Angola Geopolitics

According to PROZIPCODES, Angola’s internal political life as well as international relations are strongly linked to oil revenues. While internally the proceeds of extraction have favored the development of an economic nationalism and of a bourgeois class linked to political power, in the international context the oil wealth has served to strengthen the image of Angola, favoring – after a first phase revolutionary – good international relations with all the major powers, from the US to China, from Russia to Brazil, without this having involved having to openly take sides for or against states considered anti-system. The US has long been Luanda’s main trading partner. However, since 2007 this position has been occupied by China, which has concluded agreements with Angola that are extremely advantageous in financial terms, based on the construction of infrastructures in exchange for the extraction and supply of oil at favorable prices. The relations with the former colonial homeland, Portugal, are also particularly significant. This is not only due to the common historical, cultural and linguistic heritage, but also because today Angola represents a land full of opportunities for both Angolan investors and Portuguese workers. In 2012, around 150,000 workers arrived from Portugal; vice versa, between 2002 and 2009, Angolan investments in Portugal went from 1.6 to 116 million euros. Angola also benefits from investment funds and development aid from Brazil. Relations with South Africa are ambivalent: despite having improved compared to the apartheid years (during which South Africa had supported Unita, the União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola, to counter the support of the MPLA, the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola, African National Congress), there remain elements of competition between the two countries, linked above all to Luanda’s attempt to project itself as a competing regional power. The results of the 2012 presidential elections, which confirmed the pre-eminence of José Eduardo Dos Santos and the MPLA, albeit in relative decline compared to the previous elections, raised doubts about the actual weight of the electoral process. The other parties are practically irrelevant and have never achieved true legitimacy as a political opposition. The crisis of credibility and representativeness is taken for granted above all by Unita, the main opposition movement, which during the civil war was the political and military antagonist of the MPA, and which mixed populism and communitarianism, without however hiding the collusion with the segregationist regime of South Africa. Unita, after the death of its founder Jonas Savimbi in 2002 and the abandonment of the armed struggle, has lost weight (although in the presidential elections of 31 August 2012 it improved the result compared to the previous election, with about 19% of votes). Already in 2010 the abolition of the presidential elections, expected for the previous year, had reconfirmed the autocratic management of power. According to the new rules approved by Parliament, President Dos Santos, who is 72 years old and has been in power since 1979,

Angolan civil society, especially young people, seem to tolerate less and less the mix of political patronage and nepotism that characterizes political life. The protests are multiplying and create more and more alarm in the government, which has responded with a harsh repression, arresting some members of the Angolan Revolucionário Movement (Mra), at the origin of the most impressive demonstrations.

Population, society and rights

The data relating to the Angolan population are highly uncertain: a census has not been held since 1970, moreover the war has caused a high number of both refugees abroad (especially in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo), and internally displaced people, especially towards the cities: for this reason the urban population, equal to 60.7% of the total, is higher than the rural one (39.3%). The population growth rate (3.1%) is one of the highest (seventh) in all of Africa. About 90 ethnic groups live in Angola. The main one is made up of the ovimbundu (about 40% of the total population), who formed the ethnic base of Unita during the civil war. The mbundu (25%) and the bakongo (14%) follow. Numerically not very significant, but relevant from the point of view of economic and political influence, are the Lavorços, groups of mixed populations of African, European and Asian origin, mainly concentrated in cities, which make up about 3-5% of the total population. More than half of the population is Christian, while the remaining residents practice traditional cults, apart from a small minority of Islamic faithful. The indices relating to civil, political and expression liberties are very low, and the rate of perceived corruption is very high, so much so that the international community itself has repeatedly asked the government to make data on oil revenues public and to do more for transparency.

Economy and energy

The development of the economy is strongly influenced by the oil sector. Angola is the second largest continental producer after Nigeria and oil makes up 45% of GDP and 90% of exports, employing only 0.2% of the economically active population. In 2013, four new fields came into operation. The majority of the population works in the informal sector, while agriculture contributes only 10% of the GDP, as it has suffered from the consequences of the long civil war. Angola was among the fastest growing African countries, but in 2009 the international crisis brought about an abrupt halt. Since 2010, the GDP has started to grow again and in 2013 the rate settled at around 5.6%. Luanda has begun to attract a significant flow of foreign direct investment for about five years. In August 2014, Angola, together with six other countries of the Southern African Development Community, signed partnership agreements with the European Union, laying the foundations for closer economic cooperation.

There are two main challenges for the Angolan economy. The country must try to build a sustainable growth model that, starting from the proceeds of the oil industry, allows the reconstruction of the infrastructural system and a productive diversification that fully exploits the great resources (diamond and iron extraction, coffee cultivation, sisalana agave and cotton). Secondly, Angola must distribute the benefits deriving from oil more equitably: while GDP is growing at a dizzying rate, more than half of the population lives on less than two dollars a day, life expectancy is stuck at 51. years and only 54% of people have access to safe water.

Defense and security

Angola, which can field an army of 107,000 soldiers with a long history of fighting, is recognized as a regional military power. The military also includes the Air Force and a small Navy. Many of the arms supplies come from the former Soviet republics. The Angolan army intervened in Congo (1998) and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (1998-2003), as part of the Unita guerrilla containment strategy, and, more recently, in support of the government of Kinshasa in North Kivu. Luanda’s participation in international missions is limited.

Various armed movements have been active since 1963, deriving from the main section of the Flec (Frente para Libertação do Enclave de Cabinda) and which claim the independence of Cabinda, a province of 300,000 residents located north of the Angolan territory, a true exclave in space Congolese, from which two thirds of Angolan oil comes. In 2010, one of these teams attacked the Togo football team at the Africa Cup of Nations, organized in Angola, and resulted in three deaths. Attempts are currently underway between government forces and factions of the independence movement. In 2006, one of these groups, the Flec-Renovada, signed a ceasefire with the Angolan government.

Angola-China: a long-lasting partnership

The first trade agreements between China and Angola date back to 1984. During the civil war, China, to distinguish itself from the USSR, supported Holden Roberto’s Fnla (a movement allied with Unita), but subsequently offered its support to the Mpla. After the war, military support turned into a commercial partnership which benefited the reconstruction of the country.

China has offered Angola huge loans, between 6 and 9 billion dollars, for the construction of infrastructures in exchange for oil, helping to rebuild communication routes and important public structures. In 2003, an economic cooperation forum was established between China and the Portuguese-speaking nations with the aim of promoting mutual economic and commercial interests. Chinese investments are mostly directed towards infrastructure construction and the oil industry, but in recent years they have opened up to other sectors, such as diamond mining, agriculture and fishing. There are currently approximately 260,000 Chinese citizens residing in Angola.

Angola Geopolitics