The Portuguese started to develop townships, trading posts, logging camps and small processing factories. From 1764 onwards, there was a gradual change from a slave-based society to one based on production for domestic consumption and export. Meanwhile, with the independence of Brazil in 1822, the slave trade was abolished in 1836, and in 1844 Angola's ports were opened to foreign shipping. By 1850, Luanda was one of the greatest and most developed Portuguese cities in the vast Portuguese Empire outside Mainland Portugal, full of trading companies, exporting (together with Benguela) palm and peanut oil, wax, copal, timber, ivory, cotton, coffee, and cocoa, among many other products. Maize, tobacco, dried meat and cassava flour also began to be produced locally. The Angolan bourgeoisie was born. From the 1920s to the 1960s, strong economic growth, abundant natural resources and development of infrastruture, led to the arrival of even more Portuguese settlers from the metropole.
The Portuguese discovered petroleum in Angola in 1955. Production began in the Cuanza basin in the 1950s, in the Congo basin in the 1960s, and in the exclave of Cabinda in 1968. The Portuguese government granted operating rights for Block Zero to the Cabinda Gulf Oil Company, a subsidiary of ChevronTexaco, in 1955. Oil production surpassed the exportation of coffee as Angola's largest export in 1973.
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A leftist military-led coup d'état, started on April 25, 1974, in Lisbon, overthrew the Marcelo Caetano government in Portugal, and promised to hand over power to an independent Angolan government. Mobutu Sese Seko, the President of Zaire, met with António de Spínola, the transitional President of Portugal, on September 15, 1974 on Sal island in the Cape Verdes, crafting a plan to empower Holden Roberto of the National Liberation Front of Angola, Jonas Savimbi of UNITA, and Daniel Chipenda of the MPLA's eastern faction at the expense of MPLA leader Agostinho Neto while retaining the facade of national unity. Mobutu and Spínola wanted to present Chipenda as the MPLA head, Mobutu particularly preferring Chipenda over Neto because Chipenda supported autonomy for Cabinda. The Angolan exclave has immense petroleum reserves estimated at around 300 million tons (~300 kg) which Zaire, and thus the Mobutu government, depended on for economic survival. After independence thousands of white Portuguese left, most of them to Portugal and many travelling overland to South Africa. There was an immediate crisis because the indigenous African population lacked the skills and knowledge needed to run the country and maintain its well-developed infrastructure.
The Angolan government created Sonangol, a state-run oil company, in 1976. Two years later Sonangol received the rights to oil exploration and production in all of Angola. After independence from Portugal in 1975, Angola was ravaged by a horrific civil war between 1975 and 2002.
Despite the increase in civil warfare in late 1998, the economy grew by an estimated 4% in 1999. The government introduced new currency denominations in 1999, including a 1 and 5 kwanza note.
Angola produced over 3 million carats of diamonds per year in 2003, with its production expected to grow to 10 million carats per year by 2007. In 2004 China's Eximbank approved a $2 billion line of credit to Angola to rebuild infrastructure. The economy grew 18% in 2005 and growth was expected to reach 26% in 2006 and stay above 10% for the rest of the decade.
ChevronTexaco started pumping from Block 14 in January 2000, but production has decreased to in 2007 due to the poor quality of the oil. Angola joined the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries on January 1, 2007.
Cabinda Gulf Oil Company found Malange-1, an oil reservoir in Block 14, on August 9, 2007.
Despite its abundant natural resources, output per capita is among the world's lowest. Subsistence agriculture provides the main livelihood for 85% of the population. Oil production and the supporting activities are vital to the economy, contributing about 45% to GDP and 90% of exports. Growth is almost entirely driven by rising oil production which surpassed in late-2005 and which is expected to grow to by 2007. Control of the oil industry is consolidated in Sonangol Group, a conglomerate which is owned by the Angolan government. With revenues booming from oil exports, the government has started to implement ambitious development programs in building roads and other basic infrastructure for the nation.
In the last decade of the colonial period, Angola was a major African food exporter but now imports almost all its food. Because of severe wartime conditions, including extensive planting of landmines throughout the countryside, agricultural activities have been brought to a near standstill. Some efforts to recover have gone forward, however, notably in fisheries. Coffee production, though a fraction of its pre-1975 level, is sufficient for domestic needs and some exports. In sharp contrast to a bleak picture of devastation and bare subsistence is expanding oil production, now almost half of GDP and 90% of exports, at . Diamonds provided much of the revenue for Jonas Savimbi's UNITA rebellion through illicit trade. Other rich resources await development: gold, forest products, fisheries, iron ore, coffee, and fruits.
Exports in 2004 reached . The vast majority of Angola's exports, 92% in 2004, are petroleum products. worth of diamonds, 7.5% of exports, were sold abroad that year. Nearly all of Angola's oil goes to the United States, in 2006, making it the eighth largest supplier of oil to the United States, and to the People's Republic of China, in 2006. In the first quarter of 2008, Angola became the main exporter of oil to China. The rest of its petroleum exports go to Europe and Latin America. U.S. companies account for more than half the investment in Angola, with Chevron-Texaco leading the way. The U.S. exports industrial goods and services, primarily oilfield equipment, mining equipment, chemicals, aircraft, and food, to Angola, while principally importing petroleum. Trade between Angola and South Africa exceeded USD 300 million in 2007.
Block Zero provides the majority of Angola's crude oil production with produced annually. The largest fields in Block Zero are Takula (Area A), Numbi (Area A), and Kokongo (Area B). ChevronTexaco operates in Block Zero with a 39.2% share. SONANGOL, the state oil company, Total, and ENI-Agip own the rest of the block. ChevronTexaco also operates Angola's first producing deepwater section, Block 14, with .
The United Nations has criticized the Angolan government for using torture, rape, summary executions, arbitrary detention, and disappearances, actions which Angolan government has justified on the need to maintain oil output.
Angola is the third-largest trading partner of the United States in Sub-Saharan Africa, largely because of its petroleum exports. The U.S. imports 7% of its oil from Angola, about three times as much as it imported from Kuwait just prior to the Gulf War in 1991. The U.S. Government has invested USD $4 billion in Angola's petroleum sector.
The Angolan government loses $375 million annually from diamond smuggling. In 2003 the government began Operation Brilliant, an anti-smuggling investigation that arrested and deported 250,000 smugglers between 2003 and 2006. Rafael Marques, a journalist and human rights activist, described the diamond industry in his 2006 Angola's Deadly Diamonds report as plagued by "murders, beatings, arbitrary detentions and other human rights violations." Marques called on foreign countries to boycott Angola's "conflict diamonds."