Angola in Period of War

Angola, although abundant in wealthy resources, still faces a lack of development. It may seem that the dependency theory could be a factor in this, however, civil war has been the leading cause of the prevention of successful development. After their secession from Portugal, the fight for power over the country turned into a civil war that still affects the Angolan people even today. Economic and political development has been a corrupt series of events. Any revenue that had been made is still being used to cover the cost of cleaning up their civil war mess.

A country on the western coast of Africa, civil war has been a norm since its independence from Portugal in 1975. Although a national unity government was established in 1997, serious fighting still resumed in 1998 making hundreds of thousands of people homeless (Fung, 2018). According to an article from the New York Times, “This is a country laden with oil, diamonds, Porsche-driving millionaires and toddlers starving to death. New Unicef figures show this well-off but corrupt African nation is ranked No. 1 in the world in the rate at which children die before the age of five” (Kristof, 2015).

Competition between movements that were striving to lead the country, led to the civil war that has overtaken the path of development (Hanson, 2008). The war between these factions lasted for 27 years, killed over 1.5 million people, and displaced over 4 million people (internally) with another 500 thousand fleeing from the country (South African History Online, 2017). The popular movement for the Liberation of Angola also known as the MPLA normally led the country. They were Marxist-oriented and mostly included urban intellectuals. The MPLA was opposed by two other factions, the National Union for Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA). The MPLA maintained its strength over the other two factions through oil revenues. UNITA and MPLA were fueled by revenue from black market diamonds, South African military advisors, Chinese weaponry, and covert military and financial assistance from the CIA (Hanson, 2008).

Ethnic tensions and the resource curse motivated the continuous conflict. The liberation movements were reluctant in sharing power in a multi-ethnic society. Although MPLA initially started as a Marxist-oriented faction, it later moved to a social democratic model which explains why they held the majority of the power. The more UNITA and FNLA factions held more right-wing and militant ideas. Rich in oil, copper, bauxite, diamonds, and uranium, these resources became the main funding for the ongoing war. MPLA and UNITA were able to exploit oil resources. UNITA was also able to capture major diamond mines which funded their arms and fuel during the war (South African History online, 2017). The country was so focused on war that important institutions were not created right after their independence from Portugal. Today, Angola lacks skilled labor, a functioning health-care system, and enough schools for all of the children. According to a publication by the Council on Foreign Relations, “Angola’s civil war destroyed the roads, railways, and bridges built during Portuguese rule, decimated agricultural infrastructure, and left much of the population with no memory of what life was like in peacetime” (Hanson, 2008).

Since the end of the 27-year civil war in 2002 (Hurst, 2017) it has faced one of the steepest development challenges in the world (Hanson, 2008). Unlike most underdeveloped countries, Angola does not rely on the use of foreign aid or international financial institutions such as the IMF. In 1989, the U.S provided large-scale humanitarian aid but terminated their development assistance after the conflict started up again following the elections (USaid, 2018). As a result, Angola is not obligated to follow rules and regulations of the institutions or countries providing foreign aid. This implements much corruption into the economy. According to a report by the Global Witness, a British International Group, “nearly $1.7 billion disappeared from the government’s budget between 1997 and 2001” (Hanson, 2008). Although some African experts note that the Global Witness report is controversial and the Angolan government did make efforts to account for lost funds, the Angolan Corruption Report by the Business Anti-Corruption Portal states that “corruption in public procurement is at a very high risk.” Public funds are commonly sent to companies and individuals or groups illegally. Also, favoritism is common with “well-connected” firms and individuals when deciding policies and contracts with other countries. Bribes are commonly used, as well as, the awarding of contracts throughout Angola (GAN, 2018).

Between 1979 and 2017, all of the power in Angola was held by President Jose dos Santos (Mckenna, 2018). According to a report by the Human Rights Watch, “The government of Jose Eduardo dos Santos has historically mismanaged the country’s substantial oil revenues and used its control over oil wealth to insulate itself from public scrutiny” (HRW, 2010). Though Angola normally has a multiparty political system, it has not held a multiparty election since 1992, and the main opposition party (and former independence movement), UNITA, is considered weak. Santos also frequently removed people from their posts and assigned them elsewhere (DFID, 2008). João Lourenço, the current president, “pledged to govern for all Angola and combat two of the country’s major problems: corruption and mismanagement of public funds” (HRW, 2018). Although the country has made attempts to minimize the corruption, (The Angolan government has taken a number of steps to improve transparency in its accounting of incoming oil revenues according to the Human Rights Watch Report), the efforts have not appealed to countries outside of Angola due to the significant amount of civil conflict. Angola has become substantially untrustworthy (HRW, 2018). This can account for the lack of foreign aid the country receives.

