Minister of post and telecommunications Licínio Tavares Ribeiro tells Charlie Corbett how he is sorting out the communications mess left by Angola’s civil war.

Angola’s telecommunications network was savaged by almost 30 years of civil war. Fixed-line infrastructure evaporated and no mobile network was able to emerge. But with support from investors across the world, Angola has been able to get its telecommunications network struggling back to its feet with remarkable speed.

The government released a white paper in 1998 with a series of optimistic medium-term targets for the sector and, according to Licínio Tavares Ribeiro, the minister of post and telecommunications, those targets have already been surpassed.

“The needs of the population grew exponentially after peace,” he says. “The targets [we set ourselves] at the time seemed very optimistic, but we can verify today that all those targets have been overcome. We have nearly six million mobile phone subscribers out of a population of 14 million. In 2001, we had just 20,000 subscribers.”

The government plans to spend a further $1bn on communications infrastructure over the medium term, according to Mr Ribeiro. That money will be spent on fibre optic cables, microwave links and the launch of Angola’s very own satellite.

“By adding this satellite network we believe we can increase our rate of ­penetration up to levels that our macroeconomic indicators are recommending,” Mr Ribeiro says. “We expect that within the next three years we can reach tele­density of 50% (up from 35% now) in mobile telephones and 6% on the fixed network (up from 3% now).”

He understands that building satellites alone will not solve Angola’s communications difficulties. What the country needs more than anything else is skilled operators. “We lack human capacity at the moment, but we are preparing a new dossier to establish a high-level technological institute precisely to take care of these issues,” says Mr Ribeiro.

An added complication for the sector was that the war drove citizens en masse from the hinterland to the coast. Luanda, for example, received almost one quarter of the population of the country.

“This complicates sound management,” says Mr Ribeiro. “The concentration of people in a few towns and cities means private operators such as Unitel and Movicel are reluctant to move outside those areas to the rest of the country. They don’t see a market to attract them outside the cities.”

This is one of the ministry’s biggest challenges: giving communications access to Angolans outside the large conurbations. The solution for Mr Ribeiro has been for the state to focus on the basic infrastructure such as fixed-network lines, fibre optic cables and satellites, while leaving the commercial aspect of telecommunications to the mobile phone companies.

Repairing Angola’s tattered communications network will be a huge task, but it is one that Mr Ribeiro is optimistic about completing. “During the war we were in limbo. Now there is a will among people to excel,” he says. “It was 30 hard years, but people never lost the hope to succeed.”


Teledensity is very low at 0.5 lines per 100 people. Telephone service is sporadic due to inadequate maintenance and repair. Angola Telecom is the licence holder for landline telecommunications in Angola. The company operates the international 128 kilobits per second (kbps) link as well as a 64 kbps link connection via Global One in the US.

There are 29 satellite earth stations, and since 2005 a fibre optic submarine cable provides connectivity to Europe and Asia. The telecommunications services provided include data lines, packet switching, leased lines, cellular mobile and internet facilities. The telephone network is mainly limited to government and business use.

The cellular telephone system is over-subscribed and dominated by two providers: Unitel and Movicel. Many large international companies have installed high-frequency trunking systems to minimise use of the domestic telephone system. In 2005 there were 94,300 main land line users, 1,094,100 mobile line users and 2,502 internet hosts.

(Source: SADC Review 2007/2008).


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