At the Miss Universe pageant Monday, Lelia Lopes of Angola emerged from a field of 89 beauty queens to win the crown. She is the first contestant from the African country to do so.
The 25-year-old told reporters she planned to continue doing “everything that my country needs,” including work with poor children and elderly and continuing the “fight against HIV.”
Lopes’s country is marked by extreme poverty despite its rich reservoirs of oil.
Angola was embroiled in a 27-year civil war until 2002, according to the CIA World Factbook. An estimated 300,000 people died during this period, the BBC reports. Others put that figure at closer to half a million or even one million.
Of the coastal country’s over 18 million people, 38 percent lived in poverty as of 2009. Life expectancy at birth for men is 50 and for women, 53, according the United Nations’s most recent statistics. An estimated 2 percent of the country’s population suffers from HIV or AIDs, according to USAID.
These conditions stand in contrast to the growth some Angolans have seen thanks to the country’s oil production. The country, a member of OPEC, is one of the top oil exporters in Africa, with exports valued at over $ 47 billion in 2010.
This discrepancy has led to anti-government protests. In April 2010, the Human Rights Watch criticized the country's officials for not passing the oil wealth to the people. Voice of America and the Committee to Protect Journalists recently condemned the government for allegedly attacking reporters covering one such event.
And just a day after Lopes won the crown, Reuters reported that 17 Angolans were sentenced to three months in prison for participating in a pro-democracy rally.