Amazingly, however, through all these changes, Angola's President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has clung on to power for 29 years after running for election once.
It is hard to stomach the fact that a country that is so wealthy in oil and diamonds and is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world can still have people living in such dreadful conditions and on an average of less than $2 as day, and the wealth just isn't trickling down from the elite. Some of it reportedly is being siphoned off: According to the International Monetary Fund, more than $4 billion in oil receipts have disappeared from Angola's treasury in the last decade.
Even if you are intrigued, I wouldn't recommend going to Angola for a holiday anytime soon, because, surprisingly, Angola is one of the most expensive countries for a foreigner to visit. The hotel we stayed in, which was not one of the famous international chains, cost $380 a night. Our buffet lunch at the hotel cost a fixed $79, and a large bottle of water cost $8. It wasn't much better if you left the hotel though. A meal for four people by the sea in an open Angolan "Buddha-bar-style" disco restaurant cost $300.
Other hotels that cater to foreign visitors cost just as much. Even more surprising is they are all full all the time, so you have to book at least two months in advance. We were told that renting a 300-square-foot apartment costs about $12,000 a month, add a garden and you're up to $36,000 a month, with daily water rationing and frequent power cuts included.
I couldn't work out who the other people staying in our hotel were; they could have been traders, builders, investors or contractors. Most of them lounged about looking bored as they spent their Sunday at the hotel bar eating hamburgers and drinking beer, or by the pool with their cell phones constantly within reach. Aside from the press traveling with the pope, only a few foreign reporters came to Angola to cover the trip. Journalists rarely make it to Angola these days. Not many news organizations can afford to send reporters there and though cell phones work, Internet connections are very poor, making reporting difficult.
Angolan authorities aren't particularly friendly to journalists, either. We got a taste of their kind of welcome when we went through a lengthy security check to get into the presidential palace for the pope's speech to Angolan political leaders and international diplomats, including the U.S. ambassador.
We were led through the palace and back outside and left standing in front of the building for almost three hours while inside the pope made the most politically important speech of his whole trip! A few members of the well-trained Angolan press looked as if they were going to weep for missing the story they were sent to cover, while the Vatican press corps got increasingly irate in the torrid heat. Our various vocal protests were totally disregarded or rebuffed. We were told nobody had been informed that we were meant to be admitted. The Vatican insisted that everyone had been informed and lodged an official complaint.
Most of the Angolans I spoke to throughout our visit seemed to be disturbingly afraid of something, and wary. They don't seem to trust authorities or the police. "There's not much freedom of press here," I was told in a hushed voice by a local at a ceremony, "but best you not write that."