Be informed. Be challenged. Be inspired.

Under a bridge, Angola’s left-out youth look to ballot box for change

Luanda, Angola

Two years ago, Francisco Mapanda and Arante Kivuvu were jobless during the COVID-19 pandemic so they started selling whiskey and cigarettes under a bridge in Angola’s capital, Luanda.

To ease the boredom, they read books, and when they realised others also wanted to read, they got more – until their hawking spot in the suburbs of Luanda turned into a makeshift library of nearly 4,000 titles.

Now, as Angola approaches its closest and tensest election since multi-party democracy arrived in 1992, the “library” has also become a spot where young Angolans debate their country’s future – and lament its many failures.

Angola Luanda library1

Francisco Mapanda, one of the founding members of a makeshift library, walks out of the ‘library’ under the bridge, in Luanda’s suburbs in Angola on 22nd August. PICTURE: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko.

Mapanda, 33, stood before a big blue container full of books, bemoaning that so few young people had prospects. 

“This space is an alternative to fill a void,” he said. 

Watching a friend play basketball at Luanda’s palm-lined bay area, Francesco Saunga, 22, said he, like many of Angola’s under-employed youths, makes ends meet with petty trade. 

“A lot of people are unemployed. We, young people, need jobs so we don’t end up [just] wandering around,” he said. 

Despite nearly five decades in power and billions of dollars worth of oil pumped, the MPLA-led government has failed to lift Angola’s overwhelmingly young populace out of poverty – under-25s make up 60 per cent of the population, and more than half are unemployed. 

UNITA, a rebel group turned opposition party led by Adalberto Costa, Jr, is hoping to capitalise on these frustrations, as millions of youths vote for the first time on Wednesday.

It is promising more jobs and better education than has been provided by the party that has governed Angola since it won independence from Portugal in 1975.

Since taking power in 2017, President Joao Lourenço has taken a tough line on corruption and promised to reform Angola’s oil-addicted economy so that it works for everyone.

Angola Luanda library2

A man reads a book while other one takes a nap, at a makeshift ‘library’ under a bridge, at the Luanda surburbs in Angola, on 22nd August. PICTURE: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

“Hard life”
The country emerged from a 27-year civil war between the MPLA and UNITA in 2002, but its youth barely remember this history, and worry more about economic ills.

“The vote of these young people is key because most want change,” said Zola Bambi, head of a social cohesion and justice watchdog.

Elson Caluewo, 27, had to drop out of college when he ran out of money. He used to support the MPLA but now wants change. 

“It’s a hard life,” he said. “The state…does not create conditions for a decent way of living.”     

We rely on our readers to fund Sight's work - become a financial supporter today!

For more information, head to our Subscriber's page.

The danger of all this youthful enthusiasm, analysts say, is that their frustrations could quickly boil over if, as in past polls, the MPLA wins an election seen as fraudulent — something the electoral commission has promised won’t happen.

A report by the Institute for Security Studies said that in that case, violent demonstrations would likely follow. 

“Even if there are no protests immediately after the election, the challenges the government faces in addressing basic economic needs are still going to put the country at a high risk of protests [in the future],” said Justin Pearce, senior lecturer in history at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University.

– With reporting by MIGUEL PEREIRA and SIPHIWE SIBEKO in Luanda, Angola.


sight plus logo

Sight+ is a new benefits program we’ve launched to reward people who have supported us with annual donations of $26 or more. To find out more about Sight+ and how you can support the work of Sight, head to our Sight+ page.



We’re interested to find out more about you, our readers, as we improve and expand our coverage and so we’re asking all of our readers to take this survey (it’ll only take a couple of minutes).

To take part in the survey, simply follow this link…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.