Angola Land Reform and Rural Transformation Overview

Angola Land Reform and Rural Transformation Overview

Historically, Angola’s native population went through a process of land dispossession under Angola’s Civil Code instituted by the Portuguese colonial authorities.[1] The law effectively transferred ownership of all prime land from the indigenous Angolans to the occupying settlers. At the same time, the Portuguese made the customary land tenure system redundant by not recognising customary land tenure as legally binding. All land and its resources were in the hands of the colonialists, marginalising natives by not allowing them to formally buy private land. Natives were granted occupation and land use rights, but they were not exempted from colonial land grabs. By forcing the native population off their land, the colonial system intended to create a source of cheap labour for their agricultural and mining ventures in the former colony.

The post-colonial period presented a different set of challenges for the poor rural population in Angola. The 27 years of civil war interrupted any real efforts aimed at redressing the colonial legacy of dispossession and marginalisation.  At the same time, there was a significant amount of internal displacement and destruction, induced by the civil war which was mostly concentrated in the rural provinces of Angola, thereby shifting already complicated communal land tenure arrangements. Consequently, the population suffered a decline in agricultural production and increased food insecurity among rural citizens.

After independence, the government of Angola decreed that all land was to become state land. The 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Angola vested all land ownership in the hands of the government, effectively nationalising land and natural resources.[2] This was aimed at giving the government effective control over all land rights in the face of a possible protracted civil war that ultimately ended in 2002. In 2004 a new Land Law was promulgated to reconfigure land governance and ownership arrangements to benefit the economy beyond the political consideration.

The 1992 Act could not co-exist with an investor leaning neo-liberal economic shift. According to the 2004 Land Law Act Section 2 Article 9 (1) “the state respects and protects the land rights of which rural communities are titleholders including those founded in use or custom”. The change was significant because the government recognised the customary land tenure arrangements as legally binding for the first time since the colonial period. The Act has effectively brought change for the previously marginalised native population, because rural communities were characterised by rampant inequality as they were intended to be employees rather than owners of means of production, including land, thus hindering rural development and transformation.

Article 7(1) states that the transfer of property rights and the establishment of limited land rights can only take place with the objective of guaranteeing useful and effective usage. The spirit of the 2004 land laws is that property transfers, specifically land transfers, have to prioritise social and economic development. Furthermore, the land law endeavours to harmonise customary practice and modern-day free holding land governance and property rights discourse. However, the actual operationalisation and implementation of these constitutional rights has been hampered by lack of political will, as well as the inherent contradiction in the same law. Article 9(2) states that the state retains the right to expropriate communal land. Although communal land tenure is legally permissible, the state has radical right over all land in Angola.

This undermines security of tenure and puts rural livelihoods at risk of state expropriation. As a result, the 55% of the Angolan population living in rural areas[3] is at high risk of further marginalisation, since the government is eager to attract foreign investors and develop new infrastructure across the country, which may come at the expense of rural communities. The 2004 Land Law makes a provision for families and traditional communities to register land that had been in their possession through customary law prior to colonisation. However, the process of registering family and community land has been slow, worsening the marginalisation of rural citizens.

The government recently introduced the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure programme (VGGT) with assistance from the United Nations (UN).  The VGGT aims to improve and promote secure tenure rights and equitable land access at a community level, as means for eradicating hunger and poverty. It intends to facilitate the alignment of customary land tenure with the land law in a manner that is inclusive and broad-based. It sets out the framework in which a country can develop its own strategies, legislation, programmes and activities related to land governance and land reform. The programme is formally carried out using the Social Tenure Domain Model (STDM) which is a pro-poor land administration tool that focuses on the relationship between people and land. It tracks a person’s ethnic group in relation to the groups widely known location and assists land dispossessed people in post-colonial and post-civil war Angola. The programme has a USD 4.2 million Budget over a three-year period and provides internationally recognised principles and practices of land tenure regarding policy, legal and institutional processes.[4] In addition to correcting legal compatibility, the STDM will use the budget allocated to the programme to provide concessionary loans to small-scale farmers to boost productivity in rural areas.[5]

Although the VGGT programme has contributed to land reform, it neglects certain aspects of rural transformation because it operates solely in the context of food security. Issues of alternative rural livelihood activities are not considered. The design of the programme is geared towards making household tracts of land more agriculturally productive. The reality of the Angolan rural life is that, after nearly three decades of civil war, many people are only returning to their land. As such, the indigenous attachment to farming has been eroded with the displacement caused by the civil war over time. The programme should take a holistic approach and also operate in the context of skills training and job creation, particularly for women and youth. For instance, some land-based income-generating activities that have been observed to be viable for the rural population in Angola include charcoal mining and logging. Both the rural and urban poor in Angola rely on wood and charcoal as a source of energy and rural entrepreneurs, largely women and young people, have tapped into this market.

