Global Policy Forum

Five Years On, Angola Emerges From the Ruins


By Manuel Muanza

April 3, 2007

Angola on Wednesday celebrates five years of peace after a 27-year civil war as one of Africa's fastest growing economies, thanks to an oil boom which has however done little to raise living standards. The signing of an accord on April 4 2002, between the government and Unita rebels drew the line under a conflict that left half a million people dead and wrecked the infrastructure of a country that only won independence in 1975. While previous lulls had proved to be false dawns, the deal between the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) and President Jose Eduardo dos Santos' Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) took root and the only face-off on the cards is at delayed elections. However some observers warn the failure to ensure the peace dividend is enjoyed by all is stoking up problems that may boil over. The oil boom has been so dramatic in the post-war era that Angola is now the second largest producer in sub-Saharan Africa after Nigeria. According to the state oil company Sonangol, it should be producing around two million barrels per day by the end of the year, against the current level of 1,4-million, at a time when prices are creeping ever higher.

However benefits have largely failed to reach rural areas in a country where about 70% of the 16-million population earn less than $2 a day. The millions of landmines left from the war and devastated infrastructure have hamstrung bids to revive the farming sector. While agriculture was the leading export sector before independence, it only accounted for 8,6% of GDP in 2006. Oil now accounts for 57%. But for all the new-found oil wealth, "very, very little trickles down to the normal population", said Ayesha Kajee, an analyst at the South African Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg. "The gap between the rich and the poor is increasing ... and there's very much a sense that if elections do not happen then the tensions among the poor could boil over." The country's Catholic bishops combined late last year to deplore the levels of poverty, making pointed reference to Angola's oil wealth and fertile land, wondering why it should then be "one of the world's poorest nations".

Dos Santos, in power since 1979, was meant to have held elections last year but the timeline has slipped and legislative elections are now not due until next year and the ballot for president in 2009. The latest delays provoked little protest either from domestic opponents or the international community. A recent Economist Intelligence Unit report said Dos Santos remains largely unchallenged as he "controls a vast patronage network, skilfully appeasing conflicting interests" which puts him and his party at a huge advantage over Unita. "With the international community, take the levels of oil output and add that to the increasing demand for oil from Eastern and South Asian players, you get a situation where people do not want to upset the flow of oil," said Kajee. With elections some way off, Dos Santos has invited the opposition and civil society representatives to talks aimed at establishing "a consensus agenda" which would fix development priorities for the next two decades.

Central to development is China, the main market for the oil exports. Chinese capital is paying for the reconstruction of the rail link between Luanda and the main southern city of Benguela, a project that will incorporate the nearby deepwater port of Lobito. In the oil-rich northern province of Cabinda, sporadic unrest has continued in spite of a peace deal between government and rebels last year. Unlike the rest of Angola, Cabinda was a Portuguese protectorate and not a colony and its residents feel closer to their Congolese neighbours. "These peace celebrations won't mean anything to the Cabindan people who just want to live in freedom," said Agostinho Chikaya, head of the separatist movement Mpalabanda



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