Natural Resource Revenue Ought to Benefit All Persons
Angola's battle for survival
Angola has fabulous natural resource value -- diamonds, petroleum, mineral deposits, you name it. While a tiny corrupt elite draws financial benefits from these natural resources, the people of Angola suffer extreme poverty. That is not just.
Here are a few quotes from a recent article in the London Guardian, distributed by Transparency International.
The two worlds of extreme wealth and extreme poverty have long co-existed in Angola but the approaching first anniversary of peace in a country that suffered three decades of war raises a crucial question: will ordinary Angolans benefit? No other country is so simultaneously rich and poor.
Concerning natural resources, there is something almost unnatural about Angola's luck. Offshore crude oil fields are yielding almost a million barrels a day, a volume expected to be doubled by new discoveries. Inland lies one of the world's richest mineral reserves, with enough deposits of embedded diamonds to produce several million carats a year. There is also iron, platinum, manganese, copper, phosphates and gold.
The soil is fertile, the vegetation lush. With a varied climate and a population of only 14-million occupying a landmass twice the size of France, it could be the region's agricultural superpower.
The wasting of so much potential makes Angola an African tragedy in a class of its own. Three-quarters of the population live on less than $1 a day, one in three children dies before the age of five, life expectancy is 45, and some two million people are in danger of starvation. Cities and towns are no more than desolate wrecks where the fortunate have plastic sheeting to make a roof. For 27 years it had an explanation: a civil war between the formerly Marxist government and South African-backed Unita rebels ravaged one district after another, destroying what little the Portuguese colonists had left behind. Oil money, about 90% of state revenue, was needed to buy arms, said the government.
The death of the Unita leader Jonas Savimbi in an army ambush last February led to his exhausted force suing for peace and, to the surprise of sceptics, the truce has held. Rebel commanders have been co-opted into the government and their troops are drifting home, as are Angolan refugees. Landmines will continue to claim lives and limbs for years but roads have reopened the countryside to trade and aid, crops are being planted and families reuniting after decades apart.
"Things are improving very fast. We are together and I hope to get a job," said Cabinda (26) a former rebel who is sharing a barracks in Mavinga with his brother, Isaiah, an army colonel on the government side. Down the street the Halo Trust is employing former Unita soldiers to detect mines and in the government hospital Savimbi's former physician, Dr Jeronimo Mbayo (50) is treating patients with help from Médecins Sans Frontières.
With each passing week in the straw hut which passes for Mavinga's morgue there are fewer four-year-olds such as Cristina Hepo, who died of malnutrition and dehydration. In other villages disease is dwindling as Oxfam builds public toilets.
As if to underline the optimism, ChevronTexaco recently announced the discovery of new oilfields offshore, heralding extra billions of dollars in state revenue, and it is only a matter of time before diamond fields resume full production, this time under state control.
Yet in the embassies and aid agency offices of Luanda the mood is sour. Few expect a government which they say is rotten, greedy and unaccountable to seize the opportunity to benefit their people.
During the war the ruling elite, said to number 200 families, learned it could get away with looting state coffers, not least through "commissions" for arms, because most of the budget was not published, said one former government official.
The "Bermuda triangle" between the presidency, the central bank and the state oil company Sonangol is still thought to be swallowing funds: billions are squandered and about $1-billion vanished last year alone, according to a leaked IMF report. Hopes that peace would force more transparent accounting are also disappearing. The government has lashed out at BP for breaking ranks with the secretive oil companies and actually publishing what it paid the state, an experiment BP has not repeated despite praise from the human rights group Global Witness.
In an interview, a government oil official who did not want to be named admitted widespread corruption but said incremental improvements were visible to those who grew up in the country. "We are not Sweden but we are not that bad either -- and things will get better."
Duncan Clarke, an independent energy analyst, said there was no justification for foreign aid when so much wealth was available. Outside assistance is the only hope for Luanda's poor, the aid agencies said. "The government is not legitimate, it is only serving its own interests and is stunningly indifferent to the needs of its own people. If we weren't here the people would be abandoned," said Doug Steinberg, a director of Care.
A coalition of Luanda's growing middle class, NGOs and donor governments is trying to encourage reform. One diplomat warned that relief at Unita's defeat was tempered by its emasculation in recent months as a viable political alternative, eroding accountability of a government expected to glide back to power in elections expected within two years. It is not clear if President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, in office since 1979, will run again or, as some suspect, retire to his estates in Brazil.
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