The big bill-board on the way into the city from the airport carries the words, "The most important thing is to solve the people's problems," alongside a picture of President Agostinho Neto.
No slogan seems more appropriate to the present-day mood and concerns of this beleaguered West African nation. Born of a bitter, rending civil war, Marxist Angola still bleeds from wounds inflicted on the economy and body politic at independence a little over three years ago.
Once regarded as the economic jewel of the modestly endowed Portuguese Empire, Angola is today struggling to get the wheels of its shattered economy turning again. Clearly the presence of more than 6,000 Cuban and hundreds of other Eastern-bloc technical assistants has not begun to make up for the departure of most of the 350,000 Portuguese who once not only drove taxis and ran corner newsstands but managed the farms, factories and diamond mines.
The government first reacted to this vacuum of manpower by trying to take control itself of much of the economy, including house construction and small-scale commerce. Virtually all remaining truck drivers, tradespeople and builders found themselves obliged to work for the state.
"If your house needed fixing, you had to go to the state just to get a carpenter," remarked a Western source.
Similarly, the government tried to take over all transportation and much of the marketing network. Then, to protect consumers, it imposed price controls on most staples. But this recently touched off a revolt among the country's major traders, the market women, who set up their own underground black markets or simply refused to sell any goods.
President Neto apparently feels that his government was headed toward too centralized an economy and has acted to change course with a major shakeup within the Cabinet and ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party.
In addition to ousting his powerful economics minister, Carlos Rocha, and the prime minister, Lopo do Nascimento, from the MPLA's political bureau and pushing them out of the government, Neto got rid of two other ministers widely held responsible for the current economic troubles. They are the minister of housing and construction, Manuel Resende Oliveira, and the commerce minister, Pauino Pinto Joao.
At the same time, Neto has called upon small private truckers and traders "to help resolve our commercial and other problems."
The estate had made a big effort to solve the problems of housing, transportation and commerce, Neto said in a speech Dec. 10. "But at the same time, we must recognize that it is still not yet capable of resolving the problems facing the rural population."
Nor, he remarked in a sober discussion of the economic mess, did he see any reason why there should be no carpenters or masons available to Luanda residents.
Neto's new pragmatism in economic matters follows his taking a new direction in his foreign policy. His goals are reconciliation with neighboring Zaire, which backed his enemies during the 1975-76 civil war, cooperation with the West in seeking a solution to the Namibia dispute, better relations with Western nations, including the United States, and partnership with Western oil companies.
Neto repeatedly denied in his latest speech that Angola was abandoning its socialist goals or making a "political retreat." Western analysts are comparing recent developments here to the New Economic Policy of the Soviet Union which in the 1920s made concessions to the private sector in the name of economic realism.
The need for such pragmatism becomes apparent even during a two-day visit to Luanda.The best seaside hotel, the Panorama, serves no eggs or juice for breakfast. Every grocery store has a long line outside. Fruits, vegetables and meat are in short supply and, in a land once ranked as one of the world's top coffee exporters there is little available in the capital.
Despite the chronic shortage of such stables, there are no signs of acute hunger among the children and beggars are few One way or another, the half million residents of Luanda seem to get along.
Conditions in Angola's southern towns are said by travelers to be better than in the capital because 85 percent of its food is grown in the south central highlands.
Western diplomats and residents blame the capital's difficulties partly on the simmering war still being waged in the south by dissidents of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), led by Jonas Savimbi and supplied by South Africa. Though too weak to force a compromise on the Neto government they are still strong enough to keep the Benguela Railroad from operating on a regular basis and to make travel on the north-south roads unsafe.
In effect, Luanda has been cut off for three years from its main source of food supplies and is largely dependent on imports.
But other problems have plagued government efforts to revive commerce between the north and south since independence in 1975. For instance, the Portuguese are estimated to have shipped out 28,000 of the 30,000 trucks in the country.
While the government has since bought hundreds of new trucks from Eastern-bloc countries, it has neither the mechanies nor the drivers to keep them going and many are said to be sitting idle. The continuing transportation crisis is apparent even in Luanda, where hailing a taxi is akin to hunting for a needle in a haystack.
The large communist country presence her led by the Cubans, has not resolved such problems, although the Cubans have done much to alleviate housing and road reconstruction. And so Neto has apparently decided to turn to the West for help.