* Angola celebrates anniversary of end of long civil war
* President Dos Santos praised for stability, oil boom
* But critics say he has failed to reduce poverty, graft
By Shrikesh Laxmidas
LUANDA, April 4 (Reuters) - A decade after the end of a civil war that killed half a million people, wrecked cities and sowed its interior with mines, Angola’s oil-fueled renaissance is visible in the cranes and skyscrapers that fill the skyline of the seaside capital Luanda.
Now vying to be “Africa’s Dubai”, Luanda and its building boom reflect the progress made since rebel group UNITA, decapitated by the death in battle of its leader Jonas Savimbi, signed an April 4, 2002 peace accord with President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and his victorious ruling MPLA party.
Chinese-built roads and railways now link the country’s main cities and Angolans talk of finally being able to travel without crossing a war zone as they acknowledge the benefits of peace after a crippling, exhausting war that lasted 27 years.
But many citizens say however they feel left out of the post-war economic boom that has elevated Angola to Africa’s No. 2 oil producer behind Nigeria. They accuse Dos Santos’ government of leaving the poor behind while a ruling elite reaps the spoils of peace.
“The leaders have forgotten us, they are just building for themselves,” said Samuel Quitangui, sitting outside his zinc-roofed house in central Luanda where he shares two small rooms with his eight children.
A tall, burly man now in his forties, Quitangui was drafted into the MPLA army aged just 15. He fought for seven years, but with the war long over says the government has left him struggling, doing badly paid odd jobs as a driver and unable to give his children an education beyond primary level.
“I still have no war pension. They promised us jobs, a life ... 10 years and we still have to wait - when? When will the day come for us?” he asks.
Others have fared better. Former UNITA General Geraldo Ukwachitembo, who fought under the nom de guerre “Kamorteiro” and signed the peace deal for the rebel side in 2002, is now the number 2 in the unified army, a testimony to reconciliation.
“We felt the weight of responsibility, because we were signing the peace on behalf of so many,” he told Reuters.
Almost immediately after gaining independence from Portugal in 1975, Angola’s competing liberation factions started a civil war, turning the country into a Cold War battleground that pitted the Russian- and Cuban-backed MPLA against a UNITA supported by apartheid South Africa and the United States.
But since the end of the war, Angola, which is also rich in diamonds, minerals, fisheries and farmland, doubled oil output to around 1.8 million barrels per day and, after a slowdown due to the slump in oil prices in 2008-9, is expected to return to double-digit economic growth this year.
Dos Santos, 69, whose 32 years in power make him Africa’s second longest-serving ruler after Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, has been responding to the critics.
“To those who say they don’t see the benefits, I say no. It’s with that money that we build roads, bridges, hospitals and give scholarships,” he said last month.
But in a New Year’s speech, Dos Santos acknowledged there were big social deficits still to be met in health, education, housing and sanitation.
“I recognise as natural the hope and will to see all problems solved, but time is against us, everything needs time,” he said.
Most analysts feel however that social indicators among Angola’s 18 million people could and should be much better given its huge oil wealth. According to the IMF, Angola’s GDP per capita in 2010 was $4,328, among the highest in Africa.
“The mean years of schooling for an adult are just 4.4 years, life expectancy is 48.1 years, and a staggering 22 percent of newborn babies will not survive beyond their fifth birthday,” British think-tank Chatham House said in a report.
After winning the war, Dos Santos’ MPLA crushed its rivals in a 2008 election, obtaining 82 percent of the votes.
Dos Santos often talks about national unity, and the swift demobilization of UNITA troops ensured internal security.
But his government faces mounting criticism at home and abroad for being secretive, lacking transparency and doing too little to fight widespread graft and poverty.
This has put Dos Santos’ administration in the firing line of human rights groups, most recently for using force to quash a small, Arab Spring-inspired youth movement that has staged anti-government protests.
Thanks to his record of keeping Angola stable and turning it into an oil power, Dos Santos and his MPLA are expected to easily win an election in the third quarter of this year, although questions remain about the succession after him.
“Angola is now a key oil producer and supplier to the largest economies - among the top ten oil vendors to the United States and the second to China ,” said Victor Lopes, economist for Sub-Saharan Africa at Standard Chartered.
If licences issued in December to explore ultra-deep waters result in finds as big as those in similar rock formations off Brazil, Angola’s oil standing will grow further.
Joining OPEC has given it status and a successful relationship with the IMF earned the government praise for curbing inflation, keeping the kwanza currency stable and boosting foreign exchange reserves.
Angola’s regional influence has grown too.
“It is a key partner in the Southern African Development Community, influential in the Gulf of Guinea and active in the African Union,” said Belarmino Van-Dunem, political analyst at Luanda’s Lusiada University.
With oil prices always volatile, the nation’s main challenge is to reduce its dependence on crude and create jobs for its burgeoning youth population. Developing agriculture could be one way to do this, but significant progress has yet to be seen.
“Now it’s about diversifying and the government knows it. The non-oil side is critical to create jobs for young Angolans, because oil alone is not going to do that,” said Chatham House analyst Alex Vines.