Post-conflict land governance and land reform policies have improved the rural community, for instance the female agricultural labour force has increased by 2.55% from 2004 to present. This is attributed to the land tenure system being a pivotal part of reducing rural unemployment and poverty, and key to succeeding in rural transformation in a broader sense. Land ownership policies ensure growth in agricultural production and agri-businesses, increasing the number of working age adults entering into formal and informal employment. It further strengthens the rural labour force because rural employment opportunities reduce rural-urban migration.[6]

In support of non–farm rural livelihoods, the Angolan government has invested USD 250 million over three to five years into the timber processing sector with its sovereign wealth fund Fundo Soberano de Angola (FSDEA). These investments will create sustainable rural based employment and training, as well as promote economic growth in the rural areas. Wood and related products are exported mainly to the USA and countries in the SADC region in the form of furniture and accessories.[7] The sector is largely privatised and contributes USD 150 million annually to the national GDP.[8] The forestry department ensures timber and wood related activities can be replicated and scaled up, to allow the most vulnerable and economically deprived people to enter the market even without sufficient skills and funding. The government commits to reconstructing a sustainable forest management base by leveraging from the country’s extensive possession of forestry resources and biodiversity with economic potential. The government allocates USD 375 000 (0.06% of its agricultural budget) to forestry initiatives such as developing the Mlombo woodland area which accounts for about 80% of the country.[9]

In targeted efforts at harnessing rural-urban linkages and rural transformation, the government supports rural livelihoods with inclusive agricultural value chains. Rural-based industries related to agriculture, like food processing, packaging and distribution are supported by the Program for Restructuring of the Logistics and Distribution System of Products Essential to the Population (PRESILD). This continued effort to support rural transformation is imperative in the sense that it increases the value-addition to products and profits for the producers, and it also involves accessing and distributing rural based products to urban markets for local consumers and exports.[10]

To curb spatial disparities in rural areas and improve the flow of goods, the government, through the support of the International Fund for Agriculture Development, (IFAD) focuses on infrastructure and services development in rural areas by building roads and bridges to integrate urban and rural areas, because goods are delayed or unable to reach intended markets if there is a lack of adequate infrastructure. An integrated approach fosters connectivity between urban and rural areas; reducing urban agglomeration economies. Rural areas need to obtain a high level of information and standards from urban areas to meet the demands of the international markets and trends. However, it is argued that an entrepreneurial outlook to integration may have a negative aspect to rural based entrepreneurs, due to their lower social capital compared to their urban counterparts who have.[11] On the contrary, rural settlements need to maximise profits on commodities, unavailable in urban areas, such as forestry, by strengthening ties with urban markets and building trade agreements. As rural producers are seen as the starting point of a value chain, they hold a bargaining tool which is beneficial to building strong social capital and market competitiveness.

Angola’s forestry resources play a part in rural transformation because they are not limited to logging, but also the production of high value-added products like fuelwood, construction material and homeopathic medicine, as well as services in watershed management, and soil and water conservation. In this case, Angola’s extensive utilisation of forestry resources can be replicated in other African countries that are rich in forestry, to increase the national GDP and allow new industries, particularly rural-based into the marketplace; diversifying the economy. The government should strategise on attracting more investments and public-private partnerships in forestry as well as build skills training and entrepreneurship programmes. Angola should learn from and adopt the South African government policy of B-BBEE which has built a significantly stronger black middle–class through skills training and promoting entrepreneurship in the post-apartheid era. This approach decentralises the economy and ensures the vulnerable sector has a broader participation in the national economy and reduces dependency.

Angola’s land tenure system has shown great prospects in rural transformation, and above all has restored justice for the native population that were dispossessed from their land. It has diversified the oil dependent economy to include sectors such as forestry, and through private-public partnerships, the rural communities have played a part in the national economy, with effort in rural industrialisation and bridging the gap between urban and rural markets. Despite challenges, Angola has made notable progress on the issue of land reform and rural transformation.


[1] ANA 2004. Land Law No. 9 of 2004, National Assembly of the Republic of Angola: Luanda. Available At: [Last Accessed: 23 May 2018].
[2] ANA 2004. Land Law No. 9 of 2004, ibid.
[3] WB 2018. World Urbanisation Prospects’, on the World Bank Website, viewed on 19 February 2018, from
[4] EC 2018. Strengthening Capacity for Improved Governance of Land Tenure and Natural Resources in the Central Highlands in Angola, from the European Commission Website, viewed on 5 January 2018, from
[5] FAO 2018. Support to Land Governance in Sub‑Saharan Africa, on the Food and Agriculture Organisation, viewed on 7 January 2018, from
[6] UNCTAD 2018. UNCTADStat Database, on the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Website, viewed on 18 January 2018, from
[7] FAO 2009. National Forestry Resources Assessment, Food and Agriculture Organisation: Rome. Available At: [Last Accessed 23 May 2018].
[8] FSA 2016.Timber Private Equity Investment Fund, Fundo Soberano de Angola: Luanda. Available At: [Last Accessed: 18 December 2017].
[9] FAO 2009. National Forestry Resources Assessment, ibid.
[10] ITA 2017. Angola: Agricultural Equipment, on the US International Trade Administration Website, viewed on 27 October 2017, from
[11] Mayer, H., Habersetzer, A. & Meili, R. 2016. ‘Rural‑Urban Linkages and Sustainable Regional Development: The Role of Entrepreneurs in Linking Peripheries and Centers’, Sustainability, Vol. 8 (No. 8), pp.: 1‑13. Available At: [Last Accessed: 23 May 2018].




Ringisai Chikohomero

Former Regional Analyst

Motlhabane Modupe

Former Regional Analyst

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