Corruption could hamper Angola’s oil-rich future
THE peace agreement signed at the weekend that ends Angola’s 27-year civil war deprives the rulers of the country - potentially the richest in Africa - of further excuses for high level corruption, poor governance and the continued impoverishment of its people.
The ruling MPLA blamed the war for 125 per cent inflation, devastated infrastructure and the fact that four million out of 12 million Angolans had become internal refugees.
The peace deal between the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) and the UNITA guerrilla movement followed hard on the heels of the killing last month of the legendary and notorious UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi.
Savimbi’s guerrilla campaign was the excuse the government gave for spending its vast oil and diamond wealth on military hardware, ignoring social investment in health and agriculture while mortgaging future oil production.
"What was the point of building a bridge if Savimbi was going to blow it up? You know how expensive a bridge is," said Manuel Augusto, the deputy information minister.
Savimbi provided the necessary excuses to preserve the lavish lifestyle of the ruling Marxist-turned-capitalist elite and a 100,000-strong army. "This war severely pushed us," said Mr Augusto. "It was one of the most costly wars in the world."
None bore the cost more heavily than Angola’s children. One in four die before the age of five. A preventable disease kills an Angolan infant every three minutes, say UNICEF, which has judged Angola "the worst country on earth for a child to be born in".
Oscar Sarroca, a director of the UN’s World Food Programme in Angola, said the government had for years been more focussed on the war than the continually deteriorating humanitarian situation. "The war entirely changed the population pattern," he said. "Most people are in the cities and the countryside is almost empty."
The government has geared the economy to the war effort for so long that the sudden change in priorities threatens to upset the patronage network among the rulers.
The human rights group Global Witness last week released a report in which it estimated that some $1.4 billion in Angolan oil revenues "disappeared" from official finances in 1991 alone, sometimes piggy-backing on official transactions with big international oil companies.
Angola, currently the second biggest oil producer in Africa, will overtake Nigeria within the next few years as more and more offshore oilfields come into production. Geologists believe its reserves will prove to match Saudi Arabia’s.
The world’s largest offshore platform, the Girassol, was inaugurated in Angolan waters this month by Total/FinaElf: it will add 200,000 barrels of crude per day to the country’s current 950,000 barrels per day output.
The United States expects to get 15 per cent of its oil needs from Angola by 2009, compared with the current figure of just over 5 per cent.
Global Witness director Simon Tayor criticised the MPLA’s secrecy and the web of intricate finances that had linked the government, the central bank, the state oil company Sonangol and foreign arms dealers.
He hoped the death of Savimbi and the peace deal meant that the country’s massive oil revenue could now be used for economic development instead of funding the war.
"Rising oil revenues have been diverted straight into parallel budgets of the shadow state," he said.
Despite oil revenues of around $8 billion last year three-quarters of the population live in abject poverty, surviving on less than one dollar a day. Life expectancy is less than 45 years.
Mr Taylor said a move by Britain’s BP last year to release voluntarily financial data had drawn fire from Sonangol which threatened to kick the company out of the oil-rich country.
With little public money devoted to schools, roads, health care or wages for civil servants, the extremes in Angola are grotesque: international tycoons and starving refugees, fabulously wealthy cabinet ministers with luxury seaside villas and countless thousands of dirt-poor children who sleep in city sewers. Underpaid teachers demand payments to enrol students in schools that are nominally free.
Doctors and nurses at state-run hospitals and clinics demand payments before attending to injuries and diseases.
"If you want to get anything in Angola you must pay off someone," says 23-year-old Henriques Lopes who last year dropped out of Agostinho Neto University, in Luanda, the capital, when a professor demanded a $20 bribe he could not afford. "People see how corrupt the government is and that it doesn’t care about them and their suffering. There is no right or wrong anymore. People feel they must do whatever they can to survive."
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West