the censuses during colonial times was to get a straight idea about the social and ethnic composition of the population. Black Africans were grouped into two categories: assimilated and natives. But so were the Portuguese, who could either be Portuguese, or “second class Portuguese”. To this last group belonged the children of Portuguese, who were already born in the colonies. 

Both black Africans and “second class Portuguese” were excluded from high positions of some kind of social relevance. The Africans classified as “natives” remained within their own social structures and were exploited both socially and economically. Therefore, colonial censuses were held in the spirit of racism, segregation and discrimination. 

Nevertheless, the general census in May intended to move away from the discriminatory assumptions of the colonial censuses. Thus, it did not confine itself to a statistical collection of population and housing data, but its aim was also to cover other relevant social aspects. 

For example, one of the questions referred to the language spoken at home, what allows measuring the mother tongue of Angolan families. Additionally, according to the National Institute of Statistics’ website, the census was also “an evaluation of the poverty reduction strategy and the assessment of progress indicators within the framework of the Millenium Development Goals.”

In order to coordinate the census, an Interministerial Supporting and Coordinating Commission Board (CIACCC) was created, which consisted of 11 ministers working under the vigilance of Edeltrudes Maurício Fernandes Gaspar da Costa, minister of the state and the chief of staff of the president of Angola. The board’s task was to assist the preparations, to promote the work of field agents in less accessible areas, to control the work of census agents, to ensure the coherence of information and the territorial coverage, and finally, to propose other forms of management and control of data.

Due to the census schools closed for the entire month of May, as some of the students and teachers also acted as census agents. According to RTP, the Portuguese Public Service Broadcasting Organisation, there were about 60 thousand field agents collecting data, with jeeps, ships and helicopters at their disposal.

Like that the agents were able to enter areas that are difficult to access and where the population is dispersed, as well as the ghettos in Luanda that are often out of state control. The census cost the Angolan state about 20 billion Kwanzas (147.9 million Euros). 

Lacking experience, the authorities requested external assistance, such as the National Institute of Statistics from Mozambique, Cape Verde and Brazil and the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA).  In addition, the government used all possible state owned and private media channels, NGOs and political parties to spread the importance of the participation in the census. 

José Eduardo Santos, president of Angola, stated that “every family, every national or foreign citizen must fulfill their duty of providing, without any fear, the information requested by the agents. Doing this, you will be part of solving a national problem, which is to determine the size and composition of the Angolan population.”

So far, the census was the only achievement of the Angolan government that hasn’t undergone any kind of political protests by the opposition forces. Still, there was one controversy during the data collection between the ruling party, the MPLA, and the largest opposition party, the UNITA. Virgílio de Fontes Pereira, leader of MPLA’s parliamentary group, in an interview with the Voice of America revealed that the opposition, especially in the province of Huilá, “started to tell people not to join the census as it is a ploy of the MPLA, a ploy of José Eduardo dos Santos himself. It is better not to join, because their objective is to control you (…).”

But the claims were disputed by the UNITA’s provincial secretary, Judith Amelia, stating that the intentions to sabotage the census “did not exist, as since January UNITA’s leadership is fully engaged to raise awareness among citizens about its importance, which is in the interest of all Angolans.”

The Angolan civil society was also actively involved in raising awareness about the census. Angolan basketball stars Jean Jacques de Conceição and Miguel Lotunda organized a game dedicated to the census, including many musicians, such as The Groove. Taxis, popularly called candongueiros, had posters about the census on their windows. There were also many festivals and parties dedicated to raising awareness. There was a real “census fever” in the city of Luanda, as one could hardly leave the house without finding references to it.  

Sérgio Manuel Dundão was born in Luanda, Angola. He has been living in Lisbon for the past 14 years where he studied Politics and International Relations at the New University of Lisbon. He wrote his MSc dissertation with the title: Armed conflict and State Building: A comparison between Angola, Mozambique and Guiné-Bissau.

Image via BBC News.