Angola’s oil company can also account for much of the corruption that eventually led to the decades of war that destroyed their chance at fully developing. Angola’s abundance of oil channeled a substantial amount of money into Portugal for years. “We had it in our heads that Angola was a poor country that needed to be helped,” said Celso Felipe, a Portuguese journalist and author of the book The Angolan Power in Portugal, “and suddenly they were able to help us and to buy things that we cannot buy” (Onishi, 2017). Angola wanted to leave the overbearing control Portugal had on them.

Angola scores low on the human development indexes even though it is using large oil reserves to rebuild itself since the end of the 27-year civil war in 2002 (CIA, 2018). A large barrier in successfully implementing political institutions is the state-run oil company, Sonangol. Since its creation in 1976, it has held 51% interest in all production from Cabinda, an oil-rich province (Sonangol E.P, 2018). Sonangol determines the oil profits due to the government, as well as, its payment to the finance of ministry. But, economists say Sonangol also performs functions that should be under the control of the finance ministry or the central bank (Hanson, 2008). These conflicts of interest create issues between the company and the government. Although international oil companies believe Sonangol is very well run and even during the civil war the company repaid its oil-backed loans and stuck to its contracts, Sonangol still exerts too much control over the oil revenues.

Even though the wealthy oil sector may increase the funds given to the government, it still creates significant challenges for “macroeconomic stabilization and economic diversification” (Hanson, 2008). Since the oil company creates wealth in sectors such as finance, hostility, and industries that service oil companies, it makes other businesses more costly. This has heightened due to the aftermath of many years of civil war. According to a report by the International Journal of Energy Economics and Policy, “While the empirical results point to the necessity of increasing oil production to spur economic growth in Angola, the absence of reverse causality from economic growth to oil production underscores Angola’s heavy reliance on external demand for its oil to drive economic growth.” Any sharp declines with global oil prices could significantly weaken Angola’s ability to achieve economic growth.

All of these issues have impacted the lives of the citizens of Angola significantly. Luanda, the capital of Angola, was once again named the most expensive city in the world (Gilchrist, 2017). Living costs exceed those in New York City and San Francisco. This is because of the fall in global gas prices which has rattled Angola’s economy. Oil accounts for more than 95% of the export income (Mayda, 2017). Such high costs make inequality rampant across the country. According to the interview with an Angolan citizen by Matteo de Mayda, the people felt imprisoned during the war. They felt the Europeans had a better idea of what was going on in Angola then they did.

Much of the infrastructure was destroyed from the war and reconstruction has been chaotic ever since. Two-thirds of the country lives on less than two dollars a day and never sees the money that is earned from the wealth of the oil resource (Kraus, 2016). Like stated previously, corruption has given all the benefits to the elite leaving the majority of the country to fend for themselves in dangerous conditions. Angola has a high mortality rate due to the poor access to clean water and high illiteracy rates. Currently, Angola is rated 147 out of 189 on the Human Development Reports poverty scale. Poverty is actually greater in rural areas where 94% of the households are considered poor (Kraus, 2016).

Women and children, in particular, fell vulnerable to the aftermaths of the war. In addition to a large number of women who died during the war, the number of female-headed households increased from all of the soldiers dying as well. The war has brought on greater responsibility for women to take over the roles of men. However, the Angolan society still remains male-driven even though 54% of the population is women (Ducados, 2004).

To conclude, Angola faces developmental disparity all because of a fight for power. After seceding from Portugal, they knew that their abundance of oil could help develop the country into something great. However, what the country did not know is how fighting for control could destroy their chance to be one of the richest countries in the world. Between ethnic tensions and the use of oil revenue for the costs of potential conflict, the civil war lasted several decades and still affects Angola even today. Corruption in the government and in the oil companies keep much of the population in poverty and keeps trust low. The lack of foreign aid from countries who are concerned about another civil conflict keeps corruption high. Although Angola is slowly growing, they still have a long way to go to repair their war-torn